Sunday, November 8, 2015

Looking Forward to It

"Drops of Dew"
- Morning at the Desert Retreat House -

On Friday afternoon a friend of mine was lamenting about how difficult his week had been, telling me: “I just can’t wait for this weekend, I’m so looking forward to it.” As I listened to what my friend had to say, I was immediately reminded of an essay that I had read a little while ago in a Buddhist magazine:

People who work from Monday to Friday often think that they have to wait
until the weekend to be happy.
After five days of suffering through work
they try to make up for it with two days of being happy.
What kind of life is that?

In the conversation with my friend last Friday I guessed that what he had to say to me most likely expressed the sentiments of a whole lot of people who, on a Friday afternoon, were no doubt “so looking forward” to the reprieve the weekend might have to offer.

I know plenty of people (even people who basically like their jobs) who just cant wait for the weekend. They work almost incessantly during the week, from early morning until 8 in the evening and sometimes later than that, and even when they get home there are the texts and emails that need to be answered. So, in one sense, I can understand and appreciate why people would look forward to a little break from it all.

Now that Sunday has arrived, I’m sort of wondering if my friend actually did find some peace this weekend or if he just encountered other ways of being insanely busy? I also wonder if the the dread of the upcoming work week has now descended upon him?

I think lots of people live their everyday lives stuck in the rut of putting up with the bad stuff and looking forward to the good stuff. Many people set the gaze of their lives upon some future prize - a weekend, a vacation, an upcoming holiday or party. But when that longed-for future event finally arrives and the future becomes the present, many times it is a disappointment - just another opportunity for “looking forward to” something better to happen in the days ahead.

The problem with the always “looking forward to it mentality” is that it often robs us of the opportunity to experience the wonder of each present moment.

I am reminded of a great Zen story about a group of young novice monks in a Buddhist monastery who were really looking forward to the visit of a very famous teacher who had been scheduled to come and live among them as a mentor and teacher for a week or so.

The monks had eagerly awaited the arrival of the master-teacher and they had been preparing for his visit for many weeks. When the day came for the teacher’s arrival the monks were severely disappointed because he never showed up. In fact, they waited all week long and the teacher still never arrived, and the longer they waited for him, the more frustrated and angry the young monks became, feeling as if they had been been “robbed” of a great opportunity to be taught by such a renowned master.

Eventually, after a week or so, the old master finally showed up at the monastery. The younger monks angrily lashed out at him – didn’t he realize he was supposed to spend the week with them as their teacher? When they asked him where he had been, the old master simply smiled and said:

First I went following the fragrant grasses.
Now I return chasing falling leaves.

In point of fact even though he wasn’t with them during the week, the old master had indeed been teaching the novice monks. He was teaching them a lesson about enjoying what the the present moment has to offer. He was helping them to face the demon of “always looking forward to it.”

Before he left his young students the old monk said:

Keep your sight on each footstep, only there will you find wonder and amazement.

Sounds like wise advice to me.

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