Don’t Tell Me To Be Patient!
Bob Caron ruminates on the difficulties of patience – March 2021
[Image: Blades and Droplets, Kristi Crymes]
In essence, patience is the ability to tolerate discomfort. It’s a useful skill, and one that is being put to the test right now: a full year into a pandemic. Who isn’t pining for restrictions to lift, family to embrace, work, travel and leisure to be restored? My experience this year has been challenging in many ways, and I can’t pretend that I haven’t wanted a return to better to emerge rapidly. My mental health has waxed and waned, and my intolerance has surfaced more often than I’d like. Patience is clearly not a virtue that I developed, but a practice that I work on. Sitting in meditation builds the muscle of tolerating discomfort with remarkable efficiency. When my posture is aligned, breath deep, and I’m present to gravity’s pull, I have yet to find the edge of my tolerance for discomfort. My tolerance is a trifle more limited when I’m not on the cushion but sitting has expanded it immeasurably. Yet, building that muscle is not the point of Zen meditation and, while one could easily be fooled otherwise, I don’t think it’s the lesson this year is trying to teach me either.
I don’t much like patience. It’s the kind of tolerance that I feel when I’m in a long line for something that doesn’t seem worth the wait. It’s me having the same conversation with my kids for the thousandth time as I’m wondering how this message hasn’t yet sunk in. It’s the skill I use in sitting when I’m just done with a sit and mentally disengaged, but the bell hasn’t yet rung. It’s really not pleasant, but it has some social utility. That tolerance for discomfort is what we feel when we are wishing for a future to happen now and most of us allow that future to linger in our thoughts and visions for an unproductive amount of time.
I sense that Zen and this year are both inviting us into this present moment and asking us to let go of the future that we can’t control, and to embrace the beauty of this moment for all that is it and all that it offers us.
I sense that Zen and this year are both inviting us into this present moment and asking us to let go of the future that we can’t control, and to embrace the beauty of this moment for all that is it and all that it offers us. Mostly, when I’m able to harness the power of this presence it’s because I’m less in my thoughts and more connected to my senses. I’m carefully noticing the sounds, smells, sights that surround me, and the subtle pull of gravity on my body. I do this most easily outdoors, but also in connection with my children. Those things bring me joy, and in joy connection is easily expanded. Perhaps you share my experience that this is a little harder to do when wrestling with tough decisions or when working through difficult circumstances. We throw the term shugyo around often in our training and lineage, and in essence it’s a term that suggests a depth of training that is integrated into every fabric of your being and every aspect of your life. Where living and training are indistinct. Frankly, I think it’s a depth of training that few have been able to achieve for long enough durations to make it stick but this is how I understand the phrase “the training is in the bones”.
I have more work to do on this Way and more bones to train. Yet, I’ll share that for my part this training has served for me to recognize that beauty exists in this moment and all the moments, no matter the circumstance. I’ve noticed that compassion and joy are available – always – any time we wish to access them. I’ve been able to live with awareness of my thoughts and obsessions with the future and surrender what I cannot control about them while finding solace in the actions I can take in the here and now. I don’t want to mislead you into thinking I have something figured out that you don’t – and the more I train the more I know that I must train further and deeper. What I do know beyond any measure of intellectualization, is that this right here and now is perfect so there’s really no patience needed at all.
Bob Caron is a Zen Leadership Coach and Instructor
Congratulations, Grammy winner James Blachly!
When we checked in on ZL Alumnus James Blachly last September, he had merely debuted “one of the notable classical releases of the benighted year 2020: a transfixing piece, gorgeously recorded” according to music critic Alex Ross. Together with his Experiential Orchestra, Bass-Baritone Dashon Burton and Soprano Sarah Brailey, James had created a recording of Dame Ethel Smyth’s “The Prison”. The work was announced as the Grammy winner in its category on Sunday, March 14. We spoke with James via email about the accomplishment.
You developed a program on Listening as Leadership; how do you think your listening affected the performance and recording of “The Prison”?
Listening as Leadership emerged out of my Zen training, and in a sense became my Zen training. Greene Roshi invited me to speak in a setting that was charged with energy, and what emerged from that first talk evolved into a curated experience that I’ve brought to orchestras, schools, organizations, Fortune 500 companies and Chambers of Commerce.
As I conducted during our recording sessions, I was guiding the sound by what I heard on the inside, and then listening to the orchestra and the beautiful concert hall as a way of shaping the sound until it matched what you might call that internal dream-state. In other words, my internal listening guided my external listening, and that shaped the sound you hear on the recording.
I was also reflecting at times during the recording session on Honda Roshi’s question to me in my first year of training, of whether, during a performance, I can hear outside the concert hall itself. I was trying to expand my listening so that I wasn’t just expanding my ears to the back of the hall, but beyond those walls – in a sense projecting this recording to the world even as we recorded in an empty concert hall.
As you reflect on “The Prison” what do you think made it exceptional, transcendent?
There was a sense of purpose throughout the entire recording session. The musicians were there not just for a gig – they were there because they believed in the project, and they wanted to play a role in advocating for Ethel Smyth’s music. It made the atmosphere both more focused, and, interestingly, more joyful, because we all knew we were there not for ourselves, but for something more important.
How does your Zen and Zen leadership training support you in your approach to music or in navigating the excitement of a Grammy?
I described my energy in the week after I heard the news to Whitelaw Roshi as feeling like I had just grabbed hold of a bunch of balloons, and I was starting to float into the sky. It has been a rush of excitement, but when I conduct, I need to feel the earth beneath my feet, and ground my energy down. Right now, with a lot of new energy coming at me from around the world, I want to feel grounded as well. Sitting has brought me back to myself, and allowed me to navigate the new rush of attention and energy, and to be open to it without feeling drained.
Is there anything else you’d like the IZL audience to know?
Sitting is an essential part of my life, but I do most of my training on my own.
My hope is that I can be like the Zen student who, as Greene Roshi described, goes off to do 1,000 sword cuts and returns with a deeper knowledge, rather than just sore arms. I’ve come to understand that conducting, and the experiences both on and off the podium, are a core part of that training. There’s a lot coming at me, and my awareness and being fully present is essential to the music I can make with my colleagues.
Zen Leader 2 / HEAL 2, April 22-25
You’ve already completed the foundational course, ZL1, and maybe you remember some of the shifts that happened during that course:
- How you could feel the difference in your body between the posture of coping and the posture of transforming – open, broad, and alert
- How your body softened and settled during zazen and you felt a greater peacefulness than you have before
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