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The Messy middle

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The Messy Middle~ Jen Ayres

I’m sitting absorbing a friend’s words from last night. When asked how her week had been she replied, “like bleeding from the eyes.” The words definitely got the group’s attention, but the shocking part was the collective murmurs of agreement, me included. Us, the balls on fast-flowing waters feel like they’re trying to stay afloat whilst also pushing Sisyphus’ boulder through white-water conditions. Slow. Hard. Fast. Chaotic. Painful.

I feel the resonance of this suffering growing exponentially towards an ever-distant crescendo. It’s tempting to hunker down to conserve energy so we can get our own houses in order, yet the cries for help are too many and too frequent. The thought of opening our hearts to the work needed – being a bodhisatva as Jeff wonderfully described in the last newsletter – is scary and overwhelming. Even if we only focus on the support requests that come into our own inboxes or WhatsApp accounts, it’s a lot. So, how does helping others not feel like that giant rock?

The boulder-sized burden is both a reality and a delusion. There is MUCH work to be done but the felt weight of it all on one person is a construct of our own minds. We have one body with its own unique abilities and limitations, we cannot take on everything on our own in one go. Someone reminded me this week of the old saying: ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ It’s easy to get discouraged when we’re distracted by the scale of the whole problem but as soon as we recognize the delusion, the boulder breaks into thousands of shards and we can now get on with the task at hand, shovel by shovel, together.

Morning zen training definitely helps me to start the day sitting in reality but gradually the demands of the working day seep in, cloaking me in delusion once again. When I can catch it, I take a hara breath and my awareness returns but this seesawing of reality and delusion has made me reflect on how I can create the right conditions to remain present throughout the day. I start the day grounded and I end the day grounded but how do I deal with the mess in the middle?

Honestly, I don’t fully know, it’s a work in progress. But I do the zen work and keep going, day-by-day and maybe that’s the only answer needed.


Jennifer Ayres is a Zen Leadership practitioner.



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Comments (1)

Scott Lillich

Thank you for this Jen! I resonate with your message, and while I don’t know the answer either, I share your instinct to lean into Zen practice and it nice to hear someone else put a voice to this. Makes me feel less alone. Again, thank you!

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Published on Oct 31 2022

Last Updated on Nov 07 2022