A Zen’s-Eye View: Slogan 35: Don’t try to be the fastest

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So much of modern life is based on speed and competition. We want to be the first to know, the first to own the latest communications gadget, the first to bring in the harvest. These days, it seems like everyone is always in a big rush. At Overwaitea, we hurry to get into the shortest line; on the highway we zip into traffic to get ahead of other cars. Being fast and busy makes us feel important and powerful. We have lots to do and not much time to do it. Fast is smart, slow is stupid. Fast is youth, slow is old. We race along faster and faster, but where are we going?

This quicker, faster, better approach creates enormous pressure. We have no time to step back and reflect on what we are doing or consider what our lives are about. We have no time to enjoy ourselves. Superficially, this approach seems to make sense; after all, we have lots to do. But we can become addicted to speed, and afraid to stop or even to slow down.

This approach does not work with spiritual training or with the Lojong mind training slogans. It doesn’t help to pray faster. Wisdom and compassion cannot be forced. Nor can creativity. Imagine if you judged a symphony by how fast it is played or a poem by how fast it is written. All the nuances of Beethoven’s Ninth would disappear; the poetry of contemplation would be lost.

Some people approach spiritual practice as if it were a sports competition. They think that the more practices they master, the quicker they progress. But the very term “practice” implies a steady pace. Every musician knows that the best way to learn a new tune is to play it slowly and accurately over and over until they bring it up to tempo. If you are a singer, you do scales; if you are a mediator, you sit. It would be crazy to try to sit faster.

Slogan practice is about cultivating awareness and compassion in formal practice and in daily life. We don’t try to get somewhere; we just keep going. The less striving we do, the more essential wakefulness shines through. The less we force spiritual training, the more the heart can relax and open. Instead of beating ourselves up with our spiritual progress, we use it as sharp but gentle reminders that complete awakening is immediate and available. The only time we can realize enlightenment is right now. So lighten up and give yourself a break from the relentless speed and pressure of modern life.

Suggested practice: Notice how the quality of speediness affects your practice and your daily life. Do you feel superior or special because you are faster than others and have passed them by? On the contrary, do you feel inadequate that others pass you by and leave you in the dust? What would it be like to drop that success/failure paradigm altogether?

This column is a long series of short essays exploring the meaning of the Lojong Slogans. It is inspired by the work of Judy Lief.

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-3390.