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“There is a story of a great Samurai who comes to visit the Zen master, Hakuin. The Samurai approaches the Zen master and bows dutifully, asking, ‘Sir, I wish to understand the difference between heaven and hell.’ The Zen master looks at the Samurai and, eyeing him from head to toe, says, ‘I would tell you but I doubt that you have the keenness of wit to understand.’ The Samurai pulls back in astonishment. ‘Do you know who you are speaking to?’ he huffs. ‘Not much,” says the Zen master, “I really think you are probably too dull to understand.’ ‘What?’ says the Samurai. ‘How can you talk to me like this?’ ‘Oh, don’t be silly,’ says the Zen master. ‘Who do you think you are? And that thing hanging by your waist. You call that a sword? It’s more like a butter knife.’ The Samurai, becoming enraged draws his sword and raises it over his head to strike the Zen master. ‘Ah,’ says the Zen master. ‘That is hell.’ The Samurai’s eyes shine with recognition as he bows and sheathes his sword. ‘And that,’ says the Zen master, ‘is heaven.’” — Stephen Levine, Who Dies?
Stress is running through America like a restless stream, breaching its boundaries. Unless you live in a cave, you’re not immune. And the stress craves a voice, a way to make itself known. It shows up when we voice our impatience at our spouse, or yell at a child for a minor issue, or rant at a co-worker. Many of our actions may be bloodless, but they are leaving tiny wounds in those we care about. Those of us who normally have long fuses are erupting, surprising ourselves and those around us.
But then we suddenly wake up. We notice a person’s hurt look, experience an unusual push-back, or even a person’s tears. And we realize that our stress, frustration, or fear has decided to strike out. If we own our own behavior, we apologize. But more than apologize, we can vow to be more aware, to take responsibility for the difficulties all around us, to empathize with those who are concerned just as we are. We can vow to be engaged.
We can choose heaven or languish in hell.Published in