The View from 20,000 ft

In management, they talk about the view from 20,000 feet; that is, the big picture—the view from high enough up that you see the surrounding landscape. I think I’m beginning to get a view like that on my life.

The past few weeks have been the (usual) rollercoaster ride: sesshin was wonderful/amazing/fantastic, DBT is going well, just before sesshin I completely lost control of myself in a public place and was mortified by my behaviour. Bryan’s contract was extended for 3 months, I had a car accident which will cost me plenty, and Revenue Canada sent a notice to my employer to try and collect money owed by my late father’s estate, which I am responsible for. Oh yeah, the hard drive on my Mac is toast. :^(

I was reading something in Mark Epstein’s book about a guy who was all happy when he was on retreat but couldn’t bring that mind to his hectic family life with all of its associated mayhem. Previously, Sensei spoke with me about how the various challenges in my life have arisen like waves to be a point of practice for me. So, what does the view from up here tell me?

I don’t have to turn my home into a monastery to practice Buddhism. This life, this very life, this going to DBT meetings on the train, this child is whiny, this dog keeps barking at the cat life is my practice. It’s no further than this.

Today, when I received the Revenue Canada letter, I went into a series of anxiety attacks. My mind would spin out, like a car out of control on ice-slicked streets. I’d go for a bit of a ride, watching myself all the while. “Where’s the money going to come from? How are we going to afford it? How could I have got us in such a mess? I’m such a loser for ending up here.” Letting go of judgements, breathing, coming back to “it is what it is”; over and over again. Turning my mind to radical acceptance.

For isn’t that really what it comes down to? In each moment, we have a choice. We can turn our heart/minds towards radical acceptance or we can foster willfulness in our hearts. Zen practice and DBT practice are exactly the same, constantly encouraging us to open to acceptance, to become willing, in whatever the moment brings.

My moments seem to be fairly juicy, but that’s only true when I compare myself with some people. If I compare myself with others, it’s so obvious how blessed I am. The most recent example of this was when Bryan and I heard a radio news story discussing Stephen Truscott. For those who don’t know, almost 50 years ago in 1959, Stephen was a 14-year-old boy. He was accused of murdering his 12-year-old neighbor. He was convicted and sentenced to death. This year, he was finally acquitted. So, if you are ever indulging in some particularly clingy self-pity, remind yourself that you could have been a 14-year-old kid sentenced to be hanged for something he didn’t do.

My day wasn’t really so awful after all.