No Bridges

May 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

We are often told that we must build a bridge from where we are to where we want to be.  We must chart our course; we must plan our future.

And yet in Zen we say that you do not do something today in the hope that this will gain you something tomorrow.   Our way rejects such “gaining ideas.”

Of all the tenets of Zen, this one feels most at odds with life as we live it.  It seems that we ceaselessly employ gaining ideas.  In the simplest instance, I heat the water to gain the tea.  Or I write this post to gain the reader.  We act in the present for the purpose of gaining some future outcome, all the time.

Still, I embrace this Zen teaching- in the following way.

We will plan, of course.  But we must avoid consciously attaching an instrumental purpose to any activity.  The moment that I start thinking about the ends, I lose myself between the present and the future.  I am no longer just making the tea or just writing the post.  I am trying to do something and scheme about the doing all at once.  Yogi Berra famously said: “It’d hard to think and bat at the same time.”  He was right- and not just about baseball.

So the first reason to be skeptical of this bridge-building metaphor is the way in which it can take us away from the present moment.  But there’s also another reason.

The metaphor of a bridge is too solid, too linear.  If you really think about your life, it never works that way- at least not with regard to your larger plans and ambitions.  You plan and scheme and imagine the line of events that will take you from here to there.  But how often has that set of dominoes toppled according to plan?

So plan ahead, as you must.  But remember that our bridges are made of smoke, soon to be swept away in an unknowable future.

Knowing this, we must remain open and ready, agile and fluid.  And we must always, always keep our focus on the one place and time that is actually in our hands- the here and the now.

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