Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Seventy-two labors of Zen

Here’s a brief exercise to help you appreciate how dependent you are on the energy and hard work of others:

1. Begin by settling comfortably and taking a few deep breaths.
2. Bring to mind some modern convenience that you find indispensable. It may be your car, your computer, or your cellphone.
3. Reflect for a few moments on how important this object is to you and what your life would be like without it. Sure, you could always get another one, but right now you depend on this particular object — it’s the only one you have.
4. Think of all the people and hard work that contributed to creating this object, from raw material to finished product. If it’s your car, for example, you can think first of the miners in various parts of the world, possibly working in difficult circumstances, who extracted the iron and chromium and other ores that make up the metal. Then you can imagine the steel and iron workers who mixed the alloys and forged the parts. You can also imagine the oil workers who drilled the oil and the plastic workers who synthesized and then cast the plastic for the steering wheel, dashboard, and other plastic components. Next, you can imagine the engineers who designed your car and the autoworkers who put it together, part by part — and so on.
5. Take a few moments to appreciate these people. Sure, they got paid for what they did, but they also contributed their precious life energy. Without their love, sweat, and dedication, you would not have a car to drive. You may feel moved to thank them for their gifts. As you can imagine, you could spend quite a few minutes reflecting on the “innumerable labors” that brought you this car — or this computer or cellphone. The point, of course, is to reflect with gratitude and appreciation on your interdependence — on all the many ways that you depend on the energy and dedication and good intentions of others to make it through your day. When you’ve spent some time reflecting in this way, you may find that you see even simple things through fresh eyes.

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