During the first conversation I had with my real estate agent when I began looking for a house to purchase in the northern Berkshires, I told him an old Daoist story I used in my teaching. It is the story of a woodworker.
One day, he brought his young son with him for a walk through the forest to mark trees he would later fell when he needed new stock for his woodworking shop. ?He looked for the tallest, straightest trees he could find, those that would serve his work well.
While he was marking a tree, he heard his son calling to him. ?Father, Father, come see the tree I have found for you.? The woodworker found his son standing beside a crooked tree, gnarled and misshapen, the branches knuckled and the bark uneven. For the woodworker, the tree was entirely useless. It would not give him straight planks with which he could cut good lumber for houses or furniture.
He smiled, though, and told his son he had found the very best tree in the entire forest. ?Surely, the tree would have a long and fruitful life, outliving all other trees in the forest, and was too good a tree to cut down.
The seemingly useless outlives the useful.
I?m sure the real estate agent was wondering why I told him that story, but I helped him understand I was looking for that useless house, the one no one wanted. I am basically a pauper, and knew I would not be able to afford much of a house. But, there was more to my search than price.
I would renovate whichever house I bought over time, room by room,, and turn the inside into comfortable living quarters. As Laozi wrote in the Dao de Qing::
We hammer wood for a house
But it is the inner space
That makes it livable.
This is an integral Daoist concept . . . . . meditation to cultivate the stillness within, seeking clarity in the moment, and having brought ourselves into that present moment awareness, making sure we live in it.
Cultivating stillness changes us. We learn to live our life from the inside out, and we stop seeking other people?s approval or understanding. Not everyone will understand our journey, and that?s okay, for we are here to live our life, not to help others understand it.
Medical science has established that a regular daily meditation practice changes our brain in a way that enables us to interact with life outside the ?Me? center. Our engagement with daily life is not filtered through that ?me? lens that tells us everything is about us. A simple Google search ?how meditation changes the brain? will help you learn more.
Rather, we see life simply as it is, with a greater sense of calmness and awareness in the moment, and with far less judgment. We find ourselves becoming more compassionate and forgiving toward everyone, including ourselves. Our priorities change, and we develop a better sense of how truly little we need to live a meaningful life.
Seek that inner stillness. ?Find the time to meditate. You should sit for 20 minutes every day, unless you are too busy; in which case, you should sit for an hour.
From the outside, my house is that crooked, gnarled and ugly tree. But inside, it is, slow by slow, becoming livable.
From the outside, I am becoming crooked and gnarled, too. But I meditate daily and cultivate the stillness within, living in the present moment awareness that comes with stillness.
Admittedly, some days I fail. ?As I tell my students, though, there is no such thing as a bad meditation. And so I sit, morning and evening. Meditation is a skill, and like every skill, it must be practiced.
It’s okay to be crooked and gnarled, to be thought useless. I don’t have the time to mind that at all. There is no room for such a concern in the moment.
Twenty minutes, unless I?m too busy, in which case I sit for an hour.