One of my favorite questions from the Zen tradition is: What is the impossible request your life asks of you?
Great question, don’t you think? (If you are thrown or put off by the word “impossible,” just omit it.)
So, what is the request your life asks of you?
Either way it’s a challenging question with some real heft and depth. It’s a question that turns our usual thinking upside down from inquiring what we want from this life to instead asking what does life, this life, our/my life request from us/me? It’s a more difficult and more empowering approach and perspective.
Mindfulness and Zen traditions love such questions, where the question is meant to be chewed on, considered, breathed, and embodied. It is meant to evoke surprising, heart-felt responses. One of the many things that has drawn me to Zen practice for much of my life is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously even to the point of negating itself. While Zen has a rich and vibrant history and tradition, at its heart it is concerned with what it means to be fully human, aiming high at being a more wise and compassionate human.
As we step into the new year, a great exercise is to ask yourself the question: “What is the impossible request this life asks of me?” and then to write your answer for 12 minutes without too much thinking or editing. See how you do with this!
The second question is a complimentary question to the first question.
What if it were easy? What if you approached projects, your work, your relationships, and your life from the perspective of not assuming it was going to be a struggle? Instead, what if there were greater ease?
I know, I know – struggle is good. I’m reminded of a conversation from many years ago with my therapist. I was proclaiming how difficult it is to change. She looked at me and said, “Oh I almost forgot; you are a Zen guy. You think everything needs to be difficult!” It was at this moment that I began to ask myself: What if things weren’t so difficult? What about more ease? (She was really good at her job.)
I don’t think we need to worry about there being enough difficulty and challenge in life. We can count on it to provide just the right amount, if not more. So, how might we engage these difficulties and challenges with more ease?
Many people in American culture have a good deal of resistance and suspicion about ease. I struggle with it myself but I’m also experimenting with it. This second question, about ease, isn’t about suppressing or sugar-coating pains and challenges. Ease can infer and be an invitation to meet whatever arises without unnecessary resistance. This kind of ease is more about wholeheartedness and lack of resistance and not at all turning away from difficulty.
I invite you to experiment and explore combining these two questions:
· What is the impossible request your life asks of you?
· What if there were more ease?
Try writing for another 12 minutes about the second question or take that time to answer both, then repeat the exercise in a week’s time.
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
…What can anyone give you greater than now…
by William Stafford, from the poem You Reading This Be Ready
And, a song: A children’s song, that works well for anyone: Thanks A Lot by Raffi
Wishing you a safe, nurturing, and fulfilling New Year!