In his most recent book “Living Untethered”, Michael Singer tells the story of a Buddhist monk.
One morning, the monk greets his guru, who notices that the monk is glowing. The guru asks if anything has just happened. The monk replies that on his habitual early morning walk to see his guru, he saw the same tree he sees every morning, but for the first time he saw just a tree. The guru asks the monk to elaborate. The monk replies, For many years now, when I pass this tree I imagine the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi Tree. Or, I imagine the tree I climbed and fell out of when I was a child. But today, I saw just a tree. And I understood. And the guru answered, Yes, you understand.
A gazillion thoughts and feelings go through our minds and hearts every day. And how we see the world is usually through the lens of whatever we are thinking or feeling. We are in a good mood, we welcome the sunshine. We are in a bad mood, we hate the oppressive sun. The sun hasn’t changed. Our perspective has. Or maybe the sun reminds us of that time we got sunburned. Or maybe that glorious summer holiday in Fiji. Still, the sun hasn’t changed. But we have.
But, let’s be honest, a hug feels better than a shove. An I love you feels better than Moooooom, you are so pathetic! But does another’s assessment of us from one moment to the next really change our essence? Any less than the sun changes its essence? Not really.
So, what do we do? We don’t become impervious to life. Even the greatest mystics and religious leaders still had challenging thoughts and feelings and faced challenging situations. Because this is life. Rather, we try to become comfortable with the fluctuations of our hearts and minds, which are, according to Singer, unresolved issues seeking resolution. They are asking to be processed and released. What hurts is asking for healing. Not to be shut away or silenced. Not anymore.
And gradually, with practice, more and more phenomena—whether thoughts or feelings or situations—will appear without us taking it personally. And we will have the peace and clarity simply to do what is required in that given moment. When we can see that a tree is just a tree.