Free U.S. Shipping on orders over $20.00


New World Library Unshelved

New World Library Unshelved

Positive news and inspiring views from the New World Library community

Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Living with and Embracing Paradox by guest blogger Marc Lesser

A coaching client of mine, a successful entrepreneur and scientist, once showed me his happiness assessment. Every day he ranked on a scale from 1 to 10 how he was performing in a variety of areas: work, relationship, spiritual practice, hobbies, exercise, and a few others. He would then calculate an average of these numbers to determine his daily overall happiness quotient. He showed me a chart he kept, tracking the daily rises and falls of this measure. It looked much like the Dow Jones stock market index, with its various trends up and down, seesawing between deep valleys and steep climbs.

I admired his effort to pay attention to and measure his level of happiness. This can be a useful self-awareness tool. He used this tool to determine which parts of his life needed more focus and attention. You, too, could use this approach to provide a quick, daily snapshot.

But I was concerned that he was being aggressively judgmental and hard on himself. His numbers were obviously subjective; after all, he was his own judge, and a harsh one. I suggested that he also keep another version of his happiness index. For this version, I asked that, every day, he rate himself a perfect 10 in every category of his life: work, relationship, spiritual practice, hobbies, exercise. On this second chart no improvement is necessary, or even possible. It represents complete and utter acceptance of one’s life right now, in this moment. Complete appreciation, satisfaction with what is.

I hoped that by keeping both charts he could practice fighting for change and complete acceptance. And that each might help inform the other. Too much driving change, especially when measured solely by judgment and criticism, can lead to a state of constant striving and result in emotional burnout. Too much acceptance can lead to passivity. The goal is not to find a middle spot but to be adept at both — fighting for change and accepting what is.

Zen master Joshu is often regarded as one of the greatest Zen teachers. He lived during the Tang dynasty in ninth-century China. Collections of Zen stories contain many of his colorful, playful, and paradoxical teachings. One story in particular is quite succinct, and famous, and speaks directly to the topic of accepting what is. This story describes how one evening Joshu addressed a large assembly of monks. He said, “The Ultimate Path is without difficulty. Just avoid picking and choosing.”

Of course, we are assessing, discerning, and “picking and choosing” all the time. We have to. I pick and choose these words. We pick and choose our goals. At the same time, Joshu is suggesting that we not fall into a trap when measuring, when we reduce the value of our experiences, and the quality of our lives, by preferring some things and not others, by pitting a “favorite” against everything that doesn’t qualify as a favorite.

I have the same ambivalence with the popular notion of a bucket list — the list of things to do or places to visit before you die. It’s a terrific idea for focusing your attention on how to change your life to do the things that really matter to you. But it leaves out acceptance and gratitude. Despite fighting for change, we should recognize that there is nothing lacking from our lives. Our lives are perfect in this moment just as they are. We should be ready to let go, to die today, with open hearts and a sense of profound acceptance and satisfaction.

I had lunch recently with my friend Kaz Tanahashi, a world-renowned calligrapher and translator. He is also one of the most content, happy, and productive people I know. Kaz travels throughout the world teaching calligraphy and leading Zen retreats. He told me that upon returning from his travels recently someone asked him, “What’s your favorite city?” What a strange question, he thought. He wondered: If he named a favorite city, then when traveling to a city he hadn’t named, would he enjoy this city less? He answered by saying, “There are things I like about all the cities I visit.”


Based on the book Know Yourself, Forget Yourself. Copyright © 2013 by Marc Lesser. Reprinted with permission from New World Library.

Marc Lesser, the CEO and cofounder of the nonprofit Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, lived at the San Francisco Zen Center for ten years and is the former director of the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. He lives in Mill Valley, California.







October 2018 (2)
September 2018 (4)
August 2018 (4)
July 2018 (4)
June 2018 (5)
May 2018 (7)
April 2018 (5)
March 2018 (5)
February 2018 (5)
January 2018 (5)
December 2017 (3)
November 2017 (6)
October 2017 (6)
September 2017 (6)
August 2017 (6)
July 2017 (5)
June 2017 (7)
May 2017 (6)
April 2017 (6)
March 2017 (8)
February 2017 (5)
January 2017 (5)
December 2016 (6)
November 2016 (8)
October 2016 (6)
September 2016 (7)
August 2016 (6)
July 2016 (6)
June 2016 (7)
May 2016 (7)
April 2016 (6)
March 2016 (7)
February 2016 (6)
January 2016 (6)
December 2015 (4)
November 2015 (7)
October 2015 (7)
September 2015 (6)
August 2015 (7)
July 2015 (9)
June 2015 (9)
May 2015 (8)
April 2015 (9)
March 2015 (9)
February 2015 (8)
January 2015 (8)
December 2014 (7)
November 2014 (7)
October 2014 (9)
September 2014 (9)
August 2014 (8)
July 2014 (10)
June 2014 (8)
May 2014 (9)
April 2014 (8)
March 2014 (9)
February 2014 (9)
January 2014 (7)
December 2013 (7)
November 2013 (4)
October 2013 (5)
September 2013 (4)
August 2013 (4)
July 2013 (3)
June 2013 (3)
May 2013 (4)
April 2013 (4)
March 2013 (3)
February 2013 (3)
January 2013 (2)
December 2012 (4)
November 2012 (4)
October 2012 (5)
September 2012 (2)
August 2012 (3)
July 2012 (2)
June 2012 (3)
May 2012 (2)
April 2012 (3)
March 2012 (5)
February 2012 (3)
January 2012 (4)
December 2011 (4)
November 2011 (3)
October 2011 (4)
September 2011 (5)
August 2011 (4)
July 2011 (2)
June 2011 (3)
May 2011 (3)
April 2011 (4)
March 2011 (4)
February 2011 (3)
January 2011 (1)
December 2010 (3)
November 2010 (3)
October 2010 (4)
September 2010 (2)
August 2010 (4)
July 2010 (4)
June 2010 (2)
May 2010 (4)
April 2010 (5)
March 2010 (5)
February 2010 (1)