Sunday, July 15, 2012

Growing Up

A few weeks ago I heard someone say that Zen is a process for growing up.

I like this way of looking at Zen because it agrees with my experience, but if it rubs you the wrong way I'll amend it by saying that Zen offers a set of practices that catalyze the natural process of growing up. Some of my friends would object to claims that Zen has a monopoly on the maturation process, so I'll make this point: it doesn't supplant the natural experience of growing up, but it provides a major boost.

Thank God this
phase is over.
For example, I remember being a smart-ass teenager and judging everyone in terms of rigid categories: this teacher is a dumb loser, this guy is a jerk, this girl is perfect in every way and I have to make her like me, etc. Trying to classify people as entirely good or bad led me to say a lot of stupid things to people because I had largely blinded myself to the subtleties of real personalities. It created the classic awkward teen situation.

That didn't last forever, thankfully. After enough embarrassment and alienation, I eventually realized that these theories I had about people were flawed and I begin to learn about the art of forgiveness. Through forgiveness, it's possible to relax the hyper-logical judgment process that seeks to classify people. It's good, sometimes, to just let things go. Most of the time, you're better off not obsessing over other people's strengths and weaknesses because your assessment rarely matters. Forgiveness more often brings you a clear benefit in complex situations at school or work because you gain the ability to assess every event and every person's contribution by its own merit at that moment, independently of your perceptions of the past. This is tremendously important to making good decisions. Who knows, maybe the guy who messed up the last project has learned from his mistakes and will do better than anyone else the next time around? You don't know.

Now, I'm not saying that, after the tenth failure, you should continue to trust the guy with important work. I'm saying that, after the first time, you should relax the judgments until the situation becomes more clear. This is a really subtle distinction, but an important one. Consider the difference between the teenager who says, "That guy once said something stupid, so I won't take anything he says seriously," versus the adult who says, "Yeah what he said was dumb, but I don't really know what his deal is at this point." It's subtle, but the difference has something to do with maturity.

You could argue that this kind of understanding comes with age, and I wouldn't disagree with you. The thing is that I don't want to wait until I'm old to cultivate this kind of mental flexibility. The best time to make good decisions is now.

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