I recall some months ago I was preparing a salad for breakfast. I was peeling (and later seeded) a pair of cucumbers – and as I was doing that I thought to myself ‘Why am I peeling the cucumbers?’. Of course, there is a ‘logical’ answer – since we can’t afford organic vegetables we prefer to remove any potential traces of insecticide which, we assume, concentrate in the peels and in the watery center. But then it hit me that this recurring act of peeling is actually an internal movement of doubt – doubt in the intentions and methods used by the farmers that grow my food. Doubt had become an unconscious yet constant part of my nourishment.
Also some months my wish for a new Shakuhachi came true – and a semi-professional flute entered my life. The purpose of this flute was to open a door to studying with a teacher. I was under the impression that a more fine-tuned instrument is required for formal studies. Indeed shortly after it arrived I found a teacher who is kind and generous and fulfills my indulgence for a lesson once in a while.
During the first lesson my teacher attempted to assess the quality of tuning of the flute – which is difficult to do over Skype. Getting a correct pitch in Shakuhachi is a challenge – it depends on the tuning of the flute, on breathing technique, the embouchure (shape) of the lips .. and on the weather (bamboo changes pitch in varying temperature and humidity conditions). Knowing the flute enables my teacher to better guide me (or maybe more importantly not misguide me) in my playing. I was left with a doubt about the tuning of the flute. Doubt, again, this time in Shakuhachi, an instrument I took on as a part of my meditative practices.
All of my attempts to dispel my doubts regarding the tuning of my Shakuhachi failed and led to unpleasantness. I questioned the maker (who’s life work made it possible for me to hold a Shakuhachi). I resented my teacher (for causing me to question myself and the maker). I pushed myself too hard to play better, to prove that the flute is in tune and that I can play in tune, which ultimately inhibited my playing – and left me with even more doubts … until … a recollection of an incident during a lesson in my Yoga teachers training course rescued me.
We were studying Ayurveda. Our group included numerous students who had come from a background of modern alternative-medicine studies. My teacher indicated at the beginning of the lesson that some of the ideas he will be introducing may strike some of us as counter-intuitive to what we already know and believe. He suggested that we refrain from dissecting and judging the teachings, that we take them with us as a complimentary perspective to what we already know, and that only after we’ve lived them for a few years, we indulge in evaluating their truths and relevancy to our lives as practitioners and teachers. Ironically, a few minutes later, some of the soon-to-be Yoga teachers railed out against the teachings that were offered.
I applied this lesson to my Shakuhachi predicament. I decided to embrace my Shakuhachi settings, including my instrument, it’s maker, my teacher and myself. I decided that I would take a few years before making any observations or coming to any conclusions. This choice has replaced my doubts with faith. It has fostered a softer setting in which I can explore and fluctuate in my relationship with Shakuhachi.
As for cucumbers… it’s getting better but I still haven’t achieved peace. I have been asking myself why I don’t trust farmers in my society… and though I have strong intuitions I have not yet found or formulated clear answers that I can put in writing. But inquiring into the matter has brought farmers and farming in my soceity closer to my mind and heart. I am more in touch with the things I have in common with them and therefore able to experience more sympathy for them and for their choices. Sometimes I go crazy and refrain from peeling or seeding (sometimes both!!) my cucumbers.
Wait, Just Wait
In my consciousness there is an instinct associated with doubt, and it’s programmed to ‘go out and find who’s responsible … and fix it!’. It’s a stubborn instinct (as instincts will be)… and it’s pointless. Instead, waiting, patiently and softly, usually creates a window of opportunity for my attention to move inward, and given time, magical occurs: pushing morphs into embracing and the disturbing energy of doubt becomes a soothing energy of faith.