Games and Crafts

When I mentioned to a friend that I had watched an online golf game, she gave me a withering look. “Knocking a ball into a hole?” Well, my external excuse is that I got interested because the love of my life enjoyed golf—and because, thanks to commentary, I began to realize that it has an intense mental side. I began to think that all golfers should practice Zen.

In the ancient world’s programs for transformation, games and crafts were often used as growth practices. Why?

Well, I’m still a beginner at understanding this. I make quilted wall hangings, so I have a craft available. The first obvious thing is that, as a spiritual practice, it’s not about result, it’s about process. We rarely want this part.

A spiritual result—like enlightenment or transformation—is not a result we can determine. The great mystics say over and over that the final shift can only be received, never “done.” So our transformational practice must be focused on process. Wanting only a great result merely makes us grasp more, and grasping shuts down our availability to change.

Second, a game or a craft requires certain skills. One of those is submission to circumstances: fabric is not a forgiving medium and a mistake with scissors cannot be repaired. In a game, one submits to the conditions and the rules. Submission is not a favorite word in American vocabulary. We’re generally more interested in taking power. Yet, if we seek to become something “more” than we experience ourselves currently to be, we must submit to the conditions of the path: things like regularity of practice, openness to newness, adjustment to the conditions of our chosen way, qualities of character like gratitude and humility.

A third obvious thing is letting go. In golf, if you can’t let go of the mess you made at the previous hole, you’re going to repeat it. In quilting, if your cut isn’t right, or corners don’t match, you must be able to let go of that and simply take the next step forward, with patient focus.

In spiritual practice, too, letting go is essential: letting go of whatever in myself stands in the way of living in greater, awareness, greater love, greater joy—also with patient focus.

What if we use not only “holy” activities, but also our crafts and games for personal expansion?










































Years ago, when it was possible to camp near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, our family did just that. The moon was going to be full while we were there, and my mother and I wanted to see the Canyon by moonlight. Around 1:00 a.m., we left our sleeping bags and walked the hundred or so yards to the edge of the Canyon. The moon shone brilliant in a cloudless sky. But the Canyon was filled with fog, almost up to our feet. We could see nothing but a flat blue-gray.

The image has returned to me in these days when I reflect about what it means to stand on an edge, a threshold. Usually we think of a threshold as that few inches of space in a doorway, which we step over on our way out. But sometimes, in our inner life, we can only stand there. We’re in a doorway with scenery behind us and fog in front. Who knows how deep is the canyon beneath our feet? Or what the fog covers?

In such a time, we may recall how we got here, and we also know that it’s past, done. We may have wishes about what is before us, but sure knowledge we don’t have. And so we stand, carrying within what we have learned, knowing that we will move forward. But how? And when? We stand on the threshold, waiting, perhaps, for a sign or a feeling of readiness.

The unexpected thing about the thresholds of life is that there is always one step available to us, one thing we can see to do or to change. One step. So we are not stuck, though we may feel stuck. One step will take us forward. We can see no further. The ever-miraculous reality is that once we have taken the one step we can see, another step becomes visible. It too is on solid ground.

Meanwhile, we stand on the threshold, teetering a little perhaps. Wondering what will be opening ahead of us. I think in these uncertain moments, we can turn our eyes to the bright light of the full moon. We do stand in light, even though the path before us is foggy. In that light, we can take that one visible step. It’s always there.









































The Dalai Lama

Perhaps many of you have a Dalai Lama story. Here’s mine.

In my forties, I was back in graduate school and while I was there, the Dalai Lama came to visit. He and a faculty member were friends. So he met with a group for an hour or so. It was, of course, by invitation.

Next to the large room he spoke in, which held some 250 people, was the bookstore, separated by old French doors with the windows covered, but a crack between them. So we uninvited ones gathered to take turns peeking through the crack like a bunch of kids. And indeed we did feel like children—excited to be even this close to the great master.

When it appeared that he was finishing, we went outside, in silence, to line the sidewalk where he must walk to his waiting limo. He came along, smiling, greeting us as he went. I was struck by his seeming ordinariness. Not a shred of pretention.

He came to the open back door of the limo and began to fold himself to sit inside. So he was bent far over when the shriek echoed down the block. “Wait for me! Wait for me! Wait! Wait for me!” We students turned as one to see the source of this irreverent demand: a young woman running toward us, waving her camera. Indignation rolled through us like a wave.

“What will he do?” I wondered.

He paused in his folded position, straightened up, and stood there waiting for her. She arrived at about ten feet from him, snapped her picture and lowered her camera. The Dalai Lama put his palms together and bowed to her. Then he folded himself into the limo’s back seat. The chauffeur closed the door and he was gone.

No fuss. No entitlement. No hurry. He did as he’d been asked. And I, along with the rest of the grad students, stood reproved.

That was many years ago and it’s as fresh as yesterday. Why? I think now it’s because of the quality of presence the Dalai Lama brought to this simple, unexpected incident. It looked ordinary. It was not ordinary. It was kind, but it had to have come from an inner, unshakeable poise, offered to the particular moment as it arose. Today, still a gift—and a challenge.





































Spirals and Cycles

These thoughts feel a little heavy to me, but they’ve been on my mind, since yesterday’s limo accident that killed 20 people, so…

There’s a famous story from India. It seems a young prince was dallying around in the palace courtyard one day, when he noticed Yama, the God of Death staring at him from a corner. Death crooked a finger, “Come here.” Terrified, the prince ran to his father, the all-powerful king, and told him what he’d seen. Was he crazy?

“Well,” the king said, “I don’t think so. We have to get you away from here as quickly as possible. Get a horse from our stables and race as fast as you can to that far city, Samara. Then hide, so Death cannot find you.”

The prince obeyed and soon galloped away. The king, meanwhile, went to the courtyard, angry and looking for Yama. He was still there.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he shouted. “How dare you frighten my son so much! Now get out of here and never come back!”

Death looked suddenly alert. “All right. I’ll leave. I have to go anyway, as I have an appointment with your son tomorrow–in Samara.”

It’s not only about personal death. It’s everything. At varying speeds, everything comes into visible existence and goes out of visibility again. This is the spiral of being. Nothing is exempt. We, however, often take the attitude that things must stay the same, or turn out the way we expect, in order for us to feel secure and happy. We speak of death as a tragedy because we cannot know the soul-deep needs of the life in question.

Is it useful to fight against life’s inevitabilities? Why not honor the cycles? Why not marvel at the way things actually are? Why not cherish each thing, each person, each idea, as they float through our awareness on their own journey to fulfillment? We can offer love along the way, and help if possible. It takes much less energy to live in wonder, than it does to resist with a closed, anxious heart. The cyclic process will continue with or without our approval. Our power lies elsewhere.

Our power lies in our own hearts, our own inner choices. We can choose to trust the process or hate it. Which feeling would you rather live with?