I once read a story about a Zen acolyte who wanted to reach the garden of enlightenment. Study with me, said his teacher, and you will achieve enlightenment.
How long will that take, asked the student, who was young and impatient.
About thirty years, said his master.
Too long, thought the student and struck out on his own, sure that he could find his way to the garden of enlightenment alone. He wandered far from home, far from his teacher. He faced great troubles and great obstacles. I imagine, when I think of the story, that there were times when he was cold and lonely, times when he was distracted by temptation and almost forgot his task, times when he almost laid down in the middle of the road and surrendered. But he did not. He traveled the world round in search of the garden. For decades, he sought his prize. Until one day, an older man now, tempered by time and travel, he found the entrance to the place he sought. And there, at the gate, was a familiar face. The guardian of the garden was none other than his old teacher.
I know there is a lesson in this story. I hear it whispering in the corners. It feels practical and obedient, and I have no interest in it. It will not keep me at the teacher’s feet. I am still young and impatient. My lesson is at the lintel. It sings, Come through the door; go look for yourself. The garden is out there, but the way is yours to find.
This story – my response to this story – tells me more about myself than perhaps was intended. It tells me that the road (to enlightenment or creativity or whatever I am seeking) matters more to me than the destination. That the value of the destination is its place at the end of my road, not someone else’s. That I am, even now, still young and impatient and, perhaps, not just a little arrogant. I, who have tried to be such a good daughter and good student…not really so much anymore. I want to do it my way, even if it’s harder, even if it’s foolish.
My response to this story reminds me of another sage, another story, but in the Jewish tradition. A Rabbi Zusya, who said, When I die and go to heaven, the great one will not ask me why I was not more like Moses, more like Hillel. He will ask me, Zusya, why were you not more like Zusya?
So here I am…out among words, among goals, trying to find my way, trying to cut through the high grass of tasks and temptations to find the road that only I can walk. I might look lost out here, in the middle of nowhere without a compass. But I’m not. I’m wandering.
Image courtesy of suwatpo / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.