Grains of sand


“It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out, it is the grain of sand in your shoe”

It is funny what sticks with you. The above quote I actually heard from a world civilization teacher in 7th or 8th grade. I could swear that he told us it was an old saying from Confucius, but a quick look on the web appears to verify its author as Robert W. Service. Whatever. It is a great quote, and one which has come back to haunt or instruct me on so very many occasions in life. We humans are like that, really. We let the most petty annoyances turn into giant stumbling blocks. And the really big things, the really big questions in life, glide by with such little weight and such little notice.

These thoughts were occupying me this afternoon after my Monday meditation group. It seemed that the entire environment was conspiring to pull me out of “the zone”. Random honking from the street below, the floors being resurfaced in the next room, the giggling group in the hallway, the guy in the room who shifted his place three times, while loudly sorting his pile of keys and change.

There is a mostly unspoken tension that exists among meditators that revolves around environment. What is a suitable space in which to meditate? Almost without fail, the goal is to pick a tranquil environment that involves a simple room that is mostly cutoff from outside sound, with a low light level and comfortable temperature. The idea is to have the fewest distractions possible, thus allowing participants to concentrate and focus more deeply on the meditation at hand. Whenever there is an extra stimulus (which is very often), the individual or group is confronted with a small dilemma. A major goal of Buddhism after all is to accept all things with equanimity and not to cling to cravings (such as for an “ideal” space) or run from aversions (such as a chaotic environment). Therefore, it is ideal to simply “deal with it” and find a way to notice and accept without judgement. Ultimately, we all live in the imperfect world (even Buddhists) and the goal is too see clearly and find peace in the present moment, and the present being. This of course includes the chaos that is life.

The great lesson I keep coming back to is that these little things are not only the grains of sand in my shoe. These grains of sand in some ways ARE the mountain ahead, in that they are as much a part of the totality of existence as the mountain. And neither the mountain nor the grains of sand are much without our acquiescense to their power. All things hinge on our attitude towards them, and our willingness to reach out and accept them, to touch them and let them touch us without craving or aversion. To appreciate and experience them, and then let them go.