Saturday, October 22, 2011


Photo courtesy of Marjon Hollander
No matter how far you have gone down the wrong road, turn back!
~ Turkish proverb

Twice in the past week, dharma friends have told me they are making changes in their lives partly because of reading this blog. The first time it happened, I was humbled; the second time was like being hit by a sandbag. Perhaps I was overreacting, but I got choked up and mildly terrified at the same time.

The idea of returning home as an aspect of practice had been percolating on the back burner for a while.  Last week just pushed it to the front.

I think of it as coming back to a path or a state from which we have strayed. Not that straying is necessarily bad - we are the sum total of our strayings, and a little wiser for each one.

Returning home can range between a minor course correction, as in mindfulness practice or zazen when we return to the the present from a daydream, and a 180 degree life-changing about face.

The variations are endless. Here are a few that occurred to me, in no particular order:
  • walking past someone in distress, then going back to help
  • saying "I'm sorry"
  • letting go of a grudge
  • forgiving a debt
  • doing or saying something kind that you have been putting off, no matter how belated it is
  • returning something you stole
  • forgiving yourself, no matter what you did
  • quitting smoking
  • allowing yourself to cry
  • deciding to eat a healthy or ethical diet
  • cuddling after a fight
  • coming out
  • deciding to watch TV, then changing your mind and going for a walk
  • picking up litter you dropped
  • going into rehab or an AA meeting
  • sitting down to meditate after deciding to go to bed
  • asking for help when you don't want to
Each time, our two old friends, the fruits of practice: wisdom and compassion, seem to play a part. Wisdom to realize we have strayed, and compassion to motivate us with the courage to make the change.

The distance we go down wrong roads varies. There is a saying in recovery circles that some people realize they are riding on a garbage truck, figure out where it's going, and jump off, while others ride it all the way to the end. I suspect that as our practices progress, the distances we tend to stray before returning will become shorter, and more and more, we will see a road leading the wrong way, and just pass it up.

I'm avoiding Zen questions like "are we not home already?" or venturing into places where words don't belong, but I do have a question:

So long as one sentient being is suffering, can we ever truly be home?


  1. Returning home for me also means mindfullness. For instance, when I'm getting caught up in some story of the future I need to return home and be mindful of the moment.

  2. Another thought provoking blog post David, thanks for writing it. I know very well what you mean by returning home. After practicing the Dharma for over a decade i had what i call a year or so where i left the path, not entirely, but went through a phase where i was not as committed. I returned to the path again about 8 months ago. But i feel all the better for it. Reverend Jiyu Kennet apparently once said if your going to leave the path make it a good one. By that i think she meant you then realise what the path has to offer and you appreciate it all the more when you return. I like that idea. Keep up the good work.

  3. I often think of 'throwing in the towel' when it comes to abandoning something that takes me away from home. After reading the garbage truck analogy though, I like that much better. "Throwing in the towel" has an aspect if giving up, whereas jummping off the garbage truck is decision to move in a more positive direction. It feels more like a choice. A small difference, perhaps, but it feels important.

    Great post, David. Thank you, again.

  4. Hi Jess, I think returning home to the present moment when we have wandered is a key part, perhaps half, of our practice, the other part being taking action, centred in the moment. Kosho Uchiyama Roshi in his book Opening the Hand of Thought referred to these as "vow and repentence", repentence being returning home.

    Thanks, Thane. I've gone through those periods, too where my commitment to practice has waned, ranging from days to years. And what amazing very logical sounding excuses my brain came up with...

    And thank you again, Tara! Yes I think jumping off the garbage truck is more of a success than a failure. Makes me think of that great line by Samuel Beckett: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

  5. A lovely and motivating post David... And really - If home is where the heart is - As long as there is suffering at the deliberate hand of man - We can't ever truly dwell in that place of peace and safety.

    I love that quote by S Beckett - I'll remember it during my unsuccessful trials.

  6. Thanks, Bea - once we've opened our eyes to suffering,I don't know if we can ever close them again. I hope not.


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