by Jim Hight
On the last night of the recent Hollow Bones sesshin, I hardly slept at all. Counting breaths, reciting mantras, even reading a novel brought sleep no closer. At 3 AM, I resolved to try counting once more. By the time I reached 80 breaths, I had an insight worth much more than one sleepless night.
The thoughts that draw me away from the moment with strongest force are visions of arguments in which I'm right or other scenarios in which I show my knowledge and competence.
This wasn't news. I've known for years that being right is my obsession and has been since fourth grade when I learned that I could get my teacher's approval - and escape momentarily from my pervasive self-dislike - by answering her questions correctly, at least in English and social science.
I built my self-image around being smart, analytical and articulate, and it has affected everything from my career choice (journalist) to what I like to talk about at parties (subjects I know a lot about). For a decade or more, I've been able to see this twisted perspective and have worked to heal my shame and self-righteousness.
But it wasn't until that moment that I saw what the compulsion to be right really costs me - my essential awareness of who and what I am, and all the wisdom, compassion and joy that shines through me when I dwell in pure awareness.
I saw myself repeating that fourth grader's neurotic and ineffective strategy and realized that it never works, that my ego will never be satisfied. And I simultaneously realized that meditation and Mondo Zen emotional koans are the practices that can enable me to transform and transcend this crazy pattern.
My heart was full of joy and laughter. What a great joke! And now that I'd gotten it, I wouldn't have to be the punch line anymore.
I got up, dressed and walked out into the speechless moonlight that Rumi talked about, grateful beyond measure.