A new friend of mine who is a Buddhist Monk asked me and my wife to help him paint bamboo designs on a city bench recently. I immediately jumped on the chance to do so, first because it had the feeling of some kind of karma yoga to it (I know, I have now talked about it as such, so is it really still karma yoga?) and secondly I know that we’d get the chance to be in this friend’s company, which is vast even though he takes up no more space than an average man.
I had not done much painting and was not sure I’d be able to do the project the justice it deserved, but I wanted to try, and I knew the artistic leanings of my wife, so I asked her and she was very enthusiastic. So we went.
My friend made an announcement to us before we began work. And that was that there was one Buddhist rule he needed us to follow. This had me very apprehensive but I pricked up my ears and tuned in.
“There are no mistakes.”
So what did I do with that information? After he gave us a crash course in how he would like the bamboo to be painted, I made a mistake. I failed to see it any other way at the moment. I noticed it while my friend told an unrelated story, and I got the feeling he saw it too, but I waited for a good time to interrupt to tell him. I said “I made a mistake.” He said “Yeah you did, but the second rule is that even if you do make a mistake it can be fixed.”
He had not point out my mistake. He waited to make sure I had seen it, then he downplayed its relevance. He let it be known that I didn’t want to go making that mistake over and over, because then the project would take who knows how much longer, but downplayed it nonetheless.
And he tried to keep me from becoming uptight about it. I wanted to do it the “right way”, to do right by him and the civic beautification project at hand. I may have come off as a bit uptight by repeatedly expressing my concern about my ability with the brush, and asking him if it was okay if I do this or that in this or that way. As if there were rules. Lesson learned. Meanwhile my wife had a great time, making up her own rules as she went along, improving on the process I followed very machine-like. And as she continued to lay down the paint she kept conversation rolling by asking my friend some of the questions she has been waiting to ask him about his way of life/chosen path.
I have had a similar experience before. At a formerly-held job, a co-worker once passed by my station, and I unfortunately have forgotten the exact words she said, but whatever it was, it inspired me to put up a makeshift sign on my cubicle wall which read “Don’t Carry The World Upon Your Shoulders.” It’s a line from the Beatles’ song “Hey Jude” but it applied perfectly. It is what I was doing at the time, I know that for sure. Though I often looked at this sign and attempted to make it my mantra, I don’t know that I fully grasped it in application to my daily work at that job.
So, thank you, my friend. I may have gotten it this time. Had we more time to paint, I may have fully relaxed and enjoyed it as a true meditative activity. But at least I understand a little more how my long-held intellectual belief that there are no mistakes actually applies to real-world activity.