Writing from the Heart: Preferences

How can you live without preferences? You have to know what you want in order to get it.


The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.

The first time I read that statement, I was perusing snippets of the third patriarch of Zen, Hsin Hsin Ming.

Before you scratch your head wondering, “What’s happened to Nancy; does she really spend time perusing Chinese Zen texts?” let me, in full disclosure, say no. I don’t peruse Chinese texts.

But Ram Dass, my teacher in one of his lectures, quoted these words, “The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.” And my immediate reaction was, So, who needs to be on the great way? But then, being the good spiritual student, I Googled.

Zen, it turns out, is a state of calm attentiveness in which one’s actions are guided by intuition rather than by conscious effort. Of course I loved that, because I always think of myself as more intuitive than conscious. Calm is a problem (which I’m working on), but the great way without preferences is way too difficult for me.

I mean, I have a million preferences. How can you live without preferences? You have to know what you want in order to get what you want, right? You have to make choices: dinner at Offshore Ale, or dinner home. Movie streaming, or movie at the Film Center. Snail mail, or email. I know these aren’t life decisions, but you need to have opinions. How else can you satisfy your basic needs? Luckily, I’m in touch with all my desires. I desire Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream. I desire it a lot. I desire down pillows. I desire a heated seat. Actually, I love my heated seat. Actually, actually, actually I need my heated seat.

My husband, who I think is a high being from another planet, always says when I say I need anything, “You don’t need blah blah blah. You need air, you need water, you need food. That’s it.”

Obviously he lives on the great way. I just live on State Road.

So I went back to Google, and instead of perusing and grabbing a one-line definition, I actually committed to reading. And here, without being a wiseass, is what it said:

The great way is not difficult 
for those who have no preferences. 
When love and hate are both absent 
everything becomes clear and undisguised. 
Make the smallest distinction, however, 
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. 

If you wish to see the truth 
then hold no opinions for or against anything. 
To set up what you like against what you dislike 
is the disease of the mind. 
When the deep meaning of things is not understood, 
the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail. 

The way is perfect like vast space 
where nothing is lacking and nothing in excess. 
Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject 
that we do not see the true nature of things. 

Be serene in the oneness of things and such 
erroneous views will disappear by themselves.

That’s all well and good, and would work in a sweeter time. But I feel we are in the dark night of the political soul, and I don’t think my views are erroneous. And I think I am seeing the true nature of things. I want to be Zen and I want to be serene, and honestly, I am really trying. But (and my son Dan used to say everything before the “but” is B.S.), but I keep feeling like I’m fiddling while the planet burns (and not just from carbon dioxide).

But then I go back to Hsin Hisin Ming, and what sentence jumps out at me first? “To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.”

Me? My mind? Diseased? Oy.

So back to the drawing board. Maybe mint chocolate chip will do.