Recently I had a discussion with a friend who spends a good deal of time in Europe. She was telling me how the Europeans comment on the American culture, and it’s lack of poise. For instance, in the Italian culture, the meals are meant to be savored, revered, and unhurried. Lunches and dinners last at least two hours and in many cases longer. The French have many of the same habits as it relates to food. They grow much of their food and prepare meals with fresh ingredients. They eat small portions of food and take their time during meals. Most European cultures get plenty of exercise because they walk or ride a bike to the places they go. They appreciate nature and the cycle of the seasons. They live graciously and gently. Whereas, for the most part, Americans live heavy-handed and at a pace that is frenetic and stressful. We seek immediate gratification with little or no patience for ‘waiting.’ We are often mindless in our consumption of just about everything. And frequently we choose distraction over stillness.
Zen Master Dogen
As I considered the truth to these cultural differences, I remembered the wisdom of the ancient Zen master, Dogen.
He said that when birds fly in the sky, they leave no trace. And when fish swim in the water, they leave no trace. With this metaphor, Dogen encourages us to understand how to express spirituality in our everyday lives. He is saying that there should be nothing left over from our activity, nothing to clean up.
Author and ordained Zen monk, Les Kaye has said this about Dogen’s ‘leave no trace’ philosophy:
“Because of the flowing nature of water and air, the gentle traces of the birds’ activity and the fish’s activity are quickly gone and air and water return to equilibrium. So we say that they leave no trace. But unlike birds or fish, people do not move in the air or the water. We move on the ground, and we also move in each other’s minds. That is the nature of human beings. If we create a trace in someone’s mind because of what we say or do, that trace may last a lifetime. So out of our feeling of compassion, we try not to leave a trace in someone’s mind.”
“Allowing our minds to be like air or water lets them return quickly to equilibrium and leave no trace of disturbance. When our minds are that way, we can notice their tendencies, that is, the times when they do not act like water, when they are stubborn, angry, greedy, or distracted. So we continue our determined practice to let our minds be “no-trace mind.” We do this so we will know how to take care of others’ minds without leaving a trace.”
Note To Self
The discussion with my friend led me to remind myself to live with more awareness and presence, to approach my days with appreciation and softness, and to be attentive to the wisdom of ‘leaving no trace.’ I invite you to consider being more mindful in your words, thoughts, and deeds. I think the human race could benefit from a collective way of being that is focused on leaving a lighter footprint.