I was in university when I first heard the Zen teaching, “Hoe your own row.”
Meaning: “Don’t get caught in the trap of ongoing comparison.”
Oh, man. I was maybe 20 or 21 years old and was constantly comparing – grades, sports, style, car, jobs…to some extent, I confess, I only knew myself in comparison with others.
So the spiritual teaching to “hoe my own row” without constantly glancing to my left or right to see if I was ahead or behind my neighbor was a challenging (and liberating) invitation. I imagined myself a Zen monk sitting in meditation for hours each day, focused on going beyond the confines of ego-attachment…and then trying to race my neighbour monk to enlightenment. Absurd!
Whether addressing spiritual or material habits, “hoeing your own row” is great advice. We all have plenty to work on – unhelpful thought patterns, harsh self-criticism, defeatist thinking, anxiety-producing ideas, debilitating attachments.
When we arrive in heaven, God will not ask, “Did you beat your neighbor?” God will ask, “Did you hoe your own row?”
Whether or not you make New Year’s resolutions, this is a time of year to remember where we’ve been, look where we are, and consider where we’re going. This New Year threshold invites us to do our own work not for “self-improvement,” really, but “self-releasement” so we’re more open to Life, to God, to “Big Joy.”
So I raise a glass to you at the start of 2018. May we each and all do our work and know the grace of God that works through us, lightening our load and bringing Light to a world that needs to know in its despair that God is so very good.
God bless you this and every season,
PS If you would like a brief but good daily reflection arriving in your e-mail inbox, I recommend “stillspeaking” from the United Church of Christ. Below is an example from Seattle minister, author, consultant Tony Robinson; he says better what I just tried to express.
But As for You
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned
it.” – 2 Timothy 3:14
Writing to his youthful successor, Timothy, Paul uses this particular grammatical
construction — “but as for you” — several times.
Typically he will note that there will be bad actors about. They are “lovers of themselves,
lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive” and a bunch of other choice words. They
are “people who deceive others, who deceive themselves” Paul notes this. Then Paul
says to Timothy, “but as for you” . . . stay at your post, do your work, pay attention to
yourself and your teaching.
As if to say, yes, there are bad actors, there are people who tick you off, there are
people who are full of you know what. I get it. Nevertheless, don’t get fixated on them,
stick to your knitting.
I hear two things in this interesting, repeated “But as for you . . .”
Sometimes we can get a lot of resentment going in the direction of people who we think
are behaving badly, who are arrogant, boastful or abusive — to quote Paul. The problem
with this is suggested by the following definition of resentment: “Resentment is drinking
poison and expecting the other person to die.”
And there is an upside in Paul’s, “But as for you . . .” It is the reminder that if we can’t
control others, and in particular others who are being a pain, we can take responsibility
for ourselves. So, yes, crap may be going on. “But as for you continue in what you
have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you have learned it.”
Sure, it’s a crazy world and some days it seems as if people are unfair, irritating and
mean. But the one you can have some real impact on is you. Focus there. “But as for
you . . .”
Lord, I just hate it when you remind me to take care of my own business and sweep my
side of the street. But I need that reminder. Thank you.