…despite the impossibility of tracing back a single effect to a single cause, human nature allows for no other response to an event…. there is always a determined effort to isolate an effect’s cause and to appropriate praise or blame to it.
The Dog on Ice
The winter was harsh. The freezing weather came in November and worsened. Snow, ice, and bitter winds blew across the Great Lake of Michigan. Ice, more ice than recorded history shows, formed on the Lake. A dog, a stray, an Australian shepherd got stuck on the ice for the entire winter. Five rescuers, unknown to one another at first, began heroic attempts to save the dog.
The ice, the cold and the wind were massive foes against the brave attempts to save her. The five did not give up. BUT all they could do was get food for her, reassure her she was not alone on the ice and that when the ice, the cold and wind changed to warmer spring weather they would be there to get her off the ice.
For weeks she struggled alone, on the ice, on the frozen Great Lake until the ice began to melt allowing the five to rescue her. But even when a waterway opened, she was so used to struggling when the rescuers tried to get her, she was afraid. She had spent so much time on the ice she had worn her front teeth away and parts of her tongue froze, leaving it permanently blackened.
The scars remain.
Eventually she began to trust the rescuers and was brought to a shelter, half-starved, frozen, and frightened. Soon she may be adopted. She is a sweet dog, her tongue is still blackened, she still has no front teeth, but she gave up her struggle on the ice. She allowed the five rescuers to help her.
Our tendency is to hunt for the human being who was irresponsible, the one who was responsible for her being stuck.
It is human nature to look for the person or persons who were the cause, to isolate the cause and affix blame or praise on the offender. This nature, our human instinct, needs to be given up for us to get off this slippery slope. We must go against this compulsion to blame or praise. We must do something much more difficult.
The Way is not so much to let anyone get off scot-free or award a trophy to the rescuers when it comes to cause and effect, but rather to start with our own mind.
As a Zen teacher explains:
…The place to start is to take your mind back to the event. Ask yourself if you…contributed in any way to the disaster. Did you choose to overlook…that something was wrong?
This teaching is simple in explanation and difficult to accomplish.
When we see things go wrong, when help is needed, our human propensity is to look outward. This instinct, to find the wrongdoer, coupled with our tendency to help, propels us into an external man hunt for the wrongdoer.
We like to draw lines, definitive lines which complete a shape. There is nothing more complete than drawing a line of conclusion around the guilty party. It gives us a sense of nailing the perpetrator which circles back to giving praise to those who seek justice.
But this is not the Way.
The Way is to realize our human inclination to find the cause, to help when we see a need and to overlook our contribution to blame the other. We prefer to be scot-free of thinking, seeing, and knowing our contribution to the suffering. We are ignorant when we do not ask ourselves “did I contribute in any way to this disaster?”
Our propensity is to blame others in the external world.
Did we overlook our involvement? How did we contribute to this misery?
The caution of the Way is to stay away from the edges of patting ourselves on the back in praise and pointing a finger of blame at the “other.” We need to be willing to confess our mistakes, our lack of attention and our inclination to blame others and praise ourselves.
This teaching requires an investigation of ourselves. It requires in-depth study of our tendencies and habits. We must recognize the prize of liberation from our cock-eyed and blind view of ourselves. It requires a commitment to on-going training. When we study our mind, we begin to change.
We either stop the cycle of self-concern and self-interest or else we forfeit the freedom of being self-aware. Begin and continue with –
Ask yourself if you…contributed in any way to the disaster.
Did you choose to overlook…that something was wrong?
Zen Contemplative of the Order of Hsu Yun
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Qutoe-Anthony Wolff, Recovery, Revenge, and Rescue: The 3R Murders