A man strode into the running specialty store where I work, stopped in front of the shoe department, pointed emphatically at his shoes, and loudly and firmly said: “I want THIS exact shoe, in THIS exact size, and in THIS exact color.”
“Sorry sir,” one of my co-workers said, “but they’re no longer making that model of that particular shoe. I can show you the new model, if you’d like.”
The man blinked at my co-worker, his face shifting in seconds from shock to sputtering, bewildered anger. “Don’t make it anymore?” he said, his voice rising. “Why do they keep changing everything?”
I just never know where my next teacher is coming from, which is why I’m trying to pay closer attention these days. What a great koan! Who are these evil overlords “They,” and why do They seem to reap such pleasure in continually spinning our lives into a thousand miniature hells every day? Why can’t anything stay the same?
Once again, someone saw themselves as the unwitting victim of a sinister plot — this time by a shoe company intent on one thing and one thing only: making him the victim, ruining his afternoon. We all give our egos free rein to do this sort of thing every day, and our egos love it, because the last thing our egos want is to be denied or humiliated. If our egos are denied or humiliated, it’s Their fault, and we’re the victim. For some reason, it’s so much easier to star in our own self-directed melodramas than to simply accept circumstances and carry on.
I’ve been listening to a lot of John Cage lately. John Cage is a great teacher of acceptance. His music compositions, often dictated by chance operations (the I Ching was one of his favorite composing tools), make it possible for many of his works to never be played the same way twice. When you’re listening to Cage, you often have no clue what is coming next. It’s as likely to be a moment of silence as a note or a chord, or loud (or soft) thumping or buzzing noises, or — in the case of one of his most famous compositions, 4′ 33″ — nothing but the pianist sitting at the piano for the period of time indicated in the title.
With Cage, everything is music, and once I stop resisting my expectations for melody or anything resembling traditional musical logic — in other words, once I accept the sounds as sounds and just listen — the other sounds of everyday life begin to blend in with Cage’s plinks, plunks and silences, and you realize everything is changing, all of the time, in a thousand different little ways, and it all is making a kind of music together. No music, no “other,” all together.
Listening to Cage has opened me up a little more to acceptance as a life practice and has influenced my running, my sitting and my life in a lot of positive ways. When we stop resisting, when we realize that we’re really exhausting ourselves by trying to stay the same in a constantly morphing universe, it’s easier to accept a twitchy day on the cushion, or a crappy tempo run workout, or a race that didn’t go exactly as planned, or a favorite running shoe that is no longer available — or even much bigger things. Why do They keep changing everything? The real question is, why can’t we see change as the only constant in our lives?