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Kafka, Kinhin and Lifelong Learning

walking 400 x 256

     The teacher at the zendo near my house explained that on the in-breath of kinhin, we are practicing being comfortable standing still. I might argue that I had enough practice with that while we were doing zazen. It wasn’t particularly comfortable. My lips were dry, I swallowed a lot, my back was sore, and now I’d like to walk briskly and shake out my limbs.

                Thankfully, that was one of those retorts I thought of much later, so I didn’t have to suppress it while presenting a forced smile.

                While I’m doing kinhin, and I’m supposed to be concentrating on breathing and walking, I’m usually thinking about a particular analogy Kafka wrote in his diaries.

                The picture of dissatisfaction presented by a street, where everyone is perpetually lifting his feet to escape from the place on which he stands.

Doesn’t he just know how to take a picture of a bustling city street and turn it into a total downer? Everyone here is dissatisfied; that’s why they keep going.

                Is that how it is in the zendo? Are we all dissatisfied? Is that why we practice kinhin? It’s enough to make you miss a step and stand still on the out-breath, too.

                But I feel like what makes these thoughts so gloomy is not the statements themselves, but the focus that we place on the ‘everyone here is dissatisfied’ portion of the message. What if we shift focus?

That’s why they keep going.

                Suddenly, it’s a message of hope and progress. If we use our dissatisfaction as motivation to act and improve our current situation, maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all.

                It is dissatisfaction that motivates me to keep learning. I am dissatisfied with the number of classic novels I have read, so I keep reading. I am dissatisfied with my understanding of what makes fiction good, so I keep writing and revising short stories. I am dissatisfied with the collection at my local public library, so I keep seeking out new sources of information.

                I’m thankful that I didn’t decide to just stop learning when I finished college and had officially learned “enough.” My life is richer with every new skill or bit of information I learn.

                I’m thankful people don’t just sit down on the street, completely satisfied with the status quo, and cease to progress, make connections, learn and improve.

                And I’m thankful for the out-breath in kinhin. It’s good to be comfortable when you need to stand still, but it’s also good to know that that condition is temporary.

What do you wish you knew more about or were better at? What dissatisfies you about your knowledge and know-how, and what do you plan to do about it?

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