‘The Supreme Way is without difficulty. It just precludes picking and choosing. Without yearning or loathing, the Way is perfectly apparent, while even a hairsbreadth difference separates heaven and earth.’

~ Relying on the Mind, Seng T’san, d. 606 ad

Zen is not so much clever advice on how to navigate life as it is an understanding that the road itself provides its own compass. Whichever direction we are pointed, we naturally turn toward true north, and in that way we can never get lost.


As I write this, we are coursing up and down New England’s i95 from New York to Maine looking at colleges with my two high-school daughters, something a trip that my own GPAs, SATs and personal GDPs would not have allowed. ‘Precluding picking and choosing’ is not exactly a stop on the road map. Big or small? Public or private? Left coast or East? The trip has inspired considerable gnashing of teeth, parental goading, and no small amount of ‘yearning or loathing’.

Frank Bruni, of the New York Times, recently wrote a book called ‘Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be.’ It was a sympathetic look at the craziness that the college applications process has become and an argument that the spirit students bring to the school they attend is a greater indicator of later success than the ‘brand’ that school may or may not offer. True that; it was certainly my experience. But Zen is not just about working out disappointment. It is more immediate and alive than that.

‘Not picking or choosing’ is really more about frozen parents walking one more damned campus tour (‘Our food was ranked no 1!’, gushes the Freshman guide as my nose whitens with frostbite). It is about chatting with the elderly cafeteria cashier who has worked at the school for 20 years, or holding the door open as the parents stream through on the tour. It is about sharing, and appreciating, with your loved ones an important moment in their lives.

Yesterday, while my wife drove one stretch, I dozed, and in that space between waking and sleeping, somewhere south of Portland, Maine, my father and mother appeared to me in a dream. They both gave warm, loving looks, as if to assure me

the transition from child to adult, home to away, now to the future, would be just fine. All right, folks, I promise: No more yearning or loathing.