Recently I read a short story about a Zen Master and one of his students that beautifully described the value of letting go of judgment. The student, one of many partaking in a retreat high in the Himalayas, came rushing in to the Zen Master’s private quarters one morning, with a pinched and reddened face, declaring “You have to move me to another room. My roommate is a smoker and it is intolerable to me. It’s fouling the air in this retreat,” he breathlessly declared, almost spitting out his words.
The wise Master calmly looked up from his reading and said, “I’ll move you, but not because of your roommate. Your harsh judgment is fouling the air much more than his smoke.”
How many times have we observed someone doing something we thought inappropriate or outrageous, instantly responding with our personal appraisal as if it was the only truth? ‘How could he,’ we think to ourselves? ‘What in the heck is she doing?’ we muse self-righteously.
Back in 1978 I was producing a documentary on running, along with a small camera crew, in Ecuador, chronicling Los Viejos in the Sacred Valley of Vilcabamba - where modern medical research reports its inhabitants are considered the healthiest people on earth - is an exquisitely magical part of the Andes Mountains. A respected Ecuadoran healer, Don Lucho, pointed out, “Our people’s future health depends upon their daily personal habits of drinking, eating, living and thinking today. The drinking of our sacred Vilcabamba water is perhaps the one habit that lends itself best to superior longevity among our people.” They also smoke tobacco.
When I first arrived in Vilcabamba I noticed more than half of the happy villagers, including men and women, young and old, smoked hand-rolled cigarettes. It was more than a little disconcerting, as I was told I would see hearty, robust centenarians on every street corner. I could hear my internal judgment police mounting an assault on these delightful, New Age Shangri La inhabitants. Truth is, they were hearty and robust, right up to their sparkling brown eyes.