Several years ago, when my son was a teenager, he worked in my company warehouse. I received the benefit of his insights about the company as well as his suggestions for improvements. Fairly often he would suggest that I take him to lunch, and though this meant spending more money then I normally would, the opportunity made me happy.
During one of our many lunch discussions he asked me, “Do you think of yourself as a confident person?” This was the day before I was scheduled to give a lecture at Green Gulch Farm (part of the San Francisco Zen Center, where about 200 people attend lecture each Sunday morning). He went on to say that he was trying to understand how I could be giving lectures, teaching, and running a company.
He saw me as somewhat quiet and shy and had a difficult time seeing me as a teacher. “After all, you’ve never taught me anything,” he blurted out. After my initial surprise at hearing these words, I teased him by responding that I had been planning a lecture series for him, which was scheduled to begin the following week.
I went on to explain that as a Zen teacher and as a businessman — and as a human being — my confidence, real confidence lies in the knowledge that I am certain of nothing. I have no idea where I came from or where I am going. I have no idea what will happen to my business in the future.
Realizing and facing this directly, how do we find our own calm, flexibility, and freedom? I think that this is the kind of confidence that Zen students and businesspeople are constantly cultivating — tremendous confidence and trust in our own sincerity and in our effort and in our ability to meet whatever to come our way, the confidence in our ability not to get in the way of our deepest intentions.
On a practical level, we need to have confidence and some trust or faith in ourselves and in our abilities. Ideally, just enough to continually try things that may be beyond our comfort level. A wonderful paradox, cultivating a sense of confidence, a sense of certainty, allows us to jump into the unknown.
Often when I see friends or family whom I have not seen for a while, people will ask me how my business is doing. I find this a difficult question to answer. Wanting to give a truthful answer, I usually say that we are either on the verge of tremendous success, or we are on the verge of tremendous failure.
There is a Zen story in which the Zen master becomes ill. He had always been a healthy and vigorous teacher. One of the monks asks him, “Are you well or not?” The teacher responds by saying, “Sun-faced Buddha, Moon-faced Buddha.” The Sun-faced Buddha is supposed to live for more than a thousand years. The Moon-faced Buddha lives only one day and one night. The point of the story is that none of us knows what the future brings. All we can do is be composed, be ourselves, and meet our lives fully. We never know whether we have one day to live or a thousand years. All we can do is be open and present and make our best effort.
Where does your confidence lie? How do you cultivate confidence?
The Law of Detachment