Being tirelessly flexible is difficult. Imagine never allowing yourself the luxury of digging your heels in and calling a stop to a situation you can no longer endure—a marriage, or a lousy job, or a delayed lunch break.
From what I can gather, merely to make a judgement about something or someone is the opposite of being flexible. Certainly, I’ve noticed that when I make a decision about something—that someone is beautiful, perhaps—it’s as if I’ve dropped a concrete breeze block into my mind. And I manufacture these conceptual bricks at an astonishing rate. They pile up like a vast restraining wall that relentlessly forces my flow of consciousness into an ugly, sharp-edged monolith. Then if I practise (a rare and uncomfortable event these days) I can almost feel the cold, unforgiving thickness of the bugger! I squirm and wriggle under the force it exerts on my world view, crushing it into a dense, narrow, distainfully cool and distinctly unpleasant prison of givens. The few times Rinpoche has had the gall to set a wrecking ball to it, it’s hurt like hell at first. What to do? Being tirelessly inflexible is a painful business. But after the initial shock, the tiny hole in the breeze blocks he’s shifted feels like a window into heaven.
Rinpoche himself operates quite differently, as you know, and I’m sure you could all tell a story to illustrate just how tirelessly flexible he can be.
I remember Jamyang Chödrön telling me about her experiences of working on Travellers and Magicians a few years ago. Making films is an expensive business, which is why film producers work so hard to schedule time and resources as economically as possible (theoretically, of course). So when all the cameras broke at a crucial point in the shoot in a remote part of Bhutan, and had to sent to Delhi for repair, leaving an entire crew expensively idle for several days, any ordinary director would have manifest some sign of irritation—thrown a wobbly, got drunk, screamed at some lacky, something. Not Rinpoche. The cameras were broken, there was nothing he or anyone else could do about it, and the only option was to wait. So he did. He just relaxed into the enforced break. Jamyang said everyone was amazed by his attitude. I couldn’t have relaxed in such a situation, could you? But then, I can’t relax in any situation…
One thing about Rinpoche, though, is that he never wastes a moment. His schedule in Bir, for example, appears to me, to be unnecessarily punishing. But I must say, he seems to thrive on it. A couple of hours for practice, twenty minutes for breakfast during which he gave his attendants their instructions, half an hour for a meeting with a lama here, ten minutes for a meeting with his sculptor there, fifty minutes writing his book, half an hour to work on his script… and so on. Everyone involved is stationed in separate rooms and Rinpoche then swoops in, does his business, and swoops out again at a rate of knots.
One day, a gaggle of monks and perhaps even a khenpo or two turned up for some kind of transmission. Rinpoche’s secretary, Elise, thought it would take about twenty minutes, then he’d dictate the next bit of his book for quarter of an hour, and still have ten minutes to see students before lunch. Rinpoche sat on his throne and began to do whatever it was for the room full of monks. Then his phone rang. He answered it. and I expected him to ring off immediately so he could get on, but he didn’t. Neither did he speak much, he just listened. And listened. And listened. For ten minutes, twenty, thirty… Lunch was late, the book was unwritten, western students with questions had gathered like a swarm of ants in the courtyard, and even Elise, who generally keeps a very efficient finger on the pulse of Rinpoche activities, had no clue what was going on.
After more than a hour, Rinpoche put the phone down, finished the whatever it was, and finally emerged into the sunlight. We were, naturally, agog to find out what had happened.
“My father called,” said Rinpoche, smiling. “He wanted to teach me, so he did.” And that was it. Thinley Norbu Rinpoche had phoned and Khyentse Rinpoche’s schedule was shot. But Rinpoche showed no sign of irritation or impatience or anything. Actually, he looked quite radiant, and just rescheduled the assembled hoards and carried on. How I wish I could be like that…