Notes on a Buddhist path

The 20% Solution

April 1, 2013 By | 3 Comments

Being sick at my last meditation retreat, I intimately felt the exhaustion this body of mine had been holding on to for quite some time. As much as I tried to stay in the Dhamma, holding the Buddha’s teachings of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity in all things, I was still falling headlong under the wheels of the dukkha bus on a daily basis. Irritability and impatience with my failure to hold steadfast to the tenets of mindful presence and the Noble Eightfold Path wasn’t helping my tightening levels of stress at work. Added to that was a general fatigue for all I believed I needed to get done in a day that stretched well beyond my working hours. Allowing myself to stop and sit in silence for a week was an unconscious permission slip for my body to let down its defenses and sink into the spacious peace of ultimate surrender.

Checking in with my teacher while at my retreat, knowing he would soon be going into seclusion for his own year of silence, I asked what instruction he had for me in this coming year. That was when he told me about The 20% Solution.

Examining my waking hours in a week, my assignment is to cut 20% of extraneous duties out of my life. Besides editing the bottomless to-do list, I am also to set aside one holy day each week, filled only with what brings me joy. No musts, no have-tos, only the tenor of my imagination to answer this question: what would two hours filled with exquisite beauty look like?

Doing the math of my daily rising and setting, I figured I would be re-imagining about 22 hours each week. Breaking up that total across my work days and the weekend opens up 3 hours each weeknight and a fully inspired holy day of 7 gorgeous hours.

The weeknights proved to be fairly easy to rein in: coming home from work, I’ve substituted an evening meditation sit and sometimes a dhamma talk or long hot bath for sitting in front of the computer and catching up on email, balancing my cheque book, or any number of internet explorations. Already I have noticed my exhaustion is waning and my internal focus is strengthening with the additional time for reflection. My holy days, on the other hand, have been somewhat hit and miss.

The first week was profoundly enriching as I walked through my neighbourhood park, taking in the awakening nods of spring flowers and then savouring an exquisite wildlife photography exhibit at our local museum. Last week was not as rewarding as I headed to a nearby community and almost immediately realized there wasn’t much there to see or do except to shop. That misstep was not so much imagination of a profound experience as an old paradigm of what I remembered to be “fun”. The marketplace and its wares don’t hold the same allure for me as they once did. I’d mistaken my ego’s urging with a calling to something of spiritual value.

A deva may have sidled up next to me at the end of the trip for as I was about to catch my bus to return home, I decided to pop into a used book store for a quick look around. Within a few minutes I found a copy of  “Venerable Acariya Mun Bhuridatta Thera: A Spiritual Biography” by Acariya Maha Boowa Nanasampanno, the same book I had started to read on my retreat. What a find!

This week, on Easter Sunday, I regained the holy intention of the day. Relishing the warmth of the sun’s rays, I beheld spring’s becoming, its pastel palette flung far and wide across the sky, the sand, the sea, the crevices of gardens yawning wide with buds and leaves hungry to meet this quaking life.

The holiness stands as but a marker to remember that this land of enchantment, the flowers and the beach and this body of mine beginning to uncoil, are ultimately impermanent. The worldly delusions still tug at my consciousness, but now there is the pausing to see it all arising and passing away. That pause, that moment, sets my course to follow the inward thread, far from the lists of doing and the unremitting “I” that never relents from its struggle to become.

For now I’m embracing the 20% solution. Somehow I think 100% must be called Nibbana.


by Jim Harrison

Something new in the air today, perhaps the struggle of the bud
to become a leaf. Nearly two weeks late it invaded the air but
then what is two weeks to life herself? On a cool night there is
a break from the struggle of becoming. I suppose that’s why we
sleep. In a childhood story they spoke of “the land of enchantment.”
We crawl to it, we short-lived mammals, not realizing that
we are already there. To the gods the moon is the entire moon
but to us it changes second by second because we are always fish
in the belly of the whale of earth. We are encased and can’t stray
from the house of our bodies. I could say that we are released,
but I don’t know, in our private night when our souls explode
into a billion fragments then calmly regather in a black pool in
the forest, far from the cage of flesh, the unremitting “I.” This was
a dream and in dreams we are forever alone walking the ghost
road beyond our lives. Of late I see waking as another chance at

“Spring” by Jim Harrison, from Songs of Unreason. © Copper Canyon Press, 2011.

Image credit:

Colorful spring garden via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Love this and will now implement! I needed to hear this one. thanks for sharing…


  1. […] 20% solution that held so much promise and zeal two months ago has become more of an 80% quagmire. My weeknight […]

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