One day a small boy was playing near the river when he saw an old man with a long beard seated in the sand. The boy moved closer and watched as the old man drew a perfect circle into the sand.
“Hey, old man, how did you draw such a perfect circle?” asked the boy.
The old man looked at the boy and said, “I don’t know, I just tried, and tried again…here, you try.”
The old man handed the stick to the boy and walked away. The boy began drawing circles in the sand. At first his circles came out too wide, or too long, or too crooked. But as time went by the circles began to look better and better.
He kept trying and then, one bright morning, he drew a perfect circle into the sand. Then he heard a small voice behind him.
“Hey old man, how did you draw such a perfect circle?”
This elegantly structures Zen story centers on the circle as a shape and symbol of perfection. The literal circle in the sand represents the necessity of repeated effort (practice makes perfect), while the narrative circle of the story (beginning and ending with a small boy on the beach) represents the circular nature of life.
Sometimes in modern times we view success or perfection as a destination at the end of an arrow-straight line; we see ourselves at the beginning of the road, or the bottom of a mountain, and we can picture our destination clearly, glittering far away and out of our reach. In this mindset, reaching our goals can be intimidating, causing us to lose the focus needed to practice whatever it is we want to become better at, such as art, meditation, yoga, or perhaps attitudes of kindness and love.
However, if we look at life as a circular path, a line without beginning or end, then we can learn to shift or focus away from the “final destination” at the end of the road and towards the gently curving slope of the absolute present moment. This viewpoint makes the journey towards perfection a little less imposing!