Using the Principle of Participation

A good friend of mine I grew up with got me a bracelet for my birthday this year, but this wasn’t just any bracelet apparently. He got it from a gift shop at an International Peace Center in Montana called “The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas, “ which is a place said to awaken one’s natural inner qualities of joy, wisdom, and compassion through the use of the ancient symbols of Buddhism. Additionally, the attendant at the gift shop who sold it to him claimed that the beads used in this particular bracelet had some sort of “special energy”, and that others who had bought one of these bracelets had come back days later echoing that very sentiment, and professing the changes that had occurred in their lives since putting it on. Pretty interesting stuff right!? Initially I wasn’t too sure what to think of the whole back story, but it was a very “aesthetically appealing” bracelet, and a lot of thought went into the gift…so I figured I’d put it on and “see how I felt” in the coming days.

Aside from the “superstitious rush” we all get in the initial moments of buying into something “woo woo” like that, the succeeding days were like any other string of days in life; some good, some bad, some blah…and then a GREAT one sprinkled in! Weeks later I wasn’t too sure that I was sold on the ‘mystical’ qualities of the bracelet, but I was receiving random compliments from strangers, which is usually more than enough to curb any “wearers remorse” someone might be experiencing, so I happily kept it wrapped around my wrist. Soon enough, something annoying happened though, one of the ends used to pull it tight around my wrist looped around the main part of the bracelet, and it ended up creating a knot that I couldn’t get out, preventing me from tightening it all the way. No big deal I suppose, but whenever I noticed it in between daily tasks, it would bother me, and I would try to quickly untangle the tight tiny knot, each time ending in a frustrating failure. After this occurred a good 5–10 times, I was sort of at peace with the knot, and would stop trying to untangle it when I noticed; the knot and I were going to have to become friends I decided.

One afternoon, after a long day, I decided to walk down to my favorite little “green way” to relax and watch the sunset. I say “green way,” because I’m not exactly sure what it is, it’s not a public park, but its not private property either. Either way, this sweet little patch of grass, with a beautiful view of the Puget Sound, always relaxes me, and brings me back to a “grounded” place. While sitting there, I looked down and noticed my new friend THE KNOT once again, and thought it was time for my final attempt at untangling it. This time though, I was in a completely different state of mind than I had been in before; I was relaxed, I was present, and I definitely wasn’t in a hurry. I slowed down, and not only was I gentle and patient, but I didn’t look at it as if it was the “infamous knot” that I had gotten to know over the past couple weeks. I approached it with a certain freshness, as if I had never seen it before . Slowly but surely….IT CAME OUT! Instead of trying to squeeze this in between daily tasks, while thinking about the NEXT thing I had to do, I was totally present and I truly participated in every moment of the process. Though this bracelet was obviously void of any real magical powers, it was then that I realized it had definitely taught me a valuable lesson.

I started to think while I was sitting there afterwards that the knot I had in that bracelet could serve as a great analogy for several other “tightly wound” situations in my life. What other “knots” do I have in my life? What other “problems” or dilemmas am I trying to “rush through” just to get off my to-do list? We often use rushed methods simply to get things done and over with, but not to understand the true nature of the given situation. Could I benefit in other areas of my life by slowing down, being patient, and being a bit more gentle with the moment? Instead of looking at a situation in the same light, and using the same labels (ex. this is a terrible tight knot I can’t get out), maybe I could take on new perspectives, and examine problematic situations through a different lens.

It began to remind me of a term used in the practice of dialogue called “The Principle of Participation,” or what Zen Buddhists call the “Beginner’s Mind.” The principle of participation is a term used to describe the exact same process I used to untie that knot, but bringing those qualities into conversation. Using those qualities of slowing down, being patient, and being gentle with the moment in order to listen better to ourselves and to others. This principle can best be defined as seen below:

“To examine objects, subjects, and things others are saying without preconceived notions, to open yourself up to a world of possibilities instead of just a few associated with memories or thoughts.”

Or as described in Zen Buddhist philosophy:

“In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, but in the experts mind there are few.”

In my particular situation, that meant letting go of the fact that I had already tried to untangle this knot 5–10 times, and had failed. I had to let go of any memories I had of frustration associated with this knot, I had to even let go of labeling it as a “knot.” Sometimes we don’t even know how the labels we use effect our state of mind in a given situation. The word “knot” by itself has a negative stigma attached to it to begin with. What other labels could we let go of? A knot in a bracelet is a very “low stakes” situation, but it can be easily related to many “high stakes” situations, or “knots”, we all have in our lives. Sometimes letting go of knowing, and simply settling in to a state of being and acceptance of a particular situation can be freeing. It can actually end up opening you up to a world of possibilities instead of the few you may have been initially limiting yourself to.

So coming full circle, that bracelet didn’t necessarily make me smarter, stronger, or luckier, but it did teach me a valuable lesson, and reminded me of one of the great principles of dialogue, and of life: slow down, be patient, and be gentle while untangling your knots. Oddly enough….a day or two later I woke up with the bracelet broken apart, beads sprinkled all over my bed, it had somehow came apart while I was sleeping. I was upset at first, but It occurred to me then that it had taught me what it needed to teach.

What do you think? Would love to hear your thoughts. And if you liked it, click the recommend button below. ☺ Thanks!

Originally published at on August 11, 2015.