The Dharma According to Ella

Listening to Ella singing Summertime takes my breath away.


It’s not her voice. Her mature voice is no match for the ethereal sweetness of her younger one.

It’s not her interpretation either, good as it is.

What gets me is the way she pays attention to every note and syllable. Every note is just as important as the one that precedes it and the one that follows. Every note retains its importance from the moment it starts until the moment it ends. You can literally hear her concentration. She’s in no hurry to get anywhere.

Other singers have their “money note” — the note they hit out of the ballpark that sells a million copies — the note you anticipate hearing from the moment the song begins. Not Ella. With Ella, every note is special.

Listening to Ella reminds us to slow down and avoid shortcuts.

Shortcuts are our attempts to cheat life.

We take shortcuts when we’re in a hurry to get somewhere, when getting somewhere is more important than being where we are right now. We want to skip the boring parts and cut to the chase.

Ella teaches us that there are no boring parts. Every step along the way counts.

When there’s a wall to paint, we don’t look forward to the prep work — all that washing, spackling, and taping. We want to get right out there and roll on the paint.

A patient walks into a therapist’s office. Within minutes the therapist diagnoses his problem and understands what’s needed. The therapist thinks, “Just tell him what to do. Why drag therapy out?”

That’s painting before spackling. Before a patient can listen, he needs to feel listened to. Before he’s willing to follow the therapist’s suggestions, he needs to develop trust in the therapist’s intentions and expertise. Building the therapeutic alliance is step one. It’s the prep work before the first coat of paint. A good therapist lets therapy unfold at its own pace. He doesn’t skip any steps.

Can we wash the dishes with the same care we devote to preparing meals for our guests? Sitting on the cushion, can we be equally at home with “boredom” and “bliss?” Can we live our lives fully without hoping to fast-forward to the “good” parts? That’s the challenge of Zen.

Zen reminds us that foreplay, orgasm, and post-coital repose are all bright jewels on the necklace of time.  Departure, journey, and arrival are all one.

In Zen there is no fly-over country.