Tesshin invited this week to image we were playing a survival game.  In the scenario, we are traveling on a plane which crashes in an arctic region.  Everyone survives, and after a quick inventory, the following items are discovered…

    • Compass
    • Map
    • Gun
    • Can of Crisco Oil
    • Ax
    • Ball of steel wool
    • Lighter with no lighter fluid
    • Newspapers
    • Bag of Chocolate 
    • 20 inch X 20 inch piece of canvas
    • Bottle of Whiskey


The point of the game is to rank order the most important items which will allow the group to survive this terrible situation.  (Hint, it is not the Whiskey!!)   After the group debates the order and how they will use the supplies, the host of the game judges their plan and assigns a “success probability score.”


This game is commonly given to corporate groups during team building exercises.  It is also given to school groups and Boy Scout groups.  What commonly happens is that people quickly come up with a plan to use the map and compass to leave the crash site and set out for the nearest town on the map which is 30 miles away.  In this plan the map, compass, gun, and ax are the highest rated items.  This seems like an obvious solution – right?  It may seem this way as this is the most commonly selected plan and list of items.  However, this plan receives the LOWEST survival score!  Remember, the plane crashed in the arctic.  Most people are not able to hike 30 miles in these conditions even assuming that they could use the map and compass correctly.  


Tesshin emphasized how most groups come to a snap conclusion.  He suggested that in situations like this, the best thing to do is to STOP, breathe, and take the time to carefully consider the situation.  First, consider that all flights are tracked by air traffic control.  This means that most likely, the authorities will quickly realize that there is a problem when the plane disappears from the radar.  Next, consider that the plane fuselage will provide basic shelter from the elements.  After some consideration, it probably makes sense to stay put and attempt to survive rather than braving the arctic for 30 miles to get to town.  This is very difficult to realize for most people as they feel that they must do something – anything – and doing “NOTHING” appears to be totally passive.  So with this strategy, our priority list of items changes quite a bit.  The map and compass are not important.  The Crisco is important as it can be used as fuel and calories.  The lid of its can makes a great reflector which can be used to alert rescue parties.  The lighter can generate sparks which can start a fire with the newspapers.  The chocolate is a source of calories.  Now, of course, Tesshin would NOT suggesting getting drunk on the whiskey while waiting for the rescue party, but it could be used as a fuel as well.  The teams which put together this plan and item list always score the highest in suitability!


So why would Tesshin use a survival game as a subject for a Dharma talk.  He did this to remind us that our most important survival tool is our minds!  The key to winning this game is not jumping to action immediately.  It is slowing down, breathing, and thinking through all scenarios.  It is the same thing in our everyday life.  We must slow down and understand what our real goal is.  Why do we do the things we do?  Are they contributing to our happiness?  Do these actions or things eliminate suffering in our life and the life of others?  If they do not, then they are leading us in an unskillful direction.  Our practice of mediation serves as training for just this skill.  We learn to control our mind.  This allows us to slow down and make better decisions, suffer less, and lead happier lives.


Tesshin wrapped up by asking everyone in the group to show solidarity with the Hudson Valley Islamic Center by leaving flowers.  As we all know there was a terrorist attack in New Zealand this past week and we all want to show our support.  Information on the HV Islamic Center can be found on their facebook page.