What Now? The Moon, Or The Finger That Points At It?

Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

There is a Buddhist saying that goes something like this (excuse me while I paraphrase): “Look at the moon, not the finger that points at it.”

If you’ve ever had a dog and tried to point something out to it, it will generally look at your finger rather than the thing you’re pointing at. And we are the same. What this Buddhist saying alludes to is that we spend too long looking at the teacher or the words of wisdom, when we should instead be looking for the meaning and the value that they are trying to direct us too.

We do this all the time in our daily lives. How often do you complain about something being wrong, rather than looking at it as an opportunity to make it right? This shop doesn’t sell the thing you want? Maybe you can be sad about that, or maybe you can use it as opportunity to buy something different and expand your horizons. Your favourite show isn’t on telly? You can’t stand this actor? You’ve got a flat tyre? Life is terrible if you choose to obsess about the thing that’s wrong rather than the opportunity it’s trying to reveal.

Take physical pain, for example. This is generally the body’s way of showing us that something is wrong, and it needs attention. But all too often rather than attempting to treat the problem, we focus instead on the pain. We take painkillers for yet another hangover, rather than cutting back on our drinking. We take decongestants when we run our immune systems down and catch another cold, rather than adopting a healthy lifestyle that has our wellbeing at its centre. We put a plaster on the cut, rather than being a little more careful the next time we’re chopping vegetables.

This is true of so many areas of our world. When we face a problem, we often focus on the discomfort it’s causing us, instead of the lesson it’s trying to tell us. We’re late for work – again – because we missed our train. Rather than leaving the house ten minutes earlier, we choose instead to lament our bad lack and how it’s so unfair that the boss has given us another dressing down for tardiness. 

We feel anxious when we think of our bank balance, so rather than confront the issue and take control of our finances we choose to leave the bank statements unopened, and carry on spending anyway, uninformed, even more anxious, until the money has all gone and we’re left cursing our bad luck with nothing to eat for dinner. Life is so unfair.

We feel angry because someone at work has upset us, and now there’s a bad atmosphere because of the unpleasant email we just sent to Steve in accounts. We react bitterly because we feel like we’re being judged, disrespected, not listened to, undermined, undervalued.

But all of these things are signposts, and like the finger pointing at the moon, they are trying to tell us something, if only we could delay our knee-jerk emotional reaction long enough to see what it is. And in most cases, reading these signs leads to a more positive outcome than if you just react negatively. Letting off steam angrily at your colleague may feel good in the moment, just as hiding from your bank balance may seem the least painful way to deal with your finances today, or staying in bed for another ten minutes may seem like the cosiest option – but that short-term gratification will wear off quickly, and often we’ll be worse off than we were before.

But when you see the thing that’s causing you pain for what it is – and indication of something else – then you have the opportunity for growth and improvement. Before you let the rage take a hold of you, would it be easier to speak to Steve in accounts and see where the breakdown in communication has occurred? Is there a business system that could be improved? Would your reputation in the office improve if you got up a few minutes earlier every morning so you didn’t miss your train anymore? Could you build a plan to sort out your money problems if you faced the issue head on and armed yourself with all the information?

In my own journey I now find myself facing an obstacle, a ‘pain point’( to borrow business lingo) – my own finger pointing to the moon. Not long ago I was in a very deep rut, feeling sorry for myself, and my real world situation reflected this. But since I’ve been on a journey of self awareness, reading the signs, attempting to become the master of my emotions rather than the other way around, and my life has improved dramatically.

My career has blossomed, my financial situation is far better than it has ever been, I’ve written and published a book, I’ve been ‘reborn’ in a non-religious sense, I’ve become a father, I drive an awesome car, I own a beautiful house in the beautiful countryside where I live with my beautiful wife and beautiful daughter, and all my material needs are met in abundance. I am richer, happier, wealthier and more blessed than ever before, and in every way. All because of a change in mindset.


But there’s one thing that’s bothering me. And while I’m constantly aware of the finger, I’m struggling to see the moon it’s pointing at. I’ve seen the power that changing my perspective holds, and I’ve experienced the benefits first hand. And while I want for nothing, I’m eager to see what comes next. Where can I take this? How far will it lead me? Where to now?

What I’m lacking is an idea, and a decision.

Could my moon be a matter of exploration? I’m looking at everything. Exercising my idea muscle by writing ten ideas a day (thank you James). I’m experimenting in small ways. Exploring niches, audiences, marketing techniques, ancient Japanese philosophies, I’ve thought about writing another book, I’ve studied the Tao Te Ching and the texts of some of the greatest business thinkers. And still I’m here waiting for inspiration to strike.

But maybe that’s it. Maybe I just need to let go. That’s how I got this far in the first place. I let go of all the notions that were holding me back. Perhaps I should let go of the notion that I need an idea, just choose something, do it, and see where it leads me. Perhaps that’s my moon.

So if that’s what’s stopping me, what’s stopping you now? And how can you find what it’s trying to tell you?

Not enough money? Find another way that’s cheaper, or make savings elsewhere. Your network’s too small? Maybe piggyback someone else’s? Feeling impatient? Maybe learn to let go and start now, from where you are, with what you’ve got. 

Our lack of resources betray our lack of resourcefulness, but holding on too tight to those excuses can stop us finding the answers. So when you find yourself stuck, just stop, breathe and be thankful for what you’ve got and where you are. And look up. The moon is full tonight.