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  • Carroll Devine

A Man's Reach

“Ah, but man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” So proposed poet Robert Browning about two hundred years ago.

Women and men are still reaching, still failing, still rising. We must.

I believe it’s impossible to reach any kind of heaven without actively reaching for it. We have a built-in motivation-machine that urges us on to be, to do, to accomplish whatever we determine we want or need to, consistent with our particular missions. Whether we recognize them or not, we all have missions.

Some ignore the promptings, thinking the result not worth the effort, thinking ourselves unworthy of the prize, or deciding to sit out the life dance and secretly hoping someone else will take care of us. In this case, we never find a heaven, even if we are showered with all the bounty of the world. We wouldn’t recognize Heaven if we were.

On the other hand, when we respond consciously and positively to the promptings, we remain true to ourselves, we develop vision, and we clearly contribute daily to the wealth of goodness in the world.

And this “reaching” is not the same as “striving” since striving implies attachment to some result. Reaching does not. It is therefore consistent with the teachings of Zen. It does not matter how much we “achieve” by worldly standards, as long as our reach for the good, true, and beautiful is always beyond and above us.

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