Taking the Slow Path

***This is a re-purposed blog post from May of 2010, as relevant today as it was then. In one way or another, this “chaotic time” has been going on for a while. We should have become used to it, but we aren’t. Here’s the good news: You’re still around four years later, and still reading; I’m still writing. That’s something.

 

Last week, a student snuffled at the next desk. He muffled a couple of coughs in his elbow as kids are taught these days. “Go home,” I said to him. “You’re sick.” He nodded. “Are you speaking tonight?” He nodded again, muffling another cough. “Then leave after your speech,” I said. He shook his head. “I can’t. I can’t let my group down.”

That’s what I get for teaching a focus on community in Public Speaking.

I could have moved desks to observe and evaluate the speeches, but I didn’t. I handed him tissues and admired his dedication. At the beginning of each semester, I put an emphasis on responsibility to their small group as well as to the larger class as a whole. Maybe that’s what he was thinking by isolating at the back of the room. What could I say?

I hadn’t been sick all semester and thought nothing more except to hand him a tissue from time to time. By Friday, my soft palette was achy and I began the regimen of Emergen-C and Air Borne. By Saturday, my throat felt like a marching army in dirty socks. More Air Borne, more Emergen-C. Sunday morning I felt okay so went to church. Cliff said stay home, but I didn’t. And by Sunday afternoon, I was bona fidely sick.

The past few weeks have been pretty chaotic. For us all. Too much going on and too much to do and too many sudden changes in direction. Not much down time other than an evening stroll into the yard before dinner to cut asparagus, see how the flowers are doing.

“Behold the lilies of the field;

they neither sweat nor toil.”

Most spiritual traditions say the same in one way or another: Slow down. See beauty. Take time with your life. Or else (there’s always an “or else”) you get struck down in one way or another – this time with a cold, another time with a heart attack, another time with a broken leg. Take time. That’s exactly why I walk into the garden in the evenings, to take time – but one fifteen minute stroll in the evening doesn’t solve the challenges of the other hours.

No matter how many times we read or hear the same message, we get caught in the whirl. It’s even possible to be conscious we’re in a whirl and still be caught.

So, if being conscious of the whirl isn’t enough to stop, what is? I’m reminded of the play, Stop the World I Want to Get Off, first produced in London in 1961. It isn’t as if this particular time has the dibs on chaos. It’s been around; it will come back. So, is stopping when we are caught in chaos the answer?

In reality, being conscious of chaos doesn’t necessarily allow us to sidestep; the task is learn to live with it. To stop being afraid (I wasn’t afraid, just unwise) or in my case, cranky because my head filled with gunk and my chest hurt.

In modern-day vernacular, that’s some of what the Buddha said: suffering is part of the human condition, but you can choose how to live with suffering.

Today, I’ll take the slow, winding path, watch the sunlight, be at peace. Come sit with me. Well, I’m contagious, so do it in your imagination. You won’t hear my sniffling.

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Being and Doing

See the lilies of the field

This is the line that came to me as I realized my life was pretty simple today, the to-do list more or less caught up (so, okay, I haven’t refinished the dining room chairs), and I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Yes, there are weeds to pull in the garden after all this rain, but that’s an always rather than a to-do. And yes, I could spend the day clearing out the large box of photographs in the other office, but that’s such a big task I haven’t even put it on any list.

Late May into early June was pretty chaotic and busy with to-dos sticking out all over the place, rather, do-this-right-now! sorts of things and visitors and family gatherings and a film job and a trip to the farm to open it up and plants that needed ground instead of seedling pots. Last week was catch up on naps and editing for publications and more naps and nursing a troublesome knee injured in all the aforementioned too many things to do. I know all of you have had your own chaotic weeks and times and surgeries and trips and family.

But this week is simple. And I realized as I sat here this morning, I didn’t quite know what to do with no pressures forcing me into action. I’d done a lot of doing but not much being. Today is a day for being.

It’s an interesting verb, to be. Most of the time, another word tags along: I am busy, I am tired, I am angry, frustrated, happy, sad. We don’t take much time for the simple I am. And I’m probably not alone when I don’t quite know what to do with it.

Now there’s an interesting idea – being alone with being. Are we alone when we simply be? Or is the simple act of being where we are most filled?

I’m reminded of another line, one I wrote in an essay edited again yesterday: “Perhaps it’s only in waiting that something so tremulous can come into being.” 

Waiting is not one of my strongest characteristics.

Perhaps your day is also a day of waiting, of pausing in the breath of moments. I’ve heard no sirens this morning. Perhaps, even with a cloudy sky, we are all held in a moment of peace. I suspect the task is in recognizing peace and allowing it to be part of our day.

We could all use some practice in remembering how to be grateful for the times of calm. I want to remember today as I go about the hours. I want to remember that being is more important that doing, at least for right now. And right now is all we have.

Today is a day to pull out the gratitude list and add to it rather than add to the to-do list. Today is a day to practice being.

 

 

  

 

Remembering to Serve

From Janet Taylor, Temple Buddhist Center

On Memorial Day weekend, we can take a moment to have gratitude for those who have served us and to remember the value of serving others.  Integral to the Buddhist teachings is waking up to the fact that we are not separate beings. Often, it probably seems like we are going through life negotiating for our piece of the pie, but the Buddha taught that is just an illusion.  The Truth of being is that we are intimately interconnected, in fact no separate self exists.  For us westerners, that can seem like a crazy idea, us with our individualism and our proclamation that we need to be free to be happy.  In Buddhism, this simple notion gets turned on its head.  Yes, we need freedom to be happy, but it’s not found in staking out our territory more definitively.  Freedom in the Buddhist teachings, is about freedom from this fixed notion of being separate from others.  Freedom is about being free from our need to feel separate.  Freedom is recognizing our interconnection and rejoicing in that.

So, on this special holiday for remembering those who have served us, we can take this weekend to reflect on what it means to serve others.  In Mahayana Buddhism, serving others is seen as so important that each of us would give up total and eternal bliss in order to stay present with others and help them become enlightened as well.  Would you be willing to give up total bliss to serve others?  In our little minds, we often find pleasure at the the expense of others.  We feed our egos, we act impulsively, we harm others through our hurtful words or actions.  The first step on this enlightened  journey is to wake up to this harm we are causing others and commit our intention to do no harm.  We can all be the caretakers of our life and the lives of others by being more skillful in our words and actions towards others and towards ourselves.  With this passionate intention to serve others, we can be more forgiving and more grateful for the words and actions of others towards us.  Once we start to feel the freedom that arises from forgiveness and gratitude, a space is created in our lives for more forgiveness and gratitude to unfold. 

With more attention and intention given to a desire to serve others, we start to loosen our grip on the needs of our own ego.  In serving others, it becomes less important to obsess about our own concerns and worries.  Imagine letting go, even a little, of the continuous soundtrack in our head of what we need to be happy, what we must do, what we must have, what others must do for us, in order for us to be happy.  In this moment, we can begin to imagine a life of service, spending more time thinking about how we can be of service to the world, and less time thinking about what we need the world to give us.  In Buddhism, we are taught that we already have everything we need to be happy.  Abraham Lincoln said, “People are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  So, we can start here, start now.  This is NOT about being a doormat and being a slave to others.  This is about rising above the little inconsequential day-to-day things we usually focus on, and inspire ourselves to think of how we can embody higher levels of service. 

In How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life by the Dalai Lama, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins, he points out that, Buddhism, there are two basic types of practices: Sutra (which is about studying and practicing the teachings of other enlightened beings) and Tantra (which is the practice of imagining ourselves as enlightened beings) . For example, in Tantra, we use the power of imagination in a practice called deity yoga. The Dalai Lama describes it in this way.   “Imagine:

1.  Replacing your mind as it ordinarily appears, full of troubling emotions, with a mind of pure wisdom motivated by compassion

2.  Substituting your body as it ordinarily appears (composed of flesh, blood, and bone) with a body fashioned from compassionately motivated wisdom

3.  Developing a sense of a pure self that depends on purely appearing mind and body in an ideal environment, fully engaged in helping others.  This distinctive practice of Tantra calls for visualizing yourself with a Buddha’s body, activities, resources, and surroundings, it is called ‘taking imagination as the spiritual path.’”

At first it might seem uncomfortable.  Who am I to imagine being Buddha? Imagine being Jesus?  Isn’t it a lie to imagine having qualities that I don’t yet have?  Enlightened teachers have answered these questions for us.  You inherently are the Buddha—inherently awakened.  These practices open us up to the true reality to our beings.  At first, it might seem like you’re just making stuff up with imagination. Think of it instead that you are uncovering who you truly are.  We all have the potential for great goodness.  This visualization practice just uncovers that which is already there.

The Dalai Lama encourages us to purposely imagine ourselves as having a divine body, a divine mind. This is an imagination meditation; you need not be thoroughly convinced from the depths that you actually have pure mind, body, and selfhood.  Rather, based in clear imagination of ideal body and mind, you are cultivating the sense of being a deity, compassionately helping others.
…to engage in Tantra at any level demands a powerful intention to become enlightened for the sake of others.

So, on this Memorial Day, we can take these precious moments to reflect on the wonderful things that others have done for us, and recommit ourselves to being of service to others.  Through the power of our imagination, we can awaken to our true being and serve others from that place of selflessness.  On this day, we can focus on forgiveness and gratitude, for others and for ourselves.  We can have joy for our interconnectedness, joy in the fact that we are not separate.  That is what this whole journey is about.

Taking the slow path

We’re in the last throes of the semester and students are giving persuasive speeches. Their efforts lands in either the very good or the very not good category – rarely an in-between. When they are giving speeches, I sit at the back so I don’t distract with my layers of papers and evaluation forms. It’s also easier for them to look at the entire audience when I’m not so prominent in the room.

Last week, a student sat snuffling at the desk next to me.  He muffled a couple of coughs in his elbow as kids are taught these days. “Go home,” I said to him. “You’re sick.” He nodded. “Are you speaking tonight?” He nodded again, muffling another cough. “Then leave after your speech,” I said. He shook his head. “I can’t. I can’t let my group down.”

Okay. I hadn’t been sick all semester and thought nothing more except to hand him a tissue from time to time. By Friday, my soft palette was achy and I began the regimen of Emergen-C and Air Borne. By Saturday, my throat felt like an army in dirty socks had been marching though. More Air Borne and Emergen-C. Sunday morning I felt okay so went to church. Cliff said stay home, but I didn’t. And by Sunday afternoon, I was bona fidely sick.

The past few weeks, as for everyone, have been pretty chaotic. Too much going on and too much to do and too many sudden changes in direction. Not much down time other than an evening stroll out into the yard before dinner to pull a couple of weeds, cut some asparagus, see how the flowers are doing.

“Behold the lilies of the field; they neither sweat nor toil.”

All the spiritual traditions say the same kind of thing: Look. Slow down and look. See beauty. Take time with your life. Or else (there’s always an “or else”) you get struck down in one way or another – this time with a cold, another time with a heart attack, another time with a broken leg. Take time.  That’s exactly why I walk into the garden in the evenings, to take time – but one fifteen minute stroll in the evening doesn’t solve the dilemma of the other hours.

No matter how many times we read or hear the same message, we get caught in the whirl. It’s even possible to be conscious that you’re in a whirl and still be caught. I’m reminded of Cliff’s homily yesterday on love – there are millions of songs, poems, books about love and yet we humans forget and easily become unloving.

So if being conscious of the whirl isn’t enough to stop (I’m reminded of the play title “Stop the World I Want to Get Off), what’s the answer? That play is roughly forty years old so it isn’t as if this particular time has the dibs on chaos. It’s been around; it will come back. So then the question becomes is stopping when we are caught in chaos, either in unloving chaos or too much to do chaos, the real answer?

I could have moved desks when the student next to me continued to cough and sniffle, but I didn’t. I handed him tissues and admired his dedication. From the beginning of the semester, I put an emphasis on being responsible to the community – both in the smaller groups and with the larger class as a whole. What could I say? Go home – my wellbeing is more important than the group?

In reality, being conscious of chaos doesn’t necessarily allow you to sidestep all the time. And once again, I will learn that instead of sidestepping chaos, the task is to learn to live with it. To stop being cranky because my head is filled with gunk and my chest hurts. In modern-day vernacular, that’s basically what the Buddha said: suffering is part of the human condition but you can choose how to live with that suffering.

I will stop. And rest. And put off errands and chores. And, most importantly, be at peace with my choice and my body.

Today, I’ll take the slow, winding path that leads past benches where I can sit, watch the sunlight, be at peace. Come sit beside me and look at the sunlight. And with the gift of cyberspace, you won’t even hear me sniffling.