as meditation allows us to do, we learn how to truly taste this tender and
Spiritual practice, exactly like training in a gym, takes time and effort. Just as there are stationary bicycles, treadmills, weight machines, and other devices, so in spiritual practice there is prayer, meditation, ritual, study, and other techniques.
It was not a pretty picture.
Now, with a brand new 2017 sparkling across the gleaming white snow outside my window, the scenery of my life has changed substantially. I haven't smoked a cigarette in years. Today, the shrieking banshees have been transformed into a glorious assortment of twittering birds at the feeder. This moment emerges like each moment: unique, beautiful and --when I'm really paying attention -- full of wonder.
I haven't made New Year's resolutions in quite awhile. Although I have found myself making special commitments during Fall Ango for the past couple of years, my fundamental commitment has been made. No calendar is needed. It informs each and every day.
Day by Day
Today, like most days, l arose, cast a Lojong Slogan for the day, glugged a cup of coffee (lest I get too self-righteous about not being an addict), read some commentaries on the slogan I cast, then meditated for an hour. Towards the end of that hour, I mentally recited the Four Bodhisattva Vows three times, a practice I picked up years ago as I wandered through the world of Zen on my way here.
Yet, True Commitment is deeper than any of these activities and rituals. It emerges as an aspiration ringing silently in our Heart of Hearts. Emerging from a place so deep within us that it is beyond us, it felt as the simple yearning to be of Service, to be Present to each moment with an open heart, a relaxed and clear mind -- and a helping hand. (In some circles that is known as Bodhichitta)
Of course, actualizing that aspiration is no easy task. It takes Practice.
Just A Bad Habit
It seems that our basic hard wiring as human beings includes a level of mind that turns back on itself to take a peek. This, in itself, isn't necessarily a bad thing. A mirror can be useful. We don't want to walk around in public with a piece of leftover spinach accompanying our smile, after all.
Yet, when we fixate on that mirror image and take it to be a real "thing" rather than the moment to moment appearance from a particular point of view of a mysterious manifestation emerging from an infinite web of energy, we run into a lot of unnecessary suffering.
Most of us, especially since we've been raised in a very materialistic, deeply clueless capitalist society, have been conditioned to experience ourselves and all of reality as separate, isolated "things" engaged in a "dog eat dog" competition with one another. That conditioning runs deeply into our childhood and has formed a set of habits that we experience as belief structures, thoughts, bodily sensations, and and bevy of often debilitating emotions. In fact, without Practice, most of the time we are nothing more, and nothing less, than a bad habit that imagines itself to be real. And, as most of us have found out, a life lived this way is sort of a drag at best. At worst its a nightmare.
Fortunately, it doesn't have to be this way.
As many of us have discovered, with Practice, each of us is capable of shaking it up. Rather than running along in the same rut, we can break the habit of "I. me. mine." With commitment, time, skillful effort, and patience, we can move through the layers of our own conditioning and look so deeply into that mirror that we experience the vastness beyond it.
Moving through the habitual fear that we encounter along the way, we see clearly that conditioned as we are, we've been barking up the wrong tree. In fact, dogs actually don't eat dogs as a general rule. We can see for ourselves that they, like us, have a fundamental connection to the One Love that permeates Reality. (There is an old Zen koan where Chao-Chou was asked "Does a dog have Buddhanature? There are volumes of commentary on the answer. Apparently both yes and no are correct. What then? With Practice you can see for yourself. )
Although there are many paths to Realization, I've found that the Mindfulness (Shamatha and Vipasyana), Brahmavihari (Four Aspects of True Love), and Tonglen Practices of Buddhism, as taught by Pema Chodron and others, to be the most helpful. As well as the links embeded above, there are numerous teachers and teachings available on the web and, increasingly, in person throughout the world.
Yet, you -- or more correctly that aspect of your mind that experiences choice -- has to make the commitment to actually Practice. It's a matter of time on task. You have to actually make it a habit!
Even if you start with a few minutes a day, you are cultivating the ability to access a quality of consciousness that blossoms and grows within your own experience. Like many of us, you may begin a regular daily practice for awhile, then falter. Just begin again. And again, if necessary.
As 2017 unfolds, it seems like today might be a good day to begin -- or continue. In fact, you could turn away from the screen, take three conscious breaths and get started. There is no Time like the Present !
Happy New Year!