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Lions Roar : May 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2008 59 me, what a palate this Universe is offering. I felt that the world is calling out to me, every sound, smell, feeling, all worthy of my loving attention. This is a report of meditation experience, but the gift can come in any setting. I did a retreat with attending physicians who run a residency at Duke University Hospital. The meditation exercise was simple, just to be present without judging your experience and to notice life without praise and blame—essentially a koan exercise offering the experience of life without the usual thought forms. One of the senior physicians said immediately: This is familiar. How so? It’s like this when I’m in the operating room. I’m at peace do- ing surgery. It’s the time I feel completely at home and at one with things. Nice. To be so absorbed in attention that there are no preju- dices, that there is not even someone doing surgery—that seems like taking meditation into action. Anything you are that good at gives you a measure of awareness of buddhanature, the fundamen- tal beauty that we all share. And that awareness can be a reference point. It gives you a possibility for those areas of life in which you are not so free. What About When It’s Not Working? If you have a practice, it does some of the heavy lifting for you. You come back to it again and again, and then your life unfolds in a less desperate and more elegant way. But your practice doesn’t necessarily inform you of this while you are sitting. Here is a story from a woman who thought of herself as a kind of slow learner in Buddhism: I have had a hard time meditating, and I don’t get that sense of relief and nourishment that lots of people report. I basically think that I don’t get it. I’ve just kept doing it, though; I’m in- terested in spiritual things, and this seems to be the only thing that it makes sense to do. Then I was looking after someone who is sick, and I enjoyed it, being helpful, being unselfish. I thought that might be something to do with what I was aim- ing for. Then I noticed an old friend was there. It was someone I had fallen out with and it had caused me a lot of pain, and yet there he was, helping too, passing me in the kitchen. I had no plans to forgive him, but I did. I felt that I never under- stood the practice but an old saying, “I’m just a person with nothing to do,” kept coming to mind, and I understood it. I thought, “That’s me.” Everything just does itself. When you sit you are in a sacred place, whoever you are. A Thousand Hands and Eyes The Bodhisattva of Great Compassion has one thousand hands and eyes, and one way to feel this is that everything in the uni- verse is one of those hands and eyes. There isn’t really a justi- fication for being human but if there were, empathy might be it. It probably occupies a level underneath all the difficulty and pain. Compassion lets you know that even your pain might be the true thing that saves the world. If you are really stuck, it could be useful to include empathy or compassion, to forgive life and yourself for the place you have arrived at. Empathy is like art, because it happens without thought and it doesn’t mistake today for yesterday. Here is an account of practice by a grade school teacher: Methods don’t work for me. I don’t like to gather my atten- tion or sit still. Certain techniques didn’t feel right. I liked the koans because there was a lot of room to experiment. Any- thing I do is practice. I brought my practice into the classroom where I work. Immediately I felt the difference between how it had been and how it manifests in the work with the kids. Now I can receive what they have to give to me. For example, there was an unhappy kid at school. The other kids didn’t like her, and she would perceive things as attacks and get mean-spirited back. Her unhappiness was spilling out around her. One day she came walking up to my desk, and my first thought was, “This kid has got to get her life together; I don’t like her,” and then suddenly my heart opened and none of that was there. I was sitting, I was at her height, and I felt love pouring out from me. She was about to complain. But when she looked up at me and our eyes met she couldn’t remember what she was upset about. From that moment on, our relationship changed. That’s how the medi- tation practice shows up. It doesn’t have anything to do with me. But I was open enough for something to happen. Practice gives you the opportunity to give, and that is some- thing that makes human beings happy. Life Outside the Burning House Eventually, the distinction between your spiritual practice and the rest of your life blurs and perhaps disappears. This is because spiritual practice is interesting and works, and you end up noticing it wherever you look. It appears in some form every day of your life, so we can say that there’s a long arc to a spiritual practice. Within that long arc, there is always trial and error. There are lots of things you don’t discover unless you happen to stumble into them. It’s a nice thing to be offered a path, and the important thing is to enjoy the way station where you hap- pen to be spending the night. Meditation offers a path out of the burning house, without abandoning the promise and good-heartedness of being human. Practice is the last best hope of living up to that good-heart- edness, the only thing that never hurts and usually helps. And even at the beginning of the meditation path, on a good day it’s exciting. It actually makes you happy. ♦ MAY 54-59.indd 59 MAY 54-59.indd 59 3/6/08 11:30:55 AM 3/6/08 11:30:55 AM