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Lions Roar : March 2015
Clue (& Gate) #2: There is a simple goodness that is always here—even before you finish reading this sentence. As a small boy living on the edge of town, I used to cut down the hill to the farm across the road. An old Aboriginal man had about forty acres of pasture, a few cattle, and a market garden, where he wandered in sunshine and rain. He was a timeless figure in a hat and an ancient, perhaps once elegant brown coat, and he had a Tolkienian name: Mr. Woods. The local animals came to drink from his spring—walla- bies, tiger snakes, echidnas, a young bull. He seemed to have an understanding with children as well. I didn’t learn from what he told me (he didn’t talk much) but from the easy way he paid attention to things as if he were part of them, not cut off from the world. He would say, “See if you can find some eggs,” and I would follow his half-wild hens and work out where they had hidden their eggs. When I brought eggs back he would smile quietly. My mother would then give me money to take to him next time I went down to his place, but I could tell that this wasn’t really the point—the eggs and coins were a ritual that allowed the real event to go on. He also conveyed an empathy for the hens. He understood why they hid their eggs and didn’t try to stop them. So that’s another building block of a spiritual practice, a hint that there is a profound goodness inside the common life we have. It’s also something that we can draw each other’s attention to, as Mr. Woods drew mine. All good moments are fragments of practice, slices of enlightenment. Practice is already here; we don’t invent it. The sign of practice is that there is peace, beauty, and timelessness. We are not worrying or getting in the way. We see that goodness is a capacity in everything alive. Such moments are themselves like a forest animal: when we notice them, and keep still, they step out of the shadows and become clearly visible. But what is a practice, exactly? For a start, a practice is something you do. It’s not something you have to believe. You can’t be disqualified by ignorance, skepticism, gender, race, lack of talent, geography, or defensive- ness. You’re deluded? Not to worry. As mentioned earlier, clue- lessness is probably an advantage, since it means you don’t have to get rid of things you are sure about but that aren’t true. Since practice is something to do, we don’t have to know where it will end up. It doesn’t have a fixed destination. We can trust it to take us somewhere beyond what we had expected or hoped for. What will change may not be what we had asked for, and might be much more. We may come to accept or love what we thought we disapproved of. When we discover this, it is con- soling and exciting. There is an art to attention, but the particular arts of atten- tion are not themselves fundamental. It’s probably best to try things until you find what fits you. Along the way you’ll learn surprising things, both subtle and huge, about yourself and the world. You will learn these hidden things by keeping com- pany with your practice, the way Mr. Woods taught a six-year- old boy to pay attention to more than eggs. Here are some rules of thumb that might help you navigate whatever practice you are trying out. 1. Criticizing, judging, or assessing yourself isn’t virtue. It doesn’t help in meditation; it’s just more noise. And if you are criticizing, judging, or assessing yourself, don’t criticize that, and so on, until you wear out and compassion enters. 2. Criticizing others is, in mysterious and not so mysterious ways, actually criticizing yourself. See 1. STUFFEDTOY:JOOSTDEGRAAF/WWW.ETSY.COM/CA/SHOP/MYFIRSTBUDDHA SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2015 65