“We can’t be useful to ourselves unless we’re useful to others.”~Dalai Lama.
When I stepped into my bathroom the other morning, I had a memory of early mornings in the hills of Jamaica. A cool breeze would steal in through the open window, warning you of how cold the unheated water might be. Outside the sky would be slowly lightening, roosters crowing their wake up call. In the valleys mist would have settled overnight, the grass would be heavy with dew. Early birds would be up, zipping from flower to flower, dipping long beaks into narrow necks to fill their full with sweet nectar. I guess none of that has changed.
Meanwhile in Miami, the cold breeze came from the air conditioning vents, and the only fear of cold water was if the water heater was broken! There are times when we are so unappreciative of what we have it is a shame. It is no wonder that life brings us little shocks, little wake up calls (if we are lucky), to remind us of all that we take for granted.
When I took a philosophy class a few years ago, I had to deal with some tough concepts. And yet the tough concepts are based on some very simple words: being; and knowing. For example: What does it mean to be human? What do we know about being human? I struggled with the words (ontology and epistemology) while reading, and frequently had to consult Mr. Google for clarity. The other day when I was fishing (for the first time!), I had to cope with the knowledge based mechanics of fishing: how to stab a live shrimp with a sharp object; how to fling/cast the line, letting it reel out without it getting caught in places other than the water; what to do when you feel a tug and resistance, indicating the possible presence of a hungry fish. I am by nature impatient; I had to cope with the spaces in between the activity. But then I realized I had to experience being a fisherman, just being, not doing. And in the being came peace; an appreciation of the calm stillness of the outdoors; the observation of the natural world which goes about its business every day, coping with man’s assault on its environment.
If we are lucky, our lives give us opportunity every day to learn and grow. But often we are caught up in the consumer-driven society, grasping for more. We grow dissatisfied with what we have and are convinced that we need things, fancy things, expensive things, unnecessary things. Perhaps the economic downturn of a few years ago curbed our greed; we have learned to cut back and make do. Most of us were raised by a generation of people who knew how to stretch things, they recycled before there was a word for it; they made use of every object that came there way. Today we participate in a disposable society, particularly in the US where we discard more garbage per person than any other country in the world. And it does not bode well for the health of the planet.
Becoming a better person requires effort. Merely thinking about doing more achieves nothing. We all know that developing new habits requires persistence. They say it takes 21 days of doing something for it to become engrained. And we all know how easy it is to backslide, to take a day off, and then another. But developing muscle memory requires endless training and repetition. Think of a pianist. That muscle memory (functional memory) is the one that stays with you the longest. Even in the presence of dementia my father could still play hymns on the piano, although he no longer recognized his children. I heard a term the other day: spiritual muscle memory. The speaker suggested that we need to work just as hard at developing our spiritual practice, reminding ourselves to be more compassionate, more forgiving, more patient, during those moments when all of those positive traits threaten to fly out the window! Recently I found myself losing my temper, and it was only after I had lost it that I remembered I was supposed to be Zen-like; patient and calm! But we are human, and the important thing is not to give up!
Sometimes I get my best spiritual lessons from Facebook. There was a piece I read yesterday about mindfulness, a meditation practice that helps us to be present in the moment, not anxiously fearing the future, or foolishly regretting the past. The writer advised that even small bites help, the exact quote was “Short moments, many times.” When you find yourself getting caught up in worry and anxiety, finding your mind chasing in many directions (none of them good), come back to the present, and begin by noticing your breath. Notice the sensations of air entering your nostrils. Follow the air deep into your lungs, and out again. Paying attention to the breath is one way of refocusing, of allowing calm to regain control. This you can do at your desk, in a classroom, in a traffic jam. It may only take a moment, but in the being you become. Developing spiritual muscle memory.
This Friday morning I hope you can recognize those areas in which you can be more and do more, thereby becoming more. And if you happen to live in a part of the world where you can feel a cool morning breeze up in the hills, appreciate it on my behalf please! And on the nights when the moon shines bright casting silvery light over the landscape, imagine me standing there basking in the glow!
Have a great weekend Family!