Monday, May 23, 2011

How Do You Not Waste Your Life?

The past few weeks have felt kind of odd. All the rapture talk. Tornadoes here in Minnesota and in other parts of the country. A bit of bumpiness at the zen center. Struggling to find flow between the yoga and Zen practices. Confused encounters with a few friends. Flat tire, mistake after mistake Friday the 13th. Dreams of snow destroying my garden.

The shaky, ever-changing ground upon which we stand is, I suppose really evident to me right now. Most of the morning, I've had this tension rolling around in my stomach, directed at nothing in particular really. I read this from a post by Harvey Hilbert about yesterday's tornadoes in Missouri:

For those survivors, life will not be the same. A cold glass of milk, a marshmallow, or a simple daisy will speak to them in ways they never quite imagined. As a survivor myself, I take it as my sacred trust to reaffirm the teaching from the Sandokai: Do not waste time.

And I thought "What does it mean to not waste time?"

There are plenty of Buddhist platitudes I could pull out as a response. Things like not getting lost in acting out habitual patterns. Or spending your days craving things, people, or experiences.

Also, we could sit and quibble over Harvey's framing of the last lines of the Sandokai as not wasting time. The lines are often translated as "I respectfully urge you who study the mystery, do not pass your days and nights in vain."

But you know, none of that cuts it for me right now.

I'll re-frame my question as "What does it mean to not waste your life?" or "How does one not waste his/hers life?"

For some reason, my old fears around making mistakes have been coming up, around with the attendant perfection/non-perfection narratives. I don't really know where my life is going in many ways, so certainly those stories are about finding some ground to hold on to, even if it's old, shitty ground.

In fact, I don't know where this post is going. I'm just writing what's coming up, a sentence at a time.

I think I'm starting to gut level understand why people do everything in their power to resist liberation. In the depths of our heart, we want to be in touch with our boundlessness. But even small shifts towards that, like letting go of some of the conventional things that once defined you (or so you thought anyway) brings with it a palpable fear, confusion, and desire to get back some stable ground.

A friend of mine, who has been struggling to make a few key decisions in her life, recently said something like "I don't want to live the rest of my life doing the same things." But then she goes back to doing so, for now (that's what we all think, for now).

Like my friend, I have done the "for now" return many times.

This returning doesn't define either of us, but it does make me think that the mind is so desperate for things to be stable and predictable, even if it's causing a crap load of suffering.

There are endless spiritual teachings from various traditions about the pitfalls of craving pleasures and avoiding pain. Buddhism is particularly strong in providing such teachings, and they are quite wonderful.

But in a lot of ways, I think it's as much if not more a craving for some of form of stability and predictability that drives our minds - that keeps us from liberation.

Desiring a pleasurable, comfortable life where you always get what you want might be one version.

Another, though, might be to just keep repeating all the jacked up thought and behavior patterns that often bring suffering with them, but which are absolutely familiar, right down to the cells in your body.


Algernon said...

Oh yeah, shifting towards boundlessness gives way to sheer bloody panic. The very definition of a "crisis." Small wonder indeed that so few come through this wide gate.

Craig said...

After reading your words I am feeling that shifting, groundless quality of my life, of all reality, more clearly. In the spirit of free association of your post, what comes to mind is, kindness is a nectar to help us soothe the suffering of the world. Gentleness is a sail to cross the ocean of samsara. Compassion is the voice with which we can save all sentient beings.

Nathan said...

Yep, bloody panic!

And thank you Craig for your offering.