Something was off.
At first I thought that perhaps my body was just tired from 4:15 am wake up calls and long days at work, but deep down I knew it was more than that. It was how I was living those days. My life had become one long “to do” list of classes to teach, appointments to keep and tasks to be checked off, and even though I love my job and family very much I often felt depressed and resentful. I wanted so much more than just making it through the day. I wanted to be present. I wanted to be creative; to evolve and to flow. I wanted have intelligent conversation with my clients and family, enjoying their presence. I wanted smile lines on my cheeks instead of worry lines on my forehead. I wanted to peacefully gift my time, and to let go of thinking that my life was a burden to bear.
They say that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. For me, that teacher was Josh. I met Josh when I attended my first meeting on Meditation: Practicing Mindfulness in Action. Everyone stood with prayer hands when Josh entered the room, but he was unassuming- with a crooked smile and messy hair. Reading the lesson, he would often burst into a goofy chuckle, reminding me of those laughing Buddha statues that you might see for sale in a Chinese restaurant. Maybe it’s because Josh talks like a surfer, or because he’s a second grade teacher, but I found him easy to listen to, and liked what he was teaching right away.
I have been “dabbling” on and off with mediation for about 2 years now, even spending big bucks to take a course on transcendental meditation, but nothing ever seemed to really stick. This day was different. Josh introduced us to The New Meditation Handbook by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. This book contains 21 Buddhist meditation practices to control our mind, and is based on the teachings of Kadampa Buddhism. Kadampa Buddhists are encouraged to use Buddha’s teachings as practical methods for transforming daily activities into the path to enlightenment, and the method is simple. Each of the 21 meditation practices has 5 parts; preparation, contemplation, meditation, dedication and practice. You read a new meditation every day, prepare your mind with a prayer, think about the meditation, spend time in silence concentrating on your breath, and then with a dedicated intention put that Dharma- or teaching- into practice. I instantly knew what was missing in my life. I was living without intention. I took the book home with a vow to meditate and set an intention for each day, starting with the first one- to understand how precious our human life is.
That day, I concentrated on making each interaction meaningful. When teaching classes at the gym, I stepped out of my own way, and began to really see the people I was helping. In meetings, I leaned in a little closer to make sure that I was listening to speaker, and when my thoughts wandered to that “to do” list, I reigned myself back in. At home, instead of being upset with the dogs for barking too loudly, I remembered that they do not have the gift of communicating, and being animals they must certainly live in fear for most of their lives. My run that evening was less fretful as I concentrated on how awesome it is to be able to move through space on two legs, and instead of being upset that I “had to make dinner,” I felt grateful to have food to nourish this body that I get to live in.
What if for just one day we could remember that our actions have a ripple effect? What if we cherished the grocery store clerk as much as we cherish ourselves? What if we acknowledged the kindness of the lady who gave our gnarly feet a pedicure, or chose to love each and every person as though they were our mom?
Bodhichitta is the “enlightenment mind.” It’s the mind that strives toward awakening, empathy and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings. Gyatso describes it as “precious,” and that rocks me to my soul. It takes practice (perhaps many lives worth) to get there, but we can start by setting intentions that make our own lives meaningful way beyond just “getting things done.”
We will die. Our precious human lives are slipping away. We can continue to muddle through the suffering laden cycle of Samsara, or walk the path to peace.
May my intentions turn the wheel of dharma, and be of benefit.