"Life itself is too short, there are moments in which we miss, and there are times which we may regret.
Yet, somehow through all the sadness and all the pain, we discover a moment which is transcendent and pure.
It is not dependent on living, dying, or even breathing. We are infinite souls who struggle to eke out lives in a meaningful way.
And yet we know that all of our thoughts are not a replacement for our lives."
-- Ven. Wonji Dharma
On May 28, 1957 you began your "Continuation Journey" in this lifetime. We wish you well as you travel on to the next "journey."
Just know you are forever missed.
There is a story that went around a few years ago:
A US naval ship and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland engaged in a radio conversation. The conversation was this:
US Ship: Please divert your course 0.5 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.
CND reply: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
US Ship: This is the Captain of a US Navy Ship. I say again, divert your course.
CND reply: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course!
US Ship: (Voice urgent and curt) THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES' ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT'S ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTERMEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.
CND reply: This is a lighthouse. Your call.
Actually, the story isn’t true, but it illustrates a good point. It is our habit energies, our acting without attention that get us into trouble. We encounter an obstacle and ignore all warning signs that a new approach may be needed. This blind action, what is often called habit energy, can get lead us into more suffering. Often when we are in the midst of habit energy, we are experiencing the separation or desire to withdraw from others, and it is this energy that makes us afraid to open up our awareness.
What is cultivating attention?
Quite simply it means paying attention to the present moment. It means to be alert, to observe, and be aware from moment to moment.
Think of a microscope. If we are to study an object, we get out a microscope, adjust the setting, and focus the lens so that we can see the object in more detail. This is what we do when practicing mindfulness. The object becomes us. We focus on our bodies, our minds, and emotions. When we practice mindful attention regularly, the action of manipulating our focus on ourselves becomes easier and concentration arises naturally. Without practice, our minds shift from past to future thinking, we get preoccupied with being busy, and we lose connection to what is happening at the moment. We lose connection to what we are experiencing right now. You cannot see clearly if you are shaking the microscope back and forth, or if you are engaged with other tasks other than putting your eye to the eyepiece. We need to practice mindful attention by staying focused on the task at hand moment by moment.
There is a kind of paradox to practicing mindful attention, however. In Sanskrit, the word for mindful attention is Smriti, which also means “that which is remembered”. The paradox is that when we most need to practice mindful attention, it has slipped away from us. The paradox of mindfulness is occurring at these moments: we need it more when we aren’t using it!
This meme is something I’ve come across a few times in the last while, and it always makes me chuckle. Mainly I see myself and my own hypocrisy in it. In those moments when I have time to breathe and take a moment to consider my actions before I act, I try to root in the principles of kindness and compassion--qualities that I have always held in highest regard in others, and ones that I try to live up to as best I can.
But…get me behind the wheel when I have somewhere to be and all of a sudden everyone’s an idiot and the planet is populated by knuckle-draggers.
This contrast is funny because I can see how silly it is--I have become the very person I criticize. Honestly, over the last few years, I’ve had fewer incidents of actually becoming angry at others for their mistakes while driving. I used to hit my steering wheel, shout, swear (my kids called them “Mommy words,” for reference). With that said, my impulse reaction to get upset and mutter terrible names about people when someone’s driving scares me is still there.
Also, now that I’ve been practicing a while, I am more immediately remorseful for my angry words because they were not mindfully generated, and certainly not compassionate nor kind! My son was with me in one of my moments of regret for having said some things about a lady in an SUV and he looked at me, bewildered, and observed: “There’s no way she heard you--why would it matter?”
I tried my best to explain, failed to find the words, then also got to questioning myself--Does it matter?
Then a few days later, I came across these words as I was picking my way through one of the myriad books I am trying to work through:
“When we ask ourselves, ‘Does it matter?’ we can first look at the outer, more obvious results of our actions. But then we can go deeper by examining how we are affecting our own mind: Am I making an old habit more habitual? Am I strengthening propensities I’d like to weaken? When I’m on the verge of lying to save face, or manipulating a situation to go my way, where will that lead? Am I going in the direction of becoming a more deceitful person or a more guilty, self-denigrating person? How about when I experiment with practicing patience or generosity? How are my actions affecting my process of awakening? Where will they lead?”
– Pema Chödron, Welcoming the Unwelcome
These words helped me realize why I don’t like that impulse reaction that I have: My intent in my practice is to be mindful in all that I do. Using harsh words in fear or anger does nothing other than to perpetuate the idea of separating “me” from “them,” creating that false sense of duality that allows us to be violent in speech, action, and thought. Even if I do this in the privacy of my own car, unheard by the people who I perceived to be “knuckle-draggers,” the direction I go into is the one of separating us all from each other--at least in my mind. My intent is to cultivate my understanding of our interconnectedness--even my "small" impulsive reaction is a symptom of that remaining belief and thought pattern. To indulge it is to perpetuate it.
As I navigate the waters of wading through feelings of grief, anger, and disbelief over yet another tragic mass shooting so close to the one that recently took place in Buffalo, the “Does it matter?” question resonates. Does it matter how I think of the victims? Does it matter how I think of the people who perpetrate these shootings? Does it matter what I think of those who oppose gun legislation? Does it matter what words I choose to talk about what has been going on, and the people who don't share my view? Does it matter if I finally apply to become a U.S. citizen so that I can more fully participate in the election process? Does any of it matter, at all?
I remember some years when my answer to all of these types of questions would have been No. I’m too small, I don’t matter, I can’t make a difference on my own…"
I’m thankful for all the teachings that have pointed me in the direction of “Yes, it matters,” because it takes all of us to be the hummingbirds to put out the fire (thank you, Rev. Anwol and Ven. Wonji), and I am very much not alone--that "alone-ness" is an illusion I created in my own mind. The small steps I can take to participate in this phenomenal world more fully, do matter. Train my brain to be compassionate and kind--always--even when things happen quickly, in a frightening way, or perhaps, especially when they happen in that way.
So very grateful for all the teachers who help me see.
Much love to all.
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Meditation and Study Group members