yesterday (Dec 8th) was Bodhi Day, the day Mahayana Buddhists commemorate the enlightenment of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, 2600 years ago. as the story goes, the Buddha was moved by the suffering he saw in life and felt upon seeing sickness, aging, and death. disenchanted with the excess from which he came, and the practice of extreme asceticism which he practiced for a time, he set out to meet life face to face as it is. practicing the middle way of neither aversion or grasping, he sat until he woke up. in waking up he became the Buddha, which simply means awakened or awakened one. meeting life with an open heart, with clarity and balance, he found freedom from suffering. my favorite part of the story is when Buddha is tested by the demon Mara who eventually challenges Siddhartha’s ability and right to enlightenment as a mere human. the story goes – after not succumbing to Mara’s temptations, Mara challenged Siddhartha, “What right have you to be enlightened? Who will speak for you, who will bear witness for you?” sitting beneath the Bodhi tree, Siddhartha reached out his right hand and touched the earth, and the earth itself shook saying, “I bear you witness!” this wasn’t just for the historical Buddha – it is for all buddhas, for you, for me. we too can wake up, we too have within us the ability to be with life as it is, to live open-hearted with clarity and balance, to be free and at peace. may it be so.~j
“I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anywhere. Because where I am folded, there, I am a lie.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
this quote very well may sum up enlightenment or waking up, for me – to live authentically, to be in authentic relationship with the arising and passing life around us, to not fold up or close up in fear or anger, but to remain open – both heart and mind – courageously loving all that is suffering.
“Let go of the illusion of control.” ~ Master Oogway
To “let go” may be the greatest teaching and perhaps the most challenging. We find security in control, but it is only an illusion. All things in life arise and pass, all things are changing moment to moment. And control, like all things, is fleeting. Holding on to that which by its nature will change, trying to keep it from changing, brings us suffering. We are chained to a self-imagined outcome. We are not free. Life is not free. This can hurt us and those around us. Letting go, staying open, brings some peace to us and those around us.
I have a phrase I sometimes use when meditating. Breathing in I say in my mind, “May I hold all of life in love.” Breathing out I say in my mind, “And in love, may I let go…”
The great teacher Ajahn Chah has said, “If you let go a little, you will have a little happiness. If you let it go a lot, you will have a lot of happiness. If you let go completely, you will be free.”
Letting go should not be confused with inaction or indifference. Especially in a time of activism, as we are in now. We are still called forth by the suffering in the world, from our empathy and compassion, to tend to this life and those in it, to relieve and end suffering where we can. We do the good work, the kind work, but we do so not dependent on the outcome. We do so regardless of praise or blame. This can be really challenging in a culture such as ours, so driven on outcomes and a particular vision of “success.” Can we do good and kind work, simply because it is good and kind? Can we do good and kind work, knowing that we may not see fruition in our day, but we are perhaps planting seeds that may bring benefit in the days ahead?
there is so much pain, so much fear and anger. we can get lost in the suffering of it all. we can lose sight of the miracle of the moment, the love in the moment.
i have a practice i do (if i can step out of my suffering long enough to remember to do so!) that i would like to share with you.
when the suffering of the world, wars, poverty, discrimination, violence, corruption, indifference seem too overwhelming, i practice this. i bring my focus down to small stuff, the stuff we generally overlook. nature is a great aid in this. take a few moments to sit and breathe while observing nature, listening to birds’ song, the swaying of branches with the breeze dancing through, watching some insects (ants and bees are great!). even taking some time to observe your own body. have you ever stopped and looked at your skin for a while? fascinating! an appreciation arises naturally when we slow down, when we open and observe smaller, overlooked things.
when your personal suffering seems a burden too great to bear, go big. pull your focus out to a wider view, not centered on your smaller arena of life that can seem overwhelming. stand outside at night, be still, breathe, and observe the night sky as your eyes adjust and the stars begin to reveal themselves – spoiler alert, you can do this during the day as well, it is incredible how nuanced the blue sky can be and how magnificent clouds shapes can be. reflect on the good you see in the world, people opening their hearts, being kind, how history has a way of moving forward and improving even in the face of sometimes grave darkness and opposition. reflect on how the cycle of nature continues regardless – day into night into day, summer into fall and winter, into spring and summer. reflect even on your own life as a whole – observing all that has changed in your life from as a little kid until now. be aware of the rollercoaster of highs and lows, of drops and climbs. you have suffered before and have gotten through it. accept, forgive and love the journey thus far. everything changes. life persists.
in case you are wondering, now is the time to engage this life, to stand up and speak out for justice, equality and peace.we do so with empathy, compassion and courage. we do so with open hearts and steady minds rooted in meditation and contemplative practice.
we are interdependent and each of us has a role to play, a job to do, working to retain sanity and peace and to heal suffering for the benefit of all people.
Sooner or later life catches up with us and we come to the realization that there is no avoiding our problems, there is no running away from our demons, there is no going to war to win over this life or force our way through. It never lasts. There is nothing to grasp in desperation. It only adds to the suffering in the world.
We come to realize, often through experiencing or bearing witness to suffering, that the only true option is to meet life with authenticity in all of its rawness with an open heart, right here in this moment.
Meditation is the practice of not waiting until later, but gently and persistently meeting life as it is and as we are in this moment. Staying put. meeting our demons with compassion and gentleness. Moving beyond winning and losing. Letting go. Transforming suffering rather than transmitting suffering. Then we have no need to go to war with ourselves, with others, with life. Then we have peace.
in the thick of things, the darkness and difficulty, don’t forget who you are. you are Love, luminous and open.meet life with empathy, with compassion, and the steady, purposeful, and unshakable strength that comes from being grounded in Love.
[…if you want a master class in what happens when we allow our wounds to close up and drag us into a bitter anger, and then what happens when this is met with empathy, compassion, and courage, watch the end scenes of Moana. be a healer. meet life with empathy, compassion and courage grounded in Love.]