VTH (that stands for Venerable “The Husband”) and I went to the small, arts colony of Idyllwild, CA last weekend. After dinner, we were sitting on the porch of our rented mountain cabin, sipping tea. He got out his iPad.
“What are doing?” I asked.
“I’m going to play some Solitaire,” he replied. “What are you going to do?”
“Well, I could get out my Kindle, or I could watch the sky go from indigo to black.” I paused to consider the options. “The latter seems far more interesting.”
As it turned out, I made the right choice. Ah… 🙂
“I hate waiting.” – Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
During my journey through cancer treatment, I did a lot of waiting. I waited in doctors’ offices, I waited in exam rooms. I waited in labs for my blood to be drawn, and I waited on hold with my insurance company to find out whether they’d approve payment. I waited in pharmacies for my prescriptions to be prepared, and I waited for the MRI to start. And all this while not knowing if I’d survive the process.
At some point, I decided I wasn’t going to wait any more. Life was more precious than ever before, and the Buddhist concept of “impermanence” had been smacked upside my head with the cosmic 2 x 4.
My first response was to take my Kindle to all medical appointments. That way I could read something that interested me and not feel that I was “wasting” my time by “waiting.” While I couldn’t take the Kindle everywhere, I could take it most places. If I’m in the middle of a good book – and I usually am – this is something I still do today.
This worked great until I got too sick from chemo to be able to read.
Then I remembered what the Buddha said about mindfulness of breathing: you can do it anywhere because the breath is always with you. So, I started meditating instead of waiting. I meditated in doctors’ offices, exam rooms, labs …you get the picture. Best of all, I could meditate in the MRI tube. (You can’t take a Kindle in there!)
As my treatments wound down and my life began to adjust to its “new normal,” I found other places to meditate: in the car at stoplights, in line at the grocery store, and standing around while other people got ready to go. Any time I found myself “waiting,” I took the opportunity to meditate, instead.
This has become part of my daily practice. Instead of either becoming frustrated by a delay, or daydreaming, I use this time in the best way I know how: for my spiritual practice.
I can honestly say that I don’t wait anymore. Care to join me?
“I focus on spiritual wealth now, and I’m busier, more enthusiastic, and more joyful than I have ever been.”
What does “spiritual wealth” mean? For me, it’s simply time to practice the Dharma by bringing it into my awareness throughout my days. It’s how I keep my mind, moment to moment. It’s remembering to be my best in any circumstance. It’s listening to my Buddha-Nature.
That’s wealth, indeed. And you have it, too.
White Tara is a Tibetan Buddhist representation of compassion. Tara has 21 manifestations. In her white aspect, she has additional eyes on her forehead, palms, and the soles of her feet, all to better help her see and respond to the suffering in the world.
“People know they are lacking something, they are constantly wanting some kind of spiritual guidance.”
When the Buddha said that life is dukkha – “unsatisfactoriness” – perhaps this is what he meant: that vague feeling that there’s something fundamental missing from our lives. For those of us who perceive that void, a spiritual practice is the most “satisfying” way to fill it.
It was the fall of 1982. I was a college freshman, standing in line for one thing or another, back in the days before computers sped us all along. Next to me was a senior, dispensing wisdom and advice.
“Study,” he admonished us, “or don’t. But don’t study and wish you were doing something else, and don’t not study and feel guilty about it.”
At the time, this seemed like a pretty good idea to me. So, I implemented it right away. What I didn’t foresee was the profound impact it would have on my life.
This advice doesn’t just apply to studying. It applies to anything we feel we “should” be or “ought to” be doing. Either do it, or don’t do it. But don’t beat yourself up, either way. As a psychiatrist friend of mine likes to say, “Stop ‘shoulding’ all over yourself!”
Most days, I meditate. I like the idea of doing seated meditation every day. Some days, however, I make a different choice. Perhaps something else is calling for my attention, so my meditation practice gets shortened, takes a different form, or gets missed altogether. And that’s okay!
I consciously choose how I spend my time and don’t regret it after the fact. Do I sometimes wish I had done things differently? Sure. I learn from those experiences. But I don’t wallow in guilt or other unskillful emotions as a result.
I do “this,” or I do “that.” Whichever I choose, I put all of my attention to the task at hand. I don’t daydream about “that” while doing “this,” nor feel that I should be doing “this” while doing “that.” Pick one! I tell myself. Commit! By focusing fully, I’m more productive and have time for more of both “this” and “that.” Instead of trying to multitask (which psychologists report doesn’t work, by the way; our brains aren’t wired that way), I monofocus.
Nearly 35 years later, I don’t recall what else that senior had to say, what he looked like, or why we were all standing in “that good old Baylor line,” but I remember that one piece of advice. It’s served me well.