Our identity, which seems so reliable, so substantial, is in fact very fluid, very dynamic. There are unlimited possibilities to what we might think, what we might feel, and how we might experience reality. We have what it takes to free ourselves from the suffering of a fixed identity and connect with the fundamental slipperiness and mystery of our being, which has no fixed identity. Your sense of yourself – who you think you are at the relative level – is a very restricted version of who you truly are. But the good news is that you can use your direct experience – who you seem to be at this very moment – as the doorway to your true nature. By fully touching this relative moment of time – the sounds you’re hearing, the smell you’re smelling, the pain or comfort you’re feeling right now – by being fully present to your experience, you contact the unlimited openness of your being. – Pema Chodron
Begin. Keep on beginning. Nibble on everything. Take a hike. Teach yourself to whistle. Lie. The older you get, the more they’ll want your stories. Make them up. Talk to stones. Short-out electric fences. Swim with the sea turtle into the moon. Learn how to die. Eat moonshine pie. Drink wild geranium tea. Run naked in the rain. Everything that happens will happen, and none of us will be safe from it. Pull up anchors. Sit close to the god of night. Lie still in a stream and breathe water. Climb to the top of the highest tree until you come to the branch where the blue heron sleeps. Eat poems for breakfast. Wear them on your forehead. Lick the mountain’s bare shoulder. Measure the color of days around your mother’s death. Put your hands over your face and listen to what they tell you. – Ellen Kort
We need to remember that life comes as moments. One of my favorite stories is about how the Dalai Lama upon hearing some tragic news, began to cry. Then several minutes later, he was smiling and laughing. The Dalai Lama truly embraces how life comes as moments. He doesn’t hold onto that sadness forever – he moves on. It doesn’t mean that the Dalia Lama’s not sincere. He just goes with the flow and accepts things as they are.
Sometimes I have a big ego, but I am learning to soften it. My ego presents itself as self-important, special, and seeking approval. I need to address my ego so that I can become aware of how strong it can be and work on transforming it.
One way to soften the ego is through compassion. Compassion for yourself and for others. When I am with my dying patients, I am compassionate and my ego takes a back seat. The hospice environment is easy for me to be compassionate. However, I need to learn how to transfer that same compassion into different situations.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, compassion means, “Sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” I think the key word here is “consciousness.” We need to become aware that we all go through difficult times and we need compassion for each other. My friend Harriet who is from Africa says, “I seek humanity.” These are powerful words. We are all one. However, the ego may not like the fact that we are all one.
The mind likes to compare, judge, and analyze. The mind observes how well or how terrible we are “doing” in life. The ego can rise up to either praise or criticize. My mantra right now (to deal with the critical mind) is to sing the three words from the “Frozen” song: Let it go. Let it go…
We all have an ego. It keeps us alive. Joan Halifax who is a Zen Buddhist Teacher says, “We believe that it takes a strong back and a soft front to face the world.” That soft front is compassion.
Begin with yourself:
- MAY I BE SAFE AND PROTECTED
- MAY WISDOM AND COMPASSION ALWAYS LIVE IN MY HEART
- MAY I BE SKILLFUL
- MAY MY BODY AND MIND BE HEALTHY AND STRONG
- MAY I BE FREE FROM MENTAL SUFFERING
- MAY I BE FREE FROM INNER AND OUTER HARM
- MAY I BE HAPPY
- MAY I LIVE WITH EASE IN THIS WORLD
- MAY I BE MINDFUL
- MAY I BE LOVING AND KIND
After you say this for yourself, direct the loving-kindness to a dear friend, a loved one, coworker, neighbor, enemy or difficult person.
There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly. – Margaret Fuller
I just spent four days on a silent meditation retreat with http://www.triplegem.org. Here are 11 lessons that I learned from the retreat:
- Be a noble friend to yourself. Take good care of yourself. Remember you are the only doorway to the existence for yourself. During the retreat, I realized that I am too critical with myself. I need to let go of things and be my own best friend.
- If you find value in something, continue to pursue it. There are many times that I want to give up on something that’s good for me. For example, sometimes I will find excuses not to go to meditation class.
- Watch how your thoughts can cause suffering. Do not be mislead by unguided thoughts or false views. Wisdom comes by seeing the whole picture or the whole story (endowed with insight).
- Find commonality among other people. Most people want to improve their lives. We are more alike than different.
- Decide to lead a spiritual life, even if that means going through it alone. I realized that most of my family members do not accept that I am Buddhist. My family members are Catholic and they do not understand the Buddhist way of living. Sometimes I feel like I am estranged from my family. However, I know that the Buddhist path is right for me, so I will walk alone if I have to.
- Renunciate. In Buddhism, the Pali word for “renunciation” is nekkhamma, conveying more specifically “giving up the world and leading a holy life.” My holy life includes daily practice of yoga and meditation, serving humanity through hospice work, attending a weekly meditation group (sangha) with my Buddhist teacher, sharing metta (loving-kindness) with everyone that I meet, and continuing self-study. I want to increase mindfulness.
- Spiritual practices like meditation, yoga, prayer, and reading spiritual literature can help keep you on the right path.
- It is important to forgive and move on. “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi
- Gratitude creates a joyful heart. “Constantly apply cheerfulness, if for no other reason than because you are on this spiritual path. Have a sense of gratitude to everything, even difficult emotions, because of their potential to wake you up.” – Pema Chodron
- Use your time wisely. We all have 24-hours in a day. You can create a spiritual life with the right choices.
- Never do anything that the wise would reprove (reprimand). We are never alone. There are always celestial beings around us.
One of my old behavior patterns is to not speak up in a large group setting. I am an introvert, so speaking in a large group can be intimidating. Most extroverts can think outload, but as an introvert I take time to think before I speak. However, I decided to change my breath patterns during my hospice team meeting and I noticed that I gained confidence to speak up. I took several deep breaths and then when I was ready to speak I took one more big breath. It worked! Now I know I can use my breath to change my behavior.
Friedrich Nietzsche’s question: What if you were to live the identical life again and again throughout eternity – how would that change you?
“The thought of living your identical life again and again for all eternity can be jarring, a sort of petite existential shock therapy. It often serves as a sobering thought experiment, leading you to consider seriously how you are really living. Like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, it increases your awareness that this life, your only life, should be lived well and fully, accumulating a few regrets as possible. Nietzsche thus serves as a guide leading us away from the preoccupation with trivial concerns to the goal of living vitally.” – Irvin D. Yalom (from the book, “Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Dread of Death”)