It's easy to forget, when we are caught in the busy-ness of our lives, that we are on a journey. Though we may not realize it, we are constantly growing, adapting and refining our understanding of what is around us and our relationship to it. In reflecting on the Life of the Buddha and how it mirrors our own journey, I was thinking about how plain and straightforward I could make it. This is probably an over-simplification, but here is my thinking:
- We start off feeling protected and part of the whole. Womb service is great. Everything we need. As children, many (certainly not all) of us have for some period of time a certain degree of safety and sense of feeling loved. A time of innocence.
- Something goes wrong. We don't get what we need. We have what in the Forum training is called "A Break in Belonging." The sweetness of a protected life is shattered and we realize we are on our own. For many, this happens early and gets reinforced when we hit the big disappointments: failed relationships, unrequited love and the self-doubt that settles into our psyche.
- We shift to a strategy of austerity. We resolve to fix what's wrong. We focus on self-improvement. We decide to 'whip ourselves into shape.' We bear down on the degree we want. We make huge sacrifices of time and energy toward our job or career.
- We start to wake up. We begin to pause and question our motivations and ask ourselves what is most important.
- We surrender to what is. Rather than chasing something 'out there,' we begin to explore what is already here. We begin to unravel the tensions and stress that hold us back from being fully present.
- We awaken. To some degree, we begin to recognize the power of shifting from the realm of thinking to engaging into moment-to-moment awareness. We begin to live from an intention of cultivating greater presence to what is actually going on.
- Life goes on. From a place of greater inner freedom, we move through the world less bound, more prone to happy attacks and surges of gratitude. We engage into action less driven by greed, aversion and delusion, and more from compassion.
Many of us are familiar with the story of the Buddha. (I wonder how many people think the Buddha actually looked like Keanu Reaves?)
The first part of his life he was carefully and thoughtfully protected from the suffering of life. His "rude awakening" was encountering the Four Visitors of Sickness, Old Age, Death and Renunciation. He went off and engaged into six years of austerities, ultimately realizing that austerity would not lead to liberation. He realized the Path of the Middle Way - neither indulging nor denying the senses. Neither grasping nor pushing away anything that arises.
His practice was what we practice today: bringing awareness and presence to the play of feeling, thought, moods and states, noting what arises, what falls away and to our relationship to this constantly shifting constellation of phenomena.
After his awakening he travelled and taught for forty years, freely engaging all who sought his teaching, summing his message as 'teaching about suffering and the end of suffering.'
In that same way, I think each of us is waking up to the suffering in and around us. We are coming to know more and more intimately the painful result of greed, hatred and delusion.
Each of us in our own way is called to pause, slow down and ask ourselves what, truly, is most important.