Saturday, July 13, 2013

The First Day of Your Life

Ayya Khema asks us to contemplate:

"Think about today as the first day of your life. How do you want to live the remainder of your life? What changes do you need to make?"

I have been pondering that question.

The past is past and cannot be undone. At best, I can learn from it. I can view today as a chance to start anew, with mindfulness and acquired wisdom as my best allies. 

The more I age, the more life feels precious. Each day, each hour, each minute, each moment, a new gift that is not to be wasted with wrong action, wrong speech, wrong thoughts. There are long run decisions to be taken, and micro ones to be made every day. 

Doing the right thing requires seeing clearly within ourselves. Mindfulness can help shed some light, but it is not always enough. We need to stop, and probe deeply within. Armed with paper and pen, we can sit and reflect back on unhelpful patterns. Do we feel un-ease? Where does it come from? Can it be helped with changes within, or do we need to take action outside? What is in our control, and what is not?

We need to ask the big questions:

Which company do I want to keep?

Pema Chodron talks about the difficult ones as our teachers. Similarly, Ruth Denison often talks about her difficult relationship with her husband and how being his wife was a part of her spiritual path. Ayya Khema urges us to be careful and not haste to place the blame outside of ourselves. We are not perfect, and we need to first look inward before attributing our unhappiness to someone else's actions. I keep their advice in mind. I also remember the Buddha's admonition to only have noble friends. The Buddha is very clear on that matter:

Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. 

We are to keep company with those who encourage us on the spiritual path, in whichever form that may takes.

Next is, which work do I want to devote myself to?

I have the good fortune of having found work that incorporates mindfulness practice, service, and creativity while at the same time allowing me to make a living. Of course, the danger exists of perverting the purity of the initial intention. Wanting more money, more prestige, more self-gratification. Looking around, I am reminded that  outer claims to 'mindfulness' and to serving a higher cause, are no guarantee. Always, going back within to check. What are my motives? Am I being honest? Has greed arisen?

Last, the most important question.

If practice is the most important thing, am I making enough room for it? And if not, why?

I had planned to go on a two-week retreat this coming week. I ended up canceling. It did not seem wise to leave in the midst of so many important work projects. I promised myself that I would reschedule and retreat in September instead. I rationalized that practice can take place anywhere. I could sit longer every day, redouble my effort to bring mindfulness in my daily activities. I could listen to more dharma talks. I could attend mini-retreats here and there. Being a lay person is not easy on practice. Distractions and good reasons abound, that take one away from inner freedom.

Three questions worth asking ourselves. How would you answer them?


  1. Why don't you try a 10 day Vipassana? You have enough dhamma knowledge that this would integrate lovely. And being remote and self contained it would be like going on a vacation with the knowledge.

  2. Related to admirable friendship:
    Please ignore if you do not permit links to outside pages.