Tonight we’ll continue to explore ideas in Joseph Goldstein’s Mindfulness book. Last week we discussed what the Buddha cited as the first essential quality of mindfulness: ardency. Joseph’s second chapter, titled Clearly Knowing: Cultivating Clear Comprehension, examines the second quality: clearly comprehending what we are doing and what our purpose is in any given moment.
Clear knowing comprises the aspects of investigation and wisdom in mindfulness, which entails more than merely being present. With clear comprehension, we understand the underlying motivation for our actions, and we know how appropriate they are. When we act with full awareness, we can notice our motives and then consider whether or not our intended action is skillful and useful.
The more we become aware of our motivations, the more we realize that our practice is not only for ourselves, but also for the happiness of all beings. By understanding ourselves, we come to understand others. Gradually we comprehend the commonality of our human condition, and of what creates suffering and what liberates us from suffering.
While Mark and I are mourning the loss of our dear dog Marisol, we feel connected to all those who have ever lost a loved one, and we know that we are not alone in suffering from being attached to an impermanent being. I do not wish to escape such suffering by shutting down my heart to prevent loving and losing the objects of my love.
When Mark and I fetched the small wooden box that contains Marisol’s cremated ashes, we received a card inscribed with an excerpt from a book called Separate Lifetimes by Irving Townsend:
We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan….
By transforming how we are in our daily lives, our practice benefits those around us. As we become more peaceful and accepting and less judgmental and selfish, we contribute those qualities to the world. The vibrational resonance of our energy system affects all those whom we contact. The venerable Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that on a boat amidst a big storm, a single wise, calm person can remind other passengers of their inner resources and help everyone survive. As Joseph says, the world is like that boat, tossed about by storms of greed, hatred and delusion. We can learn to be one of the people who help to keep it safe.
As I recover from painful foot surgery, I am profoundly grateful to those of you in our meditation sangha who have held me in your Metta prayers, sent sympathy cards, brought nourishing meals and soothing ointment, and carried grocery bags up the steep flight of stairs to our kitchen. I am increasingly aware of how interconnected we are. We cannot flourish as isolated and alienated beings. On the Dharma path, we recognize how much we need one another’s compassion and care.
Some of you know that I have been fundraising to launch a pioneering program in Contemplative Chaplaincy to benefit palliative care patients and medical students in the Texas Medical Center. When they heard about this vision, Josh and Kanako kindly offered to film and edit a video for a GoFundMe campaign on the Internet. Their enthusiasm and willingness to spend hours during their busy workweek to further this project shows how each of us can make a positive difference in one another’s life.
Anna Quindlan’s little book A Short Guide to a Happy Life contains the some pertinent excepts:
We have an embarrassment of riches. Life is good….I never think of my life, or my world, in a big, cosmic way. I think of it in all its small component parts: the snowdrops, the daffodils….Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of grey cement….We have to teach ourselves how to make room for them, to love them, and to live, really live….[I’ve] learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that this is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get. I learned to look at all the good in the world and to try to give some of it back, because I believe in it completely and utterly….Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness, because, if you do, you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived.
Let us follow in the footsteps of the Buddha, who challenged his first sixty enlightened disciples in this way:
Go forth, O Bhikkhis, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit and happiness of gods and men….Preach, O Bhikkhus, the Dharma, excellent in the beginning, excellent in the middle, excellent in the end…Proclaim the Holy Life, altogether perfect and pure.”