The Practice (edit May 2009 post)
No, not the 90’s Boston law drama (although I so did love that show) but the other Practice…this Buddhist Practice thingy…
When I began taking the idea of Buddhism seriously my instructions, were at best, vague.
I was taught all I had to do was first lather, rinse and repeat some words I didn’t understand, everyday; twice a day to a piece of paper I couldn’t read.
Next, I was to get as many people as possible to do the same thing. Then I was to study some old letters and some new newspapers and voila, I’d be a Buddhist.
Now don’t go feeling all smug…you will be surprised at the odd things you will agree to if you are approached at the right time. It’s like when you sleep with the really creepy guy from the office…normally you would not do it, but he just happened to catch you at the right time (for him) a low point (for you).
Lately I’ve been trying to have an actual, authentic Buddhist Practice, or at least what feels like one to me.
I saw a bumper sticker the other day that read, “I can’t. I have rehearsal.” It reminded me of all the times I had said those very words when working as an actor in a small theater company. We called it rehearsal because we were ACT-TORs but everyone else called it practice. “She can’t she’s got practice tonight”… “What time you want me to pick you up from practice?”…Etc.
Practice is a simple concept. It’s something you do over and over, in the hopes of getting it done best one day. Lately, my Practice has very little to do with chanting and more to do with…well… take a look:
Yesterday: first waking moments (3a.m):
It is written that all Buddhas attain enlightenment between the hours of the Ox and the tiger, which is between 1am and 5 am. I wake up early. I don’t try to. I don’t set a clock. My eyes just fling themselves open most mornings between 3 and 4 am. I used to go run and chant immediately, thinking that is what a practice makes, now I lie quietly for a bit to see if I can go back to sleep. I feel more enlightened already.
After a few moments of being wide-awake I am grateful to witness a new day. I’m not offering a prayer of thanks to anything or anyone. I am simply feeling gratitude as if I am gratitude itself. I can’t explain it any better than that and I know it sounds weird, but I’ve noticed myself experiencing this most mornings so I go with it. Sometimes I manage to doze off for an hour or so. This day I did not.
I rise and notice the chronic back pain that has become a resident in my changing body. My first thought was to complain. I did. I said something in the range of “Oh, shit”, while tightly gripping the sore muscles in my lower back. Then I think, oops. I just stepped on the first 4 of the 8 noble paths and I hadn’t even stepped out of bed yet.
1st Noble Path – Right View (I viewed my pain as suffering I do not deserve, but why not? I stand for hours and hours. I seldom exercise or stretch. I’m middle aged. Back pain is right on schedule. That’s how life works.)
2nd Noble Path – Right Thought (I thought, “why me?” intending to feel sorry for myself. And on some level thinking my complaining would make the pain subside – Duh!)
3rd Noble Path – Right Speech (I swore at my own back. How dumb is that? Cussing at pain will not make it go away. If it did there would be no pain!)
4th Noble path – Right Action (I tuned in here. Everything before was done on autopilot. But here I reached for the sky in a long stretch and bended into a palms touching the floor pose. I breathed deeply. I breathed some more. I took 2 gel caps. I shut my mouth. I kept it moving.)
Fast forward to sunrise:
I sit quietly to watch it. I’m mesmerized each morning,by looking at it. What gets me most is being mindful of having within my being (aching back and all) some of the same thing that makes the sun rise each day. Each breath is a mini sunrise of my own. Most of them I let go by without any thought. Here I contemplated each breath as I watched the little orange ball negotiate for space above or behind the clouds. I thought of all the people in my immediate circle. The ones I like. - The other ones. Then out of habit I thought I should be chanting now. Usually at this time I’d be rushing off to go chant either here at home or at the sangha. Today watching the sunrise and being mindful of my own breath offered a seemingly larger benefit.
Fast forward to mid morning:
I fix a light breakfast of fresh vegetables and rice. I’m practicing eating better. I’d prefer a thick steak some cheese grits and biscuits. But I can’t. I have practice. I pause to consider all the hands involved in getting the food to my table, from the rice growers to the bag boy, at the produce store. It’s a lovely master/grasshopper moment. And then, damn! I’m out of soy sauce.
The 10 worlds exist. My karma corvette drove backwards over 3 states, from rapture to hunger in zero point 2 and half seconds…over SOY SAUCE!
Fast forward to midday:
The clouds out negotiated the sun. I have clients to see. I make my rounds.
I’m stopped for a while at one location. A colleague is running a quick errand. She asks me, “Do you have an umbrella?” I tell her, “No.” But I do have one. I just don’t feel like walking back to where it is to get it for her to borrow. Damn, there went the Right Speech, Right Thought (intention) and Right Effort thing with one word, “No”.
This could easily be the post that never ends.
But THIS is practice – All the little moments of each day.
How to navigate them and which choices you make for which reasons.
Not just sitting on a cushion – Or repeating a mantra – Or accosting strangers in the street, in an effort to drag them to your sangha. But knowing when to be like that bumper sticker and say, “I can’t. I have practice.”
A friend who knew of my practice back when this post was first written, asked me could she go to a meeting with me at the *CSI Buddhist Center sometime? I told her I no longer go – but gave her the location and the times they meet if she was interested in going on her own. I also told her that I have a post on my blog(this one) that I wish she would read before venturing off to a “meeting”… she read the post, but decided she still wanted to check out a “meeting” anyway…Oh-z-well-z! I wonder how she’s doing? She moved to California shortly after that, CSI Country. I haven’t heard a word from her since.
*CSI=Cult Sure Is