I spent an hour this morning walking around Tempe Town Lake, watching the sun rise over the Superstition Mountains, the wispy white low pressure clouds scatter across the morning sky, a class of white cranes gather the edge of the water, waiting for a slow learning fish to swim by for a tasty breakfast lesson. I was listening not to the hum of traffic on the nearby freeway, nor the heavy engines of airplanes in the flight path above, but to Brother Thay talk about suffering, compassion and meditation as daily spiritual practice.
If you have one free hour this week, this podcast is worth your time. As a Christian, it may be strange to hear me recommend the wisdom of a Vietnamese Buddhist leader, but his vision is human — not denominational. Plus, doesn’t faith give us the ability to listen to leaders of other faiths and determine what we have in common? This teacher has much to share and I found his words healing and motivating. One of my favorite excerpts discusses taking each step with thought, being mindful of each breath:
Sitting in mindfulness, both our bodies and minds can be at peace and totally relaxed. But this state of peace and relaxation differs fundamentally from the lazy, semi-conscious state of mind that one gets while resting and dozing. Sitting in such lazy semi-consciousness, far from being mindfulness, is like sitting in a dark cave. In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality. The person who practices mindfulness should be no less awake than the driver of a car; if the practitioner isn’t awake he will be possessed by dispersion and forgetfulness, just as the drowsy driver is likely to cause a grave accident. Be as awake as a person walking on high stilts—any misstep could cause the walker to fall. Be like a medieval knight walking weaponless in a forest of swords. Be like a lion, going forward with slow, gentle, and firm steps. Only with this kind of vigilance can you realize total awakening.
He also talks about how we can, through compassion, help those who are suffering in part by listening. Separating ourselves from ego to help others is a choice we can make toward enlightenment. This thought set off a chain reaction, bringing me back to a conversation I had with a girlfriend this week about how love isn’t an emotion, but a choice. You can say, “oh, I’m so in love” or you can make the choice to never speak poorly of your spouse or children, of showing those around you that your love for your family is profound — speaking vs. living. Through our daily actions, we love. We put our own needs aside to be loving and compassionate perhaps without realizing such choices put us in touch with our spirit.
This is how I want to live — like the thoughtful lion, strong and gentle. I am keenly aware of my ego, how it pops up at the worst of times and floods my mind with feelings of greed, jealousy and impatience. Thankfully, I believe God gives us the tools to recognize our human flaws and the choice to improve, and to become more wrapped in faith, compassion and love in the process.
He who postpones the hour of living is like the rustic who waits for the river to run out before he crosses. -Horace, poet and satirist (65-8 BCE)