Dear Abbey Dharma,
I recently took my refuge vows and have found the Buddhist path to be vast and wide. My struggle is, where to begin? I find death and dying, intentions, karma, and many more subjects compelling. Where does one begin other than the meditation cushion?
—Where to Begin
Dear Where to Begin,
I think your last sentence is the clue to where to begin other than the meditation cushion. One begins, literally, by getting up from the meditation cushion and rejoining the rest of daily life—in which there is, predictably and often quite soon, potential for irritability or worry or lust or fatigue or insecurity to arise and cloud the mind, precluding it from seeing clearly and responding with compassion, which is, after all, the point of the Buddhist path. I love the line from the Persian poet Rumi, “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” and I also think there are a thousand ways to become dismayed and annoyed, just in a regular day. The alarm went off before you were finished sleeping. It’s raining, and you hadn’t expected it. The bus is late. The promised email did not arrive. Your co-worker in the next cubicle is chatting away with a new member of your work team and hasn’t ever paid as much attention to you, even though it was attention you’d hoped for. It is still more than an hour until lunchtime, and you are suddenly hungry. The promised email still has not arrived. The overarching goal of practice, habituating the mind to equanimity, wisdom, and kindness subsumes, I believe, any specific theme of study or technique of meditation. I think of my ongoing daily practice as mindfully attending to everything that startles my mind into a confused energetic response, even a small one, and gracefully attending to it. I tell people that “my practice is confirming, in my mind, the promise of the Buddha’s third noble truth, “Peace is possible,” confident that the clarity of that peace will support all my subsequent actions.
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Sylvia Boorstein is a psychotherapist and a founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, in Woodacre, California.