Contemplative psychotherapy for individuals, couples, and groups in New York City.
These questions and answers relate to Bonnie Myotai Treace's Week 2 teaching, The Scent of Green Grass: Attention Now!
1) Is there a specific practice you'd recommend for true giving, offering, generosity in a given day? It is easy to think about being generous in my morning sit but out in the world it's something else! Gassho.
Depends on you.
(I had the great gift of meeting with Aitken Roshi a few weeks ago. At one point he leaned in, "So, do you have a question for me?" I'd come with nothing but a measureless gratitude; we'd small-talked some about his Zen Wave being my first Zen book almost 3 decades ago. "What's the very best path for a poet?" I smiled. "His own!" he grunted, and then with a wink, "…or her own!")
And so to your question: the specific practice is to take your next step.
What's your next step?
In training we often give the koan, "How do you go straight on a crooked mountain path?"
One aspect we all face is how to not beg off. Two suggestions, forgive their obviousness:
1. Risk yourself to establish momentum. We all recognize that there is momentum to every action. Lie and it's easy to lie again. Give and it's easier to be giving. To create momentum, all you have to do is risk yourself, your status quo. When I work with students one-to-one, we explore that risk. With one person risk may mean taking three months to scale back, not buy anything but groceries and necessities, to dwell in sufficiency. From there, as you can imagine, huge generosity is available. With another person, the opposite risk, if you will, is helpful: they may need to commit to an hour a week of absolute sanctuary time, to honor their body, luxuriate in privacy. If the habit is to restrict and discipline the self into nothing but tense obligation, what is the next step, the right medicine? If the habit is to resolve every tension with a new toy or idea, what does it look like to take the first step toward freedom from that habit? Establish momentum by committing to start. When you're stuck, start.
2. There is always something to give. Give your breath, your thought, your intention, your effort, the ineffable. There is the tangle of wonderful absolute truth: you have nothing, there is no one to give nor receive, intimacy is thus. This is why giving is, not an excuse. So throw yourself into it. After 9/11 NYC seemed to realize this: people working cash registers wouldn't let a person pass without giving connection, a "You okay?", the smallest encounter had ample and exquisite expressions of compassion.
2) When we give attention to the Gulf Oil Spill are we actually helping the world or just helping ourselves? I struggle with this alot with Insight meditation—something about the Mahayana outwardness and bodhisattva effort appeals to me. I have daydreams about performing grand helpful gestures, but then I go through my day and dont do the little things.
Each of us have our spot to awaken, that wave we are and nobody else quite is; whether that is grand or little, the self or the world, depends on where you draw the line in the ocean…!
I hope you won't beat up those daydreams too much. You are necessary and perfect and wise, and no one knows what your offering is to this life, not even you. I know you write a heart-felt question, reflect with what seems a rare honesty, and all of this inspires me, makes me come to your question with sobriety and to this life with another spark of commitment, with a sense that here's yet another human to whom honor matters.
3) you don't know what the ocean is until you hit the desert, you don't appreciate the rain until you've seen drought. You don't know what generosity and giveing are until you've seen yourself recoil in selfishness and self-centeredness. Thank you for this teaching. Does there need to be an object to attention? Does there need to be an object to generosity? I would like to think not.
Your words hit bone on how we live on earth… the ones most active for justice in any realm are the ones who taste the injustice. (In the West, for instance, this has played out in the overwhelmingly white enrollment in Black History courses (not) …and men in Women's History courses (not)…)
Now as we face this critical span of years where, among other expressions of the human condition, water scarcity is very real for an increasingly large proportion of the world's population (but still most obviously in developing countries), how will compassion awaken?
p.s. When there's no subject, there's no object. When there are preferences, there's a subject…:) So…as long as we wish for no object, one remains… So… attention…attention…attention…