Chasing the Invisible

How much time do you spend each day thinking about the past or the future? Do you find yourself ruminating upon past problems and reflecting on past joys wistfully? Do you find yourself worrying about what might happen, if you will be alone, if you will be ok in the future? These thoughts arise unbidden from the landscape of the mind and provide us with the majority of the narrative we pay attention to daily.

The past is tricky, because unless we spend at least some time reflecting on what has happened, we are unlikely to learn or retain valuable lessons. Yet, every one of us has experienced the ways that sad memories and depressing or regretful thoughts creep into our consciousness and drain our life force. If you find yourself rehashing old arguments and conversations, thinking about what you could have said in order to "win" the discussion or gain situational favor, then it is likely that you are not getting the best possible lesson from your reflective time. If you do not have reflective time in your life deliberately set aside, it's even more important to pay attention to how rumination crashes into your daily life with a painful force, threatening your ability to be present.

The future is also tricky. Though you might consult oracles, make plans, coordinate schedules, save money, and create certain conditions in your life, you cannot ever really be sure of what will happen. All it takes is one single instant for everything to shift, for plans to fall away, for the whole fabric of life to change shape. In light of this, you must not get too attached to your mental fabrications of the future. Yet, you still must plan, because if you do not acknowledge that winter is just around the corner, and if you fail to store food sensibly, you will starve. Without any plans at all, the future is chaos. This is why it's important to pay attention to things like social security, the rising sea level, and health care contingencies. If you do not set aside the time to pay attention to these things, they, too, burst unbidden into your mind at the most unlikely and inconvenient times, like when you are just getting ready to sleep, or celebrate a birthday. And what good can you do about them then?

Without proper deliberate attention to reflection and planning, without the time put aside to attend to these things, they begin to dominate your life, swinging like a wrecking ball and derailing your intimate relationship with the Here and Now. Think about how much of your day you spend chasing the invisible: ruminating, rehashing, planning, and dreaming about what may come. It adds up. How much time? An hour? 6? More? How much of your day is spent in a time and place other than here and now? 

When you find yourself chasing the invisible, yet again, don't judge yourself too harshly. Just notice how your human, animal self is seeking a comfort that it will not find in the past or future, and turn your attention instead to the wonder of Here, Now. It is possible that you will find everything you might be trying to fabricate if you do this.

Take the Time

"I don't have the time."

"I've been too busy."

"I have other obligations."

Every day, it is tempting to blame our schedules and obligations for the lack of time to spend in devotional activities such as meditation, altar-tending, communing with nature, or personal divination. After all, there are so many things that we have to pay attention to: work, home life, family life, community obligations, and more. Each of these is a major distraction from dedicated spiritual activity, right? It's hard to find the time to do the small things that give us spiritual centeredness and consolation when we have so much going on. It's hard to find the time for self-care when we have so many duties. It's hard to find the time to still the mind when we are saturated in a world of nonstop communication.

This is the story about time that we tell ourselves when we realize that yet another day has passed without a visit to our shrines or a session of seated meditation or that walk we planned to take so we could listen to the trees. So often, we sacrifice spiritual self-care to another, more seemingly vital, activity. And, let's be honest, sometimes we sacrifice spiritual self-care so that we can sit on the couch and watch a TV show or play on our phones. It's not always work that takes a higher priority than our spiritual lives. In fact, sometimes we build up our spiritual activity in our minds as "work" and then we seek to escape it instead of fulfilling it with joyful hearts.

But what if you took the time, nonetheless?  What might that change in your mind? What if you could remember that the spiritual activities that you think of as "work" actually refresh and rejuvenate you? What if you wove spiritual activity so closely into your life that it became as natural to you as brushing your teeth or eating food every day?

What if you did not wait until it's too late?

For the next week, try this every day: attach one aspect of spiritual practice to a non-negotiable daily activity. Bring your child with you to the shrine to recite one single hymn or light a candle. Take 5 minutes of silence in the morning right after you put on your clothes. Spend three minutes in quiet gratitude at the start of each meal. Recite one mala of OM MANI PADME HUM during your commute, quietly or internally if you have to. If you have to walk to the mailbox, take the long way and talk to a tree. Append your practices to your obligations, and therefore sanctify those obligations. See what happens when practice is woven into life instead of separate from it. See what happens when you choose to control your time rather than letting it control you. 

The Heart of Kuan Yin

In the midst of unbelievable chaos, the ocean of samsara churning, worldwide suffering, internal doubt and turmoil, war, and grief, where do we turn? To whom do we dedicate the energy generated by suffering so that it can be transmuted into wisdom?

In the midst of celebration, closeness with beloveds, happy achievements, spontaneous declarations of love, contentment, friendship, and good news, where do we turn? To whom do we dedicate the energy of our joy so that it can be transmuted into wisdom?

"She Who Hears the Cries of the World" receives our exclamations and dedications of both suffering and joy. In her vast heart of wisdom is a lotus flower that is nourished by the mud of our sorrow as it turns its face to the sun of our happiness. She does not differentiate between "good" and "evil", and instead shows us that in reality, all is one. There is no duality. There are only manifestations of phenomenon that serve to enlighten us with increased awareness. In order to receive this awareness, we cannot choose to see ourselves as separate from one another. We must choose to see ourselves as cells in the same body, each doing its part to sustain the whole.

But what happens in the body when a group of cells becomes diseased? The body then creates new cells with the express purpose of restoring wholeness. On the surface, the assertive action of these cells might seem violent or revolutionary. White blood cells "devour" disease, rendering it harmless, consuming the fire of disease so that it cannot cause damage. Would we characterize the activity of the white blood cells as violent, illegal, or thuggish, when, in fact, the restoration of health is the ultimate act of compassion for the ailing?

To the same token, occasionally white blood cells go rogue and begin taking over the body. They can form clusters that become tumors. They can overrun the blood. Then, the body requires regulatory measures to cease the enthusiasm of the white blood cells. Treatments for this condition can involve potent chemicals, the administration of radiation, and surgery. Would we characterize these methods of treatment as willfully aggressive, overbearing, or cruel to Mother Nature, when, in fact, the restoration of health is the ultimate act of compassion for the ailing?

The Heart of Kuan Yin beats in each of us, reminding us to come home to the center of stillness where compassion may be found. It is not wrong to heal the diseases of suffering that threaten to harm our world. It is neither wrong to rein in our impulses to go overboard in doing so, especially when our actions replicate the tactics of the diseases we are seeking to heal.

In times of suffering, and times of joy, as well a times of confusion, we can dedicate the energy of our undifferentiated, painful, gorgeous, terrible, beautiful experiences to the Heart of Kuan Yin, and thereby return to true compassion, which is both fierce and tender at once.

May the merit of this practice,
and all of my activities,
be of endless benefit
to all beings in all realms,
beginningless and continuous.
May all obstacles be overcome,
and suffering cease,
at the sound of liberation. 
May all beings be freed from suffering and its causes.
May all beings have happiness and its causes.
May we carry the essence of Kuan Yin in our hearts.