I regret that it’s taken me so long to be able to write that sentence. For decades I was a Buddhist without a regular sitting meditation practice, which I long carried as a source of guilt. Forget guilt – who knew that I was missing out on such a source of joy! I needed years of repetition before I could finally internalize what so many Buddhist teachers have said and written: sitting meditation shouldn’t be painful, shouldn’t be dour, shouldn’t be a chore. As Thich Nhat Hahn says, “Sitting is an enjoyment, not hard labor for enlightenment.” Meditation should be – it is – a source of peace, strength, and joy. I have to smile when I think that for so long I clung to each precious second of sleep in the morning and now I find myself rising before the alarm in anticipation of my sitting meditation. I bow in gratitude to the precious people in my life who have supported me in establishing a regular practice.
There are many excellent resources for meditation. The loving support of Sangha (a community that practices together) and an in-person teacher to provide guidance on the practice is incomparable. I also highly recommend the support of one other person in your life who also commits to sitting on a daily basis. Thank you, Mom! Regardless of whether you sit together, knowing that the other person is also making meditation a priority is a tremendous support. Delighting in the other person’s meditation is an excellent practice of sympathetic joy. I find it helpful to remember that my meditation benefits both myself and others; this is practice in generating bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment to benefit all sentient beings. As Thầy says in Awakening of the Heart: Essential Buddhist Sutras and Commentaries, “Meditation is not an escape. It is the courage to look at reality with mindfulness and concentration. Our world needs wisdom and insight.” Continue reading →
Parenting, publishing, taking the metro to work each morning – I have found that every aspect of life benefits from the practice of equanimity, described by Kalu Rinpoche in The Dharma That Illuminates All Beings Impartially Like the Light of the Sun and the Moon, as a state of mind in which “you are not overpowered by emotional afflictions such as desire, hatred and stupidity, but instead remain in the natural state of the mind.” Without mindfulness practice to ground me in equanimity, I all too easily get swept away by the emotional currents around me. In parenting in particular I have a real tendency to get caught up in whatever is going on with my children and husband. I have nicknamed this “empathetically induced anger”, though it’s simply lack of equanimity. A phone call from an upset teacher, a email from a stressed spouse, a child crying about something his or her sibling has done, and suddenly my own mind is about as far from peaceful as could be imagined. Almost immediately I feel corresponding physiological changes in my body and soon I am mired down in the very hell realm that I’d like to be able to raise those around me out of.
I wrote In the Garden of Our Minds and other Buddhist stories over a period of years where I was struggling to maintain my own sanity while also co-parenting two very energetic children and working full-time. The dialogues and practices described in the book are based very closely on ones I experienced and developed during that time. Parenting has been the most challenging experience of my life; it requires such a high number of on-the-spot reactions. For instance, it is one thing to consider questions about life and death in the abstract, but I have found a much higher degree of pressure when the questions are being posed by small sentient beings who I’ve vowed to raise and nourish and who are looking to me for specific answers about what I believe – and why. And there is no test of mindfulness and equanimity like parenting. I can have the most positive intentions in the world as I calmly breathe my way up the driveway, but if I walk through the door into a room full of people on edge and cannot maintain my peaceful mind, I will soon find that my own seeds of anger are not seeds at all, but little grasping vines ready to rise up and choke away every last good intention. Continue reading →