Practice of the Week
Put It in (the Ultimate) Context
Put It in (the Ultimate) Context
Category: Keep In Mind: Slogans to Live By. Practices for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in each of these areas as you go about your day, and sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling. The titles of these practices are slogans to live by.
Adapted from Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion
Turn All Mishaps Into the Path, Stop Blaming, and Be Grateful for Everyone -- fit together. Grateful to everyone and everything, we are willing to acknowledge whatever happens as an opportunity, which we accept with complete responsibility and receive with joy. Moreover, these three depend on a conventional understanding of beings as we usually conceive of them, self and other, you and I, them and us.
"Put it in context" entails a deeper sense of what we are. The context we're talking about is not just one more relative context. Rather, this practice involves going beyond conventional or relative understanding. The isolated self of our concepts does not and could not exist. The distinction between self and other is an empty illusion. From an absolute perspective, there is no self and other. There's only Being, and there's only Love, which is Being sharing itself with itself without impediment and with warmth. It just happens to look like you and me to us because this is how our minds and sensory apparatus works.
"Put it in context" means seeing your situation and what you are experiencing in the context of -- indeed, as a part of and an integral manifestation of -- this love without boundary. "It" includes all the disturbances of your life -- all your confusion, which is to say, your resistance, your pain, your fear, your grief, your frustrated desires, and so on. Usually we hope any such emotion or reaction will eventually go away and we will be free of it. Instead, by placing it in context of the absolute, we take a different perspective, and we take it to a deeper level. We look at its underlying reality. What is actually going on when we are upset or angry? What is happening? If we could unhook ourselves for a moment from the blaming and the wishing and the self-pitying, and could look instead at the actual basis of what is in fact going on, what would we see?
We would see time passing. We would see things changing. We would see life arising and passing away, coming from nowhere and going nowhere. Moment by moment, time slips away and things transform. The present becomes the past -- or does it become the future? And yet right now there is no past or future. As soon as we examine "now" it is gone. And we cannot know how or where it goes. This may sound like philosophy, but it doesn't feel like philosophy when you or someone close to you is giving birth. If at that moment you are standing in the delivery room or are yourself, in pain and joy, giving birth -- in that first bursting-forth moment, you are amazed. This small life you think you have been living, with its various issues and problems completely disappears in the face of the miracle of visceral life springing forth in front of your eyes. Or if you are present when someone dies, you know then that this emptiness is not just philosophy. You may not know what it is, but you will know that it is real. And that this reality is powerful and makes you see your life, and the whole of life, quite differently in that moment. A new context emerges that is more than thought, more than concept. When you view your daily human problems in the light of actual birth and actual death, you are putting your experiences in absolute context.
Every moment of your life, even (and maybe especially) your moments of pain or despair or confusion, is a moment of your own inherent wholeness, your inherent perfection. This is a fact, whether you see it or not. Learning to see it is the path of wisdom.
Attend births and deaths whenever you have the chance. Accept these moments as gifts, opportunities for deep spiritual practice. But even when you aren't participating in these peak moments, you can remember and reflect on the ultimate context within which all your concerns and anguishes occur. And when your mind is confused and entangled, you can take a breath and try to slip below the level of your desire and confusion. You can notice that in this very moment time is passing, things are transforming, and this astonishing, inconceivable fact is profound, beautiful, and joyful -- even as you continue with your misery.
Describe the most confusing -- sad, annoying, upsetting -- moment of the past 24 hours. Then describe your feeling in the context of the ultimate.
* * *
For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"