Almost a year ago, a dear friend of ours, Sister Ayya Khema, a German woman who is a Theravadin nun living in Sri Lanka, came to visit us and to lead a vipashyana (insight meditation) retreat. The retreat for me personally was something of a revelation, because she emphasized joy. I hadn't realized how much emphasis I had put on suffering in my own practice. I had focused on coming to terms with the unpleasant, unacceptable, embarrassing, and painful things that I do. In the process, I had very subtly forgotten about joy.
(From The Wisdom of No Escape)
In our seven-day silent retreat, Ayya Khema taught us that each of us has in our heart a joy that's accessible to us; by connecting to it and letting it flower, we allow ourselves to celebrate our practice and our lives. Joy is like a soft spring rain that allows us to lighten up , to enjoy ourselves, and therefore it's a whole new way of looking at suffering.
In a little book called A Guide to Walking Meditation, in the chapter "The World Contains All the Wonders of the Pure Land," Thich Nhat Hanh says, "I don't think that all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the three times will criticize me for giving you a little secret, that there is no need to go somewhere else to find the wonders of the Pure Land." That sense of wonder and delight is present in every moment, every breath, every step, every movement of our own ordinary everyday lives, if we can connect with it. The greatest obstacle to connecting with our joy is resentment.
Joy has to do with seeing how big, how completely unobstructed, and how precious things are. Resenting what happens to you and complaining about your life are like refusing to smell the wild roses when you go for a morning walk, or like being so blind you don't see a huge black raven when it lands in the tree you're sitting under. We can get so caught up in our own personal pain or worries that we don't notice that the wind has come up or that somebody has put flowers on the dining room table or that when we walked out in the morning, the flags weren't up, and that when we came back, they were flying. Resentment, bitterness, and holding a grudge prevent us from seeing and hearing and tasting and delighting.
There is a story about a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.
Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry we'll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.
Trunga Rinpoche always used to say, "You can do it." That was probably one of his main teachings, "You can do it." Thich Nhat Hanh, in his Guide to Walking Meditation, begins by talking about how everybody carries around this burden, and if you want to put it off, if you want to lay it down, you can do it. You can connect with the joy in your heart.
On a day of silence like today, when things are very still, you may find that you are feeling grim and doing everything with a grim expression: grimly opening the door, grimly drinking your tea, concentrating so hard on being quiet and still and moving slowly that you're miserable. On the other hand, you could just relax and realize that, behind all the worry, complaint, and disapproval that goes on in your mind, the sun is always coming up in the morning, moving across the sky, and going down in the evening. The birds are always out there collecting their food and making their nests and flying across the sky. The grass is always being blown by the wind or standing still. Food and flowers and trees are growing out of the earth. There's enormous richness. You could develop your passion for life and your curiosity and your interest. You could connect with your joyfulness. You could start right now.
The Navajo teach their children that every morning when the sun comes up, it's a brand new sun. It's born each morning, it lives for the duration of one day, and in the evening it passes on, never to return again. As soon as the children are old enough to understand, the adults take them out at dawn and they say, "The sun has only one day. You must live this day in a good way, so that the sun won't have wasted precious time." Acknowledging the preciousness of each day is a good way to live, a good way to reconnect with our basic joy.
Back to Apprentice Weavers