It is not easy to live amidst so much suffering and desperation and always find a silver lining. But I really feel it’s a privilege to do the work I do. In this world it’s so easy to lose what we most deeply value.
As life becomes more complicated we find ourselves in repetitive and mentally demanding jobs which we may feel are not very meaningful. We may question what we are doing with our lives and how living the way we do contributes to a better world. At this point many people stop questioning.
They reach a precipice they are afraid to jump off, for to do so would mean they would have to give up the safety net and habits they have. Some of us don’t even have a choice – changes in our life find us falling into uncertainty, unable to hold onto anything familiar. Its very disconcerting when everything we identify with falls apart.
But that is the point at which all great spiritual growth begins. Have you ever noticed no great adventures are written about sitting in an arm chair and watching tv?
Sometimes spiritual transformation is not blissful or comfortable, it’s like having old skin ripped off so that new and deeper wisdom can emerge. And wisdom is not a static thing – you can never rest on your laurels. It’s a process of unfolding and being present with mindfulness and compassion to what is.
There is a quote by a Tibetan Lama called Trungpa Rinpoche that is appropriate here, to paraphrase.
’There is nothing to hold onto in this falling we are experiencing, but fortunately there is also no bottom.’
What I’m trying to say here is that the spiritual path is messy and not always comfortable. Life is messy and not always comfortable. It’s hard to create a better world… but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
When I first ordained as a nun, I had many unrealistic dreams and expectations. I imagined myself rising above the miseries of the mundane world and living a holy sylvan existence with other holy people.
The reality was of course, very different. There was no place for western monastics, there was no training in my own language and no gender equality. I was encouraged to do a lot of housework and service.
I was not treated the same as a Tibetan, but it was really good for my ego that was seeking comfort and certainty in a new and more holy incarnation! Even later in monasteries I found nuns fighting with each other. Monasteries are just microcosms for the larger world, people inside them still have problems, but the point is they are trying to clean their minds.
So there is some spiritual moral support to be found in spiritual groups. I quickly realised there was no way to help the world unless I purified my own minds greed, hatred, egotism and ignorance and developed more compassion and understanding for others.
It’s impossible to really love others unless you get down on their level and walk in their shoes. When you open yourself to others suffering, you also loosen your grip on your own. Everybody wants happiness and love, but mostly they think of taking it, not giving it… that is where we go wrong. We are destroying the planet consuming more and more in our search for happiness. But in the end we just feel empty because we look in the wrong place.
Happiness is not just a personal matter, it’s an internal and communal matter. When we don’t know how to heal ourselves and sit quietly in order to face and transform our suffering how can we find lasting happiness outside? When 80% of the world’s wealth is in the hands of 20% of the worlds population how can there be justice, peace and prosperity?
We share this world with others, so the path to happiness has to also be about ensuring the welfare of others. For me teaching some slum children and making them happy has a greater kick than heroin. I can live with myself knowing I’m doing my bit to create a better and more just world. How can happiness only be about one person when there are 7 billion people in the world? When i focused less on myself and more on others I found my own suffering became very small and manageable. With meditation it lightened even more.
We can’t exist without others, we are all interconnected. The very bodies we have, are given by others. The clothes we have and the food we eat is grown by others. We can read and write thanks to the kindness of others.
We are just like fireflies shining for a few seconds in the larger scheme of eternity, and yet we contain all of heaven and earth, it is because we are part of everything that we can make the world a better place. Live simply, kindly, generously and walk lightly. Love as many people without expectation as you can. Care for the earth and its people.
In the West we do have a whole lot more than half the world who lives on $1.25 a day. For me, this will ensure a wondrous and meaningful new year.
May you all have peace.
Ayya Yeshe Bodhicitta