Inspired by a previous question, I thought I’d lay out some good reminders for remembering and bringing the spiritual path into daily life.
Much of the spiritual Way involves the use of metaphor and art so as to move and inspire us, to give us a broader vision and a greater vocabulary of experience.
Waking up in the morning from our nightly dreams can be a symbol for waking up from the illusion of samsara. Are your dreams destroyed? Did the dream-person die? None of our conventional experiential descriptions of reality really adequately describe such a transition.
So when you awake in the morning, use that moment for something grand. Use it to polish your heart, meet the appearance of this strange world, and recognize the ease with which you leave behind the dreamworld once its dream-like nature is known. Wake up and roar. Many zen monks on waking simply burst into fake-it-til-you-make-it uproarious laughter.
See what works for you.
There are always moments throughout the day in which we are in a mindset of “waiting.” During those times, we usually sink into semi-conscious trains of thought reflecting insecurities, desires, or curiosities.
However, none of our insecurities, desires, or responsibilities are helped by such idling. Instead, use those moments for the deliberate practice of mindfulness. It’s easy to deceive yourself by merely asserting or assuming you are always practicing mindfulness and yet no mindfulness is actually practiced throughout the day.
To avoid that snag, choose a deliberate technique. Following the breath, visualization practice, and focusing your sense of touch on an object or stone in your hands are all good techniques.
To quote Eckhart Tolle, "Give up waiting as a state of mind."
Another Eckhart Tolle quote, “Gratitude is the foundation for all abundance.”
We are often disinclined to feel gratitude because we habitually cling to the things we recognize as good. To feel grateful frequently means recognizing something we would prefer not to see. Such recognitions could be that of impermanence, interdependence, and love.
But by practicing gratitude, by making it a part of our day, we reverse such issues. Suddenly the wisdoms of impermanence, interdependence, and love become accessible and appreciable.
When you can honestly and sincerely be thankful for what you have now to the extent that you feel overbrimming with good fortune, even the slightest act of kindness may bring a tear to your eye.
There are a few ways to bring gratitude into your day, and many more ways for you to discover. Some are:
Saying “thank you” to everyone, including plants and animals, and meaning it. Instead of making mental lists of desires for the future, make lists in your head or on paper of people and things for which you are thankful. Pay acts of kindness forward by passing them on to others. Gratitude prayers are also helpful, especially before meals.
The way we conceive of and relate to death is inextricable from the ways in which we conceive and relate to life.
Many people are scared of thinking or talking about death, almost superstitiously so. We fetishize death through movies and video games, we describe philosophies of death through religions, but we still avoid honest and frank discussions about our own inevitable death or the death of our loved ones.
Remember death. Remember the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths: There is something unsatisfactory about life in this world. This unsatisfactoriness comes from somewhere. It can also cease. For the cessation of life’s unsatisfactory and anxious suffering, there is a path.
Death not only keeps everything in perspective but it also lends a great deal of energy to our path. When people are feeling too lazy to meditate, I often tell them to visit a hospital, a retirement home, and a graveyard in order to see what is in their body’s future.
While waking up in the morning was akin to an awakening from the dream of samsara and the rebirth into clarity, going to sleep at night could be likened to a small death.
Going to sleep means letting go of the day’s activities, thoughts, and drives regardless of whether or not our expectations were met or all of our responsibilities settled. Death can take us any minute of any day, at least sleep can be more predictable!
Use the act of going to sleep as a conscious opportunity to let go. We are not residents of this world despite how much we pretend to be. Our stay is brief yet never without meaning, just as a child taken to the playground for an afternoon still has a hell of a good time.
Let sleep be a reminder of letting go, of not clinging to the past yet without fixation on the future.
By applying these five approaches to your day, they may act as seeds that grow into who-the-hell-knows-what. But it’ll be cool.