A few days ago, I was talking to my young adult son and heard myself telling him the age-old advice that he needed a reason to get out of bed every morning. You may have run into these words of wisdom in your own life, from your parents or friends, or read it in a meme on Instagram or Facebook. They seem like a truism.
One recent morning, I lay in my very comfy bed and wondered what energy gets me out of it each day. I’m in my early fifties, and while I no longer need to work to support my family, I do have many jobs, both paid and volunteer, and many people who rely on what I do. There was a time in my life when my desire to “help others” was what got me out of bed. But as time has passed, I’ve begun to realize the teachings of the Buddha’s Diamond Sutra.
Duty to Help?
The Diamond Sutra is nearly impenetrable, saying things like, “This is how the bodhisattva mahasattvas master their thinking: ‘However many species of living beings there are—whether born from eggs, from the womb, from moisture, or spontaneously; whether they have form or do not have form; whether they have perceptions or do not have perceptions; or whether it cannot be said of them that they have perceptions or that they do not have perceptions, we must lead all these beings to nirvana so that they can be liberated. Yet when this innumerable, immeasurable, infinite number of beings has become liberated, we do not, in truth, think that a single being has been liberated.’”
Here’s how I sum that up: Because we are all temporary manifestations of the cosmos, there is no separate person — me — who can help or serve anyone and, for the same reason, there is no one else to help or serve. Another way to put it is that the best way for me to help the world is to liberate myself. That way, I am no longer caught up in my own striving, and can be available and present in each moment.
Believing that I have a duty to tell others how to live or that I am on a mission to save everyone is the same attitude that has gotten humans into trouble for eons. It’s what some religious fundamentalists, like the Islamic State, practice. If I get out of bed inspired by how I’m going to help other people today, I will only contribute to the disconnection that fuels the continuation of human suffering.
What About Carrots?
So what if I get out of bed simply to meet my hedonistic desires? Thinking about the pancakes I’ll smother in syrup for breakfast or the money I’ll make selling my book (sadly, not worth getting out of bed for) is not the kind of happiness that endures, and so wouldn’t get me up and at ’em.
When I first encountered mindfulness in the teachings of the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, I was both excited and scared by this practice of aimlessness — the practice of letting go of our desire to control the outcome of life. It means not putting something in front of us and then chasing after it. It means not using a carrot to get ourselves out of bed every morning, spending the day searching for the carrot and missing out on the authentic life we might be living.
“IF THE WORLD WERE MERELY SEDUCTIVE, THAT WOULD BE EASY. IF IT WERE MERELY CHALLENGING, THAT WOULD BE NO PROBLEM. BUT I ARISE IN THE MORNING TORN BETWEEN A DESIRE TO IMPROVE THE WORLD AND A DESIRE TO ENJOY THE WORLD. THIS MAKES IT HARD TO PLAN THE DAY.” –E.B. WHITE
It is my intention to help whenever the opportunity arises, but if I get out of bed fixated on my goal to make the world a “better place,” I will find myself missing or skimming by the gorgeous details. And in the end, I may have missed the real chances I had to make a difference in someone’s life.
So my aspiration is to get out of bed without any agenda and with a heart full of curiosity. What challenges will I face today, and how will I meet them? Will my mindfulness practice allow me to stay present with it? What mysteries and beauties will be revealed to me today? Will I encounter an angry neighbor who wants to resolve a dispute, a smiling fellow dog walker with an adorable little poodle, a shy red fox coming out from under a rock?
Hi Annie -I read this this morning in bed… just as I was trying to motivate myself to get out of it! 😂😂
Thank you for your insight. Your conclusion is summarized so well. Love the idea of openness and curiosity has the driving factor. I will have it in mind this morning and many mornings to come.
*curiosity as the driving factor
Hi Liz – how funny that you read this before getting out of bed – glad it helped to inspire your day! keep me posted on how it goes with the openness and curiosity. xo
Well, to let you know how it’s going….I promptly forgot all about it! This is often my trouble, I read insightful articles with good ideas and advice, and then I don’t remember to apply them. Any recommendations?! Best 🙂
ha! I’ve been there. This is why a regular daily practice of some kind is so helpful. I’ve created habits that help me remember what I really care about and how I want to live. Starting the day with some quiet and intentions is super helpful for me. Hope that’s helpful! xo
Thanks Annie. I’ve been retired for nearly two years and my challenge has been accepting that I don’t need to have my day scripted. I really hear and listen to the Carolina Wren in my backyard, see the bunny in the front yard, look up at the nesting Yellow Crowned Herons, and am full of gratitude. I feel light and silly much of the time. Aimless, maybe… Present to what unfolds, hopefully…
Hi LynneMarie… your morning sounds wonderful and aimless… it brings a big smile to face to imagine you there with the birds and the bunny! xo
Enjoyed your article this morning as I contemplate my day. Thanks for sharing, it is a balance, and presence with ourselves and others is key to our journey. Thanks for reminding us.
Thanks for the note, Terry. I’m glad it supported you finding balance and presence. xo
Before enlightenment, chop wood / carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood / carry water. Some seekers sit in caves. Others play with life (my choice). Love Always.
Yes, finding joy in chopping wood and carrying water… xo
I don’t usually respond to blogs, but I love this entry so much I’m jumping in. For a while now I’ve been waking up with butterflies in my stomach as I ponder all the things I should/must do. I love the idea of beginning each day–and living each day–with curiosity and openness. I’ve already started. This would be a great topic for discussion at a mindfulness group meeting.
Dear Sharon… thank you for taking the time to reply to this blog – I love to hear how my writing lands in real people, other than me! I can really relate to what you’re saying about the butterflies in the morning. Please let me know how it goes as you transform to curiosity. Having a small note or reminder somewhere you’ll see when you wake up each day might be a good support for this practice. xo
Oh, I love this. Curiosity is what gets small children out of bed each morning and I think I will try to remember that image as I leave my bed every morning.
Thanks, Joan. Glad it’s helpful. I love hearing how these practices play out in real life, so if you think about posting again, I’d love to hear from you. xo
I loved reading this Anne. It contains a very simple but powerful message that I can come back to time and again in my daily life. Thank you.
Thanks, Judy. So glad the message came through. xo annie.