As soon as we relinquish our hold, space is here, open, welcoming & comfortable. So, do enjoy it. Everything is yours already. Stop searching. Don’t go into the jungle to look for the elephant that is quietly waiting for you at home. There is nothing to do. There is nothing to force. There is nothing to desire. And all comes by itself.
— Lama Gendun Rinpoche
I was lying in bed one morning last week with the clatter of heavy rain on the roof above my head and the sweet coziness of a warm comforter, when I realized that it was already 6:15, and the Wednesday morning sitting meditation was beginning at the studio in 15 minutes. At that point it was really too late to get to sitting on time, but I considered, very briefly, leaping out of bed, throwing on some clothes, and racing over to the studio in the pouring rain. The decision to stay in bed wasn’t an easy one for me, and was the result of having just way too much on my plate for that day, and being over scheduled for the last many months.
So I did stay in bed, and it got me thinking about my practice and when we need to push through our resistance and when we need to give in and just stay in bed. It really isn’t always obvious, at least to me. I am guessing, if you are reading this, you probably live in the DC area, which seems to be the workaholic capital of the world. And even if you don’t live in DC, we all have the deep longing to contribute to the world, and to do that it seems like we need to take on enormous amounts of work. We think we need to say yes to working late, say yes to raising money in the walkathon (or yogathon), say yes to helping out at our kid’s school, say yes to the friend who needs to talk late at night… you get the picture. But when we are overwhelmed, what happens to our lives?
So as I lay in bed that morning, there was a sense of dreading the day ahead, it was just too full. To be sure, nothing in my day was scary or painful or even all that challenging, it was simply the sense of too much. And while it may seem that we are doing so much good for the world, if we are so busy that we are unable to be present for the raindrops on the roof, and the warmth of our beds, we are truly missing something wonderful. We might think that staying in bed and savoring simple sensual pleasures is a waste of time, time that we could better spend meditating or helping the world. And if I indulged in sensual pleasures all day, every day, that might be true, but I am talking about simply taking time out of our busy lives to enjoy the world we live in.
What I see in myself, and in so many people I meet, is enormous pressure to be doing something all the time, and feeling guilty if we are not busy. If you are retired, you may have encountered the scenario of being busier after retirement than before. Where is all this busyness coming from, and how can we find the balance between savoring our lives and contributing to the world through work? What the Buddha suggests is that the way to happiness lies in finding the balance between enjoying the pleasures given to us as living beings and not getting caught in them:
My brothers, there are two extremes that a person on the path should avoid. One is to plunge oneself into sensual pleasures, and the other is to practice austerities which deprive the body of its needs. Both of these extremes lead to failure. The path I have discovered is the Middle Way, which avoids both extremes and has the capacity to lead one to understanding, liberation, and peace.
The Buddha went on to teach that it is not the pleasures themselves that are the cause of our suffering, but our attachment to them. If we can enjoy the sound of the rain, the comfort of our bed, or whatever it is for us, just as it is, without clinging to it, or wanting more of it, then suffering is not created. I once heard the description of non-attachment as cherishing something or someone as we would enjoy a cool breeze on a hot day. We feel it, we savor it, we enjoy it, all the while knowing it is a passing pleasure.
So we can give ourselves a break from our hectic lives now and then, and wake up to the pleasures that are already around us in our everyday lives. And we can do that by periodically pausing and letting go of our busyness, staying in bed during a rain storm, taking our lunch to the park, skipping a meeting, or turning off our computers. In doing so, we discover the world as it is in this moment, and we can enjoy a moment of contentment. As Thich Nhat Hanh said in an interview in the Shambala Sun:
We may have a habit within ourselves of looking for happiness elsewhere than in the here and the now. We may lack the capacity to realize that happiness is possible in the here and now, that we already have enough conditions to be happy right now. The habit energy is to believe that happiness is not possible now, and that we have to run to the future in order to get some more conditions for happiness. That prevents us from being established in the present moment, from getting in touch with the wonders of life that are available in the here and now. That is why happiness is not possible. To go home to the present moment, to take care of oneself, to get in touch with the wonders of life that are really available–that is already love.
May we take some time today and every day to savor the life we have.