Awake (written 2014)
A friend recently drew my attention, with a chuckle, to the little webnode icon that marks this site when you bookmark it: a cartoony set of wide open eyes. “Not exactly calm,” were her words,I believe, and I laughed and agreed, explaining that not going for my own domain, I didn't set an icon of my own. But since that conversation I've been thinking. And I've come to the realization that those wide open eyes are the perfect representation of mindfulness. After all, tradition says that when the Buddha was asked what he was, he answered, “I am awake.”
That is why I meditate. That is why I work to carry my practice into my daily life. I want to be here, awake. I thought at the beginning that I was after serenity. That lovely sense of peace that can arise staying with the breath in sitting is certainly a welcome state. As are all pleasant states, whether related to meditation or not. But like all pleasant states, it's fleeting. I can't hold on to it. I can only be with it while it lasts.
The point of mindfulness is to be with whatever is there. To see clearly. To have the eyes, and all the senses, wide open. To drink it all in and investigate. Looking not just outward but inward. Watching the mind. “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it,” the Buddha instructed, “unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” Look, in other words, at your own experience.
So when I really look, when I keep my eyes open, what do I see? I see that I am not separate. That my actions have consequences not just for me but for others. What I say and how I say it. What I do and how I do it. What I buy and where I buy it. What I strive for and what I do in that striving. What I choose to act on and to ignore. Who I disregard and who I revere. Karma is a big and complicated thing. And you do not have to believe in a karma that stretches into another life to understand that. We only need to see that each thing that happens is part of a chain in this life, part of a web. And it is my responsibility, then, to be as awake as I can be in choosing my contributions to that.
I see,too, that all the things I love and value will not last. That acting as if there are endless tomorrows to make things right is acting foolishly. That acting as if I can create the conditions for a perfect life and keep them that way is a mistake. That like every other human being who lives or has lived, I will grow old and I will die. And that if my happiness depends on changing that, on avoiding death, then it is unachievable.
Wide open eyes also allow me to see the poignant beauty that comes with all change and all impermanence. If human beings were immortal, how would that change who we are? It is our hearts, our loving and our caring in the midst of both joy and sorrow, that makes us human. And it is our heart-mind that makes it possible for us to choose wisely and well, if we begin with open eyes.
Yes, the more I let myself reflect on this accidental icon, the more I found myself smiling. I could do a lot worse in choosing deliberately. I want to live my life mindfully. Seeing what is. Being accountable for what I do. Trying to choose skillfully. Investigating my experience and my motivations. Knowing that I will fall short of perfect, and being ok with that. Accepting that that too is what is, right now. But doing the best I can. And that means seeing that I get overwhelmed, and that sometimes I choose to turn away from something I should look at more closely. But if I see the turning, not letting it happen on automatic pilot, then perhaps, eventually, I will also be able to turn back and look again.