Duties (written 2002)
Rereading this morning that lovely meditation by the Buddha most often called the Metta Sutta*. There are many translations of this work. I have one favorite typed up on bright yellow paper and taped to a bookcase in my office. The version I read this morning is a little different, the message always the same. Whenever I read this meditation, some particular part of it speaks to me. This work outlines what it is to be skilled in wholesomeness…which is the goal of mindful living. And the line that called to me today was that someone seeking this should be “unburdened with duties”. On my pretty yellow sheet, the version reads “not caught up in too much bustle.” Ah! If ever someone spoke to the harried working mother in this early 21st century, it was in this line.
Our duties sometimes seem numberless. To shop, prepare food, keep the house clean, do the laundry, remember birthdays, plan vacations and outings and celebrations for the family, pay the bills, make and keep appointments with doctors and hairstylists and dentists and tutors, taxi children to and from activities. And keep our own work deadlines as well. Look after pets. Do for elderly parents. Be involved in the community. Yes, there’s a lot of bustle in every day.
A work colleague I once had used to say “10 years and an old pair of boots and what’s it going to matter”. And this ought to be a guideline for measuring the urgency of the many duties that fill our days. Her words used to make me smile and sometimes they succeeded in making me see the insignificance of some trivial thing that had me worried or anxious or even panicked. These days, slowing down is the duty I try to put first. It isn’t easy.
I talk to myself in positive affirmations about the way I want my life to be. I ring the bell in my kitchen and pause to breathe. I nap when weariness overcomes me. But still I feel the need to do too much too often. And still I let myself worry over the things I think I neglected or didn’t do well. And still after saying no I sometimes think I could have, maybe even should have, said yes.
But when I meditate upon the words of the metta sutta. When I consider deeply the path I have chosen for my life, the journey toward happiness and wholesomeness that I am on, that I wish for each and every being, then I know that the performance of duties alone is hollow. To give without giving from the heart, to listen only with your ears, to say rote words devoid of feeling, to do and do and do, so that there is never time to reflect and be, led me, at one time, to view this line as meaning we should pare down, not take on so much. But I heard a wise monk speak on this once and put the stress on our attitude. To feel burdened is an attitude. And it is skillful to let this attitude go. Do what we do, do our duties, with joy.
So when I attend another meeting today, I will remember the three B’s (old boots and burdens and bustle) and perhaps this will help me maintain a healthy perspective. May it be that I act from the heart, giving with love and keeping to the path that in the end serves us all so much better.
*The Buddha's Words on Kindness (Metta Sutta)
This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in saftey,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.