More and more, the teaching practice takes me into the community where I engage directly with students. My focus right now is on bringing the continuity of the Dharma into the market place. Although retreating is an important form for self-knowledge, I find myself less interested in the immediate results of a retreat and more interested in helping students investigate their relationship to the ups and downs of their everyday life.
Nature, death and spontaneous freedom continually interweave themselves into my teaching. From the forest of Thailand, where I spent several years, I bring a deep awareness of the healing quality of nature into my teachings. Relaxing into our true nature allows us to realize what it means to be a human being. It is here we find a resting point, a counterbalance to the speed and turbulence of our culture.
My work in hospice brings a sense of urgency into my teaching. Working with the theme of death and dying reveals the here and now of life to us, how important it is to open to each loss, change and transition that marks our path. Life is precious. We need to awaken without hesitation.
Many of us crave to be more calm and centered. We know that life has more to offer than this fleeting material world. For each of us, the Dharma offers an immediacy of freedom for which we do not have to strive or wait. In practice, we can learn to relax deeply into the moment and rediscover spontaneous freedom.
Mindfulness is the ability to generate attention toward oneself or an outside object. It is a step toward more conscious living. But mindfulness is coming from our exertion of will; that is, we are making ourselves mindful. When we relax our efforts, mindfulness goes away. As long as we are in control we will continue to believe in the truth of separation and will not see the end of the assumption of self. This is the spiritual fix we are in: either we let go of mindfulness into effortless awareness, or we stay bound to the person who is making herself conscious and thereby limit freedom.
Our culture has made renunciation into an austerity rather than a virtue, a contraction rather than openness. The word has the negative connotation of self-deprivation when it really means releasing ourselves from what binds us. We are usually willing to release any constraints that do not serve our greater intentions. Simplicity is the natural result of renunciation, but simplicity is not an austerity. It is not forced, but rather is the natural clearing away when everything in excess has been eliminated. Ultimately we simply renounce our separation and live life from that view and intention.
Wise intention is the energy that moves all spiritual practices forward. We mistakenly think it is our willpower, but it is always and only our intention. There are two expressions of intention: the primary intention associated with the longing to be free and the secondary intention for gain and acquisition. The secondary is formed by the mind from the primary intention, and that is the reason we believe that satisfaction can come through desire. The mind tells us that. For the energy to be reinvested back into the primary we have to prove to ourselves that secondary gains will never be truly fulfilling. That is what is left for many of us to do.
Wise view is fundamental to everything we do in the dharma. Having adirection establishes a context for all dharma activities. Without it weflounder and move in the direction of our conditioning toward pleasureand ease. Simply stated, wise view is the view that our thoughts distortour perceptions away from the inherent interconnection of all things.Working in clear alignment with interconnection allows us the courageand intention to move toward the difficult, toward that which seems toseparate, and confirm the truth of oneness. All dharma activity must bein accordance with that intention, or it will further support theconditioned sense of separation.
Why is generosity a fundamental dharma issue? The dharma opens us beyond our self-limitations, and generosity is the essential direction of that opening. There is a balance between staying within ourselves and our understanding without idealizing the dharma while working with our edges that keep us contained within ourselves. Generosity is the authentic journey out of that container where we realize we were never alone or isolated. Generosity is the manifestation in action of connectedness and is the fundamental conduit of a life lived from the heart.
We usually approach ethical conduct (sila) from either righteousness (morality) or idealism (I must never harm any living thing!) but not often from stability and unification of heart. From the heart we just see what is appropriate to do and do it within the context of connection and nonharm. When we transgress we learn and move on and never expect anything miraculous or perfect in any way. We simply live within the fullness of our humanity, and that is enough.
In the West we have little preparation for dharma practice because our lives have not been tuned to staying within ourselves. We have been taught to look outside for approval and to compare ourselves to others. How can we possibly find ourselves within any comparison? All we will ever find is a sense of lacking. Leaning toward the world does not allow us to find our own stability, and yet we cannot question the sense of self without inward evenness and dependability.