On of my faults is that I cannot say ‘no’. I even often seek out new projects (ooh, I should blog about that!) to fill my already over-booked bits of free time. And, as a doctoral student, there is a sense in which none of my time is free. Every moment is money ticking away, like those Iraq War counters you see, slowly ticking up the cost, never ceasing, never pausing.
But today I did two things, relatively new to my routine, that felt great.
First, I hosted the first meeting of a group of like-minded people discussing our relation around one simple idea: Compassion. It was just three of us, and we are not sure where exactly it will go. But it was truly invigorating. If we had had a bit more time together and perhaps a little better scenery I’d say it was just like Mindwalk. An environmental lawyer, a psychologist, and an ethicist all centered around ‘the Dharma’ or Compassion, wondering what should come next. What should we do?
We talked about the proposed tar-sands project in Canada, just north of us, which would include pipelines running through our state. According to Tom, the lawyer, this would expand oil extraction from around 65,000 barrels/day to 900,000. All to feed America’s growing thirst for oil. Obama supports it. Our Democratic governor and senators support it. Jobs. Economy. Security. What about the indigenous people of Canada? What about the ground water? What about Global Warming?
Tom mentioned that at times like this he wishes he could just drive his little SUV (a Toyota, I believe) off a cliff: “It’s just so frustrating to know I’m a part of this. And what’s going on in the Gulf.”
Meghan, our resident psychologist, talked about her worries that ‘mindfulness’ might be only for the elite; essentially cut off from people who need it most. She said that psychological services are like this, readily available to many people, but often not the severely disabled (mentally, emotionally) or the poorest people. She spoke of recent work on emotional wellbeing in times of trauma and the heart-felt wish to just go to Haiti these last few months to implement this work where it’s needed most. “But,” she said with a sigh, “it’s just not happening down there.”
For my part, I spoke of the integration of our ideas about ethics and wisdom and our actual ethics, what we do each and every day in our lives. Tom agreed that yes, we kind of need to be led by our heads and then, maybe years down the line, we need to relearn through our actions. This year, for instance, I’ve ‘resolved’ to pay much closer attention to where my things and food are coming from; essentially to be a more mindful consumer. I’ve called it ‘local living.’ (I’ve also recorded a video discussing this a bit. It will be online via the 4th blog swap soon)
It’s been an education, for sure. It began with mere ideas like ‘interconnectedness’ and Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘interbeing’ and ahimsa or non-harm. It also involved a whole framework of supporting concepts and ideas, like karma: the notion that our actions have consequences. And ignorance, the idea that we probably don’t even recognize what all of those consequences are; what little ripples in the universe we are causing, or what ripples in our minds we are causing. And then mindfulness. Mindful of my actions, mindful of what experiences might be arising based on past actions, mindful of the world around me and how I am helping to co-create it. All of it.
We parted with plans to meet again next week. And perhaps to invite one more person each. But we all worried that too big a group, or introducing the wrong person, might upset the delicate balance. We’ll see what happens. It does make me a little sad(der) to be leaving so soon – about 6 weeks – for Taiwan and then England/India. But I still smile, knowing I’ve planted some good seeds.
And not long after that tonight I made my way to a local Buddhist center (formerly the FWBO, now TBC) for Dharma study night. In an odd twist, a couple had driven all the way from Anaconda just to visit the group (2 hours each way, that’s dedication) but our study group leader was nowhere to be found. Locked out of the center, the three of us and another study night regular stood on the porch chatting when, coincidentally, a visiting teacher popped by just to grab a bag the way to the airport. Unlocking the door, he apologized that he couldn’t stay, but left us to the space on our own. Erik, the regular, turned to me and said, “Well Justin, you’re the senior-most person here…”
Fumbling around the library for something I could lead a coherent study on – and not finding it – I suggested we meditate first. Being ‘senior-most’ I got to sit in the teacher’s spot, bell and all – and it really is more comfy than all the others (j/k). Struggling to recall the traditional order of things at this center, I led the group through the 3 refuges (in Pāli) in call and response and an unguided mindfulness of breathing meditation. As we headed back to the ‘lounge’ for study, the new woman remarked that she had never heard Pāli spoken. Score. I dropped my idea of grabbing a book and launched into an impromptu Pāli-lesson. We only covered the refuges and precepts but the discussion was again lively and full of laughter as we talked about everything from Greek cognates to Hungarian phonetics and Gaelic pronunciations.
Last weekend I was at an ordination for a member of the TBC, a friend of mine and fellow student of my earliest Buddhist teachers. Seeing the wonderful community together reignited the spark in me to further my commitment there. This would mean becoming a ‘mitra‘ or ‘friend’ in a formal ceremony; the first step toward possible ordination. If the study group leader had made it tonight, I would have brought this up with him. But, again the problem of time. It’s not a snap-decision kind of thing. Perhaps for some it is, but I’m not sure if I’d want to rush it. In any case, as it happened I taught some Pāli and took no steps toward a more official connection with this group.
Simple. Wonderful. Day.