The Art of Living (review)
As your mind-body stills, you begin to see clearly. Instead of “you” watching the rain drop, there is only rain dropping. Rather than a separate you doing the action of “watching” the rain, there is the splash, splash, splash.
With mindfulness, everything comes together in harmony.
Breathing in, breathing out. Like a bow sliding across a violin in one slow hum, you are continuous, open to the sound.
You are not separate from the rest of life. You inter-are. You are relations. A flower cannot bloom without being connected with non-flower elements like the soil beneath it or the sun above it. For the petals of a rose to glisten with dew, there needed to first be a Big Bang. Conditions before and at the present moment of the flower’s existence helped that flower to be. And when that flower wilts back into the old earth, another will take its place. Energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only transformed.
Just like the flower, you are made up of non-you parts. You cannot exist without the oxygen you breathe or your ancestors or the gravity of the earth. You cannot exist without clean water from the rivers or from animals that roamed the land or from the clouds that floated to become the rain. There is no you separate from everything else.
You cannot step into the same river twice, as Heraclitus said. You change in every moment, from how you feel and think, from your body aging, from billions of neurons firing in different sequences inside your brain. You are not the same person you were when you were five or fifteen or eighty. You may feel the same, identify as one separate person, but you are undergoing a transformation every moment. You are dying and being reborn. Your environment is changing as you change, from the cores of dying stars billions of years ago to the thoughts swimming through your head to the glaciers melting and affecting the temperature that warms your skin.
Your thoughts, perceptions, and feelings are changing. Don’t attach yourself to one view of life and claim that to be the best view. If you cling to a belief and cannot adapt to what’s happening around you, within you, in the present, you will suffer.
What’s happening around and within you are not so separate either. You are the lives you have influenced, the soil you have cultivated to grow your crops, the ancestors who have survived for you to exist, the descendants who will mature after you have decomposed in a grave.
You are the sun and water and the trees and moon. Without them, there is no you.
Your awareness of the non-you elements that make up you can help you to see the world beyond your identity. With present awareness, you don’t have to hold onto dogmatic beliefs and judgements about everything outside you, arguing, finding disagreements with others. Feeling you are alone, holding onto your views with rigidity, will cause more suffering to you and everyone else. It’s up to you to be kind, compassionate, and loving, each and every moment.
Every moment is a chance for you to deepen your practice. Talking about philosophy is not enough. Your life is your message. Your teaching. If you are kind, mindful and full of generosity, you will influence everyone with those lessons. They are the continuation of you. Your practice becomes a practice not only for you but for your children, grandchildren, peers, and the rest of your community.
When you think of yourself as a separate entity from the rest of the world, you try to run from the world. You seek pleasure and avoid pain. You look for the absolute answers to the mystery of existence. You hide from unpleasant truths. Rather than hiding from what you don’t like or craving an abstract notion of the ultimate, look inside yourself. See yourself in the world just as the world is seen in you. You are the blood in your body and the stars in your blood. You don’t have to climb a high mountain to find what is already here. You only need to see.
If you walk somewhere everyday, do you see the pink pedals falling from the tree? Do notice how the breeze gently lands on your skin? Do you feel your breath rising inside you as you step on the soft soil? Look for the teachings that are already intimately a part of you. There is more wisdom in a leaf crumbling than in a thousand words about impermanence.
When you walk, just walk. When you sit, just sit. When you breathe, just breathe. Rather than seeking to be important or achieve something, rather than thinking about the past or rushing to do the next thing, walk and sit and breathe and do whatever you are doing with freedom.
To be deeply in the present moment will ground you in what you are doing. From nourishing yourself, you nourish others. Through your own peace, you help the world with their suffering. You are not merely showing compassion, peace, kindness. You are those things.
As you live in the present moment, you begin to see the impermanence in all things. A flower blooming and then withering into the sun, a lover with wrinkles and age spots, your own stomach growing larger. Without impermanence, a child can never mature into an adult, an acorn can never rise high into a tree. For there to be birth, there has to be death. When you live with presence, every moment now is precious, a fleeting miracle.
If you truly feel impermanence, you do what you can to help in each moment, while knowing that nothing lasts.
Pain, suffering, anger, and envy will fade, just as joy and happiness will. Seemingly unstoppable empires will collapse as new societies develop. Everyone that you know will decompose into bones and then dust. New species will grow on your lost tombs.
When you directly know impermanence, you will be grateful for what you have while knowing that it won’t be yours forever.
There is no “you” that remains the same. Your perceptions, thoughts, moods, all change. From the cells in your body to bacteria that lives in your gut, from the wrinkles on your skin to the mingling of hormones in your blood stream, from neurons firing in your brain to each air molecule that you inhale, everything is transformation. You are not a fixed self, isolated from the rest of the universe. Every day, you are the same, but also different.
In life, you are in a garden. Every moment, you can water the seeds of injustice and suffering or the seeds of peace and love and compassion. You have freedom, but also responsibility. It is up to you to be a positive transformation for yourself and others. As you tend to yourself, you tend to others. You must be wise enough to select what seeds to water and what seeds to avoid. Often, in relationships, it’s easier to forget someone, to avoid them, to treat them apathetically, than to be in awe of them, to be loving and thankful, present and engaged with them. As the weeds grow in your garden and theirs, both of you feel your suffering. But it’s never too late to cut out the weeds, to plant seeds again.
Rather than chasing after ideas of love, success, money, sensual pleasures, and reputation, see these cravings for what they are. If you desire to taste the bait, biting down with craving, you will get hooked. Only by letting go, mindful of the causes of your suffering, will you be free.
Be aware of your fear of death, your need for intimacy with others, your compulsion to survive. You are connected with all of life on earth and must show compassion to your suffering while nourishing your love. Smile with gratitude for being alive. Your place is here, now.