Thursday, July 22, 2010

If you can practice even when distracted ...

My Twitter friend @_karmadorje has been tweeting each of the Lojong mind-training slogans, which I think is a wonderful exercise. Although they are from a very specific tradition within this Jackson Pollock landscape called "Buddhism," the slogans speak across traditions and even well beyond Buddhism. They are often surprising, usually challenging, gentle and firm at the same time, like a wacky parent who really loves you even though he seems to say crazy stuff. But when you really listen, it makes sense.

Each slogan could be a blog post of its own. I like this one:

If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained.

According to tradition, when Atisha went to Tibet to bring the Dharma there, he decided to bring along his very annoying, very disagreeable Bengali tea boy, because he had heard the Tibetan people were so gentle and kind that he was afraid he would lose an opportunity for practice, being among such agreeable people. As it turned out, Atisha didn't need his Bengali tea boy.

Surprises are everywhere we turn. You'd think we'd know better, after all these years. But most of us don't. We sail along this daily life, bringing our expectations with us, often unconsciously. Maybe we think we've matured, maybe we think we've developed patience and wisdom. We pat ourselves on the back. And then it happens: The surprise.

That person at work says just the wrong thing at just the wrong moment, catching you off guard. And you snap back.

Or someone dings your door in the parking lot. Or the computer crashes before you've had a chance to save an hour's worth of work. Or you spill something on your clothes.

Sometimes the distractions are even more challenging. Your spouse is leaving you. A family member dies. You are in a serious accident.

You're dying.

It can be so easy to "practice" during times when there are no distractions. On retreats, in fact, that's exactly what we do: We seclude ourselves somewhere. We leave our phones at home. We observe noble silence. We might not even make eye contact for a period of many days. No distractions.

But the rubber hits the road in the real world, where distractions are the name of the game, where the baby cries at 3 a.m., where the telemarketer calls in the middle of dinner, where the electricity goes out just after dark and there are no candles or flashlights in the house. Where our spouse is upset, crying even, for whatever reason. Where total strangers walk up to us on the street and make incoherent demands. In this world, when our children are scared, or injured, and we're late, and we're out of money, and ... and ... how in the world are we supposed to practice then?

The truth is: If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained.

Two things occur to me: We need our Bengali tea boy to fuel our practice in difficult times. What a wonderful thing it would be if we could recognize, in the midst of distraction, HERE, exactly right here and now, is my opportunity to practice.

And also: Training is vital. So we train when we are not distracted, just like an athlete does, developing lovingkindness and patience and determination and energy and generosity and all the other things we need in that moment when distraction rears its ugly, beautiful head.

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