I’ve been personally meditating everyday for almost a year at this point (i began during summer ’19). I’ve found the practice transformative, and during this period, while it has had a very different mechanism, its been even more critical. During my normal busy life, I use meditation as a moment of peace and break from my rush, to quiet my mind and relax. Now that I have too much time to relax, its works in sort of the opposite way. I recall one night early in quarantine where I was antsy (a common feeling its seems for everyone these days) and I wanted to leave the apartment, but being night and everything being closed, I didn’t have much of a place to go. Idle mechanisms for killing time around my apartment weren’t alleviating my overwhelming energy either. Eventually I made the decision to sit back in a chair outside and meditate by doing nothing. I think many of us are antsy because at Emory, at far before, we developed a routine of always being active and striving to squeeze the most out of a moment. Being the over-achieving group we are, it makes sense. I think meditating taught me that if I sat down and did nothing, nothing bad would come to me. I wouldn’t fail or be left behind. It was very empowering. Verse 26 in chapter 8 reminded of this feeling as it evoked that the natural world was free from our man-made problems, and I realized in the moment I was creating my own problem. Verses 87 and 88 remind us that solitude is important, and if we were monks, we’d be committing our selves to a lifestyle not too dissimilar to quarantine. It seems then that this period is good for practicing Buddhist principles.
Chapter 4’s discussion of the practical progression we should be taking to Awaken the Mind was compelling to me as I personally related to it. This chapter in many ways looks back on a promise we’ve made to begin our journey, and allows us to do so without judgement. Verse 2 discusses how it is normal, even right, to re-consider our decision to promise “liberating the world from defilements.” At first, this seemed to me at odds with the introductory paragraph, which states, “there are repeated reminders of the rarity of this opportunity, one must act now.” This seems to argue we should jump in to the decision to awaken the mind, yet Buddhist tradition speaks of broken promise as a great sin and Verse 2 says it would be right to re-consider our vow (seeming to advocate for considering breaking the promise). I now think of the passages more in the light that once you’re faced with the reality of actually acting upon your lofty promises (the second part of the awakening mind) it is a different position to be in than simply making the decision to start. Verse 41 describes this feeling: “I have promised to liberate the universe from defilements… but even my own self is not free from defilements.” I personally related to this feeling in relation to the lofty goals Buddhism asks you to set for yourself, but I understand the progression described in Verse 42 now as well. Even if you realize you weren’t considering your own limitations when the choice was made, that’s all the more reason to put all your effort into eliminating badness from the world. Buddhism is not concerned with our failures, our lofty goal of changing the world is not ruined when we don’t act perfectly, but rather, the perfect effort is what we should strive for, and thus a growth mindset is a necessity.
In what seemed like a truly unfathomable turn of events yesterday (actually during our class time), my apartment actually flooded with sewage from our bathrooms. Given the previous struggles in adjusting to life post-virus and the added endangerment of being exposed to unsanitary conditions, it seemed things could not get any worse. And based on my previous life experience, I wasn’t wrong, it’s about the worst situation I’ve been a part of. Unfortunately as well, the inability for insurance companies to look at us like humans at this time was potentially the most disturbing of all. But on a car ride last night, the thought of life’s absurdity popped into my head. Not from a Nihilistic or depressed frame, but simply the idea of my situation and how ridiculous it sounds once removed from it. In truth, and as Buddhist tradition maintains, this situation is only temporary. I’m lucky enough that among other things, I have a place to live now, my health is still good, and family and friends were there for me in this dire circumstance. When things that I’ve held most dear, like a living space or fulfilling social life and personal development in school, were taken, the initial reaction was of course sadness and worry for the future. However, if this is truly as bad as it can get, then I’ve already experienced that, and going forward once the situation changes for the better, that will feel all the sweeter. I also realized that in fact, my social life and personal development had not been stripped of me by the virus the way I had thought. While they look different now, for example, my friends came to my aid when most needed, what more could I ask for there? And what have I craved most in personal development over the last year, but experiencing the real world? What’s more “real” than dealing with real crises of health and living space? As we’ve read in chapter 1, the awakening of mind only requires the movement towards development and the mental steps to achieve that, not a circumstance that creates the perfect environment, but simply an internal ability to move forward.
As of my current situation, I and my apartment mates are doing well now, sorting through a move and endless logistics, but we’re making it fine. So for now, I’m happy to do that, and happy to embrace change forthcoming.