So why do we do this?
Why do we take time out to sit on a cushion in silence?
At some point, the work that is done befriending ourselves in silence there translates into the potential for openness and compassion in our lives and in our work. In the end there is no separation between our practice and our life.In her book, Real Happiness at Work, Sharon Salzberg writes:
On the job, realization of what matters can come at the least expected moments. Being reminded of our humanity – our personal contribution to the role we’re playing at work – can suddenly return a sense of authenticity, even gratitude, to our life on the job.
She goes on to tell the story of a cab-driver’s encounter with an elderly client. Climbing into his cab with just a small suitcase, the frail-looking woman asks to be driven through the city en route to her destination. When he informs her that it is an out-of-the way route, she tells him that it’s ok, she is on her way to hospice, leaving her home for the last time; she has no family left, and doctors tell her she has not long to live. The cab-driver turns off the meter and takes the woman through the city for the next two hours, listening generously to her reminisces as she passes by the landmarks of her life.
Sometimes we become so focused on some job we have to do that we forget that meaning comes in simply being open to the experience or present for others along the way, honoring our humanity. Sharon writes, “When work becomes a source of connection, it gains in meaning.”
We might come to the practice of meditation or study this ancient wisdom because we are struggling, in a hard place, unhappy, and we are looking for anything that will help us survive. We might come because we’ve heard it is helpful, and we’re into self-improvement. Maybe it sounded cool. Whatever the reason we come to meditation practice, the reason we decide to stay is because what happens on the cushion, in stillness and silence, begins to change our lives.
Whatever goals you had in coming to the cushion become irrelevant. The “me” you set out to save, to protect, to discover, to improve becomes less and less important as she grows quiet, and you become curious about the world around you… and then the boundaries dissolve. You are not separate from the world and all of the “others” you have been struggling with or hating on or falling in love with or admiring. Your own heartbreak becomes a doorway to seeing and understanding the world’s heartbreak. The joy and sadness of others becomes your joy and sadness and your joy and sadness becomes theirs. You discover that all things are interconnected, interdependent, continuously changing, and the whole thing rolls on like a river – endless, exhilarating, exhausting, but so very very alive.
photo credit: Gregory Colbert