Without self-refection, what would the spiritual path be, and where would it lead us? In a sense every path, conventional or spiritual, is about the pursuit of liberation from suffering – happiness. With the Dharma, and the practice of mindfulness and insight meditation, we can begin to achieve our goal of freedom from suffering in the here and now. We can do this by going beyond our habitual thoughts and remaining steadfast with ourselves in meditation. This allows us to expose our love-affair with ourselves and our egos.
The idea is to change on the inside. This can feel like we’re betraying ourselves. But when we’re present and awake, and become aware of our spiritual state we are able to see the causes of our pain. We see habitual thought patterns as they arise, and become aware of how they affect the body and emotions. By becoming aware of how these thoughts move us through our lives, the impact they have on our internal environment, we naturally want to let them go. We may fall back into the thoughts again– relive an old conversation or event– but with practice, with mindfulness, we can continue to let go and change the way we think.
This is when we can really begin to appreciate our practice and our lives…find gratitude in knowing ourselves and bringing tenderness to ourselves. This gratitude comes from seeing ourselves clearly and being in the world in a genuine way with a sense of openness and curiosity.
We can begin to appreciate our bodies just as they are – big or small, short or tall, young or old – no matter the size or age. The body grounds our consciousness in the world and allows us to be here. So no matter what kind of body we have, we can begin to enjoy it and be grateful for it.
Appreciation for our minds is also of great importance. The human mind’s greatest potential is the ability to wake up, to free itself from ignorance and be of benefit to other beings. No one had to give us this ability; it’s ours by virtue of our precious human birth.
Appreciating the Dharma provides our greater purpose in life. To achieve this requires patience: patience to practice, study, meditate – and not be stubborn and afraid to change. With patience, the teachings and the practice open up to us naturally. Patience, gratitude and practice enable us to be present and awake for this life.
Lastly, what is our intention as we take up this practice? Is it to feel better or relax or become more centered or peaceful in our lives? All of that is fine…it’s great to want all of that. But, when we sit down, we can also think of other beings… share with all beings the love, compassion, prosperity, health, joy, kindness, gratitude…whatever is in the heart at that moment or whatever we feel is needed in the world at that time. This can give our meditation a whole new feeling: knowing that as we sit, acknowledging and releasing our thoughts, feeling our feelings, we are helping others. We could say something like “May I feel this grief, or wanting or anger for everyone who feels this same way right now. Let me take it so they may be free even for just a moment.” By simply saying the words this good intention goes out to help all of us.