Back in May of this year I began a meditation with this question: “What kind of life are we called to have during the pandemic?” I noted that ” Zen Master Dogen tells us that ‘Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken! Take heed, do not squander your life.'”
I decided to reconsider this question in December to address an issue in addition to the pandemic. This is the time of year for Seasonal Affective Disorder, known as SAD, which is felt by many people. SAD happens in degrees. For some, it’s simply a time to be a little slower, more restful, perhaps put on a few pounds as the food we eat in the winter tends to be richer and the levels of exercise and activity tend to diminish. For others, it is a time of risk for cycling into a full blown depression. And for others there is very little if any change in mood or emotions.
As we continue to lose daylight every day, it is a time when we should be especially focused on self care. Whenever I’ve taught on the topic of self care with mental health professionals there is a response that is typical: “No, not another thing I have to do! All of this time I’ll be spending doing self care is stressing me out!” Well, that’s not I have in mind.
Self care is a moment to moment experience. It begins with being mindful in each moment of what is happening in my mind and body. Noticing the changes, the reactions, the feelings I’m having. Most of these changes are quite mundane, but occasionally one rises above the surface of awareness and demands more attention. With a mindfulness practice I’ve committed to noticing these arisings, not judging them, even if (especially if!) they’re unpleasant. Whatever change comes into my attention, I have to wonder if I can make space for it, be OK with it, see what exactly it is trying to tell me. In that way I can “own” the change, rather than it “owning” me. And still the change may be unpleasant, but somehow it seems less powerful.
Prior to today’s meditation I read an excerpt from “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hahn, followed by the Zen night chant. Both provide food for thought about this idea of staying present in all moments. The opening paragraph, below, is paraphrased from “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hahn. The following paragraphs are quoted from the same work.
“After sharing dinner with his friend, the writer Jim Forest, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn rose to wash the dishes before the two of them would share an after-dinner cup of tea. Jim, the polite guest, insisted on doing the dishes himself as an act of gratitude for the lovely dinner Nhat Hahn had just served. Nhat Hahn replied:
“There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes. While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not ‘washing the dishes to wash the dishes.’ What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either…The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.”
Jim replied, “I choose the second way — to wash the dishes to wash the dishes.””
And the Zen night chant:
Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken! Take heed, do not squander your life.
— Zen Master Dogen
Here is the video of the meditation:
And here is the audio: