Last month my wife and I escaped the dreariness of winter on the east coast of the USA to sunny southern California for 9 days. Not that either of us was sinking into a depression, but I think that as we age we’re noticing that the dark days of winter lend themselves to a sinking of mood, energy, and motivation. We held up well through January, but by early February we were in need of a break, and decided to visit our son and daughter in law in a sunnier clime.
On our fifth day out west we discovered a small coffee shop and bakery called “Our Daily Bread.” It was a delightful spot to sit and sip a cup of tea, munch on a pastry, and loll about. Our conversation often turned philosophical, as we looked back at the blessings the years have brought to us and wondered about the years to come, as we age (gracefully, we hope) and enjoy our adult children and our grandson (to be joined by siblings and cousins, we hope again!).
Reflecting our life together, we know that we’ve avoided one of Buddhism’s three poisons, greed. Selfish craving is at the heart of suffering, a truth found across all religious landscapes and philosophical systems. Selfish craving, which arises from our ignorance, another of the three poisons, results from our unwillingness to accept life on life’s terms. Greed is the desire that life be something other than what it is, and is by no means limited to simply living for more and more material goods. It runs much deeper: it is the insatiable desire to have things just the way we believe (falsely) they MUST be. There are many manifestations of greed, and the most pernicious are very subtle. Most of us recognize greed for material things, but we can easily miss our greed for life to be “better” than it is, and not hurt at all. For instance, as we age, our aches and pains and creaky limbs can easily be experienced with aversion (or hatred, the other of the three poisons), leading to the arousal of a fundamental and profound dissatisfaction with the conditions of life. Add in the loss of family and friends to aging, illness, and death, and our greed can become the seed for a hellish hatred of life, leading to untold suffering.
One antidote to greed, or selfish craving, is found in the profound simplicity and wisdom of Christendom’s greatest prayer, The Lord’s Prayer. I have cherished this oration since my catechism classes in parochial school, and recited it with devotion and an ever evolving understanding every day for most of my life. This prayer begins with a simple declaration of the truth of God’s existence: “Our Father, who art in heaven.” The verb “to be” is invoked, in the present tense, immediately informing us that God simply IS. Do not waste your time in speculation about God’s nature, God’s time, and God’s attributes; that’s just an invitation to go down the path to profound ignorance. Simply inhabit a world in which God IS. The prayer goes on to express the aspiration for God’s presence (“thy kingdom come, thy will be done”), after reminding us that God’s name is hallowed, not to be known, not to be uttered. After these simple yet profound declarations, The Lord’s Prayer tells us how to live our lives, and in doing so echoes the truths taught to us by the Buddha about the three poisons that lead to suffering.
“Give us this day Our Daily Bread.” I know I’ve recited these words many thousands of times, and have learned that it is important to say them mindfully. What is my “Daily Bread” anyway? For me, it’s come to mean the simple necessities of life and the means to earn and provide them. Shelter from the elements. Nutritious food, prepared well and without ostentation. Clothing appropriate to my duties and activities. Beyond shelter, food, and clothing, an automobile to take me to the places I must go, some books to read, some music to enjoy. Loving contact with friends and family. The acceptance of simple pleasures, eschewing shows of wealth and illusions of superiority.
“Our Daily Bread” is living life simply. It is allowing satisfaction with life to emerge, knowing that life may be pleasant or unpleasant, easy or difficult, sometimes all of these conditions at the same time. “Our Daily Bread” is living life as it happens, shaping it with compassion (the antidote to hatred/aversion) and wisdom (the antidote to ignorance), but also allowing life to shape me. “Our Daily Bread” is the faith that life will shape me in the ways I must be shaped, teaching me generosity (the antidote to greed), compassion and wisdom. “Our Daily Bread” is a commitment I can make each morning and evening, a commitment to living life centered on interrelatedness. Perhaps Francis of Assisi said it best with his famous prayer:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Try bringing the sense of living “Our Daily Bread” to your mindfulness practice. Perhaps form a daily intention to recognize “Our Daily Bread” moments throughout the day. If you do, you may find that you’re surrounded by a multitude of bakers, all waiting to serve you your daily bread!