Bodhi Mind Reflection

Practicing Flexibly

Amy McMaster (Chuan Yuan 傳願)

I’m so grateful for the ingenuity of shifus in guiding us to continue our practice as we’ve navigated the pandemic. Prior to last year, almost my entire practice revolved around being at the temple. Even reciting sutras was linked to BJM, during the hours spent driving to and from Shoreline. Without the structured routine of classes, I felt lost. Trying to meditate on my own has been a struggle. Even 10 or 15 minutes is sometimes overwhelming. On the rare occasions my thoughts are quiet, I usually fall asleep.

Recitation has been easier to adapt to a home practice, especially once we were able to dedicate merits on the website and work towards the goals together. That was really a big incentive to continue reciting. For me, recitation originally developed as a driving practice because I spent so much time in the car. There’s not much else you can do, except for listening to the radio or maybe a book. Instead of something to be endured, sitting in rush-hour traffic became my study time. For years, I’d lived very much in my head, spending hours daydreaming, lost in my thoughts, so focusing my mind with recitation offered an expedient means to redirect my attention. Instead of thinking about what might have been or what might happen in the future, I was able to concentrate instead on the Dharma. Once I was no longer spending hours in the car each week, it was a simple substitution to start reciting Heart Sutra or mantras during my daily walk, or any other time my brain might tend to disengage.

Next, we had the opportunity to read Buddhist lectures and stories in the weekly newsletter, which provided a chance to study in a more settled, focused way. As the weeks went by, there was so much stressful news as the pandemic spread. Each weekend, the new reading material offered a different perspective and a chance to reflect on teachings of impermanence, gratitude, causes of suffering, etc. Even though I’d heard the concepts over and over, the past year has led to a new and deeper understanding. Life may still feel overwhelming or discouraging, but whenever I can remember to be grateful instead of upset, or change my thinking about a situation, it reinforces a new habit.

Meditation has been the most difficult practice to develop in my home practice, so I’m especially thankful that we’ve been able to start guided meditations again through Zoom. My mind is much calmer, although I continue to fall asleep. There have been enough calm, lucid moments though, that I know I can do it, that it is beneficial to keep making the effort. And, as Shifu has reminded us, if you know you are falling asleep, then you are aware!

Buddhist teachings say that we shouldn’t waste the opportunities we are given in this lifetime and that we should be strict with ourselves. I’ve used those in the past to beat myself up for not practicing the way I thought I should. That isn’t a correct interpretation though and I think the Middle Way should be practiced here too, as in all things. Setting goals, having a standard, an objective, is a positive practice. But I am still an ordinary being and sometimes fall short. The key is to reflect and to reevaluate, then continue on again, challenging myself to improve. If I abandon the practice all together, then there is no way to progress. There are many ways to practice – it doesn’t have to mean meditating for hours every day or reciting lengthy sutras. Those efforts also have their place, but so does reciting a short mantra, changing a feeling of annoyance into one of gratitude, and encouraging others. Practicing this way, I can practice all the time, not just when sitting quietly reading a sutra or meditating. It can reach every part of my life.

Our Grand Master said it best:

“Frequently peer inward, reflect, and reform with a mind of compassion, respect, tolerance, and harmony. By taking a step back, you instead expand your horizons. Truly transforming yourself in this way, you will discover that everyday is a good day, any time is the right time, and that there is reward in every endeavor.”