By Lodro Rinzler
Many people look to Siddhartha Gautama as an example of someone who
attained nirvana, a buddha. Each week in this column we look at what it
might be like if Siddhartha was on his spiritual journey today. How
would he combine Buddhism and dating? How would he handle stress in the
workplace? What would Sid do? is devoted to taking an honest look at what we as meditators face in the modern world.
week I’ll take on a new question and give some advice based on what I
think Sid, a fictional Siddartha, would do. Like us, Sid is not yet a
buddha, he’s just someone struggling to maintain an open heart on a
spiritual path while facing numerous distractions along the way.
Because let’s face it, you and I are Sid.
Lately I’ve been feeling really bored
with my life, like I’m kind of just stuck in a rut. I’ve been working at
the same job for a few years, living with the same partner, spending time
with the same people, and doing basically the same thing from week to week.
There’s nothing specifically wrong, but I feel like something is lacking.
You’re not alone here. And if you feel that nothing is wrong, then you’re probably right. When I ran the Boston Shambhala Center people would come in all the time and say that they felt stuck in a rut and were hoping that meditation could help them shift something in their life. Oddly enough they wouldn’t say something solid like “I need to leave my boyfriend” or “I hope to gain insight into what sort of job I ought to pursue” but express a general feeling of boredom.
They would start meditating and after a few months I would check in with them. The interesting thing is that they would say they didn’t feel stuck anymore. I would ask, “Oh, what happened?” assuming that some great shift had occurred in their life. Often they wouldn’t have the foggiest idea but would say, “I dunno. Meditation?”
I began to contemplate what it is that makes us feel bored and why meditation was helping people get unstuck in their ephemeral ruts. I realized that it’s not that our life is necessarily boring. It’s that we are bored with the way we live our life.
If Sid was sitting on my dog-hair infested couch with me right now I imagine he would point out that all too often we lose ourselves to the speed and pushiness of our daily routine. We wake up in the morning and rush to get dressed, rush to school or work, then home or on errands, straight to the point where we just collapse in exhaustion at the end of our day. We give in to speed and efficiency at the sacrifice of taking time to appreciate any aspects of our life.
Meditation cuts through speed like a knife. There is a somewhat amusing Buddhist slogan that goes, “Don’t just do something, sit there.” The act of inserting even ten minutes into your day where you are doing nothing but sitting still and grounding yourself in your present experience is a foil to the speed and aggression that hounds our life.
In his book Myth of Freedom, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche writes, “As we realize that nothing is happening, strangely we begin to realize that something dignified is happening. There is no room for frivolity, no room for speed. We just breathe and are there. There is something very satisfying and wholesome about it.”
Imagine living your day in slow-motion. Getting up in the morning and greeting your partner with a kiss. Scheduling time for a cup of tea or coffee so you can wake up properly. Selecting your outfit with care and appreciating the fine clothing you own. Putting down your iPhonePodKindle and appreciating the silly child dancing for no good reason on the subway. These things all sound really nice and, frankly, are not that unattainable. We just need to learn to slow down and appreciate our life.
Meditation is one tool that allows us to take a step back from rushing through the habitual routine and appreciate our daily activities. Instead of just assuming you and your partner will order the same thing from the same restaurant you do every Thursday night you might find it worthwhile to reflect on whether that is something about your relationship you want to change. Take a step back from the way you always do things and evaluate what it is you appreciate about that situation. Just because you don’t want General Tso’s chicken anymore doesn’t mean you don’t want your boyfriend.
I would recommend a short contemplation exercise that can be done following basic sitting meditation. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has said that we are always meditating on something. It can be meditating on what we want for lunch or what the quickest way home will be after work but our mind is always being placed on something. For our purposes let’s meditate on appreciation.
After ten or so minutes of breathing meditation turn your mind towards the word “appreciation.” Roll it over in your mind. Let it marinate. If images arise in your mind as to what that means to you, great. When you find yourself drifting off into all the myriad things that bubble up when we meditate do as you do regularly: remind yourself you have lost focus and come back to the object of meditation.
After a few minutes bring to mind something you appreciate about your body. It can be your relative sense of health, the fact that you still have the use of your limbs or eyesight, whatever it might be that brings about a sense of appreciation. Focus on that for a few minutes.
Now bring to mind someone who you appreciate. It can be your partner, your co-worker, a family member, whomever. Think about the way they are, things they do that make you smile or feel supported, or a rich conversation you two have had.
After spending a few minutes on that turn your attention to something you enjoy about work or school, however you spend your day. It can be something tangential like the beautiful trees that surround the building or more direct, a certain task that you do that has become fun now that you know how to do it well. Focus on that for a few minutes.
To conclude drop the words and images and just rest in space and, ideally, a sense of appreciation for your life.
This sort of contemplation can be done as part of your formal meditation practice or on-the-spot. When our friend is telling the same story about how his old block in New York has been gentrified and Godiva Chocolatiers are everywhere instead of spacing out take a moment to connect with your situation. You are out with a friend. You are both able to take time to be with one another. Maybe your friend has seen you through some rough times. Find some way to appreciate just the experience of being with your companion. Even though you know the story by heart when you stay present and appreciative of your situation spending time with an old friend can feel fresh and new.
We can all try to gain a handful of moments where we cut through our speed and monotony with the knife of meditation each day, taking some time to taste our rich and joyous life. More often than not, life isn’t boring, we just skipped over noticing how wonderful it is.
Have a question for this weekly column?
E-mail it to this address with the subject line “What would Sid do” and your question might appear in a future post.