FEATURES|COLUMNS|Mindful Living (inactive)
Today we began our Winter Retreat, the equivalent of the Rains Retreat, which dates back to the time of the Buddha. In our community, it is a time where we stay home and don’t travel to give retreats, although we are still open to guests. We like to take the time to reflect on our practice and select a focus for the winter. Many of us will reduce the time we spend on the Internet, choose a theme of sutra study, or commit to really walk while walking, without talking. For our community, it is a precious time.
As one who tends toward craving, my list of Winter Retreat practices tends to be very long. Last year I couldn’t decide, so I wrote out all the practices I wanted to do on small pieces of paper and chose one or two at random throughout the winter. It was fun at first, but never satisfying. I may have given up my home and most of my personal belongings, but I am still greedy for experiences. I always want more, even if it’s simply more spiritual practices. But it doesn’t work like that. More is not always better. More books, more mantras, more practices, more retreats . . . it can go on and on. But less is where freedom lies. Learning what is enough is an essential part of the spiritual path.
Another aspect of enough is finally seeing when you’ve had enough of an emotion. Anger has been arising in me this week, more than I can remember for a long time. But mindfulness practice has made it very clear that feeling angry is actually more painful for me than for anyone else. It takes a lot of energy. It brings pain to the body. After a week filled with eruptions of rage, I realized that I had had enough. The people around me were still doing the same things that aggravated me, but my sanity and peace of mind finally took priority. This is a whole different kind of enough. Something about the fullness of the emotion and the tightness of my mind came together to say “Enough!” With that, the rage subsided. It didn’t come from deciding to control myself, but rather from feeling the full effect of the anger. I simply wasn’t willing to spend any more energy in such a way. Enough.
At this moment in time, a global question of enough is being posed at the Paris Climate Talks. What amount of carbon emissions is enough to still sustain life on earth? What is too much? What are the policy-makers willing to agree to, and will it be enough? Globally, we are being asked to use enough and not too much. Our governments are being asked to consider “the other” and to set limits, to consider what is enough rather than following the imperative of more. Only time will tell how our earth will fare in the coming centuries. The temptation to ignore the climate crisis is great, and most people will settle for ignorance. Others engage, trying to effect change in government, corporations, and local communities. The tendency then is to hit burnout and despair. When is a prayer enough? What action is enough? Can love fuel the movement for a sustainable future where we share and adjust for all beings to have enough? There are no answers, but in asking questions, we are already on the way to figuring it out.
Even to know what is enough is an important practice. It begins with awareness of the here and now, but expands to include more than the individual self. You could call this awareness of interdependence “connecting to Buddha Nature,” or “trusting Life.” The name is not important. Shifting the focus from individual preoccupations, preferences, and desires to a wider awareness of being part of the flow of life is what matters. To do this, we must be able to be grounded and open, to rest on the earth and remember the stars. We need times of stillness to be able to accept life and ourselves if we are ever to know what enough is. The smaller meditations on enough are but a doorway to the freedom that we seek.
Coming back to this Winter Retreat, I’m only setting one focus this year. Despite the temptation for another long list, my focus will simply be to take care of the body with daily exercise and moderate eating, as I’ve fallen away from this. Yes, there is still the singing course that I plan to take and several topics of study that I'll give time to, but the main focus will on the body. This will include time to contemplate wellness and moderation—indeed, the real focus this winter is a prolonged meditation on enough. For to simply be alive is a testament to enough.