Review: The Art of Living
Calm your mind. Open yourself to what is arising and passing. If you stir up the mud at the bottom of a lake, the water will be unclear. But when you let the water be as it is, not trying to flatten the ripples or scoop out all the mud, the lake will settle down. Then you will see not only the still water, but a reflection of the mountains on the surface.
When you watch the rain, you are the rain just as much as the rain is you. Rather than feeling that you are a separate observer, passively watching each droplet fall down, there is only the splash, splash, splash.
There is a rain beyond your words. Beyond your images and concepts and memories. Yet you often divide yourself from the rain, creating an idea of you, an idea of the rain, an idea of how the rain sounds, an idea of how you should feel when you see the rain, and so on. You forget to smell the rain because you are attached to what you think you know.
You often separate your experiences into endlessly finer categories. You discriminate between what you see as good and bad, black and white, ugly and beautiful, life and death, young and old. You organize and measure and judge. Your universe is placed into a mental filing system.
Yet as Alan Watts said, “You confuse the menu for the meal.”
When you are mindful, when you let go, you can come back to the purity of who you are. You can harmonize with nature. Breathing in, breathing out. You are here. Like a bow sliding across a violin, you are open to the continuous hum.
You are not alienated from the rest of life. You inter-are. You are made up of relationships. A flower cannot bloom without being connected to non-flower elements like the soil beneath it or the sun above it.
For the petals of a rose to glisten with dew, there first needed to be a Big Bang. Conditions before that flower existed helped that flower to be. When the rose wilts back into the old earth, another plant will take its place. Energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only transformed.
Just like a flower, you are made up of non-you parts. You cannot exist without the oxygen you breathe or your ancestors or the gravity of the planet. You cannot exist without the water from the oceans or the clouds drifting above you. There is no you apart from anything else.
“You cannot step into the same river twice,” as Heraclitus once said. Your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions are changing. You will not be the same person at five or fifteen or eighty. You may feel the same, and believe that you will remain young forever, but you are a constellation of processes, transforming in every moment. You are dying and being reborn. You are changing with the conditions of the universe.
Don’t attach yourself to one view of life and claim that is the best view to have. When you cling to your beliefs and refuse to open yourself up, you will suffer. Your dogmatism will cause other beings to suffer too.
You are all the lives you have influenced. You are all the ancestors who survived for you to be born and all the descendants who will grow old after you have decomposed.
You are the sun and water and trees and moon. Without them, there is no you.
Your interconnection with all living beings will help you to see beyond yourself. With awareness, you don’t have to judge everything outside your flesh as separate from you.
You don’t have to look for ways to isolate yourself from other beings. Clinging to rigid beliefs, avoiding alternative perspectives, and not empathizing with the vulnerable, will only cause you to suffer. You are in others as others are in you.
It’s up to you to be kind, compassionate, and loving.
Every moment is a chance for you to deepen your practice. Talking about philosophy is not enough. Your life is your message. Your teaching.
When you are mindful and compassionate, your peaceful presence will influence the people around you. Everyone you meet is a continuation of you. Your practice is a practice not only for you, but for your siblings, parents, children, neighbors, and the rest of your community.
When you think you are separate from the rest of the world, you will try to run from the world. You will seek pleasure and avoid pain. You will look for comforting answers to the mystery of your existence. You will hide from unpleasant truths.
Rather than hiding from what you don’t like or attaching yourself to abstractions, look within yourself. See yourself in the world just as the world is seen in you. You are not only the blood in your body, but the stars in your blood. You don’t have to climb a mountain to find what is already here. You only need to see.
If you walk in a park, do you notice the leaves falling from the trees? Do you feel the breeze brushing against your skin? Do you exhale as you step on the soft soil?
Look for lessons in what is already an intimate part of you. There is more wisdom in a crumbling leaf than in a thousand words about impermanence.
When you walk, walk. When you sit, sit. When you breathe, breathe. Rather than seeking to become important or achieve something outside of yourself, rather than dwelling on your regrets or rushing off to do the next thing, continue to do what you are doing, but with total freedom.
Be present with what you are doing. When you nourish yourself, you will nourish other sentient beings. You will care for those who are suffering, who need someone to be there for them. You are not only working toward an end goal of compassion, peace, and kindness. You are those things. Every step can be a step of peace.
When you live in the present, you will begin to see the impermanence in all things. A flower blooming in spring and withering in the autumn sun, a lover with age spots on her hands, a flash of lightning in the clouds. Without impermanence, a child can never mature into an adult and an acorn can never grow into a tree. For there to be birth, there has to be death.
When you are aware of your impermanence, every moment is precious, a fleeting miracle. You can care for all things in your life, while knowing that nothing ever lasts.
Pain and anger will fade away just like joy and happiness. Seemingly unstoppable empires will collapse as civilizations develop. Everyone you know will die and break down into the dust of bones. Plants will grow over your forgotten tomb.
When you know the truth of your impermanence, you will be grateful for what you have while knowing that it won’t be yours forever.
There is no you that remains the same. Your perceptions, thoughts, feelings, moods, and behaviors all change over time. From the cells in your fingers to the bacteria in your gut, from the wrinkles on your skin to the hormones in your glands, from the neurons in your brain to the oxygen that you inhale, you are transforming. You are not alone. You are not an unchanging entity, apart from the rest of the universe. You are the same, but also different.
Life is like a garden that you can cultivate. You can water the seeds of hatred and ignorance and greed or you can water the seeds of peace and joy and compassion. You have the freedom to choose. It is entirely up to you.
When you tend to yourself, you tend to others. When you tend to others, you tend to yourself. You must be wise enough to select the most wholesome seeds to water.
Sometimes in relationships, you may fall into negative habits. You may forget to be grateful and engaged. As the weeds grow in your garden and theirs, both of you will suffer. But it is never too late to cut away the weeds, to plant new seeds again.
Rather than chasing after abstract notions of success, pleasure, power, and reputation, see these cravings for what they are. When you desire to taste the bait, biting down with all your force, you will get hooked. Only when you can let go, mindful of your suffering, will you be free.
Be aware of your fear, your need for intimacy, your sorrow, and your compulsion to survive. You are connected with this earth. You can show compassion to your suffering while nourishing your love.
Smile because you are alive on this beautiful earth. You are here for only a short time.