Friday, June 14, 2013

Put on your dharma shoes -- and walk

Buddhism isn't what you do in meditation; that's meditation. Buddhism is how you walk in the world. I heard that phrasing from a teacher at one of the first Buddhist retreats I attended several years ago, and it stuck with me.

I've always admired people who live their principles, who communicate their beliefs through their behavior, not through words. And I'm suspicious of those whose behavior conflicts with their stated beliefs. Occasional lapses, I get. Constant conflict seems to say something's not genuine.

In the "Bringing Your Practice to Life" class, Jeff Rubin asked people to think of a an area where they feel an ethical challenge and to think of a small way to bring their practice into their activities -- and do it. Not just intend to do it, not just aspire to do it, but do it.

This is where the metta meets the road, where the shoes come off and the tender soles come into contact with the sharp stones and rocks and garbage on the ground.

The ancients (including the Buddha) tells a story about a man who complained about the pervasiveness of suffering and the limits of practice. How could his meditation practice make the world better? Buddha says that if the ground is rough and painful to walk on, you could cover it all with leather so that you can walk comfortably with bare feet. Or you can cover your feet and walk in the world.

Which is not to say that you'll be shielded from pain by wearing metaphorical shoes. I once broke a bone in my foot by stepping on a large stone while wearing Keds. (I am suspicious of the safety of the trendy minimalist shoes.) But you will be able to move through the world as it is, changing only yourself.

I feel like my practice pervades my life. It is so entwined that I can see that I could do more without beating myself up for not having done enough. As you practice, doors open and you see new areas for practice.

For this week, my ethical challenge is discipline, or following through on what I know I is right. And my specific practice is getting to work on time.

My work day is supposed to start at 7 a.m. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a person who gets up easily at 5:30 a.m. I am not, and have not been since childhood, a person who goes to sleep early. Even if I try. And over the last several months, my arrival has been creeping back later and later.

How is this a matter of ethics? I work at a newspaper, where we have to meet several rigid deadlines. My late arrival has the potential to affect that. It also shows a lack of respect for my co-workers. (It's not a theft of time from my employer because I stay later.) Is this an expression of some subtle resentment, some message that I want something to be different, and I need to look at that? Some incongruence? Or maybe it's a matter of self-care, and I need to look again at bedtime.

At any rate, I'm self-conscious about it when I walk in, so I know it bothers me. It's time to shine the light of dharma on that area of my life, to put on my dharma shoes and walk through the muck.

Note: There are no actual dharma shoes. You cannot buy something at the Nike store to propel you down the path to enlightenment. However, you can get the Nike Roshe Run (right), which the company describes as:

Inspired by the practice of meditation and the concept of Zen, the Nike Roshe Run epitomizes simplicity. It has no embellishments, just basic shoe necessities brought to life with every detail. Almost every part of the shoe reflects an aspect of a tranquil Zen garden: a modified Waffle outsole made to look like stepping stones, an insole that mirrors a raked rock garden, and slightly different midsole side lengths-a juxtaposition of seriousness and playfulness. 
Seriously, though, they won't help your practice. This is materialism, pure and simple. 

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