Appreciating Things as They Truly Are
One of Tibet’s great female yogis, Machig Lobdrön, was renowned for crying one minute and laughing the next. When someone asked her why she acted that way, she replied, “I laugh with delight because enlightenment always lies right below the surface of life, right in front of our nose. This is truly a joyous and wondrous discovery. I cry because beings are anxious, in pain, stressed, and depressed. Our enlightened qualities are so nearby, covered by a constant stream of discursive thoughts, one upon another.”
Formal meditation can offer us a glimpse of the inherent joy and liberation that lie at our fingertips. What about the rest of the day? Our nine-to-five job is rising from the cushion and using our activity to appreciate our discovery. This is the motivation of the Buddha. After he attained enlightenment, the Buddha didn’t just keep sitting there under the bodhi tree. He rose from his seat and took his enlightened qualities out into the world.
To practice is to decide continually, wholeheartedly, that we are going to bring the wisdom of the Buddha into our lives on the spot. We use our morning meditation to connect with our inherently open mind. Then we rise with curiosity about how we can use that mind to appreciate our workday, to knead it with practice. When a colleague interrupts us, can we employ patience instead of anger? When a presentation doesn’t go the way we’d hoped, can we entertain equanimity instead of giving in to disappointment watered by self-pity? Instead of spending our time manipulating a situation so that it will work out well for “me,” can we be generous, drop our scheme, and see the bigger picture? Can we let our strength, beauty, compassion, and inconceivable sharpness of mind rise to the top of our day? Sometimes we regard our workday as a large block of hours we spend putting necessary time into unnecessary activity. We don’t regard life off the cushion as an economic basis for practice. Forgetting enlightened qualities such as wisdom and compassion, we stumble from anxiety to hassle to impatience. At the end of the day we feel exhausted. We’re spending a good portion of our time disconnected from who we really are, living our lives while failing to appreciate our own buddhanature. Work is a golden opportunity to practice when we’re most clear-minded and awake. But while the sun is shining, we are crying.
Our tears are a product of doubt in the inherent goodness and wisdom of ourselves and others. When we are crying all day, we develop a bitter taste in our mouth, which comes from failing to appreciate our life’s inherent richness. It’s as if everything is slightly contaminated. We focus on faults. We feel pressure. We fuel our day with jealousy and irritation. We forget the space we felt in meditation. And we lose one opportunity after another to reconnect with our own enlightenment. We are leaning against the very gold that we seek.
Since my mother moved from India to the West, people often ask her for advice. She always reminds them of the difference between big mind—sem chenpo—and small mind—sem chungchung. Big mind is a mind that appreciates its own enlightenment. It’s a mind that has broken through the barrier of self-absorption. This mind knows that not getting our eggs cooked the way we want is not a giant boulder sitting on the road of life. In an open, clutter-free mind, what rises to the top is buddha, our inherent joy, wisdom, and compassion. To appreciate these qualities and have confidence in them is to hold the highest view.
When we engage our day without confidence in this view, we apply anger and aggression. Because we don’t appreciate our potential, our mind becomes very small. Lacking trust in our own nobility, we can’t see it in others, and we’re always on pins and needles, which makes our mind smaller. The constant agitation of not trusting our buddhanature keeps us from developing further confidence in it. Our vision is obscured. Our day job has changed from practicing our enlightened qualities to covering them up.
When we’re consumed by negative emotions, the practice is not to try to eradicate them. Rather than looking at negativity top down, we look at it bottom up, as if they are clouds in the sky. Jealousy, blame, complaint, ambition, fear—we take these as our view, until we remember they’re just signs of hesitation and doubt: small mind cluttering the space of big mind. With intelligence and appreciation, we can connect with that moment of discovery and cultivate its potential by seeing through the clouds and relaxing into big mind.
True relaxation suggests a deep underlying confidence in our enlightened nature. We do not have to manipulate, because we trust who we are. In an argument with a coworker, instead of trying to outwit them, we use our energy to gather our breath, relax, and appreciate the inherent goodness of ourselves and others. With this deep level of relaxation, we are settling into the Buddha’s territory, seeing the world through enlightened eyes. Confidence in this place quells negativity naturally. There’s nowhere for it to grow.
When we practice like this, we see that sadness and joy are two sides of the same coin. In any situation, we can doubt our enlightenment, which makes our mind smaller and more fixed. Anger, impatience, or anxiety—all are telltale signs that we’re slipping from the view of big mind. We feel the need to manipulate and convince, complain and cajole. Do we always need to get the last word in? This brings tears. Or we can have confidence in our enlightenment, which expands our mind and keeps it flexible. This brings joy.
A mind relaxed enough to appreciate the boundlessness of its inherent wisdom and compassion is no longer fooled into thinking that getting the best parking spot, winning every argument, or constantly finding faults in others is going to bring happiness. When we’re practicing from nine to five, we can laugh at how hard we try to hold on to our speed and hassle. When we encounter another person, we can let appreciation shine through. Instead of crying and complaining, we can laugh and offer kind words. We do not have to tell half-truths to build confidence, because we have confidence in the whole truth. Our eyes are opening to the myriad ways that inherent joy and enlightenment are here.
We may entertain the idea that we have the qualities of the Buddha at our fingertips, but without motivation and practice, they will seem as far away as an unattainable horizon. In nine-to-five practice our discipline is appreciating that they are always available as alternatives to aggression and greed. Every time we employ the qualities of generosity, patience, and equanimity, we are making our mind bigger and convincing ourselves of our own buddhahood. We can all be buddha driving the car, buddha getting morning coffee, buddha shaking hands at the day’s first meeting, buddha at the bank. Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, we can let our light shine through.