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How Will I Use This Day?

Sakyong Mipham

We are always meditating—constantly placing our minds on an object and becoming familiar with it. But are we getting used to things that will take us forward on the path?

Our modern culture does not encourage awakening, and without a sense of inner strength, we are easily invaded by the difficulties around us. If we don’t orient our day toward spiritual growth, the speed of our life takes over, fueled by habitual patterns. While some habitual patterns are a source of inspiration, others just drain our energy. Meditation trains us to notice these patterns, which create the fabric of the entity known as “me.”

When we wake up in the morning, our first meditation is often “What about me?” We can loosen this pattern by setting a different kind of view. Instead of “What do I have to do today?” or “Will I ever get enough sleep?” we can ask ourselves, “How can I use this day to let the dharma change my thoughts, words, and actions? What positive qualities shall I cultivate?”

Carrying this view to the cushion will enrich our morning meditation. Yet no matter how well our meditation goes, entering into everyday life presents a schism: “I finished my practice and now I have to go to work.” It’s an insidious dilemma that lowers our energy and hampers our growth. Thinking practice is over when we leave the house weakens our ability to engage wholeheartedly with the world outside.

So how do we carry a dharmic view into the day? By seeing the day as our life, and our life as the path, we learn to regard everything we meet as an opportunity to practice. There are seven facets of awakened mind that we can consciously cultivate to enhance the path-like texture of our life.

The first is egolessness. In order to grow, we must be willing to give up territory. We may look fervently for the teacher, teachings, or situation that fits into our comfort zone, but the path is not going to happen on our own terms. Are we prepared to abandon our habitual patterns—to give up the support of concepts, opinions, and comforts? To make progress, we need to be willing to change.

The great Tibetan saint Milarepa said that to give up territory, we have to understand impermanence. If we don’t understand impermanence, we don’t have a sense of immediacy. Without a sense of immediacy, we remain under the influence of the protracted illusion that we are eternal. In other words, we become very comfortable in our habits. Our practice is lazy and our mind tends to be thick. So every day we need to cultivate the willingness to give up the habitual patterns that warp our experience.

The second element to awaken is faith. The word “faith” often has the sense that even though we’re not really sure about something, we believe in it anyway. The faith we’re talking about here is based on knowing what we’re doing, not in hoping for the best. It’s as if we’ve checked our boat for holes and found none, so we set sail with a yearning to be completely engaged in practice because we’re certain that the teachings will work. The active ingredient of our yearning manifests as strength and compassion.

There are three kinds of faith. First is the faith of inspiration. Seeing a teacher, hearing the dharma, or visiting a meditation center, we feel an immediate inspiration. Faith suddenly arises as a very powerful hit. It hooks our mind and we become excited about it. We just know.

But that kind of faith is not sustainable. We must supplement our inspiration with curiosity, from which the second kind of faith arises, understanding. We ask ourselves, “What made that person that way? Why is this place so powerful?” Unless we investigate our inspiration, we will lose our motivation to practice. So we get curious—reading, studying, and hearing dharma. That’s how we increase our understanding, which leads to a deeper kind of faith because we know why we were inspired in the first place.

The third kind of faith is following through. Having been impressed, then curious, we now think, “I want to be like that, so I will follow this through.” The three kinds of faith naturally sequence into a potent driving force, combining inner strength and compassion.

Being willing to give up, having trust, and yearning to go forward, we now need to be daring. But to do what? We dare to jump out of our samaric habitual tendencies into more dharmic ones. When we see ourselves falling into the “me” meditation, we emerge from our hallucination and courageously take a leap into a more open place. This can be as simple as giving up our place in line to someone in a hurry.

If we dare to jump out of laziness, we might become slightly aggressive, so we also cultivate gentleness. That means slowing down so that we synchronize our intention with our speech and action. Our intention is to use the day as a spiritual path. What is the path? It is a place to grow. With gentleness, we provide the space and warmth for growth, but we don’t force progress—our own or others’. If we’re not in a rush with our own mind, we have the patience to let things unfold naturally.

If we become too gentle, however, we might become feeble. So fearlessness comes next. In terms of how we engage in our life, we’re no longer second-guessing ourselves, because we’re not afraid of our mind. We can look at it head-on. Although we encounter obstacles, we steadfastly move forward; we’re not afraid of giving up territory or taking a leap. Fearlessness has a decisive element, too: at some point we can respond to a situation with a simple “yes” or “no”—the “maybes” go out the door.

With fearlessness comes awareness. No longer cloaked in habitual pattern, no longer using hope and fear to manipulate the environment, we are aware of what’s happening in our life. We have more energy because we’re not burdened by trying to maintain the concept and polarity of “me.” Our practice becomes more three-dimensional.

The last entry on this list is a sense of humor. I haven’t met any great practitioner who didn’t have a good sense of humor. It’s a sign of pliability and intelligence. Who wants to be a brow-heavy practitioner, squinting hard as we try to push out realization? With a dharmic eye, we’re able to see things with some levity because we’re connected to our wholesomeness.

Each morning we can choose one of these elements as a daily contemplation and practice. Throughout the day, we can train ourselves to bring the mind to “egolessness,” “faith,” or “gentleness”—as words, then actions. In the evening, we can take a moment before going to sleep and reflect on what happened: “How did I use this day to nurture my mind and heart?”

Training to increase our dharmic habitual tendencies is a perpetual source of inspiration and strength that provides a standard for decision-making at every level. It’s how we become perpetually forward-thinking, visionary people who can use every situation as an opportunity to cross over from the transcendent to the practical—and back.

Originally published in the March 2009 issue of the Shambhala Sun.

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