Recently, though, a friend related to me how Native Americans used to view each sun as a new sun. When I meditated the next morning, that thought came to me and as it sat there I had an epiphany. Beyond all our learned experience that has formed our ego and created our samsara, separating us from our true Buddha nature and all others, I realized that there is a further factor that causes our suffering ... the inevitable sameness of our lives and how we react to it.
I say this is beyond learned experience because you see it even in toddlers. When a toddler first manages to go to the toilet by himself, or tie his shoes, or any of the countless tasks that must be learned to take care of yourself, the child is so happy, excited, and proud. But after a relatively short time, he takes the learning of and accomplishing that activity for granted. It no longer brings him joy. He just does it, automatically. I see no way that that change is a learned experience, except possibly that his parents made such a fuss over the first few times he was able to do the task and then didn’t notice at all. Probably the parents’ actions just reinforced his natural reaction that the ability is no big deal once learned.
Regardless of ones walk of life, regardless whether rich or poor, our lives have an inevitable sameness to them, at least in the macro patterns of our lives. The one exception is possibly a research scientist who is constantly exploring something new, looking to discover what has not been discovered before. But there too, there are many stories of scientists who have made breakthrough discoveries early in their lives (there’s a saying that if you haven’t made a breakthrough discovery by the time your 30, you never will), and for the rest of their lives they either coast on that fame or just aren’t able to come up with something new. And so even their lives become stale in their minds-eye.
I and others have experienced the same thing in writing. When you are writing something new, say a book, it is endlessly interesting and engaging because it is new. But when you get to the editing process ... which can go on and on ... it gets to be deadening because you no longer feel like you’re doing something creative. It is no longer fresh.
You may think that some people’s lives are always exciting ... like entertainers ... but if you think about it or if they are honest, their lives are the same every day, regardless who they are performing for. It’s only the “fix” of applause and often the fix of drugs that prevents them from imploding from boredom.
As with most things, there is nothing inherently wrong with desiring to experience something new. The problem is that when that desire does not come from a place of equanimity it becomes an unskillful desire, a craving. That is what allowing ourselves to sink into a state of boredom does.
And so regardless what we are doing ... whether it is a chore, a repetitive task, something we love ... we have lost the ability to savor the moment and we need to rediscover that. You’ll note I changed the phrase from “to take joy” to “to savor.” That’s because I realized that even as I defined “joy” in an earlier posting and even though that is the teaching I received, that word is not really the appropriate one ... certainly not in many circumstances. “To savor,” in the sense of to experience something, however, is I think a more descriptive and applicable phrase for the practice we should aspire to.
Reflecting further on savoring the moment, I understood that you can’t do that when you are on auto-pilot, because obviously you are not aware. Instead, we must do things deliberately, consciously. Which means that we can’t follow our normal habit-energy of rushing everything we do ... whether it’s cleaning the dishes, or walking from one room to another, or doing something on the internet. All our activities need to be done more slowly and deliberately.
After my meditation, I consciously went about my activities slowly and deliberately. And when I caught myself walking at my normal pace in the house, I slowed down. The difference was nothing short of amazing. When I walked slowly and deliberately, I was aware of the sensation of walking, of my feet hitting the ground a certain way. And so it was with every task that morning ... I was aware of the sensation of the activity and I was aware of the miracle of nature and science that allowed the activity to take place.
The awareness of the miracle of nature and science is an important part of experiencing each moment fresh. I spoke of this when I wrote about taking joy in each moment in my book, The Self in No Self, but I didn’t understand at the time how to open myself up to that awareness.
The experiencing of sensation, of savoring the moment, makes sense. It’s like eating food. If you rush eating, no matter how wonderful the food is, you will not really experience the food. To savor your food, one must eat slowly.
But later in the day, when I finished doing some work on the internet, I said to myself, “I certainly didn’t savor those moments.” And so I went back on the internet to see how I could savor those moments, and I realized two things. Here too, and probably especially on the internet, we do things with a focus on speed. But the other key to savoring being on the internet is the scientific miracle of the whole thing ... how you type in a search and instantaneously results appear on your computer screen, at the same time as millions of people around the world are doing the same thing. How it all works is mind-boggling.
When I wrote in an earlier post that while I was present while doing some chores ... my mind wasn’t elsewhere ... I wasn’t PRESENT in the Buddhist sense in that I wasn’t engaged in what I was doing, I diagnosed the reason as being that I placed the label “chore” on these tasks. But as I went through my first day of savoring the moment, I saw clearly that the deeper reason was that I was bored with this activity, as I was with all my activities, not just chores, because of their daily sameness. I was not doing them deliberately, and I was not savoring each moment. Being present in the moment has a deeper meaning than being present at a point in time, one’s mind not being elsewhere. It means being open to the realness, the sensation, of what you are experiencing at the moment ... whether it be a nourishing sensation or pain and fear.
And so I feel like I have opened a door to experiencing life in a very different way, beyond the doors that I had already opened in my practice. I know that implementing this change, like awareness, will not happen 24/7 quickly. It is something that will develop incrementally; it will build upon itself and grow.