This is a revised post from a year ago when I was still working at hospice. I include it to show how a spiritual practice — one composed of regular meditation and informed by a vow to do good for others — can translate into action. What I’m talking about here is the duality trap, that weird thing the mind does when faced with choices and, because of self-centered views, gets hung up in “either/or.” Should I do this or that? prefer these over those? like him better or her?
Buddhist teachings point us to look beyond and view seeming opposites as part of a larger picture. How can you make the container big enough to hold all aspects? is a question I ask whenever I find myself trapped. There’s a chant known as “Affirming faith in mind” (Hsin Hsin Ming, AD 600?) which addresses this dilemma. The first stanza goes like this:
The Great Way is not difficult for those
Who do not pick and choose.
When preferences are cast aside,
the Way stands clear and undisguised.
The Great Way is a path of truth, an ideal way of being in the world. So here’s my story. Walking down the hallway at hospice I was hit by a putrid smell and loud moaning coming from someone’s room. Barely able to control the gagging reflex, I kept walking: anything but go there!
But then something shifted. The instant I recognized my aversion (my preference), it dissolved. My vows to be of service and of reducing suffering caused my body to turn and move towards the very thing I’d so disliked just seconds earlier. By the time I entered the patient’s room, fears and reactivity had vanished. Only one question remained: How may I serve?
images: (top) smart-kit.com; (below) istockphoto.com.