Over the past several weeks a number of people have asked me about specific practices though which they can connect with essence love -- that fundamental aspect of our nature that may be described in a number of ways: as a tender, unbiased openness toward every living being; as an unconditional kindness, gentleness, and affection; or as a very basic sense of well-being which, if nurtured properly, can extend to a kinship with all other living beings. Actually, one of the best, most vivid definitions of essence love I've heard recently came from a student of mine who is a grandmother, who described in terms of the experience of being in the presence of her grandson a radically joyous readiness to love, to laugh, to marvel at the absolute wonder of life expressing itself.
Certainly, there are a variety of meditation techniques that can help us connect with the radical joyousness, the readiness to embrace experience that characterizes essence love. You're probably familiar with some of them, such as mental calming methods and insight practices. However, in order to truly develop our connection to essence love so that it becomes more than just a nice sensation felt every once in a while in mediation but, rather, an unshakable basis of our perception and experience, we need look no farther than paying attention to our behavior in daily life. We do this, as discussed here over the past few weeks, through the practice of the paramitas, positive qualities or characteristics that we strive to practice -- or at the very least, to bear in mind as we go about our day.
We've already explored the first three of the six paramitas: generosity, discipline, and patience. The fourth paramita is often translated as "perseverance," "diligence," "energy," "effort," or, sometimes, "zeal." Its basic meaning lies in dedicating ourselves with joy and enthusiasm to our practices and to our aspiration to benefit others. Diligence resembles patience somewhat in terms of cultivating a willingness to bear adversity. But while patience involves not shying away from challenges, diligence implies an active commitment to taking on the challenges that arise when we commit to helping others.
Often involving some personal sacrifice of time, energy, and other resources, diligence may sound like a hard road. But tsondru, the Tibetan word used to describe this paramita, and virya, the Sanskrit word, both imply an invigorating sense of strength, calm, and focus in taking action that help others.
To use an example, a woman I know recently committed several weeks to staying by her aging father's bedside as he passed through the final stages of his life. It's never easy watching someone die, but she stayed by his bedside, holding his hand, talking to him, listening when he was able to speak. At the same time, she worked to soothe her mother, who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and was frantic during those final weeks.
"But," she said, "however emotionally hard it was, my father's final hours were incredibly peaceful. My mother actually sat by his side, holding his hand as he passed. I'm so glad I was able to be there for him and for her."
Diligence also means taking small actions and appreciating the effect of our accomplishments. In my own case, for example, if I want to clean my kitchen I choose a small area to clean -- the stove or the table. I clean those areas and then I rest for a few moments (or maybe a little bit longer). Then I come back and look at the area that I've cleaned and say, "Wow, this area is really clean. I did a good job." This gives me the energy or enthusiasm to start working on another small area. This is perhaps a different approach from trying to complete a total cleaning, starting a little bit here, moving a little bit there, but never really focusing on one particular area. And appreciating the work that you've done in one small area gives you a kind of enthusiasm for going on to the next area. Without this sort of delight, diligence cannot be developed.
We approach our activities with the kind of forcefulness that can make us physically or emotionally tense. We feel, "I have to do this. I have to get this done right now, right away, altogether." And that kind of attitude can provoke physical and emotional stress.
That's my understanding of the appropriate way of approaching diligence: breaking down a large task into smaller pieces and then taking a little rest. But the most important part of the process is allowing ourselves a moment or two to really appreciate what we've accomplished. When we do that, our confidence in completing a big task begins to grow. We begin to feel, "Yes, bit by bit I can do this -- whatever this is."
So here's this week's challenge: As you proceed a little bit farther along the path of practicing essence love, pause every once in a while throughout the day to appreciate something that you've done. It doesn't have to be a huge undertaking. It can be something as simple as organizing your desk, or cleaning a room, or smiling at someone on the bus. When you take this time to appreciate what you've done, do you experience a bit more enthusiasm, a bit more energy to go on to the next step, the next task?
Take a look around you, too, as you practice. You might just see that your enthusiasm is infectious. Seeing the light in someone else's eye, a spring in their step, a hint of a smile on their lips is actually one of the signs that essence love is expanding within you, becoming a light that warms and brightens the whole world.
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