Many people look to Siddhartha Gautama as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. In this column we look at what it might be like if Siddhartha were on his spiritual journey today. How would he combine Buddhism and dating? How would he handle stress in the workplace? "What Would Sid Do?" is devoted to taking an honest look at what we as meditators face in the modern world.
Readers can send in questions and I will give some advice based on what I think Sid, a fictional Siddhartha, would do. Here Sid is not yet a buddha; he's just someone struggling to maintain an open heart on a spiritual path while facing numerous distractions along the way. Because let's face it: You and I are Sid.
This week's question comes from Messy Jessie:
My girlfriend and I got into a fight last night because she says I'm a slob and that meditators should be more "mindful" of their living quarters. What would Sid say about that?
The world is a crazy place. As a New Yorker, I'm always shocked when I stop on the street to tie my shoes and just watch the sheer number of people streaming by me in a hurry. It is very easy to get caught up in the hustle and aggression of the world and just "go with the flow."
However, the historical Buddha was notorious for doing the opposite. There is a traditional story of Siddhartha Gautama taking sustenance from a bowl shortly before he sat down and experienced his own enlightened mind. He stepped over to a river close by and threw the bowl into the current. Surprisingly, the bowl did not go downstream but instead floated upstream. At that time Siddhartha knew that his teachings were destined to be going against the grain of society.
In today's terms, going against society truly is cutting through aggression and confusion. Let's face it: it's rampant out there. Take your neighborhood for example. Likely people are littering, leaving their broken umbrellas on the streets, leaving dog feces to rot in the sun. Yet it's hard to take care of your entire neighborhood -- you could spend all day cleaning up out there and still not make a dent in the tangible examples of other people's speed and neglect.
What we can take care of is our own space. This could be our home, our garden, or our area at work. We can clean our home regularly, so that we feel uplifted when we spend time there. We can arrange our furniture and art in a way that creates a feeling of harmony for us. As my teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, once wrote:
As human beings, we are influenced by our environment. If we create an environment of aggression and disharmony, stress will become the norm. Conversely, if we create an environment of kindness, love, discipline, and generosity, we will all begin to feel a sense of peace.
When you take good care of your living space, you are affected in a positive way. Not only is a well-tended environment a gift to yourself, you are also offering it to others.
Imagine hosting a stressed-out colleague in your work area. If there are papers all over the desk and books scattered about you on the ground, that messy environment will have a negative effect on his or her mind. If they walk in stressed out but experience a spacious container of sanity, with everything tucked away where it should be, then they may actually breathe a sigh of relief, letting their burden roll off their shoulders. By merely tending to your mess you were left feeling uplifted and you generously offered the experience of space to another person!
The other week I met up with a new friend, Taz Tagore of the Reciprocity Foundation. The Reciprocity Foundation is an organization that treats the homeless youth of New York City in a holistic fashion, offering them resources and business opportunities while also relating to them as unique individuals. Many of the youth that find their way into RF have come from very troubled backgrounds.
In speaking with Taz, she mentioned the great care she has put into creating a safe and sane environment to host the young people that take part in her organization's activities. When they walk in, she said, their first response is, "Thank you. Finally, I have found a place where I can just be." If cultivated with care, there is true power in the environment. It can allow people the opportunity to experience space and the wisdom of their own being.
Our homes, backyards, and work areas say a lot about the energy we're trying to cultivate in the world. If you are dedicated to spreading mindfulness and compassion in this society I imagine our friend Sid would recommend you start by creating an environment of mindfulness and compassion at home. This may mean making your bed and hanging up your clothes, or vacuuming regularly, or arranging your furniture differently but these very simple steps leave you with a sense of dignity and inspires sanity both in yourself and anyone who is lucky enough to find you as a host.
I imagine Sid would agree with your girlfriend here, and ask that you give cleaning up your environment a chance. You may find that in engaging this work, you are cleaning up your mind as well.
Lodro Rinzler's book 'The Buddha Walked into a Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation' will be released January 2012. For more information about this book or to browse other writings by Lodro visit lodrorinzler.com.
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