Everyday Dharma Challenge: Week Two

(normal text is Rebecca, italicized text is Lama Willa Miller)

We’re at week two of my “Everyday Dharma” challenge. To bring you up to speed, I’ve decided to work my way through my copy of “Everyday Dharma: Seven Weeks to Finding the Buddha in You” by Lama Willa Miller, and the author has been kind enough to offer a response to each week. So what was week two like?

Day one was “Freedom is Communal”. This is a discussion of karma and how sages work to serve every human being. The exercise was “Contemplating Karma”. You are to relax and reflect on how your actions that day affected others. Not much to share with you all there.

Even if you don’t know it, you made ripples!

Day two was about your life-intention. “Actions begin with intention,” Lama Willa explains. She explains three types of life-intention: king-like (where you blaze a trail to enlightenment on your own and then take steps to help others), boatman-like (where spiritual life is a communal endeavor), and shepherd-like (where you put the betterment of others first). The exercise for day two was to determine what you serve and what you would like to serve. You list three things that in your daily life you find yourself serving (my job, my family, my homebody habits) and then you list three things you would like to serve as you move forward on your spiritual journey (my family, my fellow man, my creative endeavors).

Good job. Actions do begin with intention, sometimes unconscious sometimes conscious. It is an interesting exercise to occasionally look at how we actually spend our time and energy. When we look at where our time and energy goes, we discover what we are serving. Most of us spend considerable effort serving things we only half-care about, out of force of sheer habit or out of fear of taking a risk. Sometimes we are simply serving a habit, with no wider purpose, in a self-perpetuating cycle. One way to break that force of habit is to take time to pause and really consider, where am I putting my energy? How am I spending my time? Once we have honestly assessed where our time and energy goes, we can make a choice to re-harness it and send it to things we care about a lot.

In my own case, my weakness (one of countless ones I’m sure) is to take on too many projects. When I remind myself what I actually wish to serve, it helps me refocus my energy and let go of projects that are not in line with my heartfelt ideals. In a sense, that is what a life-intention does; it helps us focus our energy on what we believe in, which brings us to day three….

Day three was where the considerations from day two came to fruition; “Creating a Life-Intention”, essentially, coming up with your personal mission statement. Lama Willa explains, “In the Buddhist context, such statements of intention come under the heading of a ‘vow’ because it expresses a personal commitment to a life-purpose.” The exercise for the day was to compose your own life-intention. I vow to try and make people’s lives be better for having known me.

That is a beautiful intention, Rebecca. It is very much in line with the thinking of a bodhisattva (a compassionate sage). We can approach every interaction with the thought, ‘”How can I leave this person happier and better off than before we met?” What would that do to how we speak, how we move, what we do? Every interaction, every relationship would become opportunity to change the world. We underestimate the power of our daily interactions. What we do and say is not insignificant. The world does not change in huge movements; it changes bit by bit.

Day four was about aspirations. We all aspire to things, and this day was about defining those things and broadening their scope. The exercise for the day was to pick three aspirations (I hope that I my health improves. I aspire to spend more time enjoying the moment rather than worrying about the future. I pray that all of mine and my family’s needs are met.) and then expand those aspirations (I hope that everyone’s health improves. May everyone spend more time enjoying the moment rather than worry about the future. I pray that all families everywhere have their needs met.)

It is interesting to expand the focus of our wishes and prayers to include others. In fact, our own wishes are always a thread connecting us to others. What we wish for, others wish for also, in one way or another. When you include others, it becomes apparent that we have never been alone when wishing and praying, or for that matter when suffering. When we feel, it is always an expression of how so many others also feel. When we need, it is a reflection of others’ needs. When we suffer, it is a reflection of others’ suffering. So when we pray, we can pray for the happiness and fulfillment of all, not just ourselves.

Day five was composing your awakening prayer. An awakening prayer is a combination of your life-intention and aspirations worded as a prayer. May people’s lives be better for having known me. May myself, my family, and everyone’s family be blessed with health, happiness of the moment, and have their needs met.

Beautiful prayer.

Day six was about “Deep Prayer”. “Prayer is the next layer of the meditation sandwich you started making last week,” states Lama Willa. The entry this day outlined prayer techniques. Another point touched upon during this day that I felt was important to share. “In general you should pray to whatever or whomever feels right to you. If you believe in a higher power, call on that power when you pray. But you do not have to believe in a higher power to pray! Many Buddhists simply trust in the law of interpenetration when they pray, the idea that everything is connected and interdependent.” The exercise for the day was to practice the Three Arrivals (remember them?), then read your life-intention aloud, reflecting on each word, read your aspirations aloud, contemplating each one for a minute or two, then recite your awakening prayer. I’ve got to be honest here, this felt awkward, at best.

Honesty is a primary spiritual virtue, so bravo for that! Composing our own prayers and reciting them is not something that we are necessarily comfortable with the first time around. We may never before have put into words our deepest aspirations, hopes and dreams, much less say them aloud. This can feel contrived, initially. I think it is worth working with, however. Over time, it feels more natural, even nourishing.

In many religions, including Buddhism, followers are encouraged to memorize and recite prayers and aspirations that come from the texts and books of the tradition. This kind of prayer has its place. But in my experience, conventional prayer needs supplementation for three reasons.

First, good prayer is connected to the heart. When you recite prayers from a chosen text or tradition, you are letting someone else put words in your mouth. They might be very beautiful words, and there is nothing wrong with repeating them. But, this can become stale over time. To prevent prayer form becoming stale, we need to investigate what our heart needs and prays for.

Second, when you work with composing and reciting your own prayers and aspirations, you begin to explore values and yearnings you may have carried around for a long time, but not yet become fully conscious of. This is a way uncover and bring to light your soul’s subconscious call to wholeness. Once you bring this to light, you can begin to nourish your soul, or—in the language of the book—your wisdom-nature.

Third, deep prayer connects us to others. These values and yearnings are not just personal; they are a reflection of values and yearnings felt by many others. Prayer connects us to the aspirations of the human family. In this sense, prayer helps us develop intimacy with those around us.

Day seven was entitled “The Sage’s GPS”. Essentially this discussed how everyone can get lost, or feel lost trying to follow their spiritual path. We all know that a Global Positioning System can help you when you’re lost getting somewhere, well to help you when you’re lost on your spiritual journey you have Ground, Path, and Summit to help you. The Ground of your spiritual journey is your wisdom-nature. The Path of the spiritual journey includes all the ways your wisdom-nature is awakened and developed. The Summit is the fruition of your intention. The exercise for the day is contemplating all of these: The Ground, The Path, and The Summit. Consider them contemplated.

Now the question comes to mind, when are they going to make a car-installed version of the sage’s GPS? It might say things like, “Detour around self-absorption”.

And with that, we end week two. We’ll talk again next week!

See you then!

About Lama Willa:
Lama Willa Miller is a meditation teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She has studied and practiced meditation for the last twenty years, training with Venerable Kalu Rinpoche, Venerable Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche, Lama Norlha Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, and other teachers.

She completed two seminary trainings [three-year retreats] at Kagyu Thubten Choling in upstate New York, becoming authorized as a lama, a Buddhist minister, upon completion of her training. Before and after her retreats, she spent time in Nepal, Tibet, and India, studying Buddhism and engaging in service work.

She currently lives in Arlington, MA with her husband and two dogs, where she writes, teaches Tibetan Buddhist practice and meditation, principally with Natural Dharma Fellowship. She is also working towards a PhD at Harvard University.

Lama Willa is author of the book “Everyday Dharma: Seven Weeks to Finding the Buddha in You” (2009, Quest Books), a practical guide for getting started on the spiritual path. Visit her website here.

To follow Lama Willa on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/lamawilla.

On Facebook? Join the Everyday Dharma Facebook group.