Sorting Through the Yin/Yang of Life and Practice

It’s been a while since I’ve written. It’s also been a while since I committed to a Theravada Buddhist path. It’s interesting how the passing of time can seem so different depending on the context. What feels like a long time in one area of my life, can also seem like the opposite in another aspect. For example, time often seems to be whizzing by at an accelerated pace, yet in terms of my practice and participation in a Sangha (Buddhist community in Pali), I often feel new and inexperienced.

Image by Daddy M@tt
Image by DaddyM@tt

In a similar fashion, much of my life has remained the same in spite of – what can seem like – dramatic change. My day to day practice is pretty much as it has been for several decades. I meditate daily, augment with other tools and resources, chant, and read. Over the years, I have explored a variety of tools, resources, and perspectives that embody an eclectic approach. What has changed is my focus. In choosing to commit to a Buddhist path (in particular, the Thai Forest tradition of Ajahn Chah), I have both expanded and narrowed my focus. Expanded by utilizing the riches of teachings, and narrowed by limiting my focus to a particular tradition.

My practice has always been important to me – even though I haven’t always called it that. Personal growth grounded in spiritual awareness has been at the foundation of my adult life and, most importantly, the primary consideration regarding choices and decision making. Given my dedication to practice over earning money, working, and other life style choices, it could be easy to view my late coming involvement and commitment to Buddhism – or some form of formal teachings – as odd. In part, that is why I feel the yin/yang aspects of my life. So much has changed, yet so much remains the same.

Has my practice really changed? On the surface, definitely. I am more consistent with my meditation, but it’s the aspects of practice as it relates to community that has radically changed for me. Spending time with monastics and the Sangha is definitely outside of my familiar zone. I’ve created a simple and mostly solitary life style. So much so, that I now realize that my life is far simpler than a monastic’s! I’m guessing a lot of people would be surprised at the amount of chores, responsibilities, and interactions with people being a monk of this lineage requires. Just being a member of the Sangha, is creating a lot of the same for me personally. Due to the interdependent relationship between the monks and lay people, there is always something one can offer, and I have tried to participate fully.

In the last nine months, I have found guidance and a lifetime’s worth of teachings (click here for links to various sources of teachings), deepened and expanded my practice, and felt joy and extreme gratitude for the Sangha. A Sangha that, for me, reaches out through the associated monasteries near and far, and all the way back to the Buddha. For this, I am eternally grateful. Being able to have such direct contact with the monastic community is heartwarming, inspiring, and life changing.

This brings me to the troublesome part: The aspects of my life that haven’t changed. As someone who has a lifetime of karma centered in a lack of support which created self-reliance, finding my way in a Sangha – including individual time with monks – can be daunting to say the least. It’s definitely when I feel new and inexperienced. Neurotic insecurities can seem to wipe away 30 years of growth in a nanosecond. However, putting oneself into new and challenging situations can be an excellent way to discover the dark areas of ourselves that are still resting deep inside of us. Baggage becomes habits, and habits are challenging to change.

Welcome New Light
Image by AlicePopkorn

In the midst of adding more light to my life, I also bring up the darkness. I don’t mind because I know that that is what practice is really about: Challenging us to grow, and doing what it takes to accomplish that. If we play it safe and remain within the confines of what is familiar and comfortable, then most likely we are simply choosing to remain asleep and deluded. Each time we fall asleep, we wake up to various shades of light and dark. If we wake up in the dark, it doesn’t mean that light isn’t present or coming. Maybe we just need to allow time for our perspective to adjust.

As I continue on my path, whatever it may be, I know that there will always be light in the darkness. I trust that darkness is an opportunity to excavate the light. I remember that even though there may be times when I feel that I’ve accomplished very little, my life and my practice are in the here and now. In order to find the middle way, I need to let go of expectations, comparing myself to others, and foster faith and confidence in my ability to genuinely practice – to do what I’ve always done – the work of expanded awareness that comes with personal and spiritual growth.

May we all experience light and peace in the new year ahead!

© Sallie Odenthal 2012


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