Sunday, June 26, 2011

Value Yourself, Value Your Time

I have a horrible habit of wasting time. And there is no better enabler to a lazyass like me than the internet. If there is work to be done, facebook, tumblr, twitter and email, here I come!!

However, this post is not about the internet and its usefulness versus its seductive time-suck qualities. This is about me. And you. And our time on this earth. We know it is limited, and actually frighteningly short. In contrast to other belief systems, Buddhists believe that our mindstream will continue into one life form to another after we exit from this life, provided that we are still stuck in the cycle of suffering and rebirth (Samsara). However, this cycle is not some kind of karmic joyride. Human beings who live well have some of the best chances of all sentient beings to end the cycle of suffering caused by ignorance, anger, and delusion (regardless of religion). Compared to the promise of an afterlife found in the Abrahamic religions, this too adds a sense of urgency, so that we see our lives as an opportunity that should not be trifled with.

Yet, regardless of this awareness, we still find countless ways to waste our own time. And it is frustrating, at least to me. Seconds tic by, then minutes, hours, years, and decades, eventually concluding yet another lifetime. Time is a one-way ticket, as each passing moment is gone forever.

In an effort to begin quelling my desire to waste time, I felt that I first had to understand why I do it. Is it boredom? Fatigue? Anxiety? Selfishness? On the surface, it could be any of those things. But when I thought about it, I realized that there was a direct correlation to my wasting time and feeling down in the dumps. Ironically, it is the self-centered feeling generated by my 'woe is me' attitude that contributes to my own self-neglect. This manifests itself in not taking as much care in what I wear, eat, how well I sleep, and yes, how I spend my time. If I am happy and content I am much less likely to spend my time tooling around the internet or mindlessly watching TV.

Why? If I am feeling depressed, I get caught up in a destructive and self-centered 'I am worthless' monologue, which sucks the life out of any goals or priorities that I would normally deem worthy and important. If I am not important, my goals are not important, then my time certainly does not seem so important. So I waste it, despite how much I am intellectually aware of how valuable it is. 

My conclusion: I believe mindfulness of emotions is the answer. Although I may realize the destructiveness of self-pity-induced languor, it, along with sadness and anger, still occur. I am a human being, and I know that still having so many ties to ignorance, anger, and delusion means that negative emotions will creep in. But instead of pushing them away, having these emotions offers an opportunity to observe them mindfully, to study and learn from them. This mindfulness has helped me realize that they are also impermanent.

So though time is a complex phenomenon, it ticks along as we breathe from one moment to the next. Just as we need to truly value ourselves in order to value others, we need to value our breath, or true being, in order to value our time. When we can value our breath, we can use our time wisely to live in the present moment to strive towards and achieve the the things we care about most.

"Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life." Thich Nhat Hanh

May all beings be happy!!

The Farmers' Market: My Weekly Spiritual Retreat

Every weekend I go to a place where people are happy to be there. They are courteous, smile when they greet each other, and happily share with one another.

No, I am not talking about a weekly trip to a temple, dharma center, or dharma talk (although I well could be!). The joyous place I am referring to is my local farmer's market. Located in the center of Lafayette, the farmer's market I visit is the second largest in Indiana. With vendors selling local, in season fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, honey, crafts, breads and baked goods, and with music playing and people laughing, the atmosphere is carnival-like.

Yet still, it is almost holy. Ever since I started going, I noticed that although many patrons are full of boisterous energy, almost everyone is careful and mindful when choosing produce. They search reverently through the stacks of vegetables and cartons of berries, until they find that perfect bunch of basil or half pint of raspberries, and then proudly turn to the farmer to pay, an exchange which is often accompanied by a few moments of friendly banter.

As I walk through the street that has been cordoned off for the morning, I am amazed at how many people are smiling and so happy to be there. They are also willing to share with one another, which I personally experienced yesterday when I found the most beautiful basket of tart cherries I had ever seen. It was quite a large basket for one person, and it was $7. It was also the last basket. After I paid for my strawberries, I turned to a woman who I had seen also eying the cherries and asked if she would like to split it. She enthusiastically agreed, and after we asked the ladies at the booth, we paid, everyone thanked each other, and the lady and I parted ways with an even half basket of beautiful fresh cherries.

For the most part, I don't think that type of exchange would be possible at most conventional grocery stores. With their fluorescent lighting, piped in music, and aisles of processed foods, a typical grocery and farmer's market are worlds away. Not to say that grocery stores are bad, or that one can't have the same type of friendly and meaningful exchanges with the butcher, baker, or produce person. You may get to know them well and, in fact, cherish them greatly. Grocery stores are convenient and are a fixture in modern life, and let's face it, the reason for the aisles of processed foods is because we (as a society) demand it. But the major difference in atmosphere and overall feel cannot be denied. 

So getting back to my weekly market ritual, I just want to say how great it is to wake up, excited to go there, walk from my apartment, arrive and peruse the many vendor's booths for fresh, local produce. From the time I start out until I place the last item on my shelf or in the refrigerator, I am undeniably happy. And I think the same is true for most of the people who attend the market. This is why I strongly believe that in order to be happy, people need to somehow be close to the earth, and connected with their community. Recently I have lamented the fact that spiritual practice is sometimes difficult to reach, but who am I kidding? It is right here, right now, in the simple exchange at a produce stand. This is one of the few places one can immediately see the immense benefit that purchasing something fresh for oneself/family has on another person and their family. How's that for love, compassion, and true spiritual practice?

To find a local farmer's market near you, check out Local Harvest

May all beings be happy!