Updated: Oct 22, 2019
This is the first reflection of a six-week series on “Creating a Meaningful Life” at Kadampa Meditation Center. Actually it’s a seven-week series, but the first week I decided that staying home and drinking wine would be more meaningful. If I do that again, come find me.
Four nights ago I returned to the Buddhist meditation center. I’d gone last winter when I needed grounding and centering to make sense of a loss. And here I was again, in the throes of change. Abrupt losses and gains popping up on the reg. So I decided I would do the things I knew would ground me: meditation and barre. I committed to the Buddhist meditation series at Kadampa.
I had looked up that the night’s teaching was on “Build Integrity by Considering Others.” The monk began by sharing that there are 51 total functions of the mind, but that only 11 of them are virtuous, or positive, functions. 14 of them are neutral. That means 26 are mental poison. Over half of the functions of our mind are negative—those negative, nasty stories we tell ourselves on repeat as if we didn’t have any other choice. But we do have a choice: to create those 11 other functions. Better yet, we have an obligation to ourselves to practice the creative art of moral discipline: to stay grounded and do things correctly. Instead of being dependent on others’ approval or criticism, choosing to do the right thing when no one is there to notice.
My god, that was an eye opener. How many times do we do the thing dependent on approval or criticism? Send the email that will be well-received by our colleagues? Not send the text that will hurt our friend? Listen well because it will make the other person feel good, not because it’s simply the right thing to do? How often do we do the right thing when no one is there to notice?
The monk used the phrase “cutting corners” several times. I thought that was a perfectly relatable way to describe how we skirt around doing the right thing. We’re not killing, lying, and cheating all day every day, but doing those little things. I cut corners all the time, literally. I bike the left way around roundabouts instead of the correct right, just because I can. I wait for someone else to chime in on an email or text because it’s easier to agree that to make the point first. I take two snacks, rather than one, from the kitchen because I can. Or can I? These are all cutting corners and they all add up to us not living well. The monk said that the absence of killing, lying, and cheating is not the foundation of spiritual realization. Living well is the foundation of spiritual realization. And we can begin by having One Good Day.
One Good Day doesn’t mean a perfectly virtuous day. It means, as explained by the monk, deciding to just drive your car instead of driving while texting, talking, or even listening to the radio. One Good Day is choosing to stop sending work emails after 6 or 7 p.m. It’s not the grand moral gestures. It’s the tiny gestures to the world and ourselves. It’s the attention paid to the task at hand. It’s staying grounded and doing things correctly.
If that’s what it takes to have just One Good Day, I thought about if I’d had one. What goodness had I done when no one was watching? Not based on the potential for approval for criticism, but just plain good? It wasn’t the way I biked, sneaking around intersections as if I was better than the cars. It wasn’t necessarily how I communicated by email or text. Those were to please or not offend someone. I hadn’t had One Good Day the way I ate or exercised, treating myself with glass after cookie after candy after who knows what or making myself go for a run to attempt to erase the calories. All of these things were a game to whoever saw them happen. But I did think of one thing I had done the day prior that would make for a Good Day.
I’d gone for a walk at the end of my Sunday, after working, visiting with a friend, and biking. It had been, at the very least, a well-intentioned day. I felt the changing of the seasons on my walk. I paused in front trees aflame and lingered to crunch orange leaves. I was mindful. When I returned to my apartment I saw on the ground beneath my balcony a discarded plastic bag. Someone had tossed this into my ecosystem. I’d seen the bag on my way out for the walk but hadn’t picked it up. I’m not sure why not, maybe thinking someone else would pick it up, or it would just go away. Of course it didn’t. No one else will do the good work. No one else will make our One Good Day. So when I returned I picked up the empty bag. “Apples/Pommes” it read. I brought it in my apartment and threw it away. Of course no one was watching as I’d stepped down into the dirt. Of course no one knew. But I knew. I knew I’d done the one good thing for One Good Day.