Must be Present to Win

Each morning, I read some pages to settle my mind and sit for 30 minutes before diving into my day. Over many months, I’ve noticed that I usually remain in the shooting gallery of my thoughts and emotions. This isn’t a complaint, or even a wish for a more nourishing outcome. I have already received greater benefit than I thought would ever come my way. I even sense that a deeper awareness is gradually permeating my consciousness, showing up imperceptibly like the quiet arrival of a new season.

The other morning, I noticed something which I don’t think I would have, if I wasn’t leaving room for this “quiet time” in the morning. Perhaps a phrase which I first heard Ram Dass use–borrowed from raffle drawings and bingo halls–is true: “You must be present to win.”

What caught my attention was a sentence that invoked a fundamental teaching of Buddhism. It was slipped into the midst of some simple advice on how to live to our fullest potential. If you’re like me, as soon as you identify something, you are telling yourself that you know what it is and therefore don’t need to reexamine it again now. But this way of replacing mysterious visitors with things we already know tends to confine us to the old well-trodden paths.

Spiritual guidelines can also fall into this category of things we think we already know; so that when they arise in daily life, we just nod knowingly and are soon on to more pressing matters.

But this morning, when the invocation of an ancient path of liberation caught me by surprise, before I had a chance to relegate it to the category of ‘things-I’ve-already-incorporated-into-my-life’, I experienced a space of unknowing in which it was able to speak to me anew.

We can share with others the knowledge of how to embody rightness, how to live in accord with right thought and right intention, right speech, right action, and right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.Keys of Knowledge, page 178.

Anyone somewhat familiar with Buddhism will recognize this path to liberation; and before I finished reading the sentence, I did too. But I usually gloss over important aspects of these eight steps in life, such as that quality of “rightness”. Instead, I treat this path to freedom as if it is a simple guide to connecting what I think with how I act. Thoughts and emotions that drive the wheel of life, fuel my to-do-lists, and I tell myself that planning my days tames the runaway daydreams that rarely lead to anything worthwhile. And then I give little thought to right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

Through a simple placement of “ands”, this list of eight dimensions gathers them into three groupings: thoughts and intentions providing a guiding vision; speech, action and livelihood comprising our daily lives in the world; effort, mindfulness and concentration (the grouping called Samadhi in Sanskrit, which I usually pass over) enabling us to realize a deeper understanding of what lies beyond the path we have been treading.

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