Rosie Lancaster writes about our 2017 theme ‘Embracing Simplicity‘
Simplicity sounds like one of those far away qualities. It’s something I see in the distance, just out of reach. It’s spacious, pure, light and loose and it is something I want. If I am to move towards it surely I must rid myself of these hindering complexities I have heaped up around me. Surely I can’t find simplicity here; amongst the chaos and clutter of my life. I have a toddler and a newborn and my world is a complex negotiation around nappies, washing, easter bonnets, packed lunches, tears, and hunting for that particular lego man because another lego man just won’t do. Somewhere within this I go for refuge.
The Buddha talked of renunciation being the optimum means by which to move forwards into bliss. Attachment to possessions and the people around us can keep us entrenched in our rigid views of ourselves. Renunciate – go forth, leave the burden behind. I seem to be doing less renunciation and more accumulation of dependent people around me. How do I move forward into renunciation while I have been moving steadily forward into the midst of this family life? I am deepening myself into attachment and routine with little time for retreats, solitude and a regular meditation slot. Plus I am accruing the associated posessions of house, car, car seat, fridge, stuff to put in fridge and so on and so on.
I have been pursuing the spiritual journey, attempting to carve a pathway to liberation that is currently meandering around family life. But I come to realise there is no solo voyage of personal liberation. There is no linear trajectory that takes me away from the life I have already established and the people within it. I can give up my physical cupboards of clutter yes, but there is a deeper question. How do I find simplicity here? I can’t step outside these conditions to find it. This is life and it is only when I let go to that does the very simple nature of reality appear. I am not looking for simplicity. I am embracing what is already here; the simplicity of the true nature of how things are. When I look at my children I see the deeply rooted bonds we have forged. I love them beyond measure. But if I strip away the labels and attachment of what we are to each other, I can see more clearly he is a being and I am a being and we have love for each other. As a being in the world, he will suffer. That is a part of living and I cannot stop his suffering. I cannot stop his dying. He will die and I will die. But what he is now is life; full of potential and feeling and connection with the world. And all I need do is just live and love with him. I cannot control anything else.
Bodhichitta arises in dependence of others. My spiritual practice must exist because of, not despite my chosen, chaotic life and the people I serve within it. The wheel of the dharma did not start to turn until the Buddha began teaching, so it could be said the Buddha became known as Buddha only in dependence of others; through others the teachings emerge. The story of Buddha’s friend Ananda, I find motivating in this context. He dedicated himself to service of the Buddha’s needs and because of this some say he did not progress as quickly as other disciples in gaining credited levels of insight. However, he reliably absorbed the teachings and when the buddha died, Ananda did achieve stream- entry. Perhaps it could be said that during the buddha’s life Ananda’s focus was on service as opposed to an individually led road of practice. Our realisation of the interconnection of all life means there is no individual striving for liberation as there is no liberation separate from others. For Ananda service was one way into this insight. The crisp clarity of simplicity is aready here within us if we can only recognise it is the same for every single being around us too.
When I embrace this realisation life seems so much simpler. That spaciousness I thought was somewhere else, or at least only present when I sat alone, that boundless spaciousness is right here. And I don’t have to find it, I just have to let go into it. Like falling back gently into white cloud. Within the needs of my family, my work, the washing, the cooking, the gardening and the endless tidying is space and calm at every moment. Because all I do is for the benefit of others and thus for the benefit of myself for there is nothing else to do but just love and be. My awakening is not a single-pointed goal, it is an unfolding into the constrictions and muddiness that is right here. Within the chaos is the clarity of reality and the acceptance that nothing can be controlled.