“It is an uphill task getting out of a society so preoccupied with self-cherishing.” Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche in Dakini Power by Michaela Haas
I have a vivid memory from childhood: I am under water, looking up. I know this is not a memory created by hearing the story many times from my mother. Her story was how she was watching me from the kitchen window of our rented cottage and that one second I was on the dock and then the next second I had disappeared. I have no memory of walking off that dock. The memory is of being under a few feet of water and looking up – and seeing the sky through the water and not being afraid.
In the past 20 years, I’ve experienced several events that have given me moments of clarity. These defining moments we all have throughout our lives give us the opportunity to wake up and make changes: a friend’s accidental death, a medical issue, a car crash, a suicide. But the clarity is fleeting. And then any positive outcome of that clarity gradually subsides. And eventually, even the memory of the clarity may be lost.
How many times I thought I would never be the same but, gradually, let myself get absorbed back into the murk of distraction, selfishness, and the socially-reinforced actions we take to “protect” ourselves. Why do some people make and maintain big changes after a pivotal event and others seem to want to just get back into their old life as quickly as possible?
After my mother passed on, the world looked different for a long time. It was easier for me to distinguish what mattered from what didn’t. This was different than the alienated feeling of “I don’t care” that may come with depression and more of an in-on-the-game knowing feeling of “it doesn’t matter.”
Now, three years later, the impact of that clarity is not nearly as strong. I have to remind myself more and more to focus on the truly important things on my to do list. I’ve used “What Is Important?” sticky notes on mirrors and doors to remind myself to stop and think. The answer is always connection: people, family, friends, the critters. The actions often seem small. Sincerely asking the busy barista how he’s doing before I order my coffee. Pausing my Internet adventures that include cat videos to play with the real cats sitting next to me. Writing and mailing a personal “thinking of you card” rather than working an extra hour on a week night in an attempt to make tomorrow’s work day easier for me.
My periods back down in the murk keep getting shorter and shorter – meaning, there is less time between sinking back into my old ways and when I recognize what’s going on. And that awareness has helped prevent me from getting sucked down for another year, let alone five or ten. The simpler living epiphany and plan grew out of my exercises to identify what is important. I’m hoping the lighter I get with simpler living, the closer I’ll get to the surface and the sky again.
Dakini Power: Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West by Michaela Haas