“Every morning, I say “I vow to be grateful for the precious opportunity of human birth.” And I don’t let myself use the excuse that I don’t have time. It doesn’t take much time to be grateful. It doesn’t take much time to notice the way the shadow of the tree outside the window flickers on my bedroom wall. About two or three seconds. Wow” – Susan Moon from her book “Stop Shopping”
I realized several years ago how important it has become in my life to stop and take the time to notice and to be aware of what is around me. To clarify, i “realized” this many, many years ago, I accepted it much more recently.
As society has changed and has become increasingly busy and fast paced, I have made a conscious decision to not be a part of it to that extreme. As a result, nature has taken a larger role in my life. It is through my love of nature which I found and cultivate one of the basis of my practice; the cultivation of joy.
As I cultivate joy, I think of the Metta Sutra which says, “May I be easily contented and joyous.” The Buddha taught the importance of understanding this practice through his teaching of the “Four Immeasurables” and is called mudita. Mudita is often translated as “synthetic joy.” Your joy is my joy. Much of the joy which I experience in life is directly proportional to the joy experienced by those around me. Around the time of Christmas we say, “It is much better to give than to receive.” I make a conscious effort everyday to make time and to make room for what brings joy in my daily life.
As part of my morning meditation, I say the mantra “I vow to be grateful for the precious opportunity of human birth.” I do not allow myself to use the excuse that I do not have the time. As Susan Moon has said, “It doesn’t take much time to be grateful. It doesn’t take much time to notice the way the shadow of the tree outside the window flickers on my bedroom wall. About two or three seconds.”
As for myself I continue to be drawn back to nature in whatever form I can find it. It may be going for a run. It may a simple walk down the street or through a local park. It may be the bow of my kayak gently slicing through the smooth surface of a local waterway. Wherever I go my camera goes with me. I practice what I call “contemplative photography.” This is the practice of making photographs of those things which I see as I go about my day. I look for the shadow cast on the street and the way the branches have cast their shadowy fingers upon the Earth. Years ago I spent time taking groups of children to the Adirondacks where we spent a week in nature; without telephones, without radio and without television. The children spent the first few days adjusting to a life in which they were unfamiliar. Many of these children had never gone without the external stimuli which many of us take for granted. I felt a tremendous amount of joy watching their progression toward acceptance of themselves in this new world. One of my favorite joys came from a young lady who had spent a very difficult day kayaking on Lake Champlain. The day was difficult for many of us as the waves crested at 4′-5′. As we sat around a camp fire and processed the day’s adventure, this child looked at me across the flames and said, “Mr. Kijowski, I learned today that life is a lot like kayaking. Some times there are big waves and sometimes there are little waves. Sometimes I need help and sometimes I don’t. I know today it is okay for me to ask for help when I need it.” In addition to my vision being obscured by the flames which separated us, my vision was also obscured at times by the tears which welled up in my eyes as she made this statement. I derived more joy from this moment than I had from the actual kayaking.
In a recent article by Susan, she suggests we “Stop Shopping.” I must admit this was difficult for me especially when it came to purchasing things I don’t need. I have limited my purchases to ink for my pens, books and music. Oh, I’ll add the additional journal when I run out of space. For the record, I download all of my music and books and read and listen digitally. I “borrow” digital books from my public library and purchase them when I can for what I would consider far below market price. My music, let me just say that remains a work in progress. I cancelled two magazine subscriptions and now read those articles which hold my interest digitally. I no longer receive catalogs which are a tremendous drain on resources which could be better used elsewhere. I did not realize or maybe I just didn’t want to see the amount of suffering I was causing myself before I changed these behaviors. The wanton desire for things which I do not need caused me much suffering. I also began to realize our planet will be in much better off when we catch on to the idea that more new stuff isn’t going to save us from our suffering. I recently donated my book collection to a local library. This was a tremendous source of joy in that I made a library happy as they now have a collection from an author which they did not previously have. Where there was once a waiting list loaded with borrowers for these books, there now is none. I feel a tremendous amount of joy when I noticed I had reduced the suffering of others as well as my own. My suffering was further reduced that I now have more room in my home and my home office.
Susan also suggests practicing “non-harming in our everyday life.” When I began to practice this several years ago, I thought “This is really easy.” That was until I began to realize and accept how much damage my thoughts and voice was doing. Everything we do makes a difference and every action creates karma. I slowly began to realize every choice I make which is different reduced the amount of suffering which I and those around me felt. This too brought me a tremendous amount of joy in my life. I began to realize when I felt more joy I also had more energy and the more energy I had the more good I was capable of doing for others. It is a true win-win. Even something as small as raking my leaves instead of using a leaf blower has the effect of being not only meditative but also of not adding the stress of additional noise to our environment. I watch throughout Spring as new buds, the start of new leaves grow into what will provide me shade when I cut the grass and sit outside to read and enjoy the nature around me. These are the same leaves which I clear from the yard in a meditative fashion as their life span has come full circle and they fall to the ground to now become fertilizer for the grass and the plants in my yard. It is the realization os such simple joys which brings joy to my life. The circle continues; more joy creates allows more energy to create joy. It is simple really.
This past Spring I purchased a scooter. I have done this to not only save money on gas but to also reduce my carbon footprint. I had forgotten the amount of joy derived from riding a scooter since selling my motorcycle many years ago. I enjoy what those around me boxed in by the steel of their automobiles cannot enjoy; the sights, sounds and smells of nature as I ride through it and am part of it. I also have begun to use my bicycle more to complete those short trips to the store. I enjoy the jaunt to the store as I watch the driver of the huge SUV park his truck in a no parking zone and allow it to idle for 20-minutes in an effort to save what, I am unsure. I am amazed by the selfishness which I see around me. This brings me no joy but it is the self-derived joy which replaces the balance in my day.
I am laughed at and told repeatedly that my singular actions do not make a difference. I smile as I inform that individual that they do in fact make a difference. It is a difference which many will not see as they struggle to look inside themselves. It is a difference in me.
If we would all slow down for just a few minutes and take the time to think of others, at times other than Christmas, the world would be a much better place for us all. Next time you walk into a store to make a purchase, look behind you and hold the door open for the human being behind you. As you look through tables of goods, ask yourself if you really need another pair of shoes, slacks, shirts, etc. The amount of joy derived from making different choices will increase the amount of joy you experience to a great degree.
Enjoy your day. Enjoy your life.