Review: The Art of Living

Calm your mind. Open up to what is arising and passing. If you stir up the mud at the bottom of a lake, the water will be unclear. But when you let the water be as it is, not trying to flatten the ripples or scoop out all the mud, the lake will settle down. Then you will not only see the still water, but a reflection of the mountains on the surface.

When you watch the rain, you are the rain just as much as the rain is you. Rather than feeling that you are an observer who is passively watching each of the droplets hit the ground, there is only the splash, splash, splash.

The rain exists beyond your words. Beyond your images and concepts and memories. Yet all too often, you divide yourself from the rain, creating an idea of you, an idea of the rain, an idea of how the rain sounds, an idea of how you should feel when you see the rain, and so on. You forget to smell the freshness of the rain because you are attached to what you think about it.

It is normal for you to separate your experiences into endlessly finer categories. You discriminate between past and future, good and bad, black and white, ugly and beautiful, life and death, young and old. You are looking for order and security. Your universe is placed into a mental filing system.

But as Alan Watts once said, “You confuse the menu for the meal.”

When you can be mindful, when you can let go, then you will come back to the purity of who you are. You will harmonize with nature. Breathing in, breathing out. You are here. 

You are not alienated from the rest of life. You inter-are. You are made up of relationships. 

A flower cannot unfold without the soil beneath it and the sun above it. It needs non-flower elements to be.

For the petals of a rose to glisten with dew, there first had to be a Big Bang. Conditions before that flower existed helped that flower to be. When that rose wilts back into the old earth, another flower will take its place. 

Energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only transformed.

Just like a flower, you are made up of non-you parts. You cannot exist without the oxygen you breathe or your ancestors or the gravity of the planet. You cannot exist without the water from the oceans or the clouds drifting above you. There is no you apart from anything else.

As Heraclitus said, “You cannot step into the same river twice.”

Your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions are changing. You are not the same person at five or fifteen or eighty. You may feel the same inside, and believe that you are going to remain young forever, but you are a constellation of processes, transforming in every moment. You are dying and being born. You are changing with the conditions of the universe. You are the conditions of the universe.

Don’t attach to one view of life and claim that is the best view to have. When you cling to your beliefs and refuse to open to what is happening, you will suffer. Your dogmatism will cause other beings to suffer too.

You are all the lives you have influenced. You are all your distant ancestors who survived for you to be born. You are all your descendants who will grow after your decomposition.

You are the sun and water and trees and moon. Without them, there is no you.

Your interconnection with all living beings will help you to see beyond yourself. When you become more aware of the changing conditions of your existence, you will not judge everything outside your flesh as separate from you.

You don’t have to look for ways to isolate yourself from other sentient beings. Clinging to your beliefs and refusing to consider differing perspectives will only cause you to suffer more. You are in others as others are in you.

It’s up to you to be kind, compassionate, and loving.

Every moment is a chance for you to deepen your practice. Talking about philosophy is not enough. Your life is your message. Your teaching.

When you are mindful and compassionate, your presence will influence the people around you. Everyone you meet will be a continuation of you. Your practice is a practice not only for you, but for your siblings, parents, children, neighbors, and the rest of your community.

When you think you are separate from the rest of the world, you will try to run from the world. You will seek pleasure while avoiding pain. You will look for comforting answers to the mystery of existence. You will hide from unpleasant truths.

Rather than resisting ideas that you don’t want to accept, look within yourself. 

See yourself in the world just as the world is seen in you. You are not only the blood in your body, but the stars in your blood. You don’t have to climb a mountain to find what is already here. You only need to see.

If you walk in a park, will you notice the leaves falling from the trees? Will you feel the breeze brushing against your skin? 

Look for lessons in what is already an intimate part of you. There is more wisdom in a crumbling leaf than in a thousand words about impermanence.

When you walk, walk. When you sit, sit. When you breathe, breathe. Rather than seeking to become important or achieve something outside of yourself, rather than dwelling on your regrets or rushing off to do the next thing, continue to do what you are doing, but with total freedom.

When you nourish yourself, you will nourish other beings. You will care for those who are suffering, who need someone to be there for them. 

You are not only working toward an end goal of compassion, peace, and kindness. You can embody those qualities now. Every step can be a step of love.

When you live in the present moment, you will begin to see the impermanence of all things. Flowers blooming in the spring mornings and withering in the autumn sun, a lover with age spots on her hands, a flash of lightning in the clouds. 

Without impermanence, a child can never mature into an adult and an acorn can never grow into an oak tree. For there to be birth, there has to be death. Yet at the ultimate level, there is only a transformation of what is.

When you are aware of your own impermanence, every moment is precious, a fleeting miracle. You will care for everything in your life, while knowing that nothing will last.

Pain and anger will fade away just like joy and happiness. Seemingly unstoppable empires will collapse before the rise of future civilizations. Everyone you know will die. Their bodies will break down into the dust of bones. Plants will grow over their forgotten tombs.

There is no you that remains the same. Your perceptions, thoughts, feelings, moods, and behaviors all change over time. From the cells in your fingers to the bacteria in your gut, from the wrinkles on your skin to the hormones in your glands, from the neurons in your brain to the oxygen that you inhale, you are transforming. 

You are not alone. You are not an unchanging entity, separate from the universe. You are the same and yet different.

Life is like a garden that you can cultivate. You can water the seeds of hatred and ignorance and greed, or, you can water the seeds of peace and joy and compassion. You have the freedom to choose. It is up to you.

When you tend to yourself, you will tend to others. When you tend to others, you will tend to yourself. You must be wise enough to select the most wholesome seeds to water.

Sometimes in your relationships, you may fall into unwholesome habits. You may forget to be grateful and engaged. As the weeds grow in your garden and in theirs, both of you will suffer. But it is never too late to cut away the weeds and to plant new seeds again.

Rather than chasing after abstractions of success, pleasure, power, and reputation, see these cravings for what they are. When you desire to taste the bait, biting down with all your force, you will only get hooked. You will find freedom only when you can let go.

Be aware of your fear, your need for intimacy, your sorrow, your instinct to survive. You are connected with this earth. Be compassionate with your suffering and nourish your love.

Smile because you are alive on this beautiful earth. You are only here for a short time.


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