My husband is a master gardener...whatever it means to be a master. I'm pretty sure it means this: he starts from seeds, wraps them in damp cloth, places them in warm light, and patiently awaits for them to bust out of their shell. As he transitions them to each next phase of their lives he talks to them, looks them over, and assures they are content with each stage in the planting process. In the event a sprouts is malformed, or not viable for raising, he'll eat it right then. Over the course of their green fruiting lives he pulls (most) weeds because, you see, some of those weeds are actually a helpful presence. Daily he checks the weather to decide about watering, sometimes more than once a day––a true sadhana. He lets some bugs eat some of the plants, because bugs need to eat too. Over the duration of the growing season (he's recently elongated with green houses!) he'll just stand, gazing over his green babies for hours, pondering, planning, loving, appreciating. And the bounty produced is epic. Heaps of organically grown, abundantly delicious goodness, flavored with love and a golden soak of New England sun....which we give away about half of.
Me? I just eat the stuff. I also gaze lovingly at it, sometimes. My most important role occurs when he's gone -- I do my best to keep it all from dying. Every summer he visits his mother and goes on a retreat or two. Initially it was stressful, not killing his creations. Additionally, I want to eat all that goodness, so best not to muck it up! In spite of his offering only gratitude for my willingness to step up in his stead, and ultimately his not caring too much if I somehow was not successful in performing his gardenly duties, I feel huge pressure.
Some five years have gone by in this way, with his beloved garden plots expanding each season, and I step up every year with somewhat decreasing angst about not mucking it up. This year, yesterday, I had an epiphany. It was one of those "Field of Dreams" moments when it seemed as if the garden spoke to me, saying, "Paying more attention makes it easier. Paying more attention makes it better." Paying loving attention to the garden, as he does, makes it grow better, bigger, more beautifully. Paying loving attention to anything will cause it to thrive. I recall about 25 years ago, shortly after starting yoga practice, hearing what became one of my favorite definitions of yoga, "The act of Yoga is to pay attention".
When we pay attention we increase energy towards what we are paying attention to. We can channel that attention towards helpful or unhelpful outcomes. Unhelpful outcomes arise when we pay too much attention to things that aren't true, aren't helpful to our hearts or psyche, or to things we can do nothing about. Helpful attention arises when we see what its true, attend to things/ideas/suggestions that have a teaching or lesson, and when we attend to things we can effect. Interestingly from the perspective of Yoga, tantra, and Buddhism these things are not mutually exclusive! Something that is true in one context, can be utterly false in another. Something that teaches us in one moment can confuse us in another. And with regards to helplessness, I believe there's never nothing one can do. For example in a world that is corrupt, ruled by greed, and compounded with environmental turmoil; I can pray, I can vote with my dollars, I can vote at the polls, and I can make lifestyle choices that don't support what I find troubling. This thing that's causing me pain and suffering can become a tool for insight into said suffering. It's not the what, it's the how. The Bhagavad Gita says to do the work not for the fruits, but for the act of the work itself. The ultimate boon is that it brings more beneficial outcomes for more beings, and for me too! How I relate to things makes for helpful or unhelpful. This is true both in the inner realms of my own heart-mind, and beyond me into the community which I live, and beyond that. The Whole benefits. As a part of the Whole, selfless actions also serve the one doing them. This is the beautiful (bonus) paradox!
How one does something is typically how one does everything. If I want to find grace, poise, and connectivity in my asana practice I must attend to grace, poise, and connection in washing the dishes or cleaning the cat tray, and everything else. If I want to hold my mind concentrated, singularly focused in work, or engaging with others, I must practice that in other contexts. If I want to be a kind, loving person no matter what, I must attend to the turnings of my mind all the time and cultivate that attitude as often as I remember to do so. If I want to be a better person on this planet I must pay attention to what kind of residue my thoughts, words, and actions leave behind. If I want to fully inhabit my awakened nature I must pay attention to what is happening, how I'm touched by it, what I do in response to it, and reflect on that for growth and transformation––all the time.
This practice of awakening is not a part time gig. It is a constant investment in every moment and it has three main components: First, realizing and and connecting with ones awake nature. Secondly recognizing, cutting thru, and uprooting the ways one identifies with ego structure and behaviors that stem from protecting it. And thirdly cultivating the inner scaffolding to fully inhabit ones awake nature full time. These all fall under the main thing of paying attention.
This quote from B.K.S. Iyengar sums it up nicely in the context of the microcosm of the body, "While I continuously try to improve my practice, I do my best and
am contented with what I am able to attain. Even as the body ages and is
able to do less, there are subtleties that reveal themselves, which
would be invisible to younger or more athletic bodies. You have to
create love and affection for your body, for what it can do for you.
Love must be incarnated in the smallest pore of the skin, the smallest
cell of the body, to make them intelligent so they can collaborate with
all the other ones, in the big republic of the body." May we all take this notion, attend to it in whatever macro context we find ourselves in...making for more love, affection, and intelligence on the planet. May we all be "masters" of our inner realms in the service of doing the most good for the most beings, and beyond. Om shanti.