I thought of a really good analogy for practice, with human beings being represented by solar systems and the planets being our bad habits and the sun being our self-concern. I started writing it out and it all sounded so complicated! Maybe I’ll try and present it another time. Today I’ll share a more personal account of practice.
Around fifteen years ago on a Buddhist retreat, in a shared mediation exercise, I looked deep inside my heart and noticed a black hole. I had a deep intuitive sense that this image was showing me both my depression, and hinting at the sense of worthlessness at the bottom of that hole that the depression was feeding off and responding to.
Since then I have practiced a lot of meditation and nembutsu.
In mediation I sit and aim to pay attention to the present moment. Meditation often gives me a break from my mind going around in circles. Sometimes in that break a completely new thought will appear, or a mental knot I’ve been worrying will unravel. Sometimes it is just a relief to sit quietly for a while. I trust that not feeding the various thoughts and impulses that appear is good for future me as well — if I’m not putting energy into them now they are less likely to appear again. And sometimes in the silence something more profound happens: I experience a sense of interconnection to the whole world, or a deep sense of love for the other people in the room practicing with me, or I catch a glimpse of the pool of love and wisdom that lies deep within each of us.
Nembutsu is an act of trust. In reciting the Buddha’s name I am reminding myself that my small-mind is not the only or most important way of understanding the world. I am reminding myself that Buddhas exist — that somehow love is present in the universe and that love is always ready to meet me. I am reminding myself that we are all loveable just as we are, even if I can’t manage it for myself or others, and that love is transformative and healing.
When I look inside my heart now, and bring that image of the black hole to mind, I notice that it is much smaller: maybe an 1/8th of the size it was on that retreat many years ago. Sitting with that image I realise that it is true my depression is much less smaller these days, and I can tell there is much less worthlessness sitting at the bottom of the well.
I’m not very good at maintaining a regular formal practice, but I am convinced of its value. Hopefully something I’ve said here today will inspire you to practice, or to keep practicing.