Over the days leading up to Christmas and my 10 day vipassana retreat, I’ve been enjoying a premature reflection of 2018 and thinking about the biggest lessons I’ve learned.
So while I’m locked in the confines of my Buddhist prison, way up in the hills of Mandalay, I’ve scheduled in some posts on my biggest learnings from the year gone by.
ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
There was a time when I was feeling very ungrateful.
I was ungrateful for everything and everyone I had around me; my body, my mind, my health, the air that filled my lungs, the beautiful things I could see.
I was ungrateful for the love that was knocking down my door and chose to ignore it. I was ungrateful for the past I’d had, the present I was in and the future that lay ahead of me. But worst of all, I was ungrateful for life itself.
Last year, a series of magical moments injected my numb corpse with good sensations. The announcement of a best friend’s pregnancy, another getting engaged, one moving his life and wife to New York. Then the little things like running into an old friend at a meditation workshop, a family trip to the theatre or a innocent compliment from a stranger.
I started to feel life again and was grateful for it.
I noticed just how big my lack of gratitude had actually been and so started to deliberately make it my focus. I began listening to positive affirmations on Insight Timer, one in particular that started off with a Jumanji-like drumbeat and talked about having an Attitude of Gratitude.
I’d lie on the grass in the garden during the months of summer facing the sun, listening to every word and feeling every green blade of life with my fingertips. The sun beaming down on my face as I meditated was a powerful source of energy – it was giving me back my lust for life.
I started being grateful for the greatest and the smallest of things. Genuinely thanking whoever or whatever made this life and feeling how magic it all is.
MEDITATION ON DEATH
Strangely, the biggest lesson I had this year on gratitude was when I spent a week meditating on death in Menorca.
I was reading a book “How to Transform Your Life” by the founder of Kadampa Buddhism, Geshe-la and it had a whole chapter on the subject of dying.
I turned the first page of that chapter on Friday 24th August, which turned out to be the day I would find out I’d lost one of my favourite humans on the planet at only thirty-four years old.
My breathing stopped, my heart cracked and I spent days mourning his departure, watering the fields of Menorca with my tears. But I continued to turn the pages of that book.
It was talking about Samsara – the endless cycle of birth and death.
Buddhists believe that our souls live on forever, it’s just our bodies that die. I’m leaning heavily towards believing this myself, more through a feeling I have inside me than from the words I’ve devoured with my eyes, but regardless of your beliefs there is one thing that cannot be disputed; we die. Humans Die.
The book logically talks you through our ignorance or denial of death.
We go about our lives thinking we’ll live until we’re old and grey. We picture growing old together in our rocking chairs. Some might picture popping their clogs in their seventies, eighties or nineties but for me I always promised myself I’d live ’til I’m 100.
But what we never do, is think “I might die to today”. And that’s exactly what the book prescribes; meditating on death every morning, forces you to wake up and face the reality that, actually, you might die today.
LOVE LIFE MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF
The impact of this meditation was instant.
My mindset changed completely; everything I did, I did it with intention and with an abundance of gratitude for a life that I acknowledged could be taken away from me at any given second.
It made the rebel with in me say “but I don’t want to die today”.
So I started taking more care on my bicycle as I rode the winding bends of Sa Roca, listening out more attentively for vehicles whizzing past me from behind. I started slowing my pace instead of hurtling down hills at quite literally breakneck speed and I stopped thinking I was a BMX stuntwoman flying over lumps and bumps in the road.
I was noticing life more. All of it.
From the cows lazing in the fields, to the people walking around admiring the scenery to the procession of caterpillars that would come out in their hundreds around six every evening to cross the road. I was walking slowly and silently during the evenings and noticing every winged creature buzz past and every change of hue in the sun-setting sky.
My senses had awoken from years of ignorance and I became grateful for everything.
I might die today, but I don’t want to.