I have had a very blessed Easter weekend. My daughter has been home from university, and the family have been sitting out together in our sunny garden. Lama Yeshe Rinpoche was leading his usual Easter retreat and so I have been bobbing over to Samye Ling each morning for teachings, practices and a refuge ceremony with Lama Yeshe Rinpoche.
The highlight of the weekend was the refuge ceremony, where two of my dear friends took refuge and became Buddhists. There was also some excellent advice in the teachings of Lama Yeshe Rinpoche. The main point that stuck with me is that I have a choice. In each moment, if I remember to be present and pay attention, I have a choice.
This helped me this morning. I woke up feeling quite low. I wasn’t sure why. When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is my practice. But this morning waking up and feeling low, my motivation to practice was also low. But I remembered those words – you have a choice. So I chose to get up. As usual I made myself a nice cup of coffee and let the dogs out. Then I wandered out into the beautiful sunrise to my summer house, where I do my daily morning practice.
I sat down to do my practice, still feeling low. But again those words arose – you have a choice. I could dwell on the fact that I was back at work today and I had loads to do. That I would be sat at my desk, rather than out relaxing in the sunshine. That I appeared to have caught the virus my daughter had been suffering from, that came with a whopping head ache.
But I chose to be present. I spent a short while attending to my low mood and what was driving it. Then I chose to begin my usual daily practice. I chose to take refuge in my practice. To focus on my intention and motivation and on my very good fortune to have had such a wonderful weekend. I chose to rejoice in the present moment of sitting in my summer house being serenaded by the birds, as the sun shone through the window.
How wonderful, to be able to make such a choice? When I finished my practice the low mood was gone. I felt at ease, cheerful and open to the prospect of my unfolding day.
As I sat thinking about what to write about this week, I thought about taking refuge.
As Buddhists we take refuge in three things: the Buddha (and our own Buddha nature – a sense of fundamental OKness); the dharma, ie. the truth of the Buddha’s teachings; and the sangha or the community of practitioners (enlightened and unenlightened). Taking refuge in these each day helps me to feel safer within myself, to feel more stable and resilient in the face of what life throws at me and to feel at peace.
At the moment the world feels a very unsafe and unhappy place, but these refuges give me a sense of trusting to something bigger, beyond space and time, where all is and always has been fundamentally OK.
I used to take refuge in a glass of wine, when things got tough. I still take refuge in music, a habit which began when I was a teenager and which generates a sense of safeness and happiness within me.
Taking refuge can also be quite a practical thing. It often helps me to bring to mind, to imagine and to embody the qualities of inspirational teachers I have had the good fortune to experience. When I am low, I can bring to mind and embodying qualities of joyful determination or cheerfulness. When I am fearful, I can bring to mind qualities of strength, courage and stability. Our imagination is very powerful and we can inspire ourselves and imagine ourselves into these qualities, with practice. If I am able to sit back into the support of these qualities, which are innate within me on a regular basis, then they will grow.
So, we have a choice. We can choose where to take refuge. We can choose where to focus our minds in order to feel safe and happy within ourselves. This may be something spiritual or something in nature – it doesn’t have to be religious.
What choice will you make today?