Paying attention to life

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  • I started my twenty-first year (in prison) last week. Wow, time flies.

    I was reading a book called What Would Buddha Do? by Franz Metcalf when one of the questions struck me. What would Buddha do if he felt life was passing him by? The answer was: “Attention is living; inattention is dying. The attentive never stop; the inattentive are dead already.” (Dhammapada 21)

    A man sitting on grass playiing a guitar, there's a card with the words: Will work for ATTENTION in front of him.

    “Attention is living; inattention is dying. The attentive never stop; the inattentive are dead already.” (Photo by Stephen Poff)

    That got me. I spent a good many years being inattentive, not caring about the results my actions caused for myself or others. It reminded me of the old saying, “When life gives you lemons… ” except I didn’t make lemonade. I threw the lemons at people and at situations.

    Today I find it much easier to just let things go. I do not get mad as easily as I used to. I don’t allow myself to just give in to that oh-so-common feeling in prison of just giving up. I’ve been practicing for almost six years now, so this positive way of thinking did not take place over night. Now I ask myself, “Why? Why get angry? Why respond? Why give up?”

    I try every day to apply Buddhist thought to my actions. I’m not perfect and have bad days. I don’t stay there though. Every day I take a step forward. I’m alive. Even in this messed up world I (we) live in, I’m (you’re) alive.

    Another WWBD (What Would Buddha Do): “WWBD to avoid burn out?” His Holiness the Dalai Lama said,

    Moderate effort over a long time is important, no matter what you are trying to do. One brings failure on oneself by working extremely hard at the beginning, attempting to do much, and giving it up after a short time.

    I’ve failed so many times. I wanted it so fast. Even when I first started to practice I wanted enlightenment now. I cannot remember the exact words that my root teacher said, but the gist was to just let it happen and to be patient because it may not happen in this life.

    So now my personal practice remains the same. Today I live a better life for me and for the benefit of everyone around me. Buddhism has improved my life on almost every level. Compassion, caring, love are in the forefront of my thoughts today.

    Read Buddhist literature. It doesn’t matter what sect, just read and study and meditate on what you read. Your mind will clear. Doors will open. I’m trying to go home early but even if I don’t, I will remain attentive. I will remain alive.

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