The dark season is here. With the shorter days, there comes a feeling of drawing in. It is the time of the harvest, and a time for reflection on all that has been given in the best season. I love the word reflection because it reminds me of the moon, which casts a reflected light. I recently learned that in the ancient Buddhist language of Pali, reflection has the same double meaning it does in English—it means to be like a mirror, to receive and impression and hold it without adding anything; it also means to contemplate or consciously consider. A good word, right? Talk about a finger pointing towards the moon—towards a way of reflecting on our life as we live it.
Among the blessings things have arisen that don’t immediately inspire gratitude: hard times for many and for the planet, uncertainty and injustice seem to prevail. And yet in the midst of this pain, new–ancient–possibilities are being entertained.
There is a growing understanding that security in this economy (any economy in any time) comes from connecting with others rather than isolating. Here is a radically ancient idea to ponder: instead of focusing so much on building wealth, we focus on our families and communities—and on building trust. According to many studies—and according to our own intuition—it turns out that happiness in this rocky time has less to do with amassing a great big pile of cash than in acts of generosity—of opening up and sharing what we have to give in every sense.
As Sitting Bull is quoted as saying in the “Giving and Receiving” issue of Parabola(and I’m paraphrasing) real wealth is not what you save but what you give. As Scrooge learned and as the Beatles sang: “In in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
A few weeks ago, I interviewed the enlightened Manhattan developer Jonathan Rose (he might blush to here himself described that way, but at least I used a small “e.”) He told me that in some countries (and in some of his projects in New York), there is a shift away from a focus on private dwellings and more focus on public spaces and private meeting spaces. This is a new ancient idea, gathering in the marketplace, the porch, the pub.
Some of us are beginning to learn what is truly precious. Beyond securing what we truly need, our time is more valuable than making ever more money. Ask Scrooge. But how can we increase our time? We can learn to pay attention to our lives. Mediate. And at the beginning and end of every day, we can reflect on the possible consequences of what will happen before, during, and after engaging in a particular act, string of words, thoughts.
Last Saturday, at Chuang Yen Monastery in upstate Carmel, New York, Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi spoke to a small group of us about the Buddha’s advice to his son Rahula when he was seven years old. The Buddha spoke of the importance of telling the truth. Naturally, this inspired a great deal of talk about the lies we hear on a daily basis from our elected officials—and our own intentional or self-deluding lies. Yet the ancient import stuck with me: the intention to tell the truth and live the truth builds trust.
The Buddha told his little son he could learn to do this by practicing reflection—what will be the consequence before, during, and after doing, saying, thinking this or that? He also told the little boy he could confess wrong-doing (since most of us are not living in a monastery or are under the gaze of a wise teacher, we can confess to yourself, our inner wise teacher). We can reflect on a mistake we made in the past, reflecting on what we learned from it, resolving not to repeat it.
This seemingly simple sutta struck a chord with me. I realized that I am at a point where seemingly old ideas seem new. And I realized that if a little boy could practice reflection, so can I. And I am realizing that reflecting like this on the quality and consequences of acts and thoughts, like meditation, is a way to gain time—it deepens and enriches the time we have. I mean, it gives even the small details of our lives a different quality and consequence. Try reflecting. I find it opens the door to gratitude, to the hidden blessing in things and more: It deepens and increases time.