“Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves….” As he lay dying, the Buddha gave this advice to his beloved disciple Ananda.
Most of us are so, so tired of being islands right now, isolated from others, watching video streams.
Yet when the Buddha spoke of being an island he didn’t mean being cut off from the flow of life. He understood that this is not possible. Even in a life of total seclusion, alone in a cell or on an actual island, you can’t help but notice how things change, the seasons, our own hearts and minds.
We see that we are not really separate from others, that our feelings and thoughts reach far beyond the boundaries of our skin. Our hearts literally go out to those we love and those who suffer. On some days, we see that we owe thanks in every direction, inside and outside, up and down, north, south, east, and west, the way Native people give thanks, the way people in New York gave thanks to the helpers at the height of the pandemic.
When he said be an island the Buddha meant let yourself be grounded, come down out of your thoughts and touch the earth of your own living experience in the present moment. Don’t reach outside for an idea or a phrase from a teacher or a book. Witness the living the truth of your experience in the present moment. Make space for the whole of your experience, body, heart, and mind. Be still and listen. Or don’t even listen, just wait without resistance. Notice how the world comes to you.
The practice of meditation allows us to settle down and inhabit our own human experience without judgment or fear. As we learn to relax, we sink from the surface to the depths, from thinking and emotional reactions to deeper feelings and values and insights. These deeper realizations out to be very, very simple., written in the language of living experience. We might feel, for example, how good it is to be alive on a bright morning, sipping good coffee, feeling fresh air through an open window. Last night we despaired, and yet here we are, born anew. Life is a gift. Life is change.