Wednesday, October 18, 2006

the treadmill of habit

Some weeks ago, during her Sunday morning teaching, Jetsunma suggested we begin to keep a diary. Not those angst-ridden journals some of us may have kept, especially during painful teenage years, a repetitive cycle of see-sawing emotions(at least mine were). Jetsunma recommended we reflect on how mindful we had been, what virtue we had generated and where we had displayed wise compassion.
Three columns, which I have found extremely hard to actually fill. It is interesting to see at the end of the day how littletime I spend engaged in thoughts or acts that are mindful and bring benefit to others. It is an extremely useful tool, because when I sit with the notebook in hand (often asking Milo what I should enter, but his journal would only be filled with play and being a naughty rascal), I am forced to contemplate my day with a deeper view, and to see that the few brief moments of mindfulness clearly highlight the vast expanse of just getting by.
Of course, the real point of the tool is to begin to change. Because, just like in my tear-stained journals of decades ago, I can see the repetitions of habit that sidetrack me off course. Again. And again.
Change is the tricky bit, because after 50 years (plus whatever before!), i am fairly comfortable with my habits, even the ones that I know will cause me distress. The diary keeps reminding me that I am ultimately sick of the treadmill, yet no-one can get me off except myself.
A current habit is time-wasting on the computer. To remedy this, I offered to do something useful while in front of the screen; to check out potential sources of grants for Tara's Babies. In the process I stumbled across the life of a woman who did not procrastianate, nor waste her days or nights, instead she devoted them to saving wild birds. She is an inspiration to me, because up until her death she spontaneously lived the life of a Bodhisattva (someone dedicated to compassionate acts for others). While I, who have taken that vow, struggle every day.
Here is a little glimpse of Sheena Rees, which i found at
For more than a decade, Sheena Rees, a retired social worker, ran her Bird Sanctuary from a terraced cottage in Glastonbury, Somerset. It was the ultimate expression of her unbounded love and compassion for our furred and feathered friends that went back to when, aged four, she found a seagull with a broken wing on a lonely beach in Arran, Scotland. Taking it home she nursed it back to health, and never forgot her uttermost joy when, returning to the beach, she opened her trembling, cupped hands and set the seagull free - "It's wings took flight and something inside me also soared. From that time on I knew I could never turn away from an injured bird." And Sheena never did! As her Bird Sanctuary clearly bore daily witness.
Finches, Warblers, Sparrows, Blackbirds, Starlings, Blue Tits, Parrots, Owls - all came to Sheena's Bird Sanctuary and into her loving care and keeping. Using a mixture of love, patience, homeopathic remedies and her own special kind of healing she nursed them until they were well enough to be liberated back into the wild.
"What else can I do but take in every little injured scrap of bird-life brought to the door. Bird rescue is my work for God and I give the same 100% to the people who bring the birds as I do to the birds themselves,".
For Sheena, living with and not apart from Nature carried its exacting responsibilities. "I go to bed at 10pm, set the alarm for midnight, then for 2am and 4am and finally at 6am. In this way I work through the night, feeding, watering and cleaning until 9am!" Inevitable exhaustion depleted Sheena's resources and illness increasingly clouded her days.
Tired beyond imagining, she looked straight into my eyes and said: 'As much as I love my birds, they in turn, love me. And in that shared love I am fulfilled.'" -

It is that last phrase 'in that shared love I am fulfilled' that so simply and poignantly describes the foundation of a truly compassionate life. There is nothing more to seek nor hunger for, as the fullness of love given selflessly will equally nourish one's own heart. It is people like Sheena, 'ordinary' people, everywhere on this planet who will change the world. As Jetsunma recently said, one person can change a small group, a small group can change a large group, a large group can change the world.
Changing myself is the challenge i face, but it is not a hopeless one! Every moment of mindfulness is a turning point, the compass is re-calibrated and movement occurs. The habits are there, for sure, no-one knows them better than I, but even as I open the diary and ponder what to write I am beginning to shift. I see the greyness of my day, and the piercing moments of brilliant colour and joy. And am reminded of who, how and where i want to be. Just as the leaves on the vine that wraps around the log cabin wall are changing in hue and beginning to fall, so, with mindful perseverance, will my habits, revealing the strength of compassion, and the source of shared love.


Rinchen Gyatso said...

Amen, sister. I've been sitting in front of the computer all morning procrastinating on some reading for school I need to catch up on. As for bodhisattva activity, I keep telling myself that between two jobs and school what can I do? I suppose the answer is to be compassionate with my classmates and customers at the bookstore where I work, but in my bleary eyed tiredness, it's easy to forget to be mindful with each person and give them my full attention, let alone a little love.

yeshe t. said...

Thank you Ani for your most recent entries, revealing your reflections on Jetsunma's teachings. I find my struggle to be with stubborness, some perverse contrariness to not do the things that I know would be good for me to do. Before I took on my Refuge Name of Yeshe, I had been "Mary" for 40 years...and I grew up hearing people say to me: "Mary, Mary, quite contrary.." What bizarre programming!

Tonight, I am battling a crappy cold and sitting at my laptop after telecommuting all day, reading the blogs of my vajra brothers and sisters. It's my way to move closer to practice...taking refuge in the Sangha perhaps, in some very small way.

Your blog entry though has reminded me that I must embrace my life as a practitioner, because I have a Pure Teacher, I have a Pure Path, I have a precious human rebirth, and so there really is no other way to live this life that makes any sense, any sense at all, except to embrace it as it truly is. Blessed.