I have observed my relationship to Tibetan Buddhism (and Buddhism in general) mostly wax over the past 9 to 13 years, with a little bit of waning. And in that time, I dove in deep and yet I am still understanding new realizations everyday. Because I dove in so deep, my current realization does not shatter the earth or boggle the mind, but it is more of the subtle type of “Ah-ha!”
I am understanding more about the concept that most Westerners have been spending all of their time worried about the material realm – getting ahead, going to school, earning, churning, burning money. Why? Because our culture says to, and because they mistakenly believe that having every possession (or plastic surgery or fashionable toy dog etc) leads to happiness. And this time spent in the material realm is known as the Compassion side of the Wisdom / Compassion balance. Most mainstream Westerners do not spend much time in the Wisdom sphere – meditating, working with spiritual teachers, doing truly cathartic psychological work on themselves (sure we do what we must to get by, but a lot of mainstream types avoid the discomfort of elective process-oriented psychotherapy or bodywork as much as possible – so we tend to only do the psychological work when there is a crisis or sickness – when it is a necessity).
I am not like most mainstream Westerners (in case you are not a follower of my blog or if you did not notice that fact). I was raised Christian but I always knew in my heart that that religion was not complete (enough), that it did not go deep enough for me, that it was not the faith in which I felt at home. Sure being Christian is probably better (due to having a moral compass) than being an anarchist atheist, but I have always known that something else existed beyond Christianity’s limits. And I think this is the reason my mother says that I have always been Buddhist, while it was only in 2002 that I encountered Zen Buddhism and I started meditating, and it was in 2006 that I met my heart teachers in the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. And then I felt at home and began to do (efficacious) spiritual practice in earnest.
Aside from my religious leanings, I am also not like most mainstream Westerners because I have always felt guilty when I did not do my spiritual practices. I feel guilty if I “waste” a day resting and reading and watching movies without doing any formal Buddhist practice. But self-care is vital. And I believe that guilt is going away with this new realization.
I watched a documentary on some of the Dalai Lama’s students, and the beautiful thing was that they spoke about His Holiness’ emphasis on staying in the world and practicing compassion alongside wisdom. I suspect it is a small select few people who get told – “You must go into retreat! Do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars, go sit now! And here is the retreat master to study with…”
As an astrological aside, if someone has a North Node (of the Moon) in Pisces or in the 8th house, then that person might be needing to get their butts on a meditation cushion. They might be the type to be told to go into retreat quickly – forsake the worldly householder life. But for the most part, the rest of us need to stay put in the world and do spiritual practice as we benefit others IN THE WORLD.
My North Node is in the 2nd House, which means the South Node is in the 8th. I am coming from recent previous incarnations where I was the spiritual person in the community – I was the medicine man or the monk or the nun or the Brahmin, whatever you want to call it. I relied on my tribe to support me as I strove toward Wisdom, leaving Compassion for another time. This explains why I have always yearned to do retreat. I love spending time with my root Lama – Drupon Thinley Ningpo. I would do any retreat he was leading if I had the time.
But even my root Lama said to me that I should get a good paying job in order to support a family and support my spiritual practice in the future. He suggested I become a nurse. I resisted that advice for about a year (because I wanted it to come from my heart) and now I feel fully in control and fully confident that that is the right thing to do for me and for my path, and it is coming from my being.
And because nursing school is so tough, there are some days that I can only go do clinical work in the hospital for 8 hours and then come home and nap. And then I have to study or work on care plans. There is an avalanche of assignments which I can barely stay in front of. And there is less and less guilt about missing time on my meditation cushion.
In fact, learning how to be of benefit to others, but helping to heal the sick or at least provide comfort to those ailing, this is a spiritual practice. This is the Compassion side of the balance. Sure as a busy nurse, I will rarely if ever get time to meditate in the hospital, but if I am being of benefit to others, while causing very little harm to myself or others, then this is the highest form of right livelihood there is. And this is what I must be doing right now.
So if I were to die tomorrow (knock on wood, hoping that is not the case), I would be fairly content with my life. I yearned and pulled and struggled to get more Wisdom time into my life, I even had the good fortune to be able to attend dozens of Buddhist retreats between 2006 and 2012 (see all my posts in the Dharma category of this blog). But now I realize that I need more Compassion time. It is time to be present with others, to start a family, and to be a mentor to younger practitioners and sentient beings. Maybe when I am 60 years old, I can do a longer retreat. For now though, get through nursing school, make some money, and do the rarer formal practice on the side, when I can.
Kindness to self means realizing when to practice more Compassion and when to practice more Wisdom. Speaking to a wise spiritual teacher can help you to know which would be better for you on a higher level (many people unfortunately struggle against their heart’s true desires – you see it in almost every spiritual community). And perhaps knowing your astrology chart really well could also shine some light on this fine balancing act.
Thanks for reading and happy holidays!