Here we are, at the end of one year and the beginning of the next. It’s the turn of the year, a gentle bend in the road; a new beginning, a new view with new possibilities. It feels fresh.
I’ve been thinking about the many events and experiences of 2014 from the beautiful to the tragic, the glories and the failures and everything in between. It’s extraordinary what happens on any given day in any of our lives, let alone a whole year. As I consider what it takes just to manage my own life and then multiply that by 7 billion people around that planet, not to mention all of the non-human living beings, the amount of life lived everywhere in every moment is mindboggling.
It’s a lovely practice to pause, marking endings and beginnings, to catch our breath. As you remember some of your own experiences of the last year, what stands out? What was it like? The joys and sorrows, the successes and difficulties, the ways you’ve changed and have been changed.
As we move forward into the New Year, once again settling into the ground of our lives as the days begin to lengthen and the frenzy of the holidays has past, it’s a natural time for renewing or setting some intentions. Not resolutions, intentions. It’s like moving towards the horizon, taking one step at a time with the patience, curiosity and courage to see and feel what’s here on this day, in this moment. We make adjustments as we go, yet we keep the horizon in sight.
Suzuki Roshi, the founder of San Francisco Zen Center was once asked,
“Roshi, what’s the most important thing?” and he answered, “To find out what’s the most important thing.”
How do we want to live? We make this choice every day. And we need a little help.
Central to Buddhist practice is what is known as “taking refuge,” refuge in the sense of both resting in and living from a place of safety, support and clarity, and a place that stimulates and nurtures our growth. Traditionally, one formally takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha as an aspect of practice that re-affirms one’s commitment to the practice through chant, spoken word or silently . Some people take refuge every time they sit, others at periodic intervals. The New Year is a wonderful time to be reminded of this practice.
Taking refuge in the Buddha does not mean to worship or idolize the literal historical figure of the Buddha. But rather to recognize that like the Buddha, we too, have the capacity to access and cultivate our very real innate wisdom, compassion and good heart. We can live a more skillful life by not adding undue suffering to an already complex and challenging life. This is what is thought of as waking up, and like the Buddha, we can do it, too.
The Dharma is classically defined as the teachings of the Buddha. But dharma itself is simply the way things are, the truth of how it is. So we take refuge in the Dharma through our practice of training ourselves to see our lives as they are.
The Sangha is our community; our family, our friends and our spiritual communities, those groups that provide fundamental support. Whether you practice meditation with others, belong to a synagogue, mosque or church, ride your bike or paddle your kayak with friends each week, this is your sangha and perhaps the most important of the three refuges. We are undeniably interconnected and we need each other to thrive.
Another Japanese Zen teacher and contemporary of Suzuki Roshi, Kobun Chino Roshi said,
“The more you sense the rareness and value of your own life, the more you realize that how you use it, how you manifest it, is all your responsibility. We face such a big task, so naturally such a person sits down for a while.”
And so we begin again. We come back to the cushion, to our practice, to ourselves, to the ground of our being to discover the most important thing. We take the gentle turn, see the horizon and settle in.