Now that science is showing that meditation is valuable to our sense of well being, more and more people are beginning to practice it. Meditation can be just one more thing on our to-do list, or it has the potential to totally transform our lives. It all depends on how much prominence we give it in our lives and our understanding of how to utilize this valuable tool.
In Buddhist traditions, there are six qualities called the paramitas that with the support of mindfulness help us to discover a life of ease and peace. These six qualities are generosity, ethical conduct, patience, joyful effort, meditation and wisdom. When these qualities come together they help us to be vitally alive.
When we first hear about these qualities, they can often seem like a checklist of abilities that we don’t have. Yet when we start to pay attention, we see that these qualities are in fact already present. As we become more aware of them they start to shine in our lives. In this way we are turning the mind towards the causes of happiness rather than perpetuating a life of suffering.
The essence of the mind of letting go, generosity, jump starts the path. Take a look at all the little acts of generosity we offer in a day. Even just to care for ourselves and our families, the moments in traffic where we give way to someone, or smile at a stranger on the street. These are all moments of sharing. Paying attention to these acts of kindness helps to uplift the mind, open the heart and moves us out of a self-referential way of life.
Ethical conduct comes in to play when our mindfulness stabilizes and we naturally see the consequences of our actions. When we do or say things in a way that is helpful and useful, it’s a way of using our life energy to create a world of peace and harmony rather than aggression. It engenders confidence and trust in ourselves and others. We see it manifesting in small moments of refraining from saying things that create uneasiness.
This would all seem like hard work if it were not for patience. Patience is based in a mind at peace in the face of adversity. It’s a radical acceptance of things as they are that learns to use challenges as a means to rest with that which is not instantly resolvable, and to not collapse into our insecurity. We can practice this on crowded subways, in traffic jams, and waiting in long lines in the store. It helps us discover patience in the larger challenges of our lives.
Joyful effort is what will keep us going. It’s where we find the joy and inspiration to continue along the path of waking up. After all we have a choice between living our life bound by our habitual patterns, or finding the deep sense of well being that is our basic nature. Our willingness to continue on is strengthened when we become clear about what matters in our lives.
Meditation is where we let mindfulness meet our life on a daily basis whether it’s with formal or informal meditation. It’s the moments when we are aware in our lives and out of this, we begin to see more clearly. We can practice “short moments, anytime, anywhere.”
Wisdom refers to the innate wisdom that we all have when we see clearly and step out of confusion. It’s where we start to tap into our full potential as a human being and all the capacities that we have. We find it in moments where we pause to listen and look.
Through the unification of all these qualities, we can live a meaningful life, motivated to be of benefit to ourselves, our families and the world at large.
Myoshin Kelley attended her first meditation retreat in 1975 at the age of 20. Through the ensuing years she has received dharma instructions from several renowned Buddhist meditation masters in the Theravada, Zen, and Vajrayana traditions.