“What is meditation good for?” is one of the recurrent questions I get asked by my non-Buddhist friends. Now and again, I surprise them by answering with an apparently unrelated story.
Once, I opened the door to the fridge, and before I could do anything, a whole pot of chicken broth landed on the floor and spread widely. My usual reaction would have been screaming, crying, and engaging in an unending chain of self-deprecatory expressions, in other words, total drama. But this time was different.
Something new, which I later identified as an aftermath of meditation, unfurled. It was as if time had stopped, or slowed, or somehow opened up, allowing me to look at the mess without actually seeing a mess. Rather, I saw something that had to be dealt with.
Chicken broth is especially difficult to clean due to the fat it carries. Yet, I simply started cleaning, focusing on my actions instead of pursuing my habitual train of thought. One tile at a time, I scrubbed and washed—without thinking about the ultimate result (the future) nor about the causes that had led to the accident (the past).
In the gooey present moment of spilled chicken broth, I discovered that there was no need to blame anybody (myself, my six-year-old son, a passing neighbor). There was also no need to brood over the incident. Mishaps are part of life, and as unpleasant as this one could have been, it also was fixable.
Before I knew it, the floor was clean, the fridge was clean, the tiles under it were clean, and the pot was washed. As the Buddhist nun and teacher Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo put it in a recent Facebook post: “Then, one day when we are not even thinking about it, in the midst of total confusion, we suddenly become totally present. We see everything clearly, yet inwardly our minds are silent.”
This clarity does not have to come from a moment of splendorous importance, with the sky pouring myriad light rays upon us. In the mere details of everyday life, we can find spiritual realizations, even if we might not be aware of them at the time.
As I have told my friends: The practice of meditation spills from the cushion, permeating our life and offering us the opportunity to experience the present with a much more open and calm state of mind.
The next time you identify a potential drama arising in your life, try to imbue it with a little dharma.
- Breathe mindfully so you can connect to the spaciousness within yourself.
- Take a step back from the situation, allowing a safe distance (or mindful gap) between you and what’s going on.
- Assess what you can do in the present to deal with the situation and do it, one step at a time, without losing yourself in past recriminations or future solutions.
- Repeat as needed.