I love to sit on the flat roof at the back of my house. I live in the city, and the trees on my block are a delight. For 20 years, I have squeezed through a tiny window on the third floor to read or meditate, perched on a beach towel or a couple of yoga blocks. The view as I look up is sky framed by tall trees. But as my husband and I get older, the window, strangely, seems to be smaller and higher. 

Not wanting to lose my leafy perch, I asked a neighbor who’s an architect to give us her take on making it easier to access the roof. “I don’t want to spend a lot of money, and don’t need an actual roof deck,” I told her. “Just an easier way out.” Her verdict was swift: roofs are really not for sitting and walking on—not what they’re designed for, not what’s recommended, not what’s compliant with building codes. She gave me an estimate for doing it right—a door to a small deck, a railing, proper supports so the roof isn’t damaged. All more costly and complicated than I was hoping for. So I got creative: How about installing a bigger window that functions like a door? Would that meet the letter of the building code? 

She tilted her head and looked at me for a few long seconds before saying, “You know, clients always think: ‘I’m gonna be in this house forever.’ But someone’s going to live here after you, some other family.” Her words called up a succession of images: young kids learning the words for things—what a window is, what a door is. And a few years later, exploring the old house, including the big, low window on the third floor that opens like a door, making it easy to step right out. The tragedy I pictured took my breath away. 

The wise response of my architect neighbor brought the Buddhist teachings home to me in a flash. First, impermanence. It’s not my house in some once-and-for-all way. It’s the house I’m living in—after and before other people. Then, interdependence. The choices I make affect others, have downstream consequences, whether I ever know them or not. My world and my heart expanded. I let go of the idea of shortcuts. I felt more connected and accountable, more in touch with the way things really are.

Contemplation Exercise

Think of a decision you’re facing regarding something you want. As you consider your choices, reflect on whether there is room to widen your view: 

  • Can you think of anyone else who might be impacted sooner or later by your decision? Friends, family, co-workers? How about neighbors or others farther removed in space or time?
  • Can you imagine impacts beyond your own lifetime?
  • What is it like to consider your options with this broader view in mind?

 

Ellen Balzé
Ellen Balzé

A student of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche since 2015, clinical psychologist Ellen Balzé began working with the core Path of Mindful Activity team in 2018. Collaborating with other Nalandabodhi members on various projects has created precious opportunities for her to pause, relax, and reflect. She enjoys baking bread and caring for succulents.

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