I recently moved. And retired. I no longer practice a profession of 35 years, nor have I a reason to set an alarm most mornings. I meet new people frequently and must decide how to introduce myself, how to relate to others without an established identity. When I meet people now, the terrain is less solid.
I miss the ease of the old self, the knowing of who I was. I had confidence in what I knew, I was proud of my work and family and place in my community. I was confident that I could measure up to others with reasonable (or unreasonable) pride.
In my current life, I introduce myself as a newbie and hope I can find a place in the unfamiliar terrain. My self, the one defined by how I introduce myself to others and validate my worth, is in flux. I am less confident that the competence of the old me is relevant to these new surroundings.
In this new life, I have time to practice more frequently. In fact, I have time to practice daily, though I do not, yet. Though I think about Dharma much of the time. More than in my old life, “the View” presents itself in many of my thoughts and interactions and informs many of my opinions and choices.
Enough to not get angry when someone passes me on a windy country road, or smile at unwelcome weather or a preoccupied server. Enough to decline membership in a welcoming local worship group, to declare myself a Buddhist to congregants generous enough to fold me in to their divine worship.
I remain confident in my curiosity about others and my interest in learning. Learning about the external world (currently Spanish and principles and practice of organic farming) has always been in my wheelhouse, has always provided pleasure and increased my calculation of self-worth. Learning about my inner life has also provided personal satisfaction and benefit (as well as being a foundation of my professional life), but was also accompanied by some pain and defensiveness, as deficits and mistakes were often perceived as evidence of failure and unworthiness. Learning was both wonderful and fraught with the minefields of ego.
Dharma teachings are more present in my life. I read texts and pray to Guru Rinpoche. I have joined a Dharma Stream group and hear my guru, Phakchok Rinpoche, teach twice monthly and exchange ideas and Dharma support with a lovely sangha. In texts and books and conversations, I take to heart teachers’ urgent directives to examine habits and the Buddhist path for growth and change. I take to heart the simple hope of becoming a better person. I pay more attention to kindness.
Without defensiveness and with a bit of sorrow, I think about things I wish I knew and did twenty and thirty and forty years ago. I wish, in those days that I was preoccupied with ideas, that I looked and smiled at people, especially strangers, more. I wish I made more effort to be kind; like saying please and thank you, and leaving bigger tips for service, even bad service. I wish, even with demanding expectations, that I rushed less. I wish, when someone was brusque with me, that I recognized they might be distracted by grief or fear or confusion. I wish I knew then what I think I know now, that it is more important to be kind than to be smart.
In this chapter of my life, I am unbearably lucky, beyond the “ordinary” preciousness of being born in a human form with the opportunity to practice Dharma. I live in a locale where people and traffic are limited and silence and scenery are everywhere. I hear the sound of wind more than the sound of the human voice. As long as I make the decision to turn off the TV and radio (a continuing practice opportunity), there is time and space to notice the activity of my mind. I can feel viscerally when my opinions are taking over, when feelings are creating my reality.
When I am disappointed in, resentful of, or opinionated about others or myself, I am better able to slow down, look more closely, gently question. It feels paradoxical that I am more than ever comforted by impermanence, knowing that the lives of people I love (and those who drive me crazy) are but one of our many meetings, and that chances for repair and improvement will present again and again as we struggle to make it right.
The karma I have made, the merit and suffering, are less and less related to some attribution of self-worth. This is the fabric of my life, comprised of both this life and many others. The recognition of this is aided when I meditate as Guru Rinpoche. I sit at my altar with my coffee, but it is not me sitting at this altar with this coffee. I am beginning to recognize that I sit holding the karma of the world; of all of our suffering, of all of our experience of happiness and beauty, of all of our fears and prayers for good.
Increasingly, I come to my cushion with eagerness. As I continue to settle into this new life I strive toward a daily meditation. The more I recognize that the sound of the wind in the trees is mantra, and that emotions and opinions and even suffering, are luminous space; the more I can hear that the activity of the larger world—of machines and human interchange and, even warfare—are mantras, too and contain the bliss of emptiness. My proclaimed identity, my work at my altar and in my new life, become to gently feel the suffering of us all, in this new practice of (not) me.
Rosie recently moved with her wife and their dog to rural western Massachusetts. She is a grateful student of Phakchok Rinpoche. She is learning to grow vegetables, edit for Lhasey Lotsawa, and tutor English. She tries to think less and practice more.
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Thank you for your kind sharing, Rosie. As someone who is also “in flux”, I was inspired by your beautiful words and your embracing of the “new practice of (not) me”. May I, too, embrace this practice!
Thanks, Rosie. Been chatting with some co-workers about to retire and was surprised to hear they were mostly feeling anxiety, even though they had concrete retirement plans. I guess change can be scary, even when it’s on to a new adventure. Thanks for your thoughts! Save a tomato for me!