Jessica Magnin

“It is only when the mind is free from the old that it meets everything anew, and in that there is joy.” Krishnamurti

Everything has its place in time and in space and rules are no exception. Rules and codes of conduct keep us from falling into a state of anarchy, of total chaos. But then again, aren’t rules fabricated from the mind and perhaps rooted in fear? As much as we need rules and guidelines to live an orderly life, we might question, within reason, their potential of limiting our connection and heartfelt experience with others.

Here, in sleepy Luang Prabang a list of rules is publically displayed and posted around town. These rules are meant to be taken seriously and by all means, respected. With over 350 novices and monks living between the confines of the old town, one naturally abides by these guidelines but then, I suppose that depends upon the interpreter.

The second gong rings at 5h30 signalling the commencement of saibat, the giving of alms. In the faint darkness of the early morning, a thread of burnt orange robed novices, monks and abbots form what appears to be an endless stream of barefooted bodies with metal urns dangling from a woven strap resting on their bare shoulder.

I arrive at my habitual place, bow before my two elder Lao friends, take seat on a bamboo woven stool no more than 20 centimetres from the earth, place my flip flops neatly behind me, and tuck my sin, traditional Lao skirt, under my knees assuring that my legs are fully covered. A white “pha bien,’’or scarf, drapes over my left shoulder as I secure my hair neatly into a bun.

Behind me, the thick wall of Wat Sene separates me from 20 or so novices and monks making their final adjustments to their robes before stepping outside the confines of their monastery.  A wicker basket of freshly steamed “khao niow”, sticky rice, sits on my lap and I raise it to my forehead, bow in silence and bless these offerings with goodness and love. My dear Lao friends sit next to me. We exchange only a knowing smile of the eyes, nothing more. We allow the stillness of the early morning to bathe the present moment with sacredness.

The procession begins with a monastery’s dog or two guiding the way. Bare feet and bare heads gracefully pass at just arms reach, briefly pausing before me as I place a blessed clump of sticky rice into their urn careful not to make any physical contact, not even with their urn. One’s gaze should be soft, turned downward in humbleness and respect. These are the unspoken rules of conduct while offering.

Day after day, 94 in total, trip after trip, totally 6, rainy season or not, 3 to be exact, I am here with the same presence, the same intention and the same ritual of respect. But over time, things do shift and this is what is promised even by the teachings of Buddha himself. With habit and the passing of days, things do change, even the borders of set guidelines and rules.

The change began with the reception of an occasional yet discrete meet of the eyes, a faint humble smile, a whispered ‘’sabaidee’’ or “hello’’, a ‘’kop jai lai2”, a wrapped cookie, and even a brim-to-brim smile. Here, at this precise moment, beyond the rules of conduct, beyond what we call jit, or the mind, jai, the heart meets that of another and all differences, prejudices, conflicts, insecurities, superiority and even imposed rules drop, exposing one single thing, the art of being human and limitless potential of the heart.

“To be free of all authority, of your own and that of another, is to die to everything of yesterday, so that your mind is always fresh, always young, innocent, full of vigour and passion. It is only in that state that one learns and observes. And for this, a great deal of awareness is required, actual awareness of what is going on inside yourself, without correcting it or telling it what it should or should not be, because the moment you correct it you have established another authority, a censor.” Krishnamurti

Rules are necessary but they can harden us. We know this yet their implementation keeps us in tact. The mind is full of ideas about right and wrong, good and bad and packaged solutions to keep things from oscillating too far. Because the mind gravitates toward set boundaries, we create more. It is our mind’s way of making sense of the unpredictability of life and keeping chaos and fear at bay. Yet, our hearts yearn for more sacred moments of expression and connection and the humbleness of being human. Incapable of truly experiencing this humanness, the mind, limited in its limitlessness can only just begin to conceptualise what this softness might look like, feel like and be like. So within the confinements of suggested guidelines and rules of conduct, remember your heart. It is within the walls of the heart that love can be felt and expressed beyond measure.

Tis the season to be jolly

Tis the season to be jolly, but is it really a jolly time of the year for all? Behind the holiday bliss, there is another naked reality. The truth is, that many souls, even those in our own backyard are suffering at this moment from poverty, illness, loss and a host of other ailments that most prefer to draw the shades to. It is at times like this that we can extend our hearts to those in need through prayer, warm benevolent thoughts, the gift of our time and of our full attention as well as monetary offerings. How do we know how much to give? My grandfather used to say, ‘’give so that you can feel it but not so much that you suffer in return.’’
Flying high

Whether we realize it or not, generosity is always available to each and every one of us regardless of our situation. As Mother Theresa reminds us, ‘’not all of us are capable of huge acts of kindness but all of us are capable of small acts with a huge heart.’’  Intention is essential. When graced with intention, one may receive even the smallest of gestures as colossal gifts.

But what does one do when the harsh naked truth hits home, and hits hard? Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, offered the perfect remedy for misery, depression, wanting and even suffering. ‘’Want what you have and you will have what you want.’’ This simple formula, when consciously applied is the antidote to our heavy hearts. As cliché as this ancient sutra may be for some, why not experiment during this auspicious time of jingle and lights with truly desiring everything that you already possess and observe what happens to your heart.

By wanting what you have, you instantaneously reverse the downward spiral of wanting more. There is a sudden shift of energy within, evoking an inner smile of expansion and contentment. This leads to an open heart, one that can feel, give and in turn receive. Suddenly, you began to see things from a different angle and you realize just how truly blessed you really are. There is no need to compare to others or experience guilt.  Satisfaction, or santosha in Sanskrit, is a state of being that shapes our mindset and, in turn, creates our reality of now. It is a matter of choice whether to be bathed in the water of contentment or the murky waters of discontentment.

This is the beginning of cultivating an attitude of gratitude in our own lives even for the slippery steppingstones that have guided us to where and who we are today. Gratitude helps us ‘’enjoy the little things in life because one day we will look back and realize they were big things.’’ Being grateful never goes unnoticed and always leads to abundance. The more that you recognize what you have and are thankful the more you are showered with the gift of happiness.

Take a moment every night before you drift off into a deep slumber to allow your heart and soul to be filled with gratitude for the gifts of today. For those that want to jump start the process and magnify it a thousand fold, devote daily time to sitting, just being present with the magical essence of your life and the magical essence of your soul. You will quickly notice an infinite well of joy that lies within a grateful heart. Today and every day take a breath of gratitude and watch your life transform.

So I leave you with this poem that speaks directly to the heart of gratitude and I wish you a very Merry Holiday Season of wanting everything that you have and rejoicing in every bit of it.

The park bench was deserted as I sat down to read beneath the long, straggly branches of an old willow tree. Disillusioned by life with good reason to frown, for the world was intent on dragging me down.
And if that weren’t enough to ruin my day, a young boy out of breath approached me, all tired from play. He stood right before me with his head tilted down and said with great excitement, “Look what I found!”
In his hand was a flower, and what a pitiful sight, with its petals all worn-not enough rain, or too little light. Wanting him to take his dead flower and go off to play, I faked a small smile and then shifted away.
But instead of retreating he sat next to my side and placed the flower to his nose and declared with overacted surprise, “It sure smells pretty and it’s beautiful too. That’s why I picked it; here it’s for you.”
The weed before me was dying or dead. Not vibrant of colors, orange, yellow, or red. But I knew I must take it, or he might never leave. So I reached for the flower, and replied, “Just what I need.”
But instead of him placing the flower in my hand, He held it mid-air without reason or plan. It was then that I noticed for the very first time that weed-toting boy could not see; he was blind.
I heard my voice quiver, tears shone like the sun as I thanked him for picking the very best one. “You’re welcome,” he smiled, and then ran off to play, Unaware of the impact he’d had on my day.
I sat there and wondered how he managed to see a self-pitying woman beneath an old willow tree. How did he know of my self-indulged plight? Perhaps from his heart, he’d been blessed with true sight.
Through the eyes of a blind child, at last I could see the problem was not with the world; the problem was me. And for all of those times I myself had been blind, I vowed to see the beauty in life, and appreciate every second that’s mine.
And then I held that wilted flower up to my nose and breathed in the fragrance of a beautiful rose and smiled as I watched that young boy, another weed in his hand about to change the life of an unsuspecting old man.

Author Unknown