Note: This piece first appeared on elephant journal, here.
It is there, always, underneath the sediment floating in the pond of our minds.
In Buddhism, we practice contemplating the Four Reminders that Turn the Mind Towards the Dharma. The first one is precious human birth. We can contemplate how lucky we are to be alive, to have our basic needs met and to be able to study and practice dharma. Doing this contemplation helps us to see how precious of an opportunity we have in this life. We can learn to value, cherish and appreciate the life we have right now.
The second contemplation from the Four Reminders is about karma. We can contemplate how our actions create rippled effects in our lives. We can see that when we do something, such as, practicing sitting meditation for 30 minutes a day that we feel better and are more present and cheerful throughout our day.
We can see that when we drink five beers and eat a large pizza in one night, we feel like crap the next day. If we really see that our actions have consequences, and we’re committed to doing things that help us achieve our goals, we can begin to simply stop doing what harms ourselves and others, and start doing things that are beneficial.
Next, we contemplate impermanence. Contemplating impermanence helps us get in touch with a basic and primal fear. We are going to die. Everyone we know is going to die. When we really get in touch with reality, it has a healthy and uplifted effect on our lives.
It is not morbid and depressing. Instead after contemplating death and impermanence I often feel more of an appreciation for life and that I don’t want to waste it. There may be a touch of sadness with it, but it’s kind of a romantic whimsical sadness. It’s also full of life and love.
Finally, we contemplate how the cycle of habitual patterns and reaction that cause our suffering and pain is really unworkable—and will always be unworkable. We can see how our Charlie Brown-like attempts to kick the football are really a form of self-flagellation.
This Sanskrit term for this cycle is samsara. It’s like buying a ticket on a boat trip, packing your bags, going out to sea, and then sinking. And then doing it over and over again. We can contemplate how our actions result in these familiar and predictable ways, and fully resolve to stop doing them.
We can then commit ourselves to waking up from our delusion and learning to enjoy our lives and be of benefit to others.