My responsibilities here at the New Life Foundation include holding the morning meditation space. This involves laying out a circle of mats and cushions, and ringing the bell to begin and end the meditation sessions. On Wednesdays, today, the whole community is required to attend sitting meditation, rather than going to Yoga or mindfully walking.
To honour the gathering of the whole community, a cluster of at least twenty candles is arranged in the centre of the room. It is beautiful to enter the darkened meditation hall and see a circle of fifty people lit by candlelight. In order for this to happen however, the room needs to be arranged the night before. On Tuesday night I was busy supervising mindfulness teachers on Skype until quite late in the evening. I decided to call in support and approached a community member, who I know loves the candlelight, and asked him whether he would be willing to arrange the centrepiece. His response was non-committal, so I set my alarm for 5:45am in order to get to the hall early and organise the candles.
Moving around the hall laying mats and cushions, I was surprised to see two figures enter the room and promptly, and efficiently set up the centrepiece. The community member had decided to take the job on after all. I found myself deeply touched by this. These two men had got out of bed early to care for the community circle. They had sacrificed an extra 15/20 minutes in bed to be of service.
Sacrifice has a significant role to play in a life lived mindfully. In order to bring awareness into our lives we often need to enter into a process of letting-go of well worn habits of body and mind. An early challenge in embarking upon a formal mindfulness practice is letting-go of extra sleep. In the UK, on winter mornings, the bed is sooooo cosy and warm, and outside frosty and cold. Why on earth would we get out of bed? Why would we forego our comfort in this way?
As a young twenty something I loved sleep. I still do. I, however, loved sleep more than I loved life and this was a problem. When I learnt to meditate, I experienced it’s palpable benefits and wanted to develop a sustainable meditation practice. It made me feel better. However, meditation and extra sleep are often incompatible. I had to choose, the short term benefits of a snooze or the more challenging longer term benefits of meditation. This was, and at times still is, a daily challenge. And yet, it can be addressed one day at a time. One day at a time has become twenty-four years of committed meditation practice. My life has been transformed and enriched beyond anything I could have anticipated. I am very grateful.
Travelling to Thailand, to take up residence as a meditation teacher at the New Life foundation for two and a half months was not without sacrifice. Sacrifice of precious time with my partner, family and friends. Sacrifice of the familiar, my home, the shops where I buy food, the kinds of food I like, freedom from bug life – mosquitos and ants, my fantastic bed. Sacrifice of momentum in my work, no autumn MBSR course, no workplace intros or extra courses. I stepped out of my comfort zone.
The first few days at New Life, doubt descended upon me, tossed me and turned me in my sleep. What was I thinking leaving my comfortable life in London and making myself vulnerable! Meeting the doubt and the fear, riding their waves, in the body, in the mind, has expanded my capacity. I have grown. I have not limited myself to what is comfortable. There are benefits to rising to the challenge. I am developing courage, persistence, patience and resilience. As well as developing internal qualities, I am also experiencing the benefits of service to the community and learning loads. Comfort is a beautiful experience, but I do not want to be defined by it. I am larger than that.
I have taken a big step in coming to Thailand. There were many smaller steps to get here. The willingness to forego sleep each day, so that I could meditate, would eventually lead me to becoming a mindfulness teacher. Each day we are faced with choices, large and small which incrementally shape our lives. If we stay within our comfort zone, we will get more of what we already know, we will stay safe, but we will not grow.