Eyes On Your Own Bowl

Recently I found myself at a sort of a crossroads spiritually. Fortunately it’s not as rattling as it used to be, because it’s something I’ve experienced a few times over the last several years. But it still doesn’t feel good…a bit like a mini dark night of the soul. So I knew that if I just got quiet enough, still enough, observant, and receptive, I’d begin to receive the messages and guidance needed to drudge my way through the mental and emotion mud. Over the course of a few months I was triggered more than I’ve ever been on this journey. And rather than turn away, I took it. Then I asked for seconds…and thirds, because I understood that it was, and is making me better. I imagine it’s what a caterpillar feels like inside of its cocoon…literally being destroyed by a process that ultimately evolves and liberates it.

Aside from the typical areas of healing, self-improvement, and mastery; I was surprised at how triggered I was by other people’s paths and perceptions. Whenever we gain clarity, knowledge, or wisdom we typically want to share it and enlighten those around us who we feel like can’t see what we see, or don’t know what we’ve learned. And even though we may have the best intentions, everyone has their own truths. And just like I want tolerance for my choice of spirituality, I extend that to everyone I encounter. A person doesn’t have to think like me for us to associate, nor do I force my views on anyone. And honestly I’m relieved every time I have to remind myself that no one else is my business or responsibility. My own path is more than enough to navigate 😅 and I try to contribute to others in my own way that I hope is beneficial.

Still I admit to at times calling my own personal judgements on people in the “spiritual community”, who had what I perceived as, “the wrong views”, and usually with large platforms where they spread and influence people with those views. It made it feel like the truth is being buried more and more by the day, faster than it can be uncovered. “So what’s the point?” I also felt like a lot of people were putting themselves out there as teachers prematurely. Then I’d basically proceed to try to think of ways “I” could help change things, or be of some good influence, and on and on, which actually just ends up feeling frustrating. Especially when in reality my own path (Chan) goes against the ways I was perceiving things.

In studying the mind some of the themes you’ll come across are repetition, and habit. Our brain typically functions in a routine way. So basically, a tendency to look outside of myself in one regard, means a tendency to do it in other areas of my life as well, not just regarding spirituality, and also not always necessarily with negative connotations. It can simply be thinking about what someone else possibly thinks, or feels. You can equate it to the mind wandering during mediation, because you’re not in the moment…not present. How many times during the day does your mind skip to the past, hop to the future, or dwell in the hypothetical? Think about the mechanism itself, not what’s thought about. The vehicle is the same no matter the destination. In order to combat or correct this tendency, we practice meditation and mindfulness.

The other day I came across a video on YouTube about a man who’s been a monk in Thailand for two years. He was talking, giving advice from bullet points, and one of them was, “keep your eyes on your own bowl”. My ears perked up, like my Spirit knew I was going to get something out of it…and I did. He was metaphorically saying to mind your spiritual business 😄, which my shifu teaches as well. But the analogy was referring to life inside of a monastery, and what’s also emulated during Buddhist retreats, and that’s simply sitting down and eating mindfully. I attended a retreat back in February, and my mind flashed back to sitting in the dining hall, facing a wall in complete silence, chewing my food about 5 times as many times as I typically would, focusing intently on nothing but eating, while everyone around me did the exact same thing.

No one was concerned with what was in anyone else’s bowl, how much or how little they’d taken, or how much they ate or didn’t eat. We all kept our eyes on our own bowls. We left the dining hall and walked mindfully maintaining noble silence. We did our assigned chores mindfully and in silence. Then we made our way back to our cushions for meditation mindfully and in silence.

At another point during the retreat we all had to go outside with a pencil and sheet of paper and choose anything we wanted to draw. Our only instructions other than that was not to judge our work. So, if you were someone who’s always felt they couldn’t draw, you weren’t allowed to even reference that narrative in your mind. You couldn’t look at your work halfway through and decide that it sucked and you want to start over. Nor could you compare your work to anyone else.

Later on we were all able to make significant connections between the exercise and our daily lives, and how foreign the feelings were because we are almost always judging ourselves. These are just examples of how certain seemingly empty acts in Buddhism are actually teaching elements. Think Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid telling Daniel to “wax on, wax off”, when he only wanted to learn Karate. Then him ultimately understanding that he was being taught fundamentals and not just washing a car.

That phrase, “keep your eyes on your own bowl”, is now a bit of a mantra of mine. Anytime I catch myself drifting outside of myself, or focused on another person or people, I replay it in my mind, and visualize myself back there in the hall, looking down into my bowl, and it brings me back to where I need to be…present…clear…and focused on myself.


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