My parents worked hard their entire lives. Watching them work day and night, I made a secret vow as a child to find ways to enjoy life, to have fun. The problem was, I didn’t know that enjoying life had to do with nourishment and not so much with earthbound desires. So I found myself using all the money I earned to indulge in food, parties, anything to satisfy whatever craving I had. I thought giving myself whatever I desired was the way to nourish myself. Of course, I went deep into a great amount of suffering.
My next attempt at nourishment again included some level of feeding my desires. I took long walks and baths, received manicures, pedicures, and bodywork, and listened to soft music. Although these things were much more nourishing than what I had previously chosen, their temporary nature could not sustain me through the difficulties of daily life. “What is the experience of being deeply nourished?”
In 1988, a friend introduced me to Buddha’s teachings. In the beginning of the path I became aware of how I put suffering at the center of my life. After hours of chanting and meditation in an environment of stillness and concentration I could see that I had not yet cultivated the seeds of joy in my life, and therefore deep nourishment, in the context of dharma practice, was not available to me. As bodhisattvas or spiritual warriors, we are challenged to balance the enormous hours of work and the need to nourish ourselves in a way that truly sustains our lives.
The Buddha said, “Faith is nourishment.” With faith, there’s no need to cling to external pleasurable things for a joyful life. Instead, there is an understanding that nourishment comes from trusting the core teachings of Buddha: compassion, wisdom, love, and peace.
With those teachings I can experience nourishment as spiritual sustenance, in whatever form it appears. When I feel extreme emotions such as grief or anger, I take time out to sit with how I feel without analysis. I just acknowledge that something is happening as I breathe through life, and the tears I shed are nourishing. When I feel disconnected from people around me, long walks in the woods among the trees can bring me back to the nature of life, and I am sustained by returning to the earth. When I am listening to music, especially my own drumming, a note, a rift, can often touch places deep inside, previously unknown to me, and the touch into my heart is nourishing. Yet I cannot just decide that crying, walking in the woods, or listening to music will always be a nourishing experience. Expectations of such can lead to suffering if the walk is not in the right place, the music off center, or the crying interrupted.
Recently I sat with Tenshin Reb Anderson, a senior dharma teacher at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. I had just returned from New Mexico and felt extremely tired and out of sorts. I complained of not being able to meditate and felt my practice was not where it ought to be. He looked at me with much caring and said, “You don’t believe that resting is part of your practice.” There was a long pause. If I made resting a part of my practice, then the deep nourishment that comes from following the path of dharma would be available to me. It was a waking moment. A nourished life is one in which I care for my life so that I can follow the way of a bodhisattva in ending suffering. And I need rest for such a life.
We must ask each moment, “What is the experience of being deeply nourished?” And yet our bodhisattva path need not be an arduous journey of working endless hours but rather a moment-by-moment effort of nourishment in order to engage in loving intimacy with others. In this way, a deeply nourished life can take a direction of liberation by which production (labor) is not the measure of our worth. A vow to rest is a vow for peace.