I've generally slept better this week, though I woke up on Thursday morning feeling like I had slept very soundly, but spent the rest of the day with my body completely drained of energy. I can see so many conditioning factors at play here, though its hard to pin down what the decisive one was - storms, wind and rain - literal or subconscious. Practically speaking, deviating from my usual sleep regime (asleep before 10, up before 6) appears never to do me any favours. A series of late nights watching DVD's, going to the cinema, or spent glued to I-Player, can have an accumulative effect that I rarely make a speedy recovery from. Though I don't wish to seem like an inflexible old foggy who can't abide changes to his routines, I need to bare in mind what the practical limitations are. Otherwise I end up like I did this week, leaving work after lunch because I'm so tired I could hardly think straight, let alone pick orders.
Christmas feels like its descending upon me with undue haste and voraciousness. Like the 'exterminating angels' in the Grand Arcade in Cambridge (shown in the picture) its returned to suck out the remaining life blood of all souls and purses. I'm personally as unprepared as ever, and a trifle disinterested when faced with the amount of shopping involved. I can often feel myself mentally bailing out before I've even begun. However, yesterday Jnanasalin's Mum , Sister, Niece & Nephew came down to Cambridge for the day. We had a great time shopping together. I bought Jnanasalin's Christmas present; some Ben Sherman jeans and jumper in Debenham's half price sale. Regular input of fresh textile into Js's wardrobe is always appreciated, or he's not a contented bunny. Bought myself a grey cardigan too for £11, though I've not yet decided what needs to be thrown out in order to make room for it.
I'm rarely around young children much these days. So, spending most of the day in the company of a lively girl, nearly three years old and a ten month old boy, who seemed to do nothing but eat, smile and eat, was enjoyable, fascinating, and had moments of insightfulness. At their age children do demand so much attention, no one else can get a look in. I can't quite believe how there ever could be time for a meditation practice, let alone attaining Enlightenment, within a family context. I think this idea can only be categorised as 'theoretically possible', as even the Buddha had to walk away from family life and child rearing!!!
So, the day was swept along on a bubbly tide of child management, containing, directing, nurturing and instructing. This is not to say this wasn't also delightful and fun, because it was. I certainly enjoyed the day. But, it was a glimpse into a way of life I'm not liable ever to personally encounter on a daily basis, other than vicariously. I can see how child rearing successfully plugs the gap in the meaning and direction to ones life for a couple of decades or so. Women, in particular, I understand, can feel their lives as being empty or over once their children have flown the nest, having put so much of themselves into them. They then spend the next few years of their new found liberation, discovering or rediscovering who they are - sans kids.
Meanwhile, I'm still exploring, somewhat trepidaciously, who I am sans a permanent role or defining responsibility. This 'gap year' in the meaning and direction of my life, might have the flattering external appearance of sunyata with a strong light behind it, but I continue experiencing it as an anxiety filled void I'm perpetually on the verge of filling with any old rhubarb I can get hold of. My ego constantly grasps onto things to make into yet another vehicle for self-inflation. Even spreading the Dharma, or my status in the Order, can become poisoned by it - with what a wonderful speaker, teacher and Kalyana Mitra I might be, given the recognition, opportunity and space, for people to see how truly wonderful I am - etc, etc, ad infinitum. It can get thoroughly exhausting just trying to off set, wrong step or restrain it. But, when stepped down from the over inflated heights of these fantasies, there are ongoing issues concealed beneath them - what direction is my life going in at the moment? - what are my talents (humble as they may be), and how can they best be used? So I can't just ignore these as the pumped up folly of my ego. One needs to feel positively useful, however humbly.
Its an tantalising word 'humble', it definitely has a strong appeal conceptually, but the practicalities of it don't keep an 'egos' boat afloat. Humility is thankfully not easily corrupted by an ego. Though there is false humility done for the sake of good appearance and the spiritual kudos it brings. I'm not interested in such false humility here, but in a humility born from a genuine sense of who I am and my small place in the world. Humility in this case would be an expression of contentment with things just as they are, let alone a 'vision of things as they really are', though these two sources for humility 'relative' and 'absolute' are probably only a nudge apart. Most of the time I put enormous amounts of mental effort into expanding my small place in the world, to make it a bigger island, one more noticeable from space, a unique or significant place in the human archipelago. Dogen constantly uses the phrase of his Master Ru-jing, about the 'dropping away of your body and mind, and the body and mind of the external world' It gives you a sense that its a humble, equanimous space that one should fall into, once you drop your own, and the worlds, ego driven compulsions. Though I am no where near knowing what that is for real, as yet.