Adapting to Love

I used to manually shovel snow for our home and that of three to five neighbors. It is a labor of love but my 66-year-old body is not as adaptable to this kind of stress as was my younger self. I now have a small snow blower. So, I shovel a bit and blow a bit. It is a better balance for my physical health. But I do feel a twinge of remorse as I watch the snow machine belch hydrocarbons into the air. The discomfort dissipates a little when I receive grateful words from a 96-year-old and a wheel chair bound neighbor.

I suppose we all have to find a balance in this samsaric existence. I want to live with sensitivity to the environment and I also am compelled to help others according to my capability. Even the snow shovel is a product of petroleum—its plastic blade has to come from refined oil at some point. I wonder how a bodhisattva would deal with this conflict. I suspect they would not have developed a petroleum based economy in the first place.

But here we are with our plastic society. Ironically, the word plastic can mean fake, contrived, lacking spontaneous quality, and unnatural. The word can also mean easily moldable, malleable, resilient, flexible, and adaptable. A bodhisattva, the embodiment of compassion, is more of the latter. In any situation a bodhisattva uses the energy, in whatever form, to be of benefit to others. They are very plastic and adaptable. They do not sit and stew about it. They simply act with kindness.

The research into meditation bears out this natural flexibility. Studies centered around mindfulness and meditation practices seem to indicate these disciplines help to increase the brain’s neuroplasticity, the ability to create new responses to a variety of stimuli. When the brain relaxes, our mind becomes very resilient and malleable because it no longer depends solely on old patterns. On a very rudimentary level this reduces our stress. On a deeper level, we become more alive to possibilities. Interestingly, when we are more adaptable, we tend to be more loving. 

Buddhist teachings suggest when we settle the mind into natural non-habitual spaciousness, we become more flexible and compassionate. We move from fake plastic to neuroplasticity. We rediscover the inner bodhisattva. I am excited to see the Western world is validating what has always been known about the benefits of meditation. Maybe now we will settle our minds and pay attention. Maybe we will look up from our devices and see the person in front of us. Maybe we will hear the call for kindness and compassionate activity. Maybe we will heal the wounds of the world.

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