Freedom From Care
When Thomas Merton entered the Trappist monastery for the first time, he experienced a profound sense of freedom. He said the monastic life was free from care. He meant, I think, freedom from the day to day cares afflicting most humans. His life became simpler. But he did not mean freedom from caring. Our capacity to be mindful of the needs of others is what lifts the human experience out of basic animal instinct into the realm of compassion.
When I entered a yoga ashram for an extended stay, I experienced the simplicity of a set daily rhythm. No longer worrying about many of the usual householder tasks, I could deepen my sense of caring for others as we worked as a community to serve the needs of guests. In some ways, it was freedom to care more deeply. It is not always easy in a concentrated environment—no rest for the weary. This was the first time I had direct experience with the idea expressed in our dedication prayer: “May I not become tired and weary while accomplishing the benefit of others.”
As I moved out of the monastic experience and returned to my householder duties, I realized we all live in a kind of monastery. For instance, if we are in a long term committed relationship, it requires something of us. It stretches us beyond the limits of self absorbed behavior. To embrace the householder path means to become free from care but more deeply caring—free from silly dramas the mind creates in favor of being lovingly mindful of another’s needs. It is not always easy and requires a delicate balance lest we fall into the trap of becoming a ‘sad saint’.
Many people become martyrs to their belief systems by ignoring their own needs. It is important to recognize we are one of those “others” to whom we are offering loving kindness. If not, we will miss the point of compassionate caring. Padmasambhava said it this way: “People whose practice is only self-seeking will rarely find happiness. It is therefore essential to exert yourself for the welfare of others. When practicing for the welfare of others you may be free of self-interest but your own benefit will be spontaneously accomplished. Keep that in mind.”