By MARILYN WARLICK
Through the years with the FCM community, I have seen my relationship with selfless service develop as my meditation practice develops.
While from the outside, the “to do” lists appear the same, over the years the very same tasks have grown into a flowering of joyful efforts and from heartfelt gratitude now comes a desire to give.
Now this may seem a superficial statement.
How can computer work from home or making the drive to the meditation center for meetings, or selfless service on work days grow into flowers of joyful efforts? I find mindful experiences offer a cumulative effect of touching my practice and life deeply.
FCM selfless service, for me, began upon my arrival in Tampa from North Carolina in 2012 to help clean and remodel our newly purchased practice center. I had practiced with FCM for many years through distance membership and brief retreats. Now Sam and I were living on the grounds with the community 24/7!
Helping with this new beginning was exciting; however, I was also seeing familiar mental afflictions of “fitting in,” “getting it right,” or “seeming competent.” The second arrow, “but this is a mindfulness community, so I should not be having these afflictions rise?!” of course added to the energy of the doubts and anxious thoughts.
Developing a mindfulness practice within a community made a big difference for my life. This community of brothers and sisters were all aspiring to cultivate mindfulness energies and use practices such as working gathas and mindful breathing to nourish wellbeing for all of us, including myself. The joy that also arose in these first days and months was quite amazing.
So this mixture of joy and suffering in these early months was interesting, and I wanted to learn more.
For example, as I began to learn to invite the bell, I saw familiar afflictions rise -- my desire to be seen as competent and appreciated. But this time, this effort to learn a new skill was in the light of mindfulness and of a community supporting awareness. As a result, increasingly these afflictions were actually seen as “friends rising.” I could gaze with mindfulness and come to know these afflictions. In sharing our experiences as brothers and sisters, I could gaze in a much more friendly light of mindfulness upon these familiar companions in life.
As we all gave time and energies to cleaning, helping with various events at the new center, I had the opportunity to further learn. With any task, stopping, relaxing and calming were key, whether it was inviting the bell, or picking up trash left by the homeless neighbor who slept on the grounds last night. Mental afflictions arose and increasingly dissolved.
In the light of mindfulness, these afflictions while seemingly small or petty, actually had been a source of a great deal of suffering over the years. Now, in a mindfulness community, I could see the risings and learn to sit with and let go of these afflictions around work, acceptance of others, or self-criticisms.
As afflictions lost their energy, a rising of gratitude became present and generosity in giving service was energized. I could more clearly see and reflect upon the subtle mental chatter as the years rolled by. This was the chatter that, for decades, I had followed in my work, my relationships, my private time, this non-stop mental chatter.
Selfless service has helped me learn to be in the moment. The work gathas remind me to come back to just this moment. The brothers and sisters I spend time with enliven my heart and mind with joy as we share an intention to bring peace to ourselves and peace into our world. This common intention is like fuel in the body-mind to energize actions, try something new, make time in my life for one more task.
Earlier in life, taking on tasks would mean becoming so busy in the doing I would forget what I was doing or where I was. Now, selfless service is a welcome opportunity to come back to my breath and practice remembering what I am doing and where I am. I am in the present moment, a beautiful moment.
Marilyn Warlick is a member of the Tampa sangha, a retired mental health professional, founder of FCM's Death Cafe, and leads various workshops for FCM.