Reb emphasises that one cannot be still by oneself, only together with all sentient beings. We cannot be ourselves by ourselves. All other beings are helping us, only we tend to forget about it. One cannot do anything by oneself. So Reb defines enlightenment as helping others and helping others as enlightenment. (Oneself is included in the realm of others, of course).
In the place of stillness the action and the actor (practitioner and practice) meet. The actor is the action. The action is the actor. When there is an actor in addition to the action, there is no stillness.
“…all right doing is accomplished only in a state of true selflessness, in which the doer cannot be present any longer as “himself”. Only the spirit is present, a kind of awareness which shows no trace of egohood and for that reason ranges without limit through all distances and depths, with “ears that hear and eyes that see”.
(E. Herrigel, “Zen in the art of archery” )
I connect the notions of action and actor to those of giving and receiving. Reb reminds us again that we all are already giving, only we unaware of it. In the realm of stillness and quietness, when I am my authentic self, whatever I do I do as a gift to all sentient beings. Every stroke I take when swimming in this – oh so cold! – sea is for the welfare of all sentient beings. Every dish I wash or every bite I take during lunch time I can make a gift to all sentient beings.
What would my meal look and feel like if I was eating it as a gift to many many others?
Wait, should we be actually thinking about the Dharma and devoting every stroke to all sentient beings when taking a swim? Some confused swimming that would be! No, just be your (authentic) self, moment after moment and you will be giving a gift of your (authentic) swimming to all sentient beings. Many of us can relate to the action arising from the core of us before the centralised self gets activated. I can imagine that an act of generosity comes from that open and free space at the center. We are generous even prior to that but we have to act generously (and without attachment) to realise generosity.
I found it harder to embrace the idea of giving when it feels as if I was taking something from someone or when I know that for a fact. How can I express my anger as a gift to you and others? What am I giving when I am leaving someone, walking away? The question is, how can I walk away so my walking away is a gift to the people I am walking away from (although they might not see that at the moment)? If I think of a particular situation in which I acted from my deeper self but that still might be upsetting for someone, I can see that I felt sad about the way the other person was taking it rather than about the choice itself. The next step is to open and allow for the other person to react in the way that reflects their deeper self which might not always feel like a bed of roses for me (what might their response be to me walking away?) And so this dialogue, the endless process of giving and receiving goes on and on.
You ask me for something and I say no. I like doing things for you and I don’t like saying no to you but this time I say no. It hurts me to see that expression on your face that I know so well and that I signals of your disappointment, frustration, anger… I want to turn away from that face but I stay and I receive it as a gift, too. You did not get what you asked for and I stayed with the disappointed expression on your face and faced your disappointment. Together we have created something. The meeting took place.
A friend of mine that has to interview people in the line of her job confessed to me that sometimes she finds it hard to approach people because she is afraid to bother them and that worris that she will be taking their valuable time. She doesn’t think she is worthy of their time. In a similar situation Reb advised the person to not take people’s time (because nobody’s worthy of somebody’s time) but instead to give them the gift of their time.
If we approach talking to people in this way, how does that effect what and – more importantly- how you will say next?
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings…
David Whyte, Everything is waiting for you