A lot of spiritual folks seem to have the belief that in discarding attachments to the material world, we somehow have given ourselves a license to be really sloppy in how we approach life. So, if we have given up our attachments to money, then--according to this theory--it is no longer important for us to look seriously at how we handle money. Or if we have given up our attachments to sex, then it is no longer important how we handle sexual energy. Such folks can eventually justify any action or inaction in the material world on the basis that it doesn't matter because we have let go of our attachment to that world. Pretty soon, these kind of seekers are decidedly not living what you would call a tight life.
As Buddhists we have a somewhat different take on things. We recognize that our physical surroundings have a definite effect on our state of consciousness. This is not to say that we are attached to our surroundings--if we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, we simply deal with it (often by moving a lot of our energy into our navel chakra) and don't dwell on it. Buddhists need to do this all the time. But as Buddhists, we also--given the choice--would prefer to be in higher physical surroundings that are more conducive to higher states of mind. It's just one of those paradoxes--koans if you will--about us as American Buddhists. We have no particular attachment to one job over another--just as long as it pays at least $150 an hour! Just kidding--but not really!
Seriously, though, as Buddhists we've scoped out that we need a certain amount of power to be able to attain Enlightenment, and we have to analyze our lives to determine where we are losing power. We need to live a tight life where there aren't any areas where we lose power. If we sit down and meditate, and find that a lot of pressing worries about the "real world" are interfering with that meditation, then it will just be that much harder to stop thought--the monkey of the mind will be especially active. If our lives are tight, there just isn't as much to think about when we meditate and we'll reach a higher place.
To lead a tight life, one of the first things to do is to clean out your closets. Generally speaking, anything you've had for more than six months without using should be discarded--especially the things that we have some emotional attachment to. If an object is truly a power object for us, we'll use it regularly and should keep it--but old stuff that we don't use just has to go. Then look at personal relationships in your life. This is where a lot of people have a tough time--they just aren't willing to let go of relationships that aren't working for them. And maybe some of our relationships are working well for us--but the ones that aren't have to be discarded ruthlessly.
Then we need to look at things like whether our bills are paid, and whether there are unresolved legal issues--like maybe a divorce that was never settled or finalized--that we've got to deal with.
One of the
best things to do is to hang out with others who are similarly
interested in leading a tight life. This is definitely not always
our Sangha, although it can be. But we'll find that certain people
just seem to have their lives in better order than others, and
if we hang out with them as much as possible, we'll find that
we begin to acquire a lot of their traits. I've generally found
that my life is healthiest if I keep my friends about 50-50 between
Rama students and non-students. Too many non-students, and I lose
sight of what the study is all about. Too few non-students, and
I lose the opportunity to learn from the perspective of others.
When I have the right combination of people in my life, it seems
that the process of getting my life tight almost happens by itself.
And that's when the real magic starts!
Rama taught us a great deal about "tightening up" the first attention, the physical world of balancing our checkbooks, cleaning our closets, working on our careers, all the physical world details of life. He told us more than once that 90% of what we do around here (meaning meditating and studying about enlightenment) is not visible. The 10% we can see is not the most "important" stuff, yet it is the stuff we can visibly look at and notice if there is improvement. He taught us that intensely working on the 10% could dramatically assist us with progress in the 90% that is not visible (this assumes one is meditating daily).
Thus, if someone is teaching about meditation, they may spend time encouraging students to work on areas of life other than the morning/evening meditation time because as those other areas are cleaned up, consolidated or "tightened up," new energies become available for making further progress with the meditative arts.
There is a line in one of the I Ching hexagrams that Rama would quote to us sometimes. (The I Ching is a Chinese Book of Wisdom from enlightened Taoist sages that Rama said had a very high gradient of light coming through it.) The hexagram says something about when you are experiencing a blockage in one area, rather than banging your head against the wall with it, "Make energetic progress in the good." In other words, work on something you can see results with. That takes your awareness out of the dim, frustrated regions and back into bright, shiny fields again.
Rama told us it is important to feel that your life is "on a roll." It is inevitable that from time to time your life will fall off that feeling, and what mattered to Rama was how quickly you could course-correct and get back on track again.
"Tightening up" can include going back to basics. Look at your exercise, diet, cleanliness of house/car, how you are spending your time (too much time lost in video games/on the phone gossiping/web surfing/nightclub crawling, etc.?), and so forth. If you keep a time-log calendar of your day and review it at night before you go to bed, are you satisfied you have made the best use of your time? Rama encouraged everyone to have a calendar and a watch and to be conscious of time.
The more we travel in the realms of light, the more we benefit from structure in the realms of the physical world. If the rent is not paid or the bills are behind, it becomes harder to let go and meditate as those pressures tend to barge into the mind. The more you can take care of in your life, the easier to become still in meditation. Some people go so far as to be paid up a month in advance on bills so they are living in a "surplus" consciousness.
Rama would pose us questions about our physical life: Is your will up to date? When did you clean out your wallet/purse last? Is the refrigerator clean? Are you in love with all the clothes in your wardrobe (otherwise, replace them as budget allows)? Are your taxes filed? Are your files in order with extraneous papers thrown out? Is your career flourishing? If you left the body right now, what kind of mess are you leaving for someone else to clean up on the physical? How can you tighten that, bring more awareness/beauty to each area of your life?
Tightening can also refer to watching our use of energy with others. Are we pulling on other people for attention? Are we wasting time in associations that are going nowhere? Are we being respectful towards the time of others and keeping our interfaces efficient, bright, productive?
First steps of tightening are about cleaning up places in our lives that have some sloppiness about them. Rama counseled to take things in small steps. For example, if someone had a really messy house and felt it was hopeless to clean it, Rama would suggest "start with a corner in one room and then expand from there." Pick an area or two that you know needs work and make some progress with that.
Self-discovery is an ongoing adventure. "Make energetic progress in the good."
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