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From China, For the benefit of all beings…Whoa.

IDP member Angela Russo writes from China, where she is currently doing fieldwork, to share some of her experience with practice as she travels. Due to poor Internet connectivity, I am posting this on her behalf.

“For the benefit of all beings….”

Many of us recite this phrase daily or at least our intentions do.  We strive to have each action reflect our hope for a society more at ease, instead of only for personal gain. For some of us, these six words serve as a reminder of this intention. And whether you consider yourself a Buddhist, community worker, or simple human being working towards a more mindful society, I think there can be no other intention more beautiful and terrifying in practice.

As I write this, I am sitting in a café in China, a few days before leaving to Tibet for field work. I recently have begun working for an organization that led me here for the rest of the summer. Those who know me well know this new role is much more than just a job to me. It has bridged many aspects of my life together. There is no longer that sense of  separation between my self and my work. It's simply... life.

Outside of a local restaurant

I am grateful ... and terrified.

While every moment is a chance to practice compassion and maintaining an open heart, this journey has thrown me face first into putting this theory (among many theories) into practice. As practitioners, life throws many of these moments our way. Yet, as a community service worker, it seems at the very least, 40+ hours of moments each week require not only actions that must “benefit all beings” but also require each one to come with specifically detailed objectives for each action. Way before you even have begun to act. (Not to mention put it into report and budget forms). We are given programs, titles, funds, a community of countless individuals and families, and told to do something.

Whoa.

Despite several years of experience, I am continually learning how groundless and terrifying community work is. There are so many things at play, so many stakeholders, so many causes and conditions that it can make your head spin. Apply those five words above, throw in “strategic planning,” and you’re running towards the door. (Couple that with an ever-changing and complex situation like the one I work with and you may be flying towards the door.)

When you’re trying earnestly to “benefit” others, or “do good work,” as I often say, overwhelm can easily set in. Many times over the last few weeks I’ve felt the urge to leave my seat or hide. There have been countless moments of frustration with myself and others. Many moments full of feelings of unworthiness.

During such moments in the past, I’ve turned to my meditation cushion or sorted out a few of my teacher’s books or videos to find some clarity. Fortunately, I make it a point to travel with some items from my altar. Unfortunately, my teacher’s materials are inaccessible here. But thankfully I signed up for a daily Lojong saying digest email before I left. It sends me a slogan each day, along with commentary.  The other day it sent me the slogan, “Don’t misinterpret.” While the slogan itself didn’t jump out to me, Pema Chodren’s commentary did. She wrote:

So, ‘Don’t misinterpret’ really gets at the notion of the big squeeze. It's saying that you don't know what's going to help, but you need to speak and act with clarity and decisiveness. Clarity and decisiveness come from the willingness to slow down, to listen to and look at what's happening. They come from opening your heart and not running away.

I realized that I had turned my intention to work “for the benefit of all beings” into an agenda. Instead of motivating attentiveness and collaboration, it was taking me far away from my surroundings. Far away from the project and community at hand. And if I learned anything from practice and life, maintaining openness and compassion (especially towards myself) is all I need to help others. Yet, my fear of failing others was actually leading me straight to it.

Chodren goes on to write that, “we make a lot of mistakes,” especially the wisest and most courageous. The only difference is, they’ve used such “occasions as opportunities to humble themselves and open their hearts.”

So, as I prepare myself for this journey, here and at home, I will practice not picking up the burden of “all beings” but instead continually dropping my all personal expectations.. And most importantly, use each moment I fail at this as a chance to laugh and open a little more. So I can be able to simply listen... able to simply be open, clear, and ready. 

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