Good morning thank you for being here today. It is a beautiful day outside and I hope that you will have a chance to enjoy the weather today after we are finished with service. Today some of us are going to the park to play disc golf and I invite anyone who would like to join us to do so.
As some of you may know I began taking a course on pastoral care from the Carolinas medical center, we are now in week five out of ten. It has been a very good learning opportunity for me. Today I would like to share with you a few tips for living a healthier life.
Tip number one is to be better not perfect. Last week at the end of our Oeshiki service I spoke about the trajectory of our lives and I made the comment that rather than looking at each day or each moment as an indicator of how our life is progressing or how our faith is advancing we should instead look at a longer range of time say perhaps a year or two or even five or ten years. If we use only a short period of time we may tend to become discouraged because everything was not perfect. However, if we use a longer period of time we may find great changes based on our lives becoming better over that extended length of time.
In being better not perfect, the idea is that by continually making changes by continually making progress we actually improve our lives in a much more significant and profound way than if we focused on trying to achieve perfection. Achieving perfection is not possible no matter what and so we are bound to suffer. Desiring perfection is an attachment to something that is impossible to achieve.
Tip number two is to try something new. When we try something new whether it relates to Buddhism or some other aspect of our life we actually create an opportunity to expand our minds to expand our life experiences and thereby grow in ways, which we would not have done so otherwise. For example, as some of you may know I have been playing disc golf with some of the guys from the temple now for almost a year, it has been quite an enjoyable experience, though I must admit that I am not good. It has provided a good opportunity for me to get to know some of you better and also a good opportunity for me to get some much-needed exercise. Also recently I have begun this course in pastoral care, which I mentioned at the beginning of this dharma talk. Both of these activities have expanded my life in different and meaningful ways.
A couple of weeks ago I was visiting one of the patients I was assigned to for the day and in the course of our conversation I asked the young man about his injury. He explained to me that he had received it playing a game that he did not think I would know about. He then said he had received the injury playing disc golf. I told the young man that I did indeed know about disc golf and that I played it with some of the young man from my temple. He was surprised to hear that I played this game. Because of my experience with disc golf I was able to relate to and talk with this young man in ways that I would not have otherwise been able to.
Tip number three is laugh often. For me this step is very natural, I love to laugh and as some of you may know I love to joke around. Sometimes I may even joke around too much. I believe it is much easier to be joyful and smile than it is to frown and be unhappy. It is also much easier to be around someone who is happy than someone who is not happy.
While it is certainly OK, and even natural, to experience sadness and sufferings, it should not be a normal all the time phenomena, after all the purpose of our Buddhist practice is to learn how to overcome suffering. It is also not a pleasant condition for others to experience if we are that way all the time. At first it may seem to require extra effort to smile, especially when we may not feel like it. However, the more we smile the more others around us will also smile which in turn reinforces our own joy and makes it easier in return. If we are always frowning or unhappy then eventually people become tired of us and do not want to be around us.
Tip number four is to exercise daily. Here is a difficult tip to follow because I am sure that each of us on one hand know we do not get enough exercise but on the other hand find it difficult to actually engage in activities that benefit us as exercise. Frequently I am sure that when we get you get home from a day of work you feel tired and you feel that you have perhaps exercised enough or that you are too tired to exercise. Yet the tiredness we feel from work is not the same kind of tiredness we feel if we actually get up and do some exercise. Just taking a walk around the block, taking the time to actually elevate our heart rate and to increase our breathing makes our blood flow faster and replenishes the oxygen level in our blood cells at a greater rate thereby elevating our heart rate in a way that does not occur merely from work.
Walking even for a short while allows our mind to clear itself especially if during this time of year as we walk around our neighborhood we take a look at the trees and their leaves or even look at the leaves that have accumulated on people’s lawns or on the street. As we walk around there are many things to examine many things to take joy in.
I like tip number five a lot, it says two dance as if no one is watching. I think this is an important tip. Imagine if you will how you would do things differently if no one were watching what you were doing. Would you feel more relaxed and would you find more joy in what you were doing if you could alleviate the pressure of pleasing someone else? All too often we make ourselves more stressed and very up tight because we worry about what others will think of us. It is difficult to be able to enjoy one’s self and one’s life if we are continually worrying about other people and what they think about us.
By removing our concern for other people’s judgments of our actions it frees us up to make mistakes and to learn from them and to enjoy those things that we are engaged in. All too often we worry so much about what other people will think of us and about trying to be perfect for them that we fail to fully engage our lives in the things that we are doing. Of course this is difficult to do but once you’ve let go of the fear of judgment by others of the fear of embarrassing yourself you can have much more joy in your activities.
I am reminded of the story of the two young boys who made mud pies and gave them to the Buddha as gifts when he was passing by. The Buddhas accepted these humble gifts with great joy and even predated that one of the boys would have been reborn as King Asoka of India, the great Buddhist king. Now these two boys gave the Buddhas mud pies without thinking about what someone would think of their gift. They gave the gift without concern for judgment of others. They gave a gift from their heart. How many of us would so joyfully or so freely give a gift to the Buddha that we did not fret over or that we did not try to process in many many ways judging whether or not our gift would be worthy? I think that many of us would process the gift in our mind in many ways trying to determine what the Buddha would think of our gift for how the Buddhas would judge our gift rather than focusing on giving with great joy.
Tip number six is to get a good night’s sleep. I know that sometimes this can be difficult to do. For example, as I have gotten older it has become increasingly difficult to sleep the entire night. And I fondly remember the times when I could sleep for hours and hours at a time but as a person gets older they also sometimes require less sleep. Getting enough sleep, regardless of how your body actually manages it, is important. It is not just resting our bodies that occurs when we sleep but also a resting of our brain as it allows us time to assimilate all of the day’s stimulus and an opportunity to process all of our daily experience as well as refreshing itself.
Tip number seven is to build self discipline. Every day when we remember to do our daily prayers we are in fact building our self discipline. How many of us find it very easy to skip a service, thinking that there will be little harm in doing so? And perhaps there will be very little immediate discernible harm that occurs by not doing our daily service. But the greater harm comes as a result of not building our self discipline. It is the accumulation of this daily activity, of adhering to this discipline, that we set for ourselves that can ensure our continued growth. Think of it in terms of a musician or in terms of an athlete, every day they must practice in order to ensure their continued development and to ensure that they stay in the best of condition. It is the self discipline they have developed that is a large factor in the success of what ever their undertaking.
Tip number eight is to wish upon a falling star. While this may seem fanciful and childish it is actually very important. When we have a wish or when we have a dream we have a goal and we have something to reach for. This dream or wish allows us to further expand our lives to further increase our capabilities and also to become happy. If we had no dream or if we had no goal then we would be content to live each day exactly as the day before. To have a dream expands our lives.
Tip number nine is to remember that being is better than having. This should be especially evident for us as Buddhists. Every day in prayer we remind ourselves to be mindful and to be content. This may seem contradictory to the previous tip where we are wishing for things or where we have dreams. But in fact they are very similar. When we have dreams that are based upon improving our life for improving ourselves in some way or in helping others we can actually fulfill both tip number eight and tip number nine at the same time. Being a human being, alive in each moment is much better than possessing something that will in time deteriorate or change or vanish from our lives.
Finally tip number ten says to not take it personally. All too often, when someone says something about us, or when someone criticizes us, we take it too personally. We should remember that someone else’s opinion of us is their possession and not our own. We are under no obligation to accept their opinion or judgment of us. Now of course, it is important to be always aware of a constructive suggestion on how we may improve our lives when others give them to us, but it is entirely up to us and not up to them. What matters most is your personal development. What matters most is your joy in your life. It is not something that someone else can decide for you. By the same token, we should not take it personally when someone praises us either. We must maintain balance in both regards. Remember, while some people may have your best interest at heart, many people really have their own interests at heart. It is important to be always aware of the differences. If I criticize someone, often times I have experienced that it is a criticism based upon what I want and so I try to be careful to not do that. While we may make suggestions for how people may improve their lives it is always cautionary to do so. So when someone makes a suggestion to you or criticizes you in some way please try to process it in a healthy way, in a balanced way.
I hope you find these ten tips helpful in some small way. I know that you may forget some of them, that is alright. Even if you only remember one and work on that you will I am sure be developing yourself in a most positive and beneficial way. It is the small steps accumulated over a long distance that matter most, rather than taking a few large steps and then becoming tired and abandoning your journey.
Now let us enjoy some refreshments.