Setsubun – Lunar New Year
Today we get a second chance to begin the year in a new way. How are things going with your New Year resolutions? Have you stuck with things as you hoped to do or have you forgotten some of your intentions for the New Year? Well today you get another chance to begin again.
At the Setsubun celebration it is traditional to do a thorough cleaning of one’s home, sweeping and dusting and preparing for a new clean beginning. Yesterday I went through the entire building and dusted everything, washed all my dirty cloths, finished up a few small projects around the house, washed all the dishes. Now if you know me I am not the best at getting those kind of activities done.
In case you haven’t done any of the cleaning yet for the Lunar New Year, it isn’t too late. You can always choose the Chinese Lunar New Year date of February 10th this year. You could make a goal of doing a thorough cleaning all this week and culminating with a fresh start to the new year next week.
Of course while you are cleaning and starting fresh you might consider your spiritual house as well as your physical house. Tricycle magazine designates February every year as meditation month. During the entire month of February the goal is to sit on your mat every day this month. In case you missed that it will be all right if you begin today with making a determination of some form of Buddhist practice for the next twenty-eight days.
I read one person’s comment that he just makes a goal of actually only sitting on his cushion for a few seconds. Once he gets on his mat he figures he might as well go ahead and stay there for a few minutes, which of course turns into more.
For us meditation also includes chanting the Odaimoku as well as reciting the sutra. It also can include walking meditation, intentional walking while chanting, it could include copying the sutra, you might make a goal of writing out the portions of Chapter II and Chapter XVI we chant as part of our service. There are many ways in which you may practice every day and participate in Meditation Month.
One of my learning goals this unit in my training to become a Board Certified Chaplain is to improve my listening skills. I have begun reading a couple of books to formulate an action plan on how to do this. I have to turn in my goals and how they will be implemented as well as ways for my supervisor to measure my improvement.
It is interesting that just the other day a supporter of the temple wrote to me asking how to engage in a conversation with their partner. The difficulty that person present was how to convince their partner to change their mind; how to persuade the other person.
I don’t have any illusions of being an expert on this mind you but I do have some experiences and some guidelines, or suggestions, on how to be more effective in our communications.
Actually we don’t need to go very far to get the most important element in effective communication; listening.
“’Listen to me attentively, and think over my words! Now I will expound [the Dharma] to you.’” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter II)
“Listen to me with one mind!” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter V)
I could quote for quite some time as the word listen appears 22 times in the Lotus Sutra.
The first place to begin to improve our communications is to listen, to listen with one mind, to listen deeply. When we focus our entire presence on the other person and what they are saying we can begin to more deeply hear their needs.
When we begin to listen deeply we can learn what we things we don’t know from the other person’s perspective. We might learn that what we thought they meant is not actually what they intended for us to assume. When we listen deeply, with one mind, we shift our focus from our self and our personal needs and ideas to the other person’s needs and ideas.
In the process of listening deeply we might even be able to help the other person in their communication with us by asking them questions for clarification and understanding. Again, in our questioning, we should be seeking clarification not as a round about way of furthering our own personal ideas.
When we listen to the other person we should strive to make eye contact, not interrupt, not finish their sentences. Once they have finished talking we might ask some questions if we are not sure, we might restate what we think they said to seek clarification of our understanding; paraphrasing.
I am personally undertaking improving my listening not just so that I can be a better Chaplain but also so that I can be a better person, by connecting with other people more deeply.
I’ll let you know what I learn and how my practice goes.
If you have some experiences you would like to share please share your comments.
I wish you all a wonderful New Year, full of life enhancing changes and one of great fortune.