By Jennifer Kim
Ugh – I woke up late with a sore throat. My jaw was still swollen after my root canal and the grey weather outside was not motivating me to tackle the hefty to-do list that lay ahead of me. I dragged myself out of bed and grumbled about fighting off yet another cold this winter. It was not turning out to be a good day.
I went to the kitchen sink to rinse the crust off some plates that had piled up from last night’s dinner. My grumbling turned into a whine, and then into a bit of panic about how I’d find the time to do everything on my plate once I’d finished washing my plates. Sometime after rinsing off the skin of a chopped tomato, I had a thought.
“Imagine you are washing away the delusions and suffering of all sentient beings.” This had been Lama Zopa Rinpcohe’s advice to students.
My mind rebelled. On one level, I had been enjoying the little pity party in the kitchen, but the habit of Dharma started to take over. I grumbled to myself, with Scotch-Brite in hand,
“I am washing away the delusions and suffering of all sentient beings.”
My mind rebelled again, thinking this was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard and wondering what good this would do. But then I began to imagine the water taking away the physical and mental pain of others. As soon as I did that, I started to feel happy. My grumbles subsided and I felt a sense of peace. This went on for about a minute. With a newly-cleaned mug in my hand, I asked myself, “Will this be a good day?”
Several years ago, I would have thought there was no choice in the matter. I would have taken refuge in sugary pastries (only to feel bad about it later) and my fantasy of vacationing to Aruba. I would have scolded my boyfriend for leaving the dishes out overnight and for making the room so cold that I got a sore throat. After work, I might have picked up some cute boots I had eyed while window shopping.
However, with years of Dharma lessons and practices slowly making a home in my mind, I told myself that morning, “I will make it as good a day as possible.” Later that morning, I went to my meditation cushion and did a brief compassion meditation – first for myself. As Venerable Amy had recently taught during a weekend teaching:
“Imagine there is a mirror image in front of you, and take away her suffering and pain, breathing the negativity in as dark smoke and letting it destroy the rock in your heart. When all that remains is light, give it to your mirror image for healing.”
A wave of peace and gentleness came over me, and that moment of self-compassion allowed me to open my heart to others more. My to-do list turned into a “try the best you can” list, aimed at helping out my boss and those who would benefit from our work. My sore throat served as a reminder that no one is immune to illness, and I felt a little bit more connected with the world. My chamber of chores (i.e., the kitchen) turned into an opportunity to be grateful for the hot, clean water at my disposal and for the roof over my head. Instead of taking refuge in sweets, sun, and shoes, I took refuge in my potential for inner calm and delight. It was the most gratifying refuge.
Later that morning, I was chatting with someone in my building about his bad week. I was able to offer a sympathetic ear and then a compliment. He said, “Thanks Jennifer. You made my morning.” Little did he know that he made my morning by saying that.
I’ve always loved the quote from Plato, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” That morning the battle was whether I would choose to be happy that day. Thanks to some Dharma training under my belt, I had become victorious, and the positive energy even rippled out a bit.
I know in my heart that I could not have done this without the presence of Shantideva Meditation Center. Amidst its ambitious aspirations to relieve all types of suffering and bring all beings to enlightenment, I was grateful that it allowed me to win my little battle at the kitchen sink.
I believe that winning the battle every day will lead to a happy life that benefits others. I’m not sure what could be better than that, and I’m grateful for Shantideva Meditation for teaching me how to transform a bad day into a good day and a meaningful life.
Jennifer has been a student of the Dharma since 2007 and an active member of Shantideva Meditation Center since 2010. She currently serves on the board, works in leadership and personal development, and washes dishes in her spare time.