In every moment in our lives, as we move through the world, we are flooded with a torrent of sensory impressions: sights, sounds, sensations, scents, taste, touch, and thoughts. Most of this we do not control and we’re asked to meet.
An image that is used in the Buddhist tradition is of a house with five open windows and an open door. Through the open windows and the door flows this world of sensory impressions. And out from the open windows and the door flows our inner world of responses or reactions. What we learn to do is to place calm abiding and skillful intentions on the windowsills and the door sill of that house. We learn we can practice some restraint at the sense doors.
If we truly wish to develop samadhi, or inner collectedness, this element of restraint is quite crucial. Not pursuing every sight, not hungering for more sights, more sounds, more sensations, and more stories. We learn to put down that hunger and practice some restraint at the sense doors.
The Buddha speaks so much about the wisdom of guarding the sense doors. And this doesn’t mean defensiveness. It’s not about shutting out the world or trying to flee from the world. It’s about being aware of how we are present in the sense doors. Are we practicing craving or aversion? Are we practicing a mind that says, “More, more, more?” Or do we appreciate what a crucial point this is, of the meeting of our sense doors with the sensory world around us? We can learn to re-perceive with appreciation and sensitivity, to see, listen, and touch fully, and to be wholehearted in our interactions.
We can’t always choose what flows into the sense doors, but we have many choices about what flows out.
Here is where the cultivation of a well-trained heart, a well-trained mind, and the cultivation of collectedness is deeply important. We can learn to respond with appreciation and sensitivity. To see fully, listen fully, and to touch fully. To be wholehearted in our interactions, with appreciation and care.
The world simply doesn’t need more craving, agitation, or ill will. We realize that we are a conscious participant in how our world at the moment is being shaped. Samadhi is crucial in knowing what is happening within us—to know what to feed and what to fast. To know in all the moments of the flooding of the sense doors that we have the capacity to collect and gather ourselves and to be clear in our intentions.
The Buddha speaks of wise intention as not grasping at the sensory impression or the associations with it. With intentional samadhi, we have the choice to not build a narrative about what is seen, heard, or touched. We keep the front door open—receiving the world with calm abiding, sensitivity, and wise intention—but we also keep the back door open, allowing this world of sensory impression to flow through rather than to be clung to or grasped at.
In the midst of a life that is filled with responsibilities, expectations, and doing, the cultivation of calm abiding and inner collectedness offers a way of living that is graceful, steady, and uncluttered.
Yes, cultivating samadhi in our lives is challenging, but it’s also deeply rewarding. We may need to experiment with changing some of the habits and familiar ways of living.
Do our lives need more simplicity? Are they too cluttered? Can we consider what is essential to our well-being? What is inessential? Can we learn to calm down some of the rhythms of our days to create space for stillness? Can we learn to bring more stillness into our narrative-building and the agitations we may encounter? Can we sit on the bus or in our car without having the radio on? Without the plan of arriving? Do we find ourselves too busy?
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