“When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it’s bottomless.” ~Pema Chodron
I always wanted to travel to exotic places. When I received an all-expenses-paid invitation to Bangkok after a conference accepted a paper I wrote, I jumped at the chance to go.
I brought my camera and lugged it around in an oversize fanny back worn backwards. Looking like a dork is a small price for the opportunity to catch the wonder of a moment.
The conference became a yearly event, and the overseas flights provided time to reread the Canon manual for umpteenth time. My mind is a sieve for numbers and buttons that require complex mathematical equations performed in an instant. I’m lucky to catch a great shot one-tenth of the time.
Most times I stick to photographing sumptuous statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. I am willing to wait hours for a shaft of light to strike them just so. Then I take a ridiculous numbers of shots just in case.
I’m not a techie, but this pursuit keeps butting me up against long lists of directions on computer screens with hieroglyphics that could make decoding an Egyptian tomb look easy.
While compiling my first photographic book I vowed to keep my cool at the computer. No ranting or raving at the keyboard; none of the usual expletives or threats to decimate the motherboard. I got more done than I ever could have imagined.
Now the ante has been upped with my second book on Guanyin, a female deity capable of the greatest love under the direst circumstances. But has she ever faced the endless void of interminable options on the Internet without the hope of a human touch?
In a moment’s notice, she can shift shapes to lift us out of a tough situation and firmly plant our feet on the road to enlightenment—or Kansas if necessary.
Guanyin inspired me to make a second promise to myself: to be kind to every person I encounter—even after days of questing for a techie to solve problems that I’m incapable of describing without using phrases like “what-cha-ma-call-it” or “thing-a-ma-jig.”
I knew that I could occasionally come across as brash when I asserted myself. That made this second commitment essential for my effectiveness.
I am also learning to befriend my brain when it forgets passwords and other web mantras, which can easily test my promises (to keep my cool and be kind to everyone). Isn’t it funny how some people can remember every detail of a loaded conversation but not the sequence to a link?
Nevertheless I’m doing whatever is necessary to successfully publish this next book and keep my commitment to the compassionate path. No matter what emotional storm is looming, I’ve learned to subdue the overwhelming winds of doubt and sidestep hails of self-criticism without taking it out on anybody else—most of the time.
If you’re also embarking on a creative project, you may find these commitments helpful:
Giving sometimes means shape shifting. I hated the thought of not being a “do-gooder’ and becoming a “businessperson.” Yet keeping track of the bottom line is the only way to make a book happen. Giving up my attachment to a lofty persona is doing my project good—and my project will do good for others.
Commitment: Give up who you think you are. It’s the most compassionate gift you have to offer. Open yourself to multiple identities. Plunge into the bottomless well of possibilities.
Birthing a book requires many weekends staring at a glowing screen while your friends are out hiking. I’ve learned to become a disciple of my deeper passion to share the beauty of the world with as many people as possible. It’s a different kind of fun.
Commitment: Just do it. Do it whenever, wherever, and however, and as best you can. Do it again if necessary. It usually is. Share wholeheartedly, and self-correct as needed.
Patience isn’t so much a virtue, as an opportunity to look closer and appreciate the details of a situation. It’s actually a way to befriend yourself and others. With patience, we see the good intention beneath the twisted route we often take in seeking to fulfill our dreams.
Commitment: Befriend the crooked path. Wait with curiosity. See frustration as an opportunity to find alternative solutions. See the good intention behind a fiasco.
I use to think of myself as lazy. No more. I want to see my book done well because I know my work will have a positive impact. Yoda says to align with the force. We are the force.
Commitment: Trust that you have all the vigor you need to accomplish tasks aligned to your truth. Touch into your heart’s longing, and your efforts will be expressions of love.
My teacher often says, “Rest in the nature of mind.” The key words here are rest, nature, and mind. Recharge daily with nourishing doses of tranquility and appreciation. Befriend the beauty of your own nature.
Commitment: Learn to meditate or deepen your practice. One of the best how-to books is Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg. It’s practical and accessible.
Good decisions and kind acts flow out of the wisdom we gain through practicing generosity, discipline, patience, energy, and tranquility. Each time I mess up, I have an opportunity to deepen in wisdom by gently reflecting on my actions and state of mind.
Commitment: Open your heart to everything you encounter on the crooked path. It’s less straight but more true. Peace will flow from the compassion and joy you discover each day.
Make these commitments to yourself and you’ll have abundant fuel for your own inspired journey.
Photo by Tom Chandler