The Everyday Practice

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As a young man searching for truth I found a Sufi order and asked for instruction. My teacher gave me a series of practices, among which was a simple breathing prayer: “Open me Lord, and let me flow.” I was told to silently repeat on my in-breath: Open me Lord, and on my out-breath: and let me flow.

paintingAs a very earnest young student I took this practice to heart, repeating it whenever I remembered — sitting on my cushion, walking down a street, opening a door, preparing a meal, raising a spoonful of soup to my mouth. Open me Lord, and let me flow.

Unlike many in my generation, I didn’t have a problem with the word “Lord.” I wasn’t raised in a theistic tradition so the word didn’t resonate for me with authoritarian patriarchy — it just signified everything I didn’t understand about reality, all the awesome forces at work in the universe. Since I was a typical self-conscious young man tangled up in my thoughts and emotions, I had no confidence that I could open myself, but “Lord” — this incomprehensible power behind all things — to this I could appeal and submit. Open me Lord. Let me flow.

I repeated the prayer so often that the words became transparent to me, silent, leaving just a visceral motion of opening when I breathed with this intention — like a swing swinging in the open air. It became “my familiar,” and still is.

A few days ago, visiting a friend’s house, I saw these words from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche written in a framed calligraphy:

The everyday practice is simply to develop a complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions, and to all people, experiencing everything totally without mental reservations and blockages, so that one never withdraws or centralizes into oneself.

There it was. The entire teaching of my little breathing prayer was inscribed in Khyentse Rinpoche's sentence. His words don’t tell you how to respond “to all situations and emotions,” they don’t give you any moral guidance. They simply indicate the naked openness by which life can be lived most authentically.

The final phrase is particularly penetrating: ...so that one never withdraws or centralizes into oneself. How familiar is this movement of withdrawing and centralizing into oneself! Don’t we do it a thousand times each day? Things get hectic, we’re late to work, someone cuts us off, someone criticizes us, our family takes us for granted, we feel inadequate, or lonely, or without a meaningful future. Centralized into our self we join the world’s neurotic drama. But at least we think we know what’s happening; we have a point of view.

It takes profound trust to open from our solid point of view, from our withdrawal. Perhaps this is the utility of the word “Lord:” surrendering to universal forces you don’t understand, that are beyond your point of view. Open me Lord.

But there is something strange here. What is the “me” that is opened and that flows? When the me opens, is it any longer a me? When the me flows, what flows?

Here is the heart of this everyday practice. This is where it changes from words and good advice to in-your-face truth. Here we have to stop thinking, and look for ourselves. What “me” opens?

When we look, we don’t find anything! There is simply open, clear perception, immediate and naturally spontaneous.

Shabkar Lama, a nineteenth-century mystic-minstrel of the Tibetan plateau, speaks beautifully to this same question: What “me” opens?

Do not look at the vision but look for the viewer. Looking for the viewer, if you fail to find him, then your vision is at the point of resolution. This vision in which there is nothing at all to see but which is not a blank nothingness, is vivid and unalloyed perception of the here and now…

No viewer, no meditator, no actor, no me! Just this vivid openness, free of a me, free of withdrawal into a myself. This vividness, this freedom, is what flows, all by itself. Breathing now, Open me Lord, and let me flow.