In Michael Carroll’s book Awake at Work: 35 Practical Buddhist Principles for Discovering Clarity and Balance in the Midst of Work’s Chaos he has a chapter on Extending the Four Composures.
I like the idea of using these composures for our “work” by the bedside. . . when we are being caregivers. When I apply them to what we do, they remind me of Frank Ostaseki’s Five Precepts for Compassionate Companioning.
Let’s take a look.
- The Composure of Kindness — Michael write, “The kindness we extend to ourselves in meditation we can now extend to others at work.” In this section, he talks about letting go… letting go of the story lines in our head, the beliefs that we have about a situation or a person.
- Instead, he suggests that like when we are on the meditation cushion, come back to the present moment again and again, the thing that teaches us to have kindness and compassion for ourselves as we sit.
- So can you imagine when you are sitting with your loved one, your patient, your client, waiting at the doctor’s office, or any of the things we do as caregivers, can you say to yourself, come back to my breath? Drop the storyline? Be present? Can you take the extra bit of effort to breathe deeply and let your shoulders drop and your brain waves change there, in that moment?
- The Composure of Respecting Difficulties — Michael states, “By sitting still with ourselves, we learn to respect and attend to our “negativities” rather than resist and argue with them.” In this section, he discusses the ability we foster. . . learning to respect what some might call our shadow side.
- Can you imagine what that might be like? To be able to be okay with your grumpiness, your short-sightedness, all of the things that we find to be awkward, stick, and uncomfortable about ourselves.
- Instead of our usual ways of dealing with ourselves and our “faults”, we can learn what might be like to have the energy it takes to usually push these parts of us away? Maybe that energy could be freed up for us to actually learn to have more patience, compassion, speak wisely, etc.
- The Composure of Calm Alertness — In this section Michael reminds us, again, what we learn to do on the cushion is what we learn to bring out into the world with us. While we’re on the cushion, we may notice that we are bored but we continue to come back to the present moment, attend to our breath.
- Instead of following up on the story that we are bored and seeing where that takes us — to the kitchen, to the television, etc. we sit with it. We place gentle attention and focus to our boredom and realize that we can have a level of calm alertness as we attend to our breath.
- Can you imagine? What would it be like in the fogginess of running around to doctor’s appointments, running errands, setting up meds, etc if we just sat and attended to that which is there, readily available, moment to moment.
- The Composure of Availability — In this section, Michael states, “On the cushion, we learn to be open and attentive.” Of course, remember, Michael is talking about using these precepts at work and for this lesson, he discusses applying effort that is not seeking results but being present to what is. Honestly, I don’t think it is any different in our lives at home either.
- We are a being that is stuck on the past, moving toward the future, and has difficult being in the present moment. But that’s why we practice, right? We learn to let go of reliving the past again and again. We learn to let go of putting effort into plans for the future.
- Imagine what it might be like, to be present with the person you love.. not thinking about your adult child as the little kid who scraped their knee or thinking ahead to this Christmas or Passover when that person may or may not be here. But being really present, making a snapshot, a memory right here and now, crystal clear to cherish. We can’t create that moment if we can’t be present to it.
Michael says in the book, Awake At Work, “Buddhists regard the very act of sitting itself as the ultimate expression of human decency and poise. Having the composure to sit down and be still is considered utterly dignified and profoundly human.”
Can you imagine what that might be like? What is it to be dignified and profoundly human? What does it mean to be that present to ourselves? to another person?
Can you imagine you, in this relationship with your loved one and it being an awakened relationship? One that helps you come to and be awake for the only thing that really matters, your love in that very moment.