Offering Yourself to the World

by Rev. Elizabeth Stamper, MS, LMHC

October 2009

“The purpose of [Buddhist] meditation practice
is not to become a good Buddhist …
The purpose of meditation is to realize your self—
to be more deeply in touch with who you truly are
and have the courage, kindness and goodheartedness
to offer yourself to the world—who you truly are.”
(Edward Espe Brown, Zen Priest)

Rev. Elizabeth Stamper

I love the idea that we meditate not to become something different than what we truly are—something than what we already are in our essence—but to find and realize that essence, that True Self. Then, as we make that discovery, our practice supports us in offering that Self to the world.

This, Ed Brown says, takes kindness and goodheartedness, which implies that when we bravely offer who we truly are, it is a good thing—it blesses the world. It blesses all of creation whenever we can offer who we truly are to the world.

Through the process of mindfulness meditation, one way we discover who we are is by seeing who we are not. With “wise attention,” we watch the thoughts go through our heads, we notice the feelings move through our bodies, and we practice not identifying with or attaching to any of the stories our egos tell us.

The great Tibetan teacher Lama Yeshe wrote:

“At the moment, with respect to what we think we are, we’re living in a fantasy world. It’s completely imagined…. What we think we are has nothing whatsoever to do with reality. Hearing this might freak you out—’I know who I am!’ But, according to Lord Buddha, our ego’s way of putting together what we are is a total fantasy. We create this bubble of our own identity and then spend all our time running here and there trying to keep it together.” (from Becoming the Compassion Buddha)

In meditation, we let go of that effort “to keep it together” and instead, we breathe with the intention to be the space through which all these waves of thought and emotion and sensation move. The classic analogy is that the vast, primordial field of awareness (which is our essence) is like the empty sky through which clouds of thought and feeling arise and disappear.

In this excerpt from his poem, Breathing, Thich Nhat Hanh describes the experience of being essence:

Breathing in,

I am still water.

I reflect the sky faithfully….

Breathing out,

I offer the perfect reflection

Of my mirror-mind.

Breathing in,

I have become space

Without boundaries.

I have no plans left.

I have no luggage.

Breathing out,

I am the moon

That is sailing through

the sky of utmost emptiness.

I am freedom.

However, until we become that freedom, we will sit in meditation with the seemingly unending and random or disturbing or boring (or even amusing) chatter of the mind. This sitting takes courage and determination. It takes patience to keep letting the thoughts go and perseverance to keep coming back to the breath.

We develop compassion for ourselves and others as we release the tales of praise and blame. We are told that the seeds of all these qualities are within us—that Buddha nature is in us as the full potential for an oak tree is within the acorn—and so we cultivate these seeds with our practice. Slowly, we begin to see that the mind’s mythologies are not who we are.

When thought stops altogether, even for a moment,  and we move into the field of awareness itself, we experience the “space with no boundaries,” where there is only infinite peace, vibrating stillness and radiant love. This is who we are.

When our awakened moments are coupled with the slow wearing away of our identifications and the persistent releasing of attachments through practice, then we feel more and more often the freedom of our essence. The caterpillar is becoming the butterfly.