A New Year’s Resolution Becomes a Community of Care

A caring awareness leads to life;
Heedless avoidance is the path to death.
Those who are aware are fully alive.
While those who are heedless,
Are as if already dead.

The wise, being fully alive,
Rejoice in a caring awareness
And abide delighting
In this capacity.
Dhammapada vs. 21-22*

On January 1, 2018, at the VIMS annual New Year’s Day sit and potluck, twenty-five people gathered. With subzero temperatures and the snowy wind outside surrounding us and challenging any warmth we could generate, we proceeded with care. After our period of shared silence, we read aloud the first two verses of the second chapter in the Dhammapada four times, each time using a different translation. The chapter’s title in the Pali language is “Appamada.” The editions we used translated it variously––as heedfulness, vigilance, appreciative awareness, and wakefulness. Stephen Batchelor adds another possibility, “care”:

The reason I’ve chosen to translate it as “care” is because I’m looking for a term that is more embracing…. “Care” seems to encompass a wider complex of mental states. (After Buddhism, 2017)

At the New Year’s sit, we considered taking this word appamada––with the varying nuances of its English translations––as Valley Insight’s “Word of the Year.” Could we ponder, contemplate, and know this quality in our bodies, minds, and hearts? How might we explore it and live it into our lives this year? Could we, in a sense, become it and embody it in our shared world of sangha and beyond?

In looking back over the last twelve months, I see that we have done it! Even though the intention, which was so clear in the first few months of the year, may have faded into the far reaches of our memory, I see its fruition throughout our individual and collective lives. Each of us has continued to develop our meditation practices––in local groups, retreats, and on our own. This helps us pay attention to our lives and soften the mind’s reactive tendencies. We’ve become more heedful and vigilant and less likely to harm ourselves or others. This has strengthened a confidence that allows many of us to step a bit further into the world of community volunteering, social justice work, and political action––whether writing postcards, engaging in protests and vigils, working in a food pantry, or voting––with a sense of balance and even joy at times. We again collectively celebrated our own good work and that of others in the community at the annual UVIP gathering.

Under the wakeful and diligent direction of our wonderful retreat team, VIMS successfully offered teaching and practice opportunities in refining careful attention to the greater community: Manny Mansbach guided an exploration of wise speech; Rae Houseman taught ways to be softer and more skillful in working with the difficult, often traumatic challenges of everyday life; Ruth King led the community in a mindful consideration of racial issues; Ajahn Jayanto gave witness to a lifetime commitment to and a deep embodiment of the path of wisdom and love. We will continue to explore aspects of care in our December 8th retreat––both in our morning practice with the four emotional and ethical bases of the awakening mind––friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity––and in our afternoon of delighting in mindful, caring attentiveness.

Perhaps the most impressive and moving expression of “taking care” this year has been the formal and informal support given to individuals in need within our VIMS sangha. At one point this fall, the Support Sangha Team was organizing us to provide three different people with meals and transportation––all at the same time! That included four weeks of daily meals for me! I was also transported back and forth to two meditation retreats in Barre, Massachusetts. Other people were taken to appointments and fed carefully throughout the year. We have clearly done what the Catholic mystic and scholar Henri Nouwen suggested:

Let us therefore ask ourselves what care really means and then see
how care can become the basis of community.
–– Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude

Behind all these efforts, sustaining all of our explorations into all of the aspects of appamada has been the vigilance and careful attention of the VIMS Board of Directors and our two wise and loving guiding teachers. Our intentions and aspirations––for living appreciative awareness, heedfulness, and care into this tumultuous year––would not have borne such beautiful fruit without their holding us all so mindfully and with such love. They have all worked consistently with vigor and care to discern a manageable path, clearing a way for the unfolding of the Dharma.

As stated in the Dhammapada verse quoted at the outset of this essay, careful, wakeful attention has a joyous feel to it. Even as we create community through kind acts of generosity, there is the accessible, felt-sense of feeling good while doing it. There is a rejoicing in it. There is a freedom inherent in it.

I don’t see anything as powerful as careful, wise attention [appamada] …. A people who attend in this way, naturally let go of that which leads to more suffering for themselves and for others; and naturally and easily step towards freedom.
–– The Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya 1:16*

* Please note: I used the work of several different translators of the scriptural material in compiling these versions of the quoted verses.

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