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Living This Life Fully


Yesterday, I received an unexpected gift that evoked great joy: a calendar for 2011. Usually, calendars don't bring up that kind of joy, even though I revel in the gorgeous photos of nature or human-made works of art. But this is the most precious calendar I've ever gotten because it contains photos of a girl I’ve come to love.

Each month has a combination of photos of Jessicah. I get to see her Jessi-ness from before we first met, when she was seven years old. In January, she'll turn nine. She's the closest I'll probably ever come to having a granddaughter, though I'm not a relative. We call each other "my special friend."

I understand, even better now than through experiences earlier in my life, why Munindra loved to be with children and why they were so attracted to him. He had a sense of humor and laughed easily. He was friendly and cheerful. He had a childlike curiosity and was interested in the smallest detail, such as a tiny purple flower growing by the roadside. Most of all, he didn't take himself too seriously, though clearly he was completely dedicated to Dharma, practicing and sharing it with everyone he encountered.

So I find myself skipping down the street with Jessicah on our way to a museum or lunch. Or engaging in the art play provided for children at an exhibit. Or asking her what she sees in an ancient Japanese scroll or screen. Or making a pillow that she stuffs with “clouds.”

Dhammaruwan Chandrasiri recalls playing around with Munindra during his boyhood in Sri Lanka and the good lesson it provided for him as a dharma teacher today: “He had that time to play with a child as well as to be a teacher. He was not a person who was very caught up in being a teacher.” This absence of hierarchical aloofness allowed anyone to approach him. No wonder children flocked around him whenever he walked through a village. Lightheartedness and joyfulness are like the nectar that hummingbirds seek in order to nourish themselves.

As Munindra told his students, "Joy is an enlightenment factor." He let them know that feeling grim about practice is not the same as being determined. Practice with a smile, he advised, not with a furrowed brow or tight jaw.

Munindra would be delighted to know that children are learning mindfulness in elementary schools these days. In one of the calendar photos, Jessicah poses with her hands in a mudra, demonstrating what she learned about sitting quietly. Her brother Gabriel comes home from kindergarten telling the family about his “mindful spine.”

I didn’t get to experience the joy of practice until I was thirty, so seeing how early it can start makes even more joy arise.

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