Wednesday, July 30, 2008

metro... boulot... dodo...

The French expression métro, boulot, dodo is a wonderfully succinct way of saying that you live to work. Métro refers to an underground commute in Paris, boulot is a slang word for work, and dodo is baby talk for sleeping.
The English equivalents - the rat race, the same old routine, work work work - don't quite capture the same sense of constant movement, and a more literal English translation, "commute, work, sleep," isn't as poetic as the French.

There is a post-modern, angst-ridden, all-too-familiar ring to this urban mantra.
We could wallow in its implied desperation and drudgery.
But I intend to mindfully look through the gloomy inertia of it, in the hopes of revealing a brighter, more enlightening, optimistic truth within.

One of the many fallacies of our age is those of us who fear we may merely live to work should turn the whole thing round and work to live instead.
But this is not enough either.
We devalue ourselves as human beings when we see work as something that we must endure in order to be able to enjoy ourselves at some later time in the future.
We also miss the point entirely if we reduce the good life to holidays and entertainmentif or if we constantly look to the future as the time when we will finally live our lives.

The future never comes.

The present moment is not some hellish twilight zone that we must suffer in order to obtain a better life in the distant future.

The present moment IS the gateway to our own happiness. In fact, it is said to be the ONLY place we will ever experience lasting happiness free from suffering.

If only we could begin by accepting our present situation a little.
Life may become less of a struggle - especially if we perceive it as such.
We might even allow ourselves to let go a little - just LET GO of the whole thing... whatever struggle we may be experiencing... whatever monotony... or sense of dissatisfaction...

By dwelling in the present moment, we could reveal an inner state of openness and contentment - a more natural way of being that embraces the good, the bad and the ugly of everyday life.

We are so absent these days, rather than present.
Instead of being open or content, we are closed and miserable - always wishing ourselves into the future somehow.

I am taking the metro to get to work.
I am working in order to live.
I go home to sleep.
Then, I get up again to run for the metro.

In response to a question something like 'Why are YOU so happy?' an ancient Zen teacher replied -
When I eat, I eat.
When I sleep, I sleep.
When I shit, I shit.
I suppose, our modern mindful equivalent might read -
When I commute, I commute.
When I work, I work.
When I sleep, I sleep.

But - ABOVE ALL - When I live, I live in the present moment.
Life can only happen in the present moment.
Where else could it possibly be?!

Even humdrum, monotonous daily routines can become more vibrant if lived mindfully.

Another wonderful Buddhist teaching explains how life is so much more meaningful when we stop obsessing about ourselves and try to benefit others instead.

How strange it would be to commute, work and sleep with a mind that is calmly present and a heart that longs for others to find lasting happiness!
How bizarre and unprecedented that would be - especially if many others in our metro carriage, workplace and home environment were devoted to doing the same!

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Buddhist teacher from Viet Nam, bases his entire wisdom on the Miracle of Mindfulness.

When we shine the light of mindfulness on ourselves, or any phenomena whatsoever, we can come to acquire some understanding and insight.

Maybe a mindful commute that begins with patient, calm travelling,
could, in time, broaden out to include considering the needs of others.
Eventually, we might even come to some insight about commuting per se... working closer to home... conserving fossil fuels used in transport...

Looking deeply in this way, exactly WHAT we do for a living comes under the microscope... is it a moral way of getting money?... how does it benefit others?... is it bad for ME?... do I NEED to work so much?...

Likewise, with home life... if all I do is commute, work and sleep, when do I get to share with my family and friends?... even if I only have 10 minutes with them, am I truly present and open? or am I wishing even THAT moment away?...

It could transpire that a thorough contemplation of our own personal METRO, BOULOT, DODO leads us to live more mindfully or even transcend and transform our lives altogether.

For some of us that may open a new chapter of commuting peacefully, or changing our job, or having a healthy home life.

For others, it may mean giving up the rat race completely - whether that entails going to live in a retreat environment or going to live by a tropical beach.

For one parent, it could mean really treasuring that late evening cuddle with his child as the highlight of a very long day.

Another person might find the courage to work solely for the benefit of others.

Who knows what may come from such a contemplation...

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