Unlikely Offerings September 15, 2020 15:52
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It's early morning. I light a stick of incense, grab a Granny Smith apple from the bowl by the fridge and a scoop of birdseed from the bag near the front door. I pick up Maya with my free hand (which is a challenge because she's jumping up and down in excitement) and slip into a pair of sandals.
With both hands full, I carefully open the storm door with my left elbow and walk toward the small garden in the front yard.
The tip of the incense stick is glowing bright red in the early morning light, and white smoke that smells of juniper wafts around us.
I am thinking about my friend's dog who recently passed away. I am also thinking of another friend's son-in-law and a former colleague's brother--both of whom have died within the last few days.
I carefully place the incense stick in a small metal bowl at the base of a tree stump and sprinkle the cup of birdseed into the open palms of a concrete Buddha statue.
Maya and I walk down the driveway looking for a few acorns that have fallen from a nearby white oak, and I also pluck a few black-eyed Susans that are blooming near a mulberry bush.
I place them on the tree stump near the Buddha statue, along with the green apple.
We do this twice a day, this simple ritual of offering. It's dedicated to all sentient beings: insects, animals, loved ones, strangers, celebrities who have passed away in the last 49 days (in Buddhism, the intermediate state, or bardo, can last up to seven times seven, or 49, days). We make these offerings so that these beings may navigate their way safely through the bardo in the hopes that they find happiness in their next life--so that they may be of benefit to others in their next incarnation.
I offer a brief prayer to the outdoor altar, and then Maya and I make our way back to the house.
This is an example of a traditional offering: flowers, fruit, incense. However, offerings don't have to be traditional to be meaningful or valid.
Offerings can be very simple, subtle, and sometimes...unlikely.
Anything given with an open heart and from a spirit of kindness and generosity could be considered an offering. Here are just a few practical examples:
* Sharing home-grown veggies from your garden with friends or neighbors.
* Helping someone who's having technology issues or a friend who needs help with a home-improvement project.
* Letting someone enter the flow of traffic, especially when traffic is heavy.
*Offering kind words of encouragement.
* Acknowledging and thanking a cashier or clerk by name at a grocery store, bank, or gas station.
* Wearing a mask and honoring social distancing guidelines during a pandemic.
Offerings can also be a blend of the traditional and everyday common courtesy.
I often practice japa when I'm driving. I use a clicker counter or knitter to keep track of the recitations (and it's safer than using a full mala for me). Often, when I'm reciting, I offer the benefits (or merits) of the recitations to the drivers, passengers, and pedestrians around me:
* May they arrive safely to their destinations
* May they be happy
* May they be well
Even during a more formal sitting practice or during a sadhana, it's not unusual for miscellaneous memories or sudden flashes of people I haven't seen or thought about in years to pop into my head. Instead of viewing this as an annoying distraction to resist or push away, or interpreting this as evidence of being an undisciplined meditator, I briefly acknowledge them and wish them well:
*I see you
*I love you
*I remember you
*I forgive you
*I honor you
Usually, when I take the time to witness and appreciate these "surprise visitors," they dissipate fairly quickly, and it opens up even more space for my practice. In fact, I see acknowledging and honoring these memories and flashes as an important part of my practice.
So, what are the benefits of making daily offerings, whether they are tangible objects, courteous acts or gestures, or meditative thoughts?
* They encourage generosity and selflessness
One of the quickest ways to bust out of an "I,I,I...me,me,me" mindset is by considering or giving to others instead of thinking about yourself.
* They foster connections and interconnection with others
Offering words, thoughts, or things with a kind-hearted spirit helps dissolve feelings of separation or disconnection toward others.
* They inspire a sense of purpose and meaning
On an individual level, offerings can add a little structure and motivation to a practice. When the intention is right, and when the desire for recognition is absent, it feels really good to do charitable things or offer kind words of support to others.
Offerings can strengthen and bolster compassion for self, for others, and for the planet.
By the way, supporting a small business is another wonderful way to make a meaningful offering. Feel free to visit the Middle Moon Malas online shop (here) to purchase a one-of-a-kind mala for yourself or a loved one. These beautiful designs are intended to enhance your own practice, and they make wonderful gifts....or...offerings.