May I Be Useful, May I Be Kind

Every morning, I end my sitting meditation session with a short gratitude practice involving three gratitude-infused prostrations to the earth and then I stand and do one final standing bow, where I say inwardly to myself:

In gratitude for this one more opportunity to live today,

may I be useful, may I be kind.

I fashioned the Zen enso in the pic above using a newly acquired calligraphy pen and a super thick Sharpie.

In early December, I posted this pic on my home sangha’s Facebook page (Be Here Now Community) where, to date, it has “reached” 1,556 people. Of the 72 people who clicked on an emoji for the post: 71 people either liked or loved it and 1 person chose the sad icon. The person who was saddened by the post, commented: Can I be un-useful…..? So I am not good enough as I am….? 😢💔

I chose not to respond to this person’s comment, as I didn’t feel that a FB comment reply would be a skillful way to have any sort of meaningful dialog take place, and would likely only serve to create more confusion. However, I really appreciated this person’s comment; it’s been a subject of mild reflection for me ever since. I greatly appreciate learning how people hear and receive the Dharma. It helps me to better understand where people are coming from and to perhaps make adjustments in how I might share the Dharma with others, as someone who is highly invested in doing my best to unpack certain elements of the teachings that can often and easily be misunderstood or left unclear.

My reflections centered around this person’s comment include: if I was asked this question in person, what would I have said?; what message do I think they received from my post?; how can I flesh this out more?; how might I respond in such a way that won’t be more damaging or add further to this person’s confusion/sorrow?

I imagine it’s a very small demographic of people who would come across my ending verse of: May I be useful, may I be kind and regard it as a directive telling them they aren’t good enough. For those that hear this message, there’s more going on than meets the eye. While I’m aware that there’s only so much any one person can do to help reduce the amount of misunderstanding that can be activated for people who encounter certain aspects of the Dharma, still, I wonder what I would’ve said had I been asked this question in person.

Maybe something like: This is simply the ending verse I use at the end of my daily morning practice, as it speaks to my own personal aspiration in my practice and in my life. If you’re drawn to coming up with your own daily verse, it’s important for you to find the words that speak to your own aspiration. So this is just what works for me. I enjoy sharing with others what works for me in an effort to give people ideas and also to encourage folks to find what works for them.

Part of me wants to delve into talking about what my take is on being useful and then attempt to bolster this individual’s sense of self-worth, however, when I look deeply into this one-sentence comment, I don’t get a sense that that would be helpful. Sometimes the question being asked isn’t the question that needs to be answered.

As much as I would truly love to magically align words to penetrate and transform people’s low sense of self-esteem and worth and value – which effects an extremely large swath of our people and serves as one of the biggest obstacles to practice – it’s just not possible. The best I can do is stay diligent in my own practice, share what works for me, and encourage others to keep their feet on the path of practice.


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