Late afternoon on Friday. The sun had already dipped behind the hills leaving the temple and garden in shadow, but the wide Severn valley and the distant hills of the Cotswolds were lit in a dusky gold light.
I glimpsed the view, a picture of stillness, through the grubby window of one of our guest rooms. I was preparing the room for an old resident who is visiting next week. When I had arrived in the space, carrying the vacuum cleaner and other cleaning supplies, I was thinking more about myself than the guest, “Could I get the room ready today” I wondered, “to give myself a clear day tomorrow?”
As I moved the furniture around, pushing a spare bed from the store room down the corridor and into the room, carrying in some bedside cabinets that weren’t being used anywhere else and taking out some of the strange collections of shelves and tables that had accumulated in the room, I noticed my state of mind changing.
I had stopped thinking about myself, and started to think about the well-being of the coming guests.
The work had become an offering.
All good work, and even play time, or chilling out time, can be an offering if it is done in the right spirit, and doing it in the right spirit transforms our experience of it.
As I polished and cleaned I relaxed into the work. Thinking about the wellbeing of our guests I began to enjoy preparing the room, rather than thinking of what I might have been doing instead.
As the work became an offering my spirits lifted.
I also became aware of how it is my ordinary human selfishness that keeps me out of that state. The greed, hate and delusion that is a frequent reaction to my own sense of lack, my insecurities and my faithlessness keep me out of the ‘offering’ state of mind.
How can we move from one state of mind to the other? A number of things help me: remembering that the offering state of mind is not something to be resented, but is a more satisfying way of being in the world; letting myself become aware of the vulnerability underneath the greed, hate and delusion makes making a wise choice easier; slowly developing faith in a selfless way of being in the world, through trying it out and experimenting with setting good intentions; and deepening my religious faith which directly addresses the insecurities and fears which keep me selfish.
Whilst thinking about this transformation is important, more important (or more profound, perhaps) is the tenderness that arises when I see the human condition clearly: that there is the possibility of selflessness, and there is human foolishness and vulnerability which keeps us from inhabiting that selflesness. And, for me, that tenderness is supported by remembering that there are Buddhas who do embody that selflessness and that I – a foolish being – can recieve their offerings regardless of how well I make my own.