This is the second of three conversations with Common Ground members about how they take their practice into the world. Scroll down for the first installment, titled “Patrice: Prison practice and letting go.”
For my second conversation, I had a cup of tea with Cindy Pratt and her dog Sadie. I had expected to learn about her therapy practice and how her meditation practice influenced her work. Instead, we hit it off on gardening.
What better way to ground your practice than to practice in the ground?
“I think I have learned as much from gardening as I have from anything,” Cindy says, “about impermanence, about patience, about generosity, about being still, about waiting, about working with my nature-which wasn’t born a patient nature-about not rushing things, about dharma, about being with things as they are.”
She has an English, cottage-style garden, a very labor-intensive garden. She has lots of self-seeding annuals, a lot of abundance. (“I am a greed-type Buddhist,” she says. “This is my personality.”)
She doesn’t use mulch-and that means she weeds a whole lot. The goal of the English-style garden is to fill all the pockets of open soil with flowers and other plants of choice, things to keep the weeds away. It is a bit of a metaphor for her practice: crowd out the hindrances-greed, anger and delusion-with positive thoughts. But it is an approach she is changing. She is working on being more spacious and open.
“Historically, I fill my head with chants and beauty and other things to counter the darker places I can go,” she says. “Instead of ruminating on a walk, I can draw on a chant. I have other things at my mental fingertips.”
Our talk eventually turned to her therapy practice. Her meditation practice gives her a better ability to sit with people’s pain, she says. It’s not always easy. Here comes a person looking for help and she is a self-described “notorious caretaker.” It’s hard not want to try to fill that need.
Yet offering an interpretation or opinion early on can be premature. The person may not be ready to hear it. “We have to develop the relationship first,” Cindy says. “There is a tremendous amount of just being with the suffering of the other human being, and not barging in.”
But she also practices with life’s small annoyances. She gets lessons for her practice at the bank every week. She goes in with her checks and waits in line. There is opportunity for patience and connection and you always learn something. There are opportunities to connect or notice when you can’t connect-and what is up with that?
“It seems that the practice is the world, Cindy says. “When you leave the cushion, hopefully it follows going out the door. Walking in the neighborhood is taking the practice into the world.”
Tomorrow: Paul: Classroom practice and openness to unpredictability