Three Questions with Judy Lief

Acarya Judy Lief, Buddhist teacher and author

How can we reconnect with our deeper selves, our essential nature?

Our true nature, our inner depth, is a thread that runs through all of our experiences, from the most mundane to the most profound.  It can be discovered in the midst of our ordinary everyday activities. It is always possible to connect with this deeper reality; we can do so at this very moment.  

In the midst of the busyness, distractions, and pressures of life, it is easy to lose this connection. We may have glimpses, but they are unstable. However, our link to something deeper can be nourished and restored. We can reconnect again and again, repeatedly bringing ourselves back to that deeper level of trust within ourselves. We can engage in the provocative, dynamic process of returning—and then returning again.  

It is so simple: stop, remember, connect.

How do you feel and live your connection to the earth?   

To feel and live such a connection, each day I try to make time to get out of my head and step back from the ongoing plans and concerns of the moment. I come back to my body at a very simple level.  Sensing, feeling, experiencing. I touch in with the reality of aging and dying and the passage of time. I feel grateful for the support of the body, its pleasures and its pains.

I go outside and look up at the sky.  It is so vast and inconceivable. Somehow, looking at the stars and planets or the blue sky brings me back to my connection with the earth. I feel held by gravity, grounded and simple. 

Stopping and looking in this way opens my connection to fellow living beings, humans, plants, animals. I recognize my placement in the structure of life, as an animal, a mammal, a sapiens, a planet Earth dweller.  That recognition is so pure, so simple and literal. Ironically, when I stay with the simplicity and don’t try to overlay either a scientific or a spiritual interpretation, a feeling of awe and sacredness arises naturally and spontaneously.

How can we create or reimagine a more compassionate world from within the current structures? 

We can begin close to home, by doing the work of self-examination.  How deeply do we know ourselves and our capacities? How honest are we about our limitations? Given who we are, what is the best we can offer to help shape a sane and compassionate world? In the Buddhist tradition, the first challenge is quite modest: it is to do no harm. We may not be able to fix things, but we can at least not add to the chaos. We can reduce harm. That is the bottom line. 

It is hard to accept our flaws and limitations, but when we do so, we become more accepting of others and more able to work with flawed structures and institutions.  At Naropa University, this is described as “meeting the world as it is and changing it for the better.” 

We can’t fix everything, but we have countless opportunities to make a difference.  We make choices all the time, and those choices have impact. 

The world needs help. Every gesture of kindness and compassion, small or large, has force. Your circumstances may be quite constrained, and you may have few resources, but you can still do something. If you relate to whatever you do through the lens of compassion, you will be able to make a difference.

There are so many things wrong, so much entrenched injustice, so much needless suffering. It is easy to be overwhelmed. But we are called to engage, to be willing to get messy. How to begin? We have to start somewhere. In response, the advice I have found most helpful is: If you have the circumstances or ability to do something about a problem, don’t hesitate or cop out, but get involved. However, if you do not have the right skills or strength to help, just let it go. Appreciate what you can do and don’t dwell on what you can’t. You need to be realistic:  help where you can, and don’t get bogged down in despair at all the problems you cannot fix.  

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