What’s your cheese?

Fatty2I just walked past our old cat Fatty, curled up on the back of the sofa. He opened one eye lazily and, as I neared the fridge, leapt from his comfy blanket and trotted over to me.

For several years now we’ve been treating Fatty’s dodgy thyroid with daily lunchtime pills. We discovered that the most painless way of achieving this was to squidge them into little balls of cheese. The only down-side is that he loves the cheese so much, he pesters us for it all morning and whenever we go anywhere near the fridge.

It’s not complicated: someone near the fridge means the possibility of yummy cheese. We’re not so complicated ourselves. We build up associations between different things, and these associations deepen over time.

Whenever I walk into the shrine room here at the temple, a sense of calm descends. After all the hours I’ve spent practising in this room, my body knows what to expect before my brain has had a chance to think any thoughts.

In the same way, the Buddha in my office has become associated with the promise I make to him every morning, and the weekly online practice sessions I hold with him in the background of the video.

As a Pureland Buddhist, I have the richest, deepest, most inspiring and most joyful associations with the nembutsu, saying the Buddha’s name: ‘Namo Amida Bu’. Nembutsu is my fridge, and the Buddha is the cheese. When I say the nembutsu I am connecting with all the previous times I’ve said it, all the people I’ve said it with, and all the warmth, light & love I’ve received during these times over the years. All this, conjured by a short phrase – magic!

It’s helpful to work at building up these positive associations. When I light a candle, the part of me that writes know that it’s time to write. When I go through my night-time routine, my body knows that it’s time to go to sleep. When I sit on our favourite bench with a cup of tea, my whole being knows that it’s time to relax. Regular repetition over time is the key, little and often. A little bit of (for me, vegan) cheese every day.

What is your cheese? Your fridge? How can you help the relationship between these two things to become richer and deeper?