A new chapter has begun to turn for my immediate family.
We have sold our home that has housed us for the past 12 years.
We lived in a depressed economy which, in turn, allowed the pace of life to move more slowly.
We are now living in a more robust, dare is say, rabid economy which, in turn, causes the pace of life to move at a faster pace.
This has me asking a lot of questions and the stress of a householder becomes more…stressful.
When times like this arise i strengthen the daily routines of healing art practice.
For me these are consulting my many books on healing, wisdom, religion, spirituality and mindfulness.
I read a chapter or two of a book that stands out from the rest.
I sit and meditate and contemplate what i just read.
Usually a good many realizations arise and the day begins on a healing note.
When there’s time, i like to condense this new learning about myself and life.
Writing it out in my journal, then into a computer and onto the internet helps in the processing of the teachings and in sharing them with others.
However, i must say, i am becoming more and more doubtful about this medium of the high-tech computer/binary-electric device.
The toxicity of its cradle to grave lifespan is proving to be a very large toxic footprint here on this planet and the water-sheds that have to deal with the processes are buckling under great toxic pressure.
As well, the power-supplies (coal fired and nuclear plants) and battery systems that fuel these devices are also now causing macro disturbance in the bio-sphere.
I now see myself backing out of this technology, not venturing much further.
The book that i took off the shelf this morning:
‘The Places That Scare You: A guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times’ by Pema Chodron.
[This teacher interests me for several reasons. My living teacher has recently passed away.
Pema Chodron is a new teacher who has become increasingly popular in the modern teaching circles of mindfulness practice.
She is held in high esteem by the elder teachers of today and yesterday.
She has chosen a Canadian province to direct her teachings.]
“Confess your hidden faults,
Approach what you find repulsive.
Help those you think you cannot help.
Anything you are attached to, let it go.
Go to places that scare you.”
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
When i teach, i begin with a compassionate aspiration. I express the wish that we will apply the teachings in our everyday lives and thus [begin to] free ourselves and others from suffering….As the Zen master Suzuki Roshi put it, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
Ch1. The Excellence of Bodhichitta
‘It’s only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’ Antoine de Saint-Exupery
If we were to ask the Buddha, ‘What is bodhichitta?’ he might tell us that this word is easier to understand than to translate. He might encourage us to seek out ways to find its meaning in our own lives. He might tantalize us by adding that it is only bodhichitta that heals, that bodhichitta is capable of transforming the hardest of hearts and the most prejudiced and fearful of minds.
Chita means ‘mind’ and also ‘heart’ or ‘attitude’. Body means ‘awake’, ‘enlightened’ or ‘completely open’. Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love. Even the cruelest people have this soft spot. Even the most vicious animals live their offspring. As Trungpa Rinpoche put it, ‘Everybody loves something, even if it’s only tortillas.’
An analogy for bodhichitta is the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armour there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.
The Buddha said that we are never separated from enlightenment. Even at the times we feel most stuck, we are never alienated from the awakened state.
Those who train wholeheartedly in awakening unconditional and relative bodhichitta are called bodhisattvas or warriors – not warriors who kill and harm but warriors of nonaggression who hear the cries of the world. These are men and women who are willing to train in the middle of the fire. Training in the middle of the fire can mean that warrior-bodhisattvas enter challenging situations in order to alleviate suffering. It also refers to their willingness to cut through personal reactivity and self-deception, to their dedication to uncovering the basic undistorted energy of bodhichitta. We have many examples of master warriors – people like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King – who recognized that the greatest harm comes from our own aggressive minds.
Wherever we are we can train as a warrior. The practices of meditation, loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity are our tools. With the help of these practices, we can uncover the soft spot of bodhichitta. We will find it behind the hardness of rage and in the shakiness of fear. It is available in loneliness as well as kindness.
Many of us prefer practices that will not cause discomfort, yet at the same time we want to be healed. But bodhichitta training doesn’t work that way. A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure, and it’s also what makes us afraid.
Bodhichitta training offers no promise of happy endings. Rather this ‘I’ who wants to find security -who wants something to hold on to – can finally learn to grow up. The central question of a warrior’s training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort. How do we practice with difficulty, with our emotions, with the unpredictable encounters of an ordinary day?
Ch2. Tapping into the Spring
‘A human being is a part of the whole called by us ‘the universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness [ego]. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.’ Albert Einstein
When we touch the centre of sorrow, when we sit with discomfort without trying to fix it, when we stay present to the pain of disapproval or betrayal and let it soften us, these are the times that we connect with bodhichitta.
Tapping into that shaky and tender place has a transformative effect. Being in this place may feel uncertain and edgy but it’s also a big relief. Just to stay there, even for a moment, feels like a genuine act of kindness to ourselves. Being compassionate enough to accommodate our own fears takes courage, of course, and it definitely feels counterintuitive. But it’s what we need to do….Although we have the potential to experience the freedom of a butterfly, we mysteriously prefer the small and fearful cocoon of ego.
But do we understand that becoming familiar with the running away is the key? Openness doesn’t come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well.
Rather than going after those walls and barriers with a sledge hammer, we pay attention to them. With gentleness and honesty, we move closer to those walls. We touch them and smell them and get to know them well. We begin a process of acknowledging our aversions and our cravings. We become familiar with the strategies and beliefs we use to build the walls: what are the stories i tell myself? What repels me and what attracts me? We start to get curious about what’s going on. Without calling what we see right or wrong, we simply look as objectively as we can. We can observe ourselves with humour, not getting overly serious, moralistic, or uptight about this investigation. Year after year, we train in remaining open and receptive to whatever arises. Slowly, very slowly, the cracks in the walls seem to widen and, as if by magic, bodhichitta is able to flow freely.
A teaching that supports us in this process of unblocking bodhichitta is that of the three lords of materialism. These are the three ways that we shield ourselves from this fluid, un-pin-downable world, three strategies we use to provide ourselves with the illusion of security. This teaching encourages us to become very familiar with these strategies of ego, to see clearly how we continue to seek comfort and ease in ways that only strengthen our fears.
The first of the three lords of materialism is called the lord of form. It represents how we look to externals to give us solid ground. We can begin to pay attention to our methods of escape. What do i do when i fell anxious and depressed, bored or lonely? Is ‘shopping therapy’ my way of coping? Or do i turn to alcohol or food? Do i cheer myself up with drugs or sex, or do i seek adventure? Do i prefer retreating into the beauty of nature or into the delicious world provided by a really good book? Do i fill up the space by making phone calls, by surfing the net, by watching hours of TV? Some of these methods are dangerous, some are humorous, some are quite benign. The point is that we can misuse any substance or activity to run away from insecurity. When we become addicted to the lord of form, we are creating the causes and conditions for suffering to escalate. We can’t get any lasting satisfaction no matter how hard we try. Instead the very feelings we’re trying to escape from get stronger.
The radical approach to bodhichitta practice is to pay attention to what we do. Without judging it we train in kindly acknowledging whatever is going on. Eventually we might decide to stop hurting ourselves [and others] in the same old ways.
The second of the three lords of materialism is the lord of speech. This lord represents how we use beliefs of all kinds to give us the illusion of certainty about the nature of reality. Any of the ‘isms’ – political, ecological, philosophical, or spiritual – can be misused in this way. When we believe in the correctness of our view, we can be very narrow-minded and prejudiced about the faults of other people.
The problem isn’t with the beliefs themselves but with how we use them to get ground under our feet, how we use them to feel right and to make someone else wrong, how we use them to avoid feeling the uneasiness of not knowing what is going on.
Being caught by the lord of speech may start with just a reasonable conviction about what we feel to be true. However, if we find ourselves becoming righteously indignant, that’s a sure sign that we’ve gone too far and that our ability to effect change will be hindered. Beliefs and ideals have become just another way to put up walls.
The third lord, the lord of mind, uses the most subtle and seductive strategy of all. The lord of mind comes into play when we attempt to avoid uneasiness by seeking special states of mind. We can use drugs this way. We can use sports. We can use falling in love. We can use spiritual practices. There are many ways to obtain altered states of mind. These special states are addictive. It feels so good to break free from our mundane experience. We want more. For example, new meditators often expect that with training they can transcend the pain of ordinary life. It’s disappointing, to say the least, to be told to touch down into the thick of things, to remain open and receptive to boredom as well as bliss.
As the twelfth-century Tibetan yogi Milarepa said when he heard of his student Gampopa’s peak experiences, ‘They are neither good nor bad. Keep meditating.’ It isn’t the special states themselves that are the problem, it’s their addictive quality. Since it is inevitable that what goes up must come down, when we take refuge in the lord of mind we are doomed to disappointment.
Each of us has a variety of habitual tactics for avoiding life as it is. In a nutshell, that’s the message of the three lords of materialism. This simple teaching is, it seems, everyone’s autobiography. When we use these strategies we become less able to enjoy the tenderness and wonder that is available in the most unremarkable of times. Connecting with bodhichitta is ordinary.