Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

December 5, 2001—November 13, 2002

December 5, 2001
Sometimes during meditation, and even afterwards, I see and hear the world differently. I’ll see a bush, a branch of dead brown leaves, a bottle of yellow dish detergent at the kitchen sink, or I hear noises, bird songs, the rush of cars on the street, the roar of a lawnmower—and I see or hear them directly, not just with no thoughts of self intervening, but with no thoughts of what those objects are. Sometimes I see or hear with no consciousness of perspective, no adjustment by my mind for what is far or near.

The word I find for this awareness is “unmediated.” Nothing separates me from what I see and hear. We flow together.

This is the world of the painter, I think. I never used to understand how it is that an artist can translate a three-dimensional scene or face to a flat canvas. But our world is three-dimensional only if we intervene to make it so, to separate it into planes. The sound of the tree crashing in the forest happens in my ears, not a half-mile away. The bush of shrub daisies at the window can be seen only on the pupils of my eyes.

This is also the preverbal world of the toddler. It is not so much that everything is new because she hasn’t seen it before. If we look at the world unmediated, everything is new because we’re not categorizing: “oh, green leaf, I’ve seen others before, show me if you can how this one is different.” We do not see it as “green leaf.” We see it in its uniqueness, an object that has never existed before, and that, as we move or the light changes, will come into a different existence.

I checked with Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality.” I think this is what he is describing when he speaks of our loss of “clouds of glory”. His “prison house” of adulthood is not so much the rules and regimens of adult life. It’s the constructions of mind that separate us like brick walls from the beauty and joy and freshness of unmediated experience.

December 6, 2001
Is it possible—it seems so this morning—that time has a different duration to children partly because the child lives more in the moment? On the desert, or in a meditative state, my life doesn’t hustle past, a moment has staying power. I loved it when Barb Potts said she wanted to live in rural New Mexico because she would “live longer”—not in calendar years, but in days that extend themselves, have meat on their bones.

May 5, 2002
Living mindfully means coming to live free of all those self-judgments. For example, writing feels different now. I’ve always written from myself, worked to uncover the truth about my life, so that hasn’t changed—I am standing in the same place. The difference now—it began with Desert Years but was much more noticeable with Mindfall—is where the people I’m writing for stand. The people I was writing for—or some shade who represented them—too often used to stand looking over my shoulder, irritably raising questions, leaning over to scratch out a word impatiently, arguing, taking what I said the wrong way. Now I write for myself, and the writing pours out generously towards whoever is willing to receive it.

I think I hired that rear guard. I thought I needed them to keep me on my toes. Now I can process the questions, look for the better word, try different ways of hearing my own sentences for myself, without that fuss, gently and with pleasure.

September 22, 2002
“Mindful” is a good word for our practice, but there is a simpler one that expresses what we are when we are mindful: Alive. Mindfulness is the means, not the result. It’s perfectly clear that we can’t be alive in the past. We can’t be alive in the future. Only in the present can we be alive, and that is what mindfulness ensures for us.

September 23, 2002
It isn’t so much that we gain wisdom through mindfulness, though it can seem—especially to others—that we do. It’s that we begin shedding unwisdom, the distractions that call out to us so that we can’t hear simple truth, that dance before our vision so that we can’t see the obvious.

We let in distractions, maybe simple ones—what would I like for dinner tonight?—but then that leads to further distraction—I wonder what’s in the freezer, maybe I should go out to eat, but I probably shouldn’t spend the money, I’d like lamb chops but I promised myself I wouldn’t eat meat—and soon we are surrounded by distractions, an invading army, with warnings about diet, concerns about whether we are good people.

Meanwhile the car we are cleaning out, the letter we are writing slip from our grasp as, once again, we replace reality with imaginings.

October 11, 2002
If we do what Joko suggests, holding our feelings on the “razor’s edge” of our consciousness, allowing them to stay there as long as they choose, we may discover the nature of their reality, which is not at all what we thought. What we call feelings, emotions—anger, sadness, anxiety—are physical sensations. If we divide our consciousness into mind, body and emotions, the emotions are body sensations that are produced by the mind.

Before I meditated, I believed that meditation lifted you out of your body to some higher plane. Meditation is in fact an intensely physical practice. As we brush aside the distractions of our mental processes, we are left with the presence of our physical beings—our bones as they meet the cushion, our flesh stroked by a breeze, our breath slipping up and down endlessly.

November 9, 2002
Old age and death, those specters Buddhism is meant to reduce our fear of, do not present us with special terrors—they present us with what have always been the terms of life. They were the terms of life when we were sixteen and believed the lie about our mortality that we were encouraged to believe. Even as they gave us abstract warnings, “Drive like that and you’ll wind up in a wheelchair or dead,” the adults themselves believed that a wheelchair or death were terms not possible for a sixteen-year-old unless as punishment for some terrible imprudence.

All this protection and self-protection from life’s reality. Preferring the lie, and living with the deep uneasiness that stirs buried under the lie.

Imagine that you have a dear friend, and you meet her for coffee. You ask her how she is, and she says, “fine.” You talk a little about the films you’ve rented lately. You notice that she seems a little uneasy, a little not-present, but the conversation is pleasant and you don’t pry.

The next day you learn that the week before your meeting, her three-year-old son had died.

Are you grateful she had protected you, so that you could have that cheerful discussion about films?

Or if she had revealed the painful truth, wouldn’t that have been a gift to you, bringing you closer to the heart of life? Was her withholding any kindness?

We are our own dear friend, believing we will be so much happier if we just don’t let ourselves know life’s reality.

November 13, 2002
Sometimes I meditate focussing only on the sounds in the street, maybe distant voices or an airplane or birdsongs, or the on-and-off roar of the refrigerator in the kitchen. I become a child again. The child, lying in her crib at naptime, hears sounds but does not put energy into identifying them or deciding what she thinks about them. She accepts them in their is-ness, without the busyness of analysis or opinion. She does not, that is, thrust her ego on them for control or mastery.