Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

February 5, 2004—March 30, 2004

February 5, 2004
When Barbara was ill, we used to laugh a lot. These days, the more I live in a good space where I am open to life, the more I find myself alone in my studio, laughing out loud. Maybe I just caught myself thinking or acting out of some small-self pettiness.

The other day, I was writing about non-attachment. While I was writing, I found myself distracted by the new pen I was using. I was irritated and frustrated that I no longer have the pleasure of the silky Expresso pens I’ve used for years and that are now discontinued. I burst into laughter.

I think I’m laughing at myself with affection, as I used to laugh when Barbara would spill something on the rug or walk out into a restaurant from the rest room with her slacks down to her knees.

I even have to check myself sometimes when a friend is telling me about her anguish—the pipes in her garden burst and that day the refrigerator burned out and then—because I will laugh. It’s not inappropriate laughter, though I might have to explain that to her. It’s not just a “relief of tension.” It’s a way of acknowledging, freely and lovingly, all that is not in our control. It’s a way of being in the world that African Americans know, that Jews know. It’s about moving beyond that tight little knot of suffering, like a closed fist, and opening my hand, opening my arms to a much larger world where that little knot is only a speck, seen in this moment for what it is.

February 6, 2004
Last week, I emerged from two weeks of coughing, aches and fever, my mind thicker and heavier than my chest. Maybe because of my attention disorder, I am “attached” to clarity of mind. I tell my friends, “I’m already working on only a few cylinders—when I get sick, even those disappear.” And when they do, feelings can arise that I thought I had transcended, surprising me, disappointing me. They are the feelings from the believed thoughts of my childhood: unworthiness, envy, jealousy, frustration, dissatisfaction with everything and everybody, beginning of course with myself.

Our suffering is supposed to connect us with others, but that’s only when we are no longer in that suffering. Our authentic connections with others come when we are in a mindful state and can draw on that remembered pain to care about the pain of others.

When we are writhing in our own suffering, we are trapped in selfishness. Maybe that’s when we need the precepts to remind us that we shouldn’t murder.

February 13, 2004
Ezra Bayda suggests that instead of telling ourselves, “I’m afraid,” “I’m really angry,” “I’m jealous,” we can think, “It’s afraid,” “It’s really angry,” “It’s jealous.” I like that. I’ve also begun extending Ezra’s suggestion to happiness: “It’s really happy,” “It’s excited,” “It’s having fun.” This word trick permits us to let feelings come and go, instead of fixing them with our identities. And maybe some of us may find it easier to become more observant of our feelings if we can recognize them as just floating states.

It occurs to me that while we over-personalize our emotional pain, we distance ourselves too far from our physical pains and discomforts. I don’t think I’m the only one who tries to think of physical pain as something apart from myself, an unpleasant intruder, as if there were this happy little me and this alien force broke in. It has to either killed (take an aspirin, move on my cushion, scratch) or chased out (go someplace else in my head, force it out of my consciousness). The problem is that the more we kill the aliens or chase them away, the more force their way in, as if they were thinking, “She wouldn’t have had to kill that itch if she weren’t really vulnerable, so let’s go after her—she can’t kill us all.”

I’m beginning to find it helpful to invite them in. It’s the opposite of emotional pain. I accept that the physical pain in my rib or knee is as much mine as the rib or the knee. Saying “it hurts” or maybe even “My knee hurts” isn’t as effective for me as “I hurt,” or a less verbal recognition that the pain is just one more part of me. It’s my pain, just as much as it’s my hair, my toenails.

February 8, 2005
Afterthought, a full year later:
I can see now that this way of thinking, though valid, is still what David Brazier calls, “a teaching of a lesser scope.” I read the other day in some New Age free magazine that yogis sometimes refer to their bodies as “it,” and instead of saying “my body,” they call it “the body.” I feel the higher wisdom of that, of keeping our focus on consciousness rather than the proprietary “my feelings,” “my toes,” “my pain.”

While both are helpful reframings, they serve different uses. “My pain” helps me to end a kind of dissociation and denial that comes from aversion and fear. But if we have learned not to dissociate out of fear, it is a teaching of a wider scope to remind ourselves that “our” feelings, “our” toes, “our” body, “our” pain are not who we are.

February 15, 2004
I’ve been in struggle over these months, a struggle with hopelessness. It’s as though, in a wholly new way, I see the suffering of the world as irremediable, as though I am the Buddha just coming out of his protected palace.

So maybe I am taking in at a deep level life’s reality, as when I took in death. Maybe that’s also where the answer lies.

When I took in death at a deep level, my life was looser for it, freer, more flowing. It didn’t make me want to hasten the final moment, make me indifferent to life, make me cynical, frustrated, hopeless, disappointed, cheated, impatient, dissatisfied, impotent.

It made me larger, more caring, less self-absorbed.

So why am I trapped in this pettiness now?

March 3, 2004
When I am out of sync with myself—and I am startled by how often that is lately—I surround myself with a screen to keep others out. The screen is my Image—how I want to appear: maybe looks, maybe the food I serve, maybe my house, maybe what I might say. The screen is an attempt to imitate the person I am when I am “in sync”—a kind of dog and pony show where I pretend to be myself because I don’t want people to meet the unpleasant, insecure, uninteresting, incompetent and stupid person who has invaded my body.

March 30, 2004
Instead of noticing our feelings—mental or physical—as clouds passing freely in our sky, we often turn them into horses, straddling them, holding the reins tightly around their necks, galloping off with them as though they could save us from something. It’s a useless ride, taking us further and further from home.

Until this morning, I never quite understood the injunction not to kill any sentient being. Why would it be wrong to kill some being that did not know it was being killed, that simply stopped existing?

Today, meditating at my kitchen table with my eyes open, I was focussed on the green bush of golden shrub daisies outside my window. All morning, and into meditation, I was in a state of pure, simple experience, pure joy, free of ideas and notion. Mindfulness. A small wasp entered my view and began traveling from flower to flower, and I realized—though I could not know for certain—that she was probably in the same state as myself, that she lives her days in mindfulness. And that in some way I cannot understand, my mornings in that state and her lifetime in that state are something deeply good in the world. That my connection to her is the connection of our participation in the goodness of being.

I think I have understood “sentient being” as almost the opposite of this—that it was about her ability to feel pain. Instead, I think it’s about her state of delicious presentness, her capacity to just Be, and how precious that state is. It’s the universe’s gift to us and our gift to the universe.