Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

October 14, 2005—October 29, 2005

October 14, 2005
In our search to feel less isolated, less alienated in the world, we often try to find ways to draw others close to us so that they might meet our need. If they rise to our bait—which might include anything from showing off our wares to asking them about themselves—we might find momentary comfort for our loneliness. But others are always in motion; their closeness this morning can, and likely will, turn to distance this afternoon. Close or far, we are still dependent on their response; it’s a shaky game.

If, instead of drawing others to us, we draw close to them, view them in our own minds with caring and interest and appreciation for their joy or suffering, that closeness is trustworthy, whether or not it is shared. How freeing to see that we do not require the response of others to end our isolation, our alienation.

I find myself caring less and less and less about whether others care about me, at the same time that I come to care more about who they are in their joy and suffering.

The lover not only has a richer inner life than the beloved; she stands on more stable ground.

October 15, 2005
I’m not sure, but I think that white women often don’t quite know what to do with pride and humility. Acculturated to humility, we are sometimes defiant about our pride. And of course one can be proud of her humility.

I think there’s another way to be humble and proud at the same time. I find that I can feel pride, or a deep satisfaction—when, for example, I practice the welcoming of pain and find I no longer need to ward it off or grit my teeth (as long, of course, as it doesn’t take over the neighborhood). I can at the same moment know absolutely clearly that most mildly athletic people, and so probably most people, have this experience (of welcoming pain, not just denying or accepting it) quite routinely, even if they don’t associate it with sitting on a zafu where they might squirm. So a deep appreciation of our own flowering in the world can coexist with an equally deep awareness that we are not at all special in that flowering. When we stop to admire a magnolia blossom that does not mean that she is more beautiful than the hundreds growing on the same tree. Knowing that the beauty is shared deepens our admiration for the blossom, or for ourselves.

I am reading Elaine Scarry’s The Body of Pain, her brilliant and detailed investigation of the true nature of torture. It occurs to me that we may feel ourselves moral if we turn away in instant revulsion from even the notion of another human being being caused unspeakable pain. But our unwillingness to know, the refusal to look at the details because our natures are too refined, is a moral copout. It’s as if a friend or acquaintence tells us, “I’m suffering terribly” and our response was, “That’s horrible, I can’t bear to hear that” as we turn away in distress. Empathy sometimes leads us to this drawing away from. True compassion seeks to draw close. To lead a moral life is to be Elaine Scarry, to open ourselves to the details of the first noble truth.

October 25, 2005
Maybe this is just an extension of Sande’s observation that if we can make others wrong, we can feel right. Still this morning, I noted something about myself. I was stairclimbing In Balboa Park, circling round and round the atrium where men, all white but one African American who seemed a bit older than the other thirty and early-forty-somethings, all dressed in black with shiny black shoes, were starting to assemble. It was the Nordstrom’s shoe school, presumably to introduce their salesmen to the new line and this year’s marketing goals. The door was open to a room filled with chairs and a powerpoint with an image of a black wrestler towering over a limp body in the ring—the statement underneath heralding a “First Quarter Upset.” I had time to study my reaction, a kind of sneering as they clasped each other’s hands in friendly greeting, imagined myself telling one man in a dark grey suit, “Didn’t they tell you to wear black?” The sneering, I thought, was about the conformity in this all-men’s club. I tried telling myself that they were Willy Lomans, but that didn’t help because even the African American looked genuinely pleased to be there, and their collars were too perfectly crisp. Still, why did I seem, not only to sneer, but to need the sneering, find it hard to let it go?

Around the seventh stair climb, I surprised myself. I was sneering to avoid a different feeling—jealousy. I suddenly remembered myself at Digital Equipment Corporation twenty years ago, where, in spite of everything I believed and thought, despite the separateness I kept (because of my secret, that I planned to stay there only one year), there was a mysterious pleasure in being part of their team, our team. The work was no more meaningful to me than Nordstrom’s shoes, and though we had no dress code, our identical cubicles were just as cloned as their suits. My contempt for the Nordstrom’s men kept me from having to be vulnerable to my wistful exclusion from their camaraderie. I could see, too, that the contempt I’ve felt for other men’s clubs, for all the old boys’ networks, excluding women, excluding me, is out of the same jealousy, protected me from the same vulnerability: “I don’t belong. They won’t let me in.” I notice that I used to have a huge contempt for golf, when it was strictly a boys’ club; and though I don’t play, now that many women do, including friends of mine, I may not care for golf courses environmentally, but I don’t have the same scorn for the players or the game. The contempt was always about my exclusion. It was always jealousy. How often is our aversion really grasping? How often is grasping really “I’m not good enough”?

October 28, 2005
Jo pointed out to me that “spacing out” (which I said earlier is not the same as spaciousness) still has some advantages—it can be, though it isn’t always, on the way to spaciousness. It at least loosens our tight hold on our mental processes.

That’s true. The difference between spacing out and spaciousness is that spacing out is leaving the building, spaciousness is inhabiting the building so attentively, so intimately that we recognize our connection to everything else. To float above the world and say, “We are all one,” because we wish it to be so or because it sounds so healing, is really spaciness. Sometimes I call it “premature transcendence.” Spaciousness requires giving enough close attention to our individual egos that we slowly come to see them unravel, thread by thread, opening us up to the universe.

This applies to our relation to other aspects of our lives. It’s one thing to float spacily above politics, as unworthy of our larger insights. But spaciousness requires that we examine with close attention the political structure of the world, its relation to human suffering. Otherwise we become like the racist who says, “I don’t see color—I’m colorblind.” Gandhi knew better, as did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Gandhi said, “Those who say spirituality has nothing to do with politics, they do not know what spirituality really means.” Jo gives me these words of Dr. King:

“True compassion is more than throwing a coin to a beggar. It demands of our humanity that if we live in a society that produces beggars, we are morally commanded to restructure that society.”

Restructure that society. Interesting that the mainstream limits him to “I Have a Dream.” That is our premature transcendence, not his.

October 29, 2005
Speaking of connection, and looking back to the October 14 entry:

If we feel a connection to the rosy grey rock we hold in our hand—something more than “isn’t that lovely? I must show it to Julie”—that connection does not demand that the rock must enjoy the movie we recommended or listen attentively to our fears about going to the dentist. It is enough that we feel connected in the world to the rock, interested in it, grateful for its existence in this moment in the world. Why must we demand more from human beings and feel alienated and disconnected if they don’t provide?