Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

October 20, 2006—November 7, 2006

October 20, 2006
Krishnamurti writes in “Freedom from the Known” about eliminating the space between the observer and the observed. He reminds us of the Chinese artists who were urged, before painting a tree, to sit before it for days, weeks, months, a year until they were the tree, and only then were they ready to paint. I think this is exactly what I was doing in the practice I invented of entering the physical being of others—the old man in the booth across from me in the restaurant, the rabbit on the desert. I was not imagining what it would be like to be them—not a mental construction—but I was them, which turns out to be something different from making a good guess about what it is like to be them.

Being “in relationship”—whatever that means—makes me think about how this plays out with someone we are intimate with rather than a stranger or a bird or an animal. To notice when one is the beloved rather than when one has, in Krishnamurti’s term, the “image” of the beloved (that separate entity that at different times pleases or displeases), seems important. Psychologists have given attention to the importance of “keeping one’s boundaries,” a phrase I’ve had some questions about. It invites a rigidity, a wall around the little fixed identity we’ve created that feels stiff and burdensome. Rather, I should think, the problem may arise if it is only the single beloved with whom we experience the absence of space. If eliminating space between observer and observed is our way of being in the world, if we are eliminating all boundaries, not just the one with the particular beloved, then our world does not narrow, but expands radically.

October 21, 2006
Bettina’s friend Rusty, speaking of “no-self” says, “You need to really know your self first, in order to know what it is that you are letting go.” This feels profound to me, and would have been so useful to have on my tongue on the occasions when I’ve tried to encourage friends who are Buddhist to venture into therapy.

I thought that this may also be what the true grieving process is. I’ve said before that it is only at an ending, most commonly death, that one can fully appreciate another person, or another period of one’s life, or another place. Until then, she or it is in constant change as of course are we too in relation to that person, place, time. So psychologically we need a period when we can feel poignantly the gift we received, take in that gift with a more profound appreciation than was possible before.

Whether it is letting go of the “negatives” of childhood suffering or the “positives” of a beloved companion or country, we cannot release them to the universe until we have revisited them at our emotional core.

October 22, 2006
I think about seeing a friend whom I haven’t spent time with in many months, and I think how I am not the same person I was five months ago, and I assume she isn’t either. I think how it would be appropriate for us to approach each other with total freshness, perhaps only with the mild disposition to be pleased with one another—although that should be our disposition with all people, shouldn’t it? And then I thought how we would explore each other’s lives without expectations grounded on her thoughts and opinions when we last met with her. I thought what an effort it is to juggle all those definitions of self and other, the pressure to recall accurately that she liked vanilla yogurt on her cereal, that I was learning to be with animals in another way, when we were together before. And this is what Krishnamurti calls preserving the “images” we create of the other, rather than eliminating the space between us and coming together newborn in the now.

For an instant I thought, “all we would need to remember would be what we had shared with one another about our pasts—our childhoods, our earlier loves, the jobs we’ve held.” But I saw at once that even that did not hold, since if we remain fully alive, the way we recall our pasts is not one rigid story but changes at all times as we bring the changing lights of our changing natures to bear on them.

When she read Desert Years, our friend Lise, a meditator, told me, “I think the desert is your practice.” I had only the dimmest sense of what she meant, but today I think the desert is anyone’s practice. To spend time here, without a companion or, as I have this weekend, with a companion who can use and enjoy silence, is to be made automatically mindful. The almost complete silence except for occasional birdsongs of joy, the clarity of air that makes each being, sentient or insentient, call out to be observed, the richness of light that makes a can of Pepsi into an object of beauty and wonder, all ask of us the loving attention of mindfulness. I notice too, spending this long weekend here with Bettina, what happens naturally with conversation. Conversation in the city is made up almost entirely of the past (“I saw Gloria last night and she told me...” “At work today...”) or the future (“What should we do next weekend?” “Will you stop by the grocery store on the way home?”). On the desert past and future drop away quickly from irrelevance and so silences deepen until what conversation remains is slow and about the rabbits or the quail or the light on the mountains or the meal we are making or eating, graced with an occasional insight that blooms from this same mindfulness and presentness. It becomes more what I imagine might be the conversation at Plum Village or Pureland.

I was moved and changed this morning by reading Thich Nhat Hanh. He writes of his mother, of all our mothers and fathers: I know that my mother is always with me. She pretended to die, but it is not true. Our mothers and fathers continue in us. Our liberation is their liberation. Whatever we do for our transformation is also for their transformation. I feel that I will no longer be the same after reading that. I long ago moved beyond rejecting my parents—their views, their ways of being in the world—moved that is beyond the kind of simple rebellion when I raised my children: “My parents were controlling; I will give my children independence and freedom.” Instead I came into detachment: “What they were, did has nothing to do with me now. They are no longer any frame of reference for me.” What that left me with was an occasional mild doubt that what I am doing or how I am being might in fact be somehow related to ways of doing or being of my father or mother, but I always answered it with No, because I knew that what I was about was clearly different. In the instant of reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, I saw an entirely new possibility. I saw that I can claim connections between myself and my parents and see also that my life is about transforming what comes from them as they were not able to do in their lifetimes, caught up in their own suffering and delusions—the suffering and delusions that brought me pain. And I saw, with great emotion, that in the act of transforming, I can give them a pure and healing gift, do for them what they could not do for themselves. I feel this knowledge deeply and know that it is life-changing—one cannot be the same with such knowledge. I think of the new-agey consolation, “It is never too late to have a happy childhood,” and I see how that is possible in quite another way. I can give my transformation over to them and in doing so I become the loving parent I did not know, helping them where they needed help, taking their qualities and showing them how they can be used for good, how they can clear out the distortions from wrong views and ego intrusions, guiding them to use those qualities as they were meant to be used. I can, then, create a happy family and in that healing I can, mirabile dictu, love my father and mother.

November 5, 2006
Bettina and I were waves in a green ocean of United Domestic Workers shirts at a Board of Supervisors meeting the other day to support continued health coverage for the county’s Home Health Care workers. Later that day we all returned to sit in the hallway outside the door of the negotiations, which were successful, but in the morning the comments by the supervisors were frosty and unyielding and we left disheartened. We had planned to go grocery shopping after the meeting, but Bettina suggested that instead we take a long walk along the bay opposite the County building.

We walked in silence and then talked, about the sadness we felt for the workers, and not only for these workers but for all the workers who struggle to survive in this economy, and whose rights to a livable wage and basic health care are being stripped away. As we walked, the fog of unease lifted—we could still feel the sadness but with a clarity; it was no longer a great unarticulated wad stuffed in our chests. We had seen a blue heron on the rocks staring out across the bay and watched as she lifted her powerful, light wings and sailed past us on our path. We had made note of our feelings instead of rushing on to buy sliced turkey and cereal. We both remarked on what a difference that made, and how we could go about the rest of our day with more freedom and discernment, could return to the County building that afternoon with hearts that were less rigid and cold than those of the supervisors. Bettina said, “Most people have no opportunity at all to do that, to process what has just happened to them. They have to go immediately to the next thing, and so their lives become layered with one unprocessed experience after another.”

November 6, 2006
Walking up Tierra Blanca Road on a silent Canebrake morning, Bettina and I hear the v-room of a motorcycle behind us. It is my turn to be walking, as we do sometimes, with eyes closed, holding Bettina’s hand. I open my eyes as it passes us, and see a boy of nine or ten, blond under his helmet, his face intense with the ecstasy of power. When I close my eyes again and continue walking, I observe myself. I’m aware, especially here on the desert, of what my reaction would have been fifteen years ago—the violation of this sacred place, followed by a surging of anger and contempt, perhaps a way of calling up a power of my own that could match the boy’s. This morning I feel just the slightest stirring, which quickly changes—I observe with interest—to sadness. Sadness for a world where this is possible, sadness for children for whom this empty power is their nourishment, sadness for what that must do to their souls. Later I will think about Barbara’s phrase, “the false empowerment of youth,” but now I am realizing how different this sadness is from the anger. The anger makes me close rigidly against this boy, freezes my heart even in my hot rage. The sadness for the larger scene that has set him on this machine stretches me into connection to a wider world and extends back to him so that I open to some tenderness. With my eyes closed, I can see, see that freedom from anger does not lead me to indifference or a bowing to what Krishnamurti calls “the collective will”, that anger is not required in order to work for change.

November 7, 2006
At breakfast, I am saying to Bettina that the beloved gives us pleasure and comfort, but that her great gift of to us is not what we receive, but what she enables us to give. Her true gift is to be someone who by the quality of her being can extend our capacity for love beyond what we perhaps knew was possible. In doing that, she shines a light far up a path which enables us to start a journey of loving others who may be more difficult for us to love.

Going afterwards to Balboa Park on this gold and crystalline summer-like morning, I see that it is the same for magical days like today. By the quality of the light that elevates and honors each single blade of grass, each stick, that can make the dog’s feces gleam with beauty, we can be more easily led to see the sacredness of everything that is.

And of course, what is mindfulness but deeply loving attention? The perfect morning, the profoundly admirable lover, by being so readily accessible to our love are like the easy lessons for how we can be in the world.