Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

August 20, 2007—September 4, 2007

August 20, 2007
As Bettina and I settle down to meditate in Trolley Barn Park, I’m aware of three children trying to catch the butterflies that are hovering in a low bush behind my bench.

Seeing me, they come over to talk. The eldest introduces the others—Megan and Cole—and then confides, “My little sister loves bugs and butterflies—she keeps them in a bucket.”

Megan dances off, then comes back. “I hope I catch a butterfly—I like them so much. Butterflies are my friends.”

“That’s great,” I say. “But maybe you shouldn’t catch them. How would you feel if I told you I liked you, that you were my friend, and then I put you in a bucket?”

Bettina is chuckling to herself from her bench, but like John, Rick and the office worker who were watering the pear tree, Megan gives me a bland, empty look, and I know she will keep trying to catch her friends the butterflies for her bucket.

It occurs to me that this is exactly the problem of love with attachment. It is contingent on the other—person, pear tree, butterfly—meeting our need. Whether our need is to be dominated, or to feel good about ourselves, or to be taken care of, or to take care of—any of our endless needs that call out so insistently from our conditioning—love with attachment is about us, not him, her or it.

We love parrots and so keep them in cages, we love wild geese and so enjoy shooting them. We want to keep our beloved partner in our bucket even when she is beating her wings to escape.

Krishnamurti says that the only real love is love that is free of attachment, and John, Rick, the office worker, Megan, the hunter and the rest of us prove him right.

It is not that some degree of attachment cancels out all that we experience as love. Only that whatever attachment we feel should never be confused with love—it is the element of our experience that we need to recognize as the direct enemy of our love. Our attachment—however benign, even helpful we believe it to be—is the hose turned towards the flowering peartree of our love.

August 25, 2007
Bettina and I came back from a vacation of our making—in which the trip itself, at least for the first week, was in the service of our practice—with long mornings spent reading and writing and slowing ourselves down to a place of mindfulness and clarity. The next ten days, our practice was at the service of our trip—that is, it kept us in a flow of presentness. When my knee developed sharp pain from the intensity of our walking and climbing, I experienced it as a practice opportunity. We both amazed ourselves with the reserves of energy that were available to us.

Once home, we felt rapidly drained. I no longer had the energy to draw on to practice with my pain. We were de-centered, zombie-like or vulnerable, not knowing how to help ourselves or each other. I could feel—however helplessly—how ridiculous it was to pretend that we were in relationship at such a time. It was almost as though clinging to that pretense drained even more of our energy.

A relationship between human beings can only take place between what Krishnamurti and Choygam Trungpa both call our “sanities.” All other interactions—those that come out of our kleshas and self-protections, our ancient pains and fears, our need to be good people, our need to control, our need to preserve our identity—are no more than each of us, however subtly or crudely, making use of the other to meet the requirements of our insanities. Whether our insanities are clashing or meshing is immaterial.

Of course in any relationship, one of us, however well-practiced, will at times go into insanity. If we have established a basic pattern of sanity, the other can lead her back—sometimes leading her directly through her insanity to some core sorrow or fear. If both have lost sight of their sanity—as Bettina and I did this past week—it is best if they can simply know, without anxiety, that the relationship has left the building.

For Bettina and myself, recognizing this allowed us to remember the solution—several days with many hours of separation until we could regain individually the sanity on which our relationship must rest.

August 28, 2007
After our insanities of last week, Bettina and I were talking over breakfast about how to spend our day. Bettina wanted to go to the ocean, where she’s been swimming the last couple of days, and asked me to come with her. I wanted to have some time—maybe at home, maybe at a coffee shop, centering myself. Somehow, the split seemed to be between “having fun” and “being serious.” “I don’t feel like having fun,” I said. “Life doesn’t always have to be serious,” says Bettina. It’s the kind of splitting that goes back to the identity struggles of childhood: “I wanna play with the stuffed animals,” “I wanna dig in the mud.” Mild as it was, the exchange felt foreign somehow, a kind of cold last-week leftover. Bettina brought us back to clarity, by reading aloud a passage from Susuki that she’d discovered yesterday—he talks about living “without a trace.” We realized that this is exactly what we both were looking for from our day—after the insanity, to dissolve all the traces and come fully into our sanity. I recover sanity best sometimes by reading, writing, mindful puttering. The ocean gives that cleansing gift to Bettina. I understood that Krishnamurti’s On Living and Dying has been so nourishing to me these past days because he is so insistent about living without a trace, or in his words, without “continuity,” freed from “the past.

We suddenly “got it” that, while we might choose to go to separate places today, we were not in separate worlds. After everything that had pulled us out of that space, we both were eager to reestablish our foothold in the flow of the present groundless moment.

It became clear to me that for practitioners there is no seriousness, there is no fun. There is being in what is without the seeking of seriousness or the fleeing of fun.

September 3, 2007
Yesterday I could see how a rather elementary—in all senses of the word—change could transform the world. Of course I also knew that such a change, however simple, required a transformed world before it could be adopted.

I was meditating on interdependence, and although I often do that, I’ve often felt that if I understood more of the practical workings of the world I could make such connections more richly and easily. Out of my own wish, I could suddenly imagine a world in which the entire educational structure. at least for the early years but probably well beyond, was based on exploring interdependence. We would learn, that is, how the world really operates.

The child or young adult would be learning the sciences—geography, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy, genetics; the social sciences and psychology; economics, engineering—all taught in such a way that she would at the same time be uncovering the rich and varied miracle of interdependence.

The cloud produces the rain that fills the reservoirs that flow into the pipes that release it through the faucets that provide the water that fills 80% of our bodies, that flows into our veins and arteries and saliva glands and semen and menstrual blood and nasal passages and kidneys that carry out what we don’t need as urine into the toilet that is filled with water from the cloud and that is emptied into—what? a septic tank for purification?—and evaporates up to the cloud.

From one basic linear example like this, we introduce innumerable flow charts that can take us to the construction and maintenance of reservoirs to the copper of the pipes and the miners who excavated the metal and what tools they required and under what conditions they worked and how the porcelain was poured for the toilet and who installed it and with what tools and skills and how the toilet paper to wipe the urine came from a tree and what and who was involved in the logging and the processing and the packaging of the paper and the trucking and the selling in the store.

The flowcharts can be as elaborate or simple as appropriate. In the earliest grades they would be quite simple and superficial—some children’s books today present these processes, usually in a strictly linear form. But even at an early age, the charts would show some branching off, beginning to introduce more of the web of interrelations than simply that Western linear then-and-then. With passing years, the flowcharts would become at once more complex—with perhaps some children following one branch and others another, then reporting back—and more in depth so that deeper understandings of the sciences or social sciences are required.

An entire educational system based on flow charts, however long we might pause in the chart to fill in more knowledge and skills, would mend in the most natural way that false but persistent breach between science and humanities, people and our environment. It would instill a deep sense of ecology, at a time when we need that most. Above all, it would have to create a profoundly different sense of interconnectedness, not as some vague spiritual concept like “brotherly love,” but as the most essential reality of our universe.

September 4, 2007
The great Buddhist paradox is that we end suffering only through fully accepting, even welcoming, suffering—that is, it is the struggle to end suffering, the search for an escape route, for the quick fix, for a shortcut to nirvana, that intensifies and prolongs it.

We argue with the frightened child who is crying, expecting her to stop—and she cries louder; those cries are intolerable, so we shake her to stop those loud cries—she cries louder. We return to a reasoned argument—she continues to cry. Perhaps if we just held her in our arms as long as was necessary and listened quietly to her fears, the crying would end more quickly.