Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

November 3, 2007—December 24, 2007

November 3, 2007
Bettina and I have been focussed these last days on bodies, because each of us has had several pains or discomforts that have made our bodies especially ripe for practice.

Today, when I was practicing with an unexpected onset of my allergy—the sloth and torpor—and Bettina was concerned with whether the crown of her root canal was properly done, it occurred to me that Bettina’s worry, or even the sort of “maybe I should try this,” “maybe that would help,” which I often find myself turning over in my mind when I’m in this state, are of the same stuff as wanting (October 20, 2007).

Like wanting, our worrying, our trying to find ways to “feel better” when we are in pain or discomfort, serve the purpose of taking ourselves away from the unpleasantness of the here-and-now. Worry may be disagreeable, but it is often less disagreeable than experiencing the immediate pain or discomfort in our groin or neck or kidneys.

Of course there’s a place for deciding if a hot tub or another pillow will make us more comfortable or if we should call the doctor, but these decisions require clarity of thought rather than quantity. The more time we expend in worrying, the more obvious it should be that the purpose is not to find a solution to a problem but to escape from the immediacy of ourselves.

November 5, 2007
Several mornings recently Bettina has gotten us out of bed for a meditation walk at 5:30. Before the end of Daylight Saving Time, we walked in the blackness between the lights from the streetlamps, but today the dawn was beginning even as we started down the stairs. At first I was adjusting to the different experience, knowing how absurd it would be to judge it inferior, but still a bit startled by the change from my expectations.

Once I left my expectations behind, and walking slowly in the new grey light, I began to come back to the place of peace and letting-go that I’d known in the blackness, and I began to see the world—the emerging leaves, flowers, sticks, cement sidewalks, fully from that place.

LATER, November 23, 2007
I left this entry as a placeholder. I’d meant to return to it after writing the talk I’m giving at Cal State Long Beach, since it seemed that talk called for a different headset, and I wanted to do justice to the experience of this entry, to let it flow from a deeper space. I hoarded it jealously, not wanting to share it with Bettina or Sande, until I’d written it, because I wanted to describe it for myself and for them as exactly as I could. Now, returning to the entry almost three weeks later, writing this on the desert, I find that it’s not a question of the space I’m writing from—I find I can’t remember the experience. It was, I know, a deepening of my experience of August 8, and it felt marvelous and important to me. Now it has gone, and though the experience may return, I don’t think the memory will. I’ve struggled with disbelief before I let go. The other evening, Sande and Linda gave Bettina and me a little self-test around letting go. My insights and experiences of reality—my dharma gleanings—were what I most wanted to cling to. At times like this, I am gently letting go of that clinging, not in hope of some reward, but only because that is where my reality lies.

STILL LATER, same day
Emaho! the impermanence even of impermanence! Something Bettina said to me while we were hiking up Moonlight Canyon shook the memory loose.

As with the experience I described in the entry of August 8, I understood that the leaves or blossoms I was seeing, the birds I was hearing, the asphalt I felt through my shoes, could be known in that way only by me. It was the feeling that was new. As I understood in the dawn light that the leaf or blossom I saw was showing herself in that moment to myself alone, that we were sharing a profoundly intimate, reciprocal relationship—the blossom glad to be known, I delighting in the knowing—the feeling that flowed through me was of an immense tenderness, an almost erotic flow of love such as you might feel for the lover whom you know in special ways unique to the two of you. I saw that the kind of delicious non-separation possible with partners in love was possible with everything in the universe. I saw that everything in the universe lies waiting there quietly—as a lover might lie beneath the sheets in the darkness, waiting for us to turn on the lights, know her, and join with her.

I knew that morning would be difficult to describe. But at least, now, here on the page, it isn’t lost to me.

November 10, 2007
Driving to the desert yesterday evening at dusk, Bettina and I watched for more than an hour a sky that was filled with wonders—first a burnt orange sun slipping down through the strips of grey cloud, then a 360-degree constantly shifting mix—of lavender and orange clouds to the south, and an entire sky-full of rosy grey mist rolling and roiling to the north and east. “Have you ever seen anything like it?” Bettina asked

Of course I hadn’t, and that seemed to make it more marvelous. Then I stopped long enough to think what that meant. When have we ever seen anything like anything, or anything that was like itself five minutes before? We watched with awe and delight the evening sky changing minute by minute for that hour, and it felt extraordinary, but that ever-changing miracle is the “ordinary” world we live in each day.

More and more these days, more deeply than ever, I choose to be there for that world as fully as I can in the years, months, minutes before I die, so that I know even more than I know now, that every plant, streetlight, bird, asphalt road, dirty potholder is unique in every moment, and is as wonderful and awesome as that sunset sky.

November 12, 2007
Most of us, I think, live most of the time in a shadow world. We are removed not only from the experience of reality at its most profound and oceanic, but we rarely experience directly even the ordinary phenomenal experience that we accept as the real world. We substitute our attachments and aversions, our past experiences, for direct present-moment contact with that world. We don’t see the stem of broccoli on our plate because we’re concerned that it’s overcooked the way our mother used to make it; Vanessa vaguely and pleasantly reminds us of our aunt who took us on bike trips; the sunrise is beautiful, but superimposed on it is the one we saw in Hawaii; we dislike beets because they make us think of blood. Each object or person we encounter has been reduced to a metaphor for something or someone else, or is wrapped in a veil of associations that have nothing to do with it or her.

Even when we think we “know”, can really see clearly, a person we have come to love, most often what we see is, as Krishnamurti would say, an image of her that allows us to cling stubbornly to the person she was yesterday or last year. We don’t see her freshly this morning as the miraculous being in flux she is. No wonder married folks can become bored, looking elsewhere for that freshness.

If we want to experience more often the reality of interconnection, of our intimate relationship to the world, we need to clear away those images, those metaphors, our comparing, our labeling, our judging that distract us from unmediated experience. They are what keep us at distance from the miraculous, pulsing, always fresh beauty of the living world that lies behind our veils.

December 6, 2007
In my fifties, I learned to be very comfortable with my attention disorder, once I knew I had it. These days, I experience a new layer of the old symptoms—memory loss, distractibility, difficulty prioritizing, klutziness. Once again I find myself uncertain about the cause or about the adjustments that I need to make as I was before I had the comforting label, and that has activated some of my old childhood feelings of unworthiness.

The chance to live through this again has brought an unexpected gift. It has awakened in me a deeper compassion for Little Cynthia who didn’t know why she was stupid or clumsy and who felt so ashamed of her stupidity or clumsiness. Maybe, because until recently (September 12, 2007) I’d judged her to be weak and self-pitying, I didn’t feel the same compassion for her struggles with her disability that I have felt for myself as a young woman and adult. I’m not sure, but it seems to me that the new compassion that has sprung up in me for Little Cynthia is extending into the present, so that I can feel unapologetic, more comfortable now when faced with my new challenges.

December 7, 2007
Only recently I’ve realized more about my life as a child. Most of the time I tried to operate under the radar. I wanted very much to be noticed, to be seen, as every child does, but I wanted even more not to be noticed, since to be seen would bring down on me the judgment of my parents’ disppointed expectations. Since I didn’t go to school until I was nine, and had no friends, I invented my own life, moving quietly around in the house and the yard mostly trying to bring no attention to myself.

These days I find myself, like Little Cynthia, once again with no prescribed agenda of work, and as I choose to keep that space clear for practice, for being in the world with full attention, I am sometimes beginning to question whether some of my time now is being spent not with mindfulness, but with that ancient habit energy of the little girl. The message behind the habit energy was, of course, that I had no right to exist and that I could be safe from the pain of a harsh and cruel judgment as long as people didn’t know that I was existing. I was, after all, not meant to be born, was rather like an appendix, an extra organ in the family that had no use or particular value, and so could be removed if it acted up.

So I’ve been asking myself whether, as I clear my life for the joy of spaciousness, I sometimes drift back to that childhood place of spaciness.

That’s my story, but I also ask myself whether the question of our right to exist may not be, for all of us, the principal obstacle to our living in full mindfulness. When I am fully awake to the world, there is no doubt of my right to exist. When we are fully mindful, fully awake, fully in the present, we are actively exercising that right. We are not cogitating about what happened yesterday evening, or making plans for next week, as though our right to exist in the only real time that is ours were contingent on what may have happened before, what might happen later. We are taking up our space right here, right now, inhabiting the world fully and letting it inhabit us as well. The plants, the cars, the rain, all see us, and we appreciate each other’s being. When we are awake in the here and now we are not approaching our present existence tentatively and contingently, doubting that we deserve to stand there and so finding any excuse to dart away from it. In our awakened hours or moments or days, we are not only claiming fully our right to exist, we are celebrating it.

December 24, 2007
We can celebrate our right to exist, and more. We can celebrate our buddha nature. It is as important to celebrate our own buddha nature as to celebrate when we see it arise in others. It isn’t arrogant, it isn’t a lack of humility, it isn’t a preening of the I, it has nothing to do with comparisons. It is simple, straightforward and as sweet as though one were bathing in a nectar. Because it is bathing in Buddha Nature, which is not really mine or yours or ajanh chah’s or the dalai lama’s or beverly next door’s.