Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

November 7, 2009—November 25, 2009

November 7, 2009
Our practice is a continual reminder to remain in the now. There is another, less helpful way of being in the now that we all experience when we live from the belief that what we are experiencing, feeling in a particular moment is about the present—when we do not recognize that our kleshas, our dukkha, our intense reactions are emotion arising from our early lives. We believe that we are living in the present, that what we are feeling is because of this situation right now, this person’s behavior right now, instead of recognizing that we are tuned in to our past, that our anger, our fear, our sadness, our frustration, our irritability are spectral echoes from long ago. When we can see them as memories, see how little they have to do with the now, we can begin to release them back to the past where they belong.

November 8, 2009
As the Buddha knew well, our denial of aging and death is powerful and continues often for most or all of our lives. We deny backwards as well as forwards. Our denial of childhood pain—“it was OK,” “other people have had it so much worse,” “I don’t want to dwell in self-pity”—is as powerful and profound as our denial of the pain that lies ahead, and locks us as securely into our present suffering.

November 11, 2009
People who have little sense of their own worth are the most egotistical. When we doubt our own value, we are constantly preoccupied with ourselves. We can scarcely attend to another person because we are too busy protecting our fragile selves or positioning ourselves in relation to her. Even when we believe we are thinking about her, we are wondering what she thinks of us, or bracing ourselves for her possible criticism, or comparing ourselves to her, or searching for her approval. When we believe we are being considerate of her or sympathizing with her, we are projecting our own suffering onto her.

Most of us move in and out of this fear-driven, loveless state, not even recognizing when we enter it.

The narcissist is so wholly absorbed in dealing with her sense of worthlessness that she can no longer even glimpse another human being. We need to recognize her when we encounter her, and see what makes it so impossible for her to make connection with us. At the same time we need to see that she is only the ultimate extension of an egotism we encounter every day in others and in ourselves.

November 12, 2009
Those of us who continue to practice come to discover that the pleasure we find in living from our quiet observer begins to outweigh the pleasure we found in our little proving identities. That is the moment when we begin to choose practice in a new way, no longer rebelling at the outrageous idea of surrendering “self.” We can now see the desperation that lay behind our need to formulate and shape up a “somebody” and the sweet peace and clarity that comes from being a nobody.

November 22, 2009
I told Sande that lately I feel as though I’m traveling on two rails. One is the extraordinary (and I suppose in a way very ordinary) Big Love I’ve been privileged to experience visiting patients in the hospital. The sense of intimate connection, the flow between us, is so deep that it almost feels painful or unnatural when I leave never to see them again. I’ve been privileged to encounter them at a level we almost never experience with another person until after months or years, where they are willing not only to share their “story” but to explore their own soul with us in the present moment. Even though I don’t really need or want to see them again (we have done our connection and it was possible partly because it would not be ongoing—I am the mysterious stranger), still it feels disorienting to make these goodbyes, to suddenly and forever end what has felt to both of us so deep. More and more I hope, believe, I take those experiences out into the world with me, see more routine encounters in a deeper way.

The other rail is more challenging, as I practice staying present with my own feelings during a time that is difficult physically and emotionally for Bettina. What I am gaining here is new to me. Just as I found myself not simply accepting the waves of grief that came up following Chi Gong and Deer Park, but welcoming them, and feeling interest and curiosity in what they might have to tell me, more recently I have moved from a passive acceptance of impermanence to observing with great interest how all my feelings come and go. I feel curiosity and a kind of pleasure in the process as I allow a feeling to arise, wash through me and be gone, just as they speak of a baby or young child experiencing her feelings intensely and then letting them evaporate.

It’s not surprising that I found the image of two tracks, traveling in the same direction, because each—the easeful bliss and the challenges—feels like growth.

November 23, 2009
Every now and then after Bettina has been dealing with some old angst, she will apologize for having spoken brusquely or for being self-absorbed, and will say, “You must feel unappreciated.”

Somehow that doesn’t feel true to my experience and I wondered whether I was “in denial”, but yesterday during a silent walk across the desert I realized: It is possible to notice that you are not being appreciated without feeling unappreciated.

November 25, 2009
The more I live in the moment, the more I can appreciate the impermanence of my own mental and emotional being, and the more I can see that everyone else is only in their moments. I begin to see that at any moment, any one of us can be addressing our suffering or dis-ease in one of many ways: distraction, spacing out or sinking into stupor, self pity or compassion for our suffering, self-absorption or self-awareness, seeking approval, avoiding disapproval, comparing for reassurance, trying to control, judgmentalism, and more. At some moment, every one of us has visited one of these places, and the more awareness we give to ourselves, the more we have a chance to recognize these moments in others.

If we see ourselves and others as living in moments that rise and fall quickly we can more easily see how we all participate in this pulsing collection of rapidly changing feelings we all share. I may not see myself as a “controlling person,” but I will appreciate—without judgment—that I have had controlling moments. I may not see Mary as an “approval-seeking person,” but I will know that she too has approval-seeking moments. Since I don’t hang onto my moments—“because I am angry in this moment I must stay angry all day”—I don’t define others by their moments—“she’s a very angry person”—even when they hang onto them. Even someone we consider to be the most full-blown “narcissist” is only living a series of moments where she feels too threatened to feel caring for others. She is not “a narcissistic person,” she is a person experiencing—or working by her self-inflation to deny—a terrible series of narcissistic moments.

If I am a series of moments and you are a series of moments, I will not be so quick to dismiss or label you.