Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

January 9, 2010—March 10, 2010

January 9, 2010
In many families there seems to be the unspoken assumption that to be unpleasant is a form of intimacy. Sometimes we excuse ourselves with what we hope passes as a compliment, “I can be myself with her.” As we practice, we can deceive ourselves less; we begin to recognize that we are not being “ourselves” but being our Little Selves, the little children who are still reacting as we did when were five.

February 20, 2010
Sande was talking about what she has named “the drone”—it’s what Tolle calls “background unhappiness.” “Drone” is a good word, because it captures that steady discomfort that is so familiar that we are scarcely aware of it, so steady and familiar that it almost feels comfortable. I told her that I thought she was noticing it only because she had cleared enough acute suffering so that now she could afford to observe the subtler forms.

When I developed cataracts, they grew so slowly that I barely noticed the haze until I could no longer comfortably do things that were really important in my life—night driving, reading, seeing highway signs easily. It was only after the operation that I realized how much of life I had been missing earlier. The haze had been like Sande’s drone, ever-present but unremarkable. With the operation, the world’s riches became available to me—the feathers of a bird, the faces of people across the street, the leaves of a bush.

Most of us beginning on the path are seeking the operation that will correct what we consider to be intolerable. The hurting that brings us to our zafus and holds us there is intense psychic pain. Suffering for us is not our persistent daily dukkha of wishing we were smarter, disliking someone, our ordinary bodily discomforts, impatience at the checkout counter, annoyance at the neighbor’s yapping dogs. Our hope of enlightenment is our hope of ending the immensity of our suffering. Meanhwhile, the drone, the dull haze of background unhappiness, seems an inevitable part of life.

It’s only when, as with Sande, the power of the more dramatic suffering lessens or becomes less frequent, only when we begin to glimpse a way of being that might be suffering-free, that our sense of enlightenment slowly becomes something closer to its name—Light. We begin to see more and more clearly, so that as the drone, the haze begins to fall away, we can for the first time be aware that what seemed inconsequential—our background unhappiness—was always an important, perhaps the most important, element of our suffering. We begin to see the world that has been hidden by the haze. The ending of suffering becomes, not a longed-for end to acute misery, but the necessary condition for us to see the light of reality.

March 10, 2010
Bettina and I write our intentions for the new year on yellow file cards which we place on our altar as reminders of how we wish to grow. For 2010 one of mine was: “to choose whatever life brings to me at a given moment.” To choose means to go beyond acceptance by opening out the welcome mat to life’s happenstance. More and more as I’ve discovered the extraordinary gifts that come from accepting what I don’t choose, I welcome more and more of life.

Lately I’ve been consciously extending that welcome more and more to encounters with people. Last fall, while waiting in the courthouse corridors for jury duty, I had plenty of opportunity to observe a variety of folks whom I didn’t know, and I realized that my experiences in the hospital have made possible a way of being with strangers that brings me into bliss. I have named it, The Pleasures of God, since if there were a God, a bearded man in heaven, He would observe the world of people in this way. The amusement in so naming it is that these pleasures are available to all of us.

The conditions for God’s pleasures are simple enough: He would see the suffering, He would see through the suffering, and He would not bring his own suffering to bear on it. Then He could see the bravery, the effort it takes to live with that suffering, the human/divine spirit behind it.

It’s been common to compare a novelist’s relation to her characters as similar to God’s. The novelist sees what goes on in the hearts and minds of her characters and in seeing, loves unconditionally, even while she knows that how they are responding may be hurtful to themselves and others. As readers we are drawn into that way of being, which is what makes literature such a valuable exercise for our spirits. When we are reading about a mean-spirited character, seeing the world from his point of view, we do not wish that the novelist had left him out of the story—we are grateful for his presence, the insights he affords us, his place in the larger scheme. Even while I wish, as the novelist does, for the end of suffering, I begin to wish less and less that the mean-spirited characters in the novel of my life would simply disappear. They become more and more for me part of the richness of life and, even in the pain they cause themselves and others, part of the Pleasures of God.