Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

March 12, 2010—April 12, 2010

March 12, 2010
Today is my birthday. I scarcely remember birthdays from childhood; I don’t think they made me feel special, and I’ve never been especially interested in marking them, except for my 70th, where I felt a joy and pride in my age that I wanted to share and so gave a great party. Mostly though it’s felt a little silly to celebrate the number of years since someone was born.

This year has felt different, as if I’d stumbled on another way of experiencing birthdays. Instead of marking time from birth, I’m seeing my birthday as a rich reminder of how I am one year closer to death, which is the really meaningful contemplation. When I shared this with Heather at the yoga studio, I told her that the common approach to birthdays makes one feel like a five-year-old—what will I get? how much do people love me? am I really important?—and this new way makes me feel like a grown-up. Heather has been thinking about death, and she said, “yes, the first way we are thinking 'what do I get?' and the second way helps us value what we have.”

The other night I had a remarkable dream. I was in the desert, and as I walked out I came to a gentle green glade. In the glade was a pool, and I saw a baby lion, with the smooth skin of a newborn and a great lion’s head, come to drink from the pool. It was a beautiful and peaceful sight, and I woke up very happy.

I think the dream is about this new sense of birthday. The pool is the deep joy and peace that I have been feeling; it is the “still forest pool” that Ajahn Chah speaks of, where the animals come for refreshment. I feel that I am the newborn baby lion—it is my “birth” day—and because I am newborn, my mind has the mindfulness and wisdom of the lion’s head that can find access to the refreshing still water of peace and joy.

It occurs to me now that the pool in the desert was suggested by the pool up in Canebrake Canyon where two years ago a fire blackened the rushes in the pond. We took Linda there to see the black rushes side by side with the new green growth of spring, to celebrate her Aunt Jane’s life and death. We called it the Place of Life and Death. In the canyon pool in the midst of the desert, as in my sense of my birthday, life and death could not be separated.

March 13, 2010
When we are trapped in our suffering, compassion is a luxury. If our painbody (Tolle’s beautiful word for the weight of suffering we carry) is too burdensome, it becomes difficult or impossible to imagine the interior lives of others—what she might be experiencing, what impact our words or actions might have on him. We need all the energy we can summon to our encounters and relationships just to protect ourselves—will she hurt me? will they judge me? what strategies can I use so that I won’t be hurt or judged?

Or we may feel a kind of exaggerated empathy and concern for others that has little to do with who they are, and is simply a projection of our own painbody.

Whether protection or projection, we are trapped within a wall of our own making, a wall of Self that separates and isolates us, so that we cannot share in the rich lives of others.

April 10, 2010
I came to this desert weekend retreat with a buzzing mind, drawn out of myself. At first I tried to massively resist the lure of distractions that seemed to promise that the right distraction would bring peace to a distracted mind. I understand enough now to know that such distractions are only the briefest of respites, if that, and I have replaced that tug of war (peaceful consciousness vs. mindbuzz) with a welcoming of this opportunity to practice separation.

Last night I watched a DVD of Jessica Lange in her tempestuous rages in Blue Sky. Today I am separating my consciousness from my mindbuzz and feelingbuzz, as though all that activity were like living with Lange’s outbursts. If I were living with her instead of myself, I would be acknowledging her presence, surrendering to her drama as something to be lived with, but also knowing clearly that what she says and feels has no present reality and that I am not her. She must do her thing, and I don’t have to take it personally. In the deepest place where I live Lange’s moods and confusions have nothing to do with me. Nor do my own.

It’s Elsa, the mother of my friend Joan, who has been the catalyst for my restless mind, and who has provided this opportunity to observe my reactions.

Before I left town, Sande and I talked about the odd pleasure—almost fun—of bringing awareness to moments of intensely unpleasant emotions, such as the feelings that have arisen in me around Elsa. She has triggered Little Cynthia’s sister and mother, and so is the one person I’m aware of these days whom I cannot see as part of the novel I’m reading (see March 10). I have been almost stunned by the sharp power of my own meanness, my vicious desire to harm. They are feelings that when triggered—though they pop up rarely and are usually very brief—cause me great pain. At the same time my awareness has brought me an odd pleasure. As though it is I who is the character in my novel—that is, the hateful part of me. As in a novel, she is not to be condemned and thrust out, she is interesting, her unusual behavior interesting. As I watch her unfold, I wonder: what’s going on with her? what will happen next? will she fade away or will her part be important? what role does she play in the novel’s theme?

So this practicing with monkey mind, with my evil twin as she pops up, is allowing me to sharpen the tools of my awareness.

April 12, 2010
When I came home, I had a dream. I was cleaning out objects under a table that were covered with heavy dust. Then I stood up, and saw a large knife lying on a table. I picked it up, with no apprehension, and thought, “I can give this to the yard sale.”

The objects under the table represent the knowledge I suppressed for so long about the cruelty of my sister and the indifference of my mother, knowledge I have only recently dusted off. The knife is the “sharp power of my own meanness” towards Elsa, which I no longer need to hold onto now that I have dusted off the underlying reality.

By the time of my dream, I had experienced a full letting-go of the emotions around Elsa. I never before appreciated the Buddha’s use of the word fabrications. “Fabrication” felt like the exact word for my stories around Elsa, my anger and desire to harm, my building a case against her, and that seemed the right description even if I were “correct” in the outlines of her self-absorption, her indifference to her daughter Joan’s value or welfare. It’s as if something had grown and grown inside of me, and then was exposed to be a balloon, easily punctured.