Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

May 23, 2010—July 21, 2010

May 23, 2010
Bettina has been studying yoga, the yoga that is meant to precede the asanas. Most of what she has learned is clearly, she sees, the source of the wisdom/psychology that we learn/experience in Buddhism. She is delighted to discover on what profound base Buddhism was built. There is one crucial difference: Yoga tells us not to entertain painful feelings and always to substitute positive thoughts for negative ones. There are times, of course, when that is entirely appropriate and helpful.

Bettina points out that Buddha took yoga as far as it will go, which is very far but not quite far enough. The decisive moment for Buddha, she believes, came when he left the yogis and accepted the bowl of rice. Once he decided to leave asceticism and to have self-compassion, to nourish himself, everything burst up from his storehouse—the suffering over leaving his family and then the suffering of the world. Only then—having faced in its fullness the suffering of the past—could he be free and hence have compassion for all sentient beings.

June 12, 2010
In the last weeks I had another experience of being “out of sorts.” I’m learning to identify that unfocussed discontent as early signals from Little Cynthia that she has some pain that needs to be acknowledged.

So I left the door open and saw first that in the present I was feeling mean-spirited towards friends. Even when I could see in my discerning mind that they were probably moving towards freedom in the way that was working for them, Little Cynthia perceived them as “stuck”—especially around family issues—and unable to see past their stuckness. Over a week or so, I came to see—to feel really—that what I was responding to, have responded to at times in the past, was my sense, however distorted, that someone has erected a protective wall that I cannot penetrate. What comes up for Little Cynthia when she perceives what she sees as a wall, is a gruel-y mixture of low-level pain and hostility—what I call “out of sorts”—sometimes mixed in, unsurprisingly, with fear.

Bettina, Sande, the radiologist patient at the hospital, all have responded knowingly in this past week to my description of the suffering that can be evoked by walls. Each of us had a narcissistic mother and experienced the wall in this way. For myself, my reaction sometimes takes the form of an inappropriate intensity around “helping”—somehow I must make them see their delusion or someone must make them see, not for themselves, as I understand it now, since they may in reality be doing just fine at exactly the rate of self-understanding that they need, but for myself. The urgency I feel is the urgency of Little Cynthia. As Little Cynthia feels it, the person who is in delusion is not only trapped in suffering herself—in her suffering she creates suffering for Little Cynthia, since she has constructed a protective wall that Little Cynthia cannot penetrate. Whenever someone is not free she is not available to others, and for a child, her mother’s availability is life and death. She may develop a lifelong sensitivity to the least suggestion of a wall, especially if her mother was a narcissist whose self-protective wall was fixed and powerfully excluding.

I feel a clear difference between the bodhisattva’s deep commitment to end suffering in the world, knowing that she cannot be free until all beings are free, and Little Cynthia’s urgent need to tear down the wall that threatens her life.

Jo asked whether it isn’t true that it is easier to experience an I-Thou relationship with someone one doesn’t know well. In some ways yes, I am more likely to go in and out of I-It with a friend or partner than with a patient I’m visiting in the hospital. Partly this is because of the immediate pressures of life—what should we have for dinner?—and because we know the loved one‘s former selves so well. Krishnamurti of course urges us to meet our most familiar friends and lovers with the freshness of a first encounter and though I have moved far in that direction, the hospital reminds me of how far I have yet to go.

July 21, 2010
This morning I was feeling a sadness for the sufferings that challenge us and keep us from our light. It occurred to me that there are two kinds of suffering that stand in the way of our awakening.

One is the suffering created by childhood pain, which Western psychology addresses. The other is the suffering created by the culture we find ourselves in—the definitions of what is real, good, important, such as the value of creating a solid identity or acquiring experiences—and that is the suffering that Buddhist psychology addresses. Until both are brought into consciousness and released, we will not be freed from our suffering.