Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

July 30, 2010—November 2, 2010

July 30, 2010
Rick Hanson (Buddha’s Brain) calls the world of conventional reality—the world we create and inhabit in our own minds—a “similacrum.” This led me to find a way of describing what has become more and more consistently my way of experiencing the world.

It’s as if I were a child—an intensely imaginative child—spending time with a dolls house. All kinds of things exist and happen in the dolls house—some the child makes happen—and she is interested and involved in what goes on and what she makes go on. Maybe the mommy doll and the daddy doll are having an argument. She cares about their fight, it makes her a little sad, she wants it to stop, maybe she makes them come together for a hug and when they do, she is pleased with that. She is not indifferent to the life of the dolls house, she may be very absorbed in what is happening, and she does what she can to help the story be a good one. Still, at the same time she is perfectly aware that she is not in the house, that she is in a larger house of which the dolls house is only a small part. She is aware that the dolls house is “her house” only because it is there for her to engage with—it is not her house in the way that the larger house is.

I had a chance to reenvision this way of being when we moved in October to an apartment across the street from the place we had lived in for the past five years. We moved because of the continual yapping and howling of a little dog next door, the shouting and racist threats of the gay man with AIDS dementia below, and our recognition that our best Buddhist caring and skills were not adequate to change those conditions for more than a few hours. In the face of her determined practice, the gay man’s raging swept Bettina back to the terror of her childhood home.

We can view our old apartment clearly from this new one. We can watch each of the characters of the drama we had just escaped as they go up and down the outside stairs, we can guess and almost hear the words when Dennis leans over the balcony to shout down obscenities at Rick. Our friend Tessa, who had felt the brunt of Rick’s racist verbal assaults, comes to visit us and we can listen and offer comfort or suggestions. We are still in that world—but not of it.

That experience, of physically moving from being in the midst of the drama to being engaged with it while not being part of it, quickly represented for me what we do in our minds with the world when we have a practice. The world will continue to create and nourish its drama, and our response is not to turn away uncaringly from the world, only from its drama. Practice offers us a new apartment.

October 25, 2010
Today in meditation I experimented with examining the stressors in my bodily experience of sitting. I investigated each area of tension, however small or subtle. As soon as I discovered one—a sitting bone pressing against the seat of my chair, a tension in my left forearm, slight tightness in my chest, the straps of my bra under my breasts—I didn’t breathe into it, I moved on to the next.

The lesson of course was that, the body’s dukkha, however minor, is always present, coming and going continually, always shifting. Mostly we give it no importance, add no suffering to it. If the dukkha becomes in our mind major, it grabs our attention and we are likely to keep focussing on it, amplifying its power. Sometimes even breathing into it (often a helpful technique, especially if we keep labeling “ache, ache, ache,” “sharp hot pain, sharp hot pain” before returning to the normal breath), can be a form of this exaggerating focus.

The more we develop awareness of the never-ending busyness of the body’s dukkha, the more we can experience a more intense dukkha as what it is—one louder claim among others. We don’t feed suffering by indulging in the illusion that our bodies are intended to be entirely comfortable, and that pain is an outrageous disruption of a natural state of ease.

November 1, 2010
Sometimes the patients I talk with in the hospital equate revisiting their childhood with “blaming others.” They are wary or weary—or both—of experiencing anger towards a rigid father or an abusive mother. Most often, even if they are not engaging in what I’ve called “premature forgiveness” they are engaged in premature acceptance.

I may suggest to them that to reopen the childhood wound and know its depth is not with the goal of blaming others. It is with the goal of affirming the child. To be healed, she must be seen with the eyes of the caring adult and appreciated for everything that came at her, everything she didn’t get in those immensely vulnerable and formative years. And the only person in the world who can fully see and appreciate her is her adult self.

November 2, 2010
It seems a great gift to our awareness practice each time that we can identify the emergence of the Little Person in ourselves and in all the people around us. In my own practice I’ve discovered that when someone is speaking to us out of their Little Jane or Little Jim it is pointless to engage with them. The Little Person isn’t speaking to us. She is caught in her past self, trying through her anger, her neediness, her controlling urgency, her defensiveness, to reach the dominant persons in her past. We may, at best, placate her, soothe her, but we cannot respond to her furious accusations/her self-pity/her insistence that we do or not do this or that/her refusal to see her own responsibility/her pleading, since it is directed to someone else. It’s as though someone were talking animatedly on the telephone and, because we are present in the room we try to form responses to what she is saying as if she were saying it to us.

When we find ourselves with a Little Person, We might say “I can tell you’re really furious” or “That must be really hard” or offer some such general sympathy (or just an empathetic “Wow!”). We can’t, while she is speaking, answer her specifics, pursue a two-way conversation, because the anguish is about ancient events, places, times. At another time, when we are both adults, we can discuss whether we actually meant what she heard as so hurtful, whether we need to wash the dishes in a pot or a tub, whether she really needs what she is demanding or begging for.

In order to recognize the Little Person in others, we need first to be so familiar with our own Little Jane or Jim that we can recognize her anytime she appears, however faint her voice. She needs to be responded to in an entirely different way than if she were our adult voice of discernment in the present.