Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

May 29, 2011—July 5, 2011

May 29, 2011
I’ve come to settle more and more into the awareness, brought to me by the knowledge of impermanence, that comfort and health are not the norms for the body. I see now that believing that they are the way our bodies should feel adds to our suffering, making us feel that something is “wrong” whenever we experience discomfort or ill health. From our awareness practice during meditation we can learn that the healthiest body in the most comfortable position can quickly develop a myriad of discomforts, from itches to sharp pains. The stillness of meditation can teach us that in ordinary life we are constantly rearranging our bodies to escape one small or great discomfort after another.

What has happened to me as that awareness has begun to enter my cells is that I now experience a sweet peaceful pleasure when I am temporarily free of pain or discomfort, or when I can breathe deeply without the slight obstructions from my allergies. I don’t cling to this quiet delight, don’t create suffering by anticipating a loss. I think it may be what Thich Nhat Hanh meant by feeling gratitude when one doesn’t have a toothache. Instead of taking it for granted that this is the body’s normal, rightful, to-be-expected state, I can for the first time fully appreciate the sweetness. I become aware of its preciousness, savor it, as we do with a sunset that we know will not last, is not meant to last, is not “wrong” in its fading. I have a new venue, as it were, for happiness.

May 30, 2011
We often say we wish we had more time. It would be better to say we wish we had more space. When we have more time, we often fill it up, when what our spirits are truly craving is more space.

I’ve come to see that space is one of the elements, necessary to any spiritual life, that is most missing in the world we live in. Even when we aren’t we aren’t working, we are multitasking—eating while talking to a friend if not texting while checking the baseball scores. Our days are packed full, and if they aren’t we hurry to make sure that we fill them since we’ve come to believe that space is a waste of precious time. Space that is unfilled can even make us anxious, as if we had an algorithm:
Space = I’m not doing enough = I’m not good enough = Misery.
Meanwhile, space is essential to our true happiness. Without space, we cannot live mindfully and over time mindfulness brings us to a deep gratitude, and in the moment that we are grateful we are happy. So the real algorithm reads:
Space = mindfulness = gratitude = Happiness.

Even when the things we fill our lives with bring us enjoyment—and often they only bring distraction from unpleasant feelings—enjoyment is not the same as happiness. It is short-lived and it is contingent. We have to risk the possibility of facing some unpleasant feelings at the doorway if we are to open up to the vast space of our true happiness.

July 4, 2011
Kathy, the woman who comes in twice a day to feed the cats and water the plants at the bed and breakfast we are staying at on our vacation, is my teacher today.

Yesterday when I met her and today when she first arrived, I experienced in myself a drawing back from her being. She had the glittery eyes that Barbara used to call “Daddy’s eyes”—Bettina, who didn’t feel the aversion, noticed this, the intense eagerness to be approved that comes from the little girl’s hunger to be seen by Daddy, to please him, impress him. My sister had those eyes. And Kathy gushed forth, presenting herself to us in a slightly inflated way—her understanding of the cats, the caregiving business she shares with her partner, their plans for the week.

Later this morning, sitting on our patio, I watched her in the garden, talking to some plants as she watered, thoughtfully moving the hoses across the grass. When she came closer I told her how beautiful it was to watch her because she seemed to do everything so mindfully and with such pleasure. Then we began a real conversation—her working-class parents moving to a small organic farm when she was young after her father absorbed harmful chemicals at Lockheed Martin, how they managed to send all their children to college (“we didn’t even have to have jobs unless we wanted to”), how she still cans and makes jams with her mother sometimes, how she bonded with some of the animals she sits for, how she works with traumatized rescue dogs and is thinking of doing pet hospice care. The glitter left her eyes and though she was talking about herself it was not a presentation but a sharing, with some depth.

I tried to remember where I had seen such a change before—never with my sister, but more recently with a yoga teacher, Miranda. I used to feel the same aversion—the glittery eyes, a kind of silly exaggeration (Miranda: “I just LOVE having you in my class!!”, or Kathy: “Oh I’m SO sorry!!”—after I told her that the cat upstairs raised the volume on the tv the night before, when she wasn’t even here). And the same Miranda would give a yoga class of great confidence and depth and maturity—though if I thanked her for it afterwards the same giggly girlishness might appear.

So Kathy shows me the shallowness of my first impressions. For both Kathy and Miranda, the glittery intensity is the Little Kathy and Little Miranda still reacting to situations that remind them of their yearning for Daddy’s praise, while the adult women are in another place—wiser, clearer, deeper.

Perhaps Kathy will be the last teacher I need to learn this lesson.

July 5, 2011
My dream last night:
I meet a young man in another town—his clothes are somewhat funky, disheveled. I like him and feel glad when he says he’d like to come to my town. The air is filled with clarity and light, everything is sharply defined. Another young man, also oddly dressed, appears. (They are on the road, though they are not together, each has a backpack.) The thought floats up—how can I keep opening to everybody in this way, there’d be no end to it because there are so many people in the world. The thought dissolves with the feeling, “No problem. So what if everybody comes—that would be ok.”

The dream comes out of the encounter with Kathy, the moment when, instead of finding a polite way to closure so I could read my book, I stayed open to her conversation. And it was ok.