Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

December 11, 2011—December 27, 2011

December 11, 2011
For what might have been a week but felt longer, I succumbed to a mix of my kapha and the stress that I received by osmosis from Bettina’s stress and shutdown, created by her overload of too many yoga classes, stressful work at school, her mother’s icy letter. I entered my animus, my shadow self. Everything I experienced was the exact opposite of my usual life—I saw no miracles in the beautiful world around me, and grief, frustration, anxiety plagued me. I felt as though I had lost the hospital—it felt like a chore rather than an inspiration.

I practiced observation through it all, even though the observer had no wisdom to remind me that this state was impermanent. I felt I was in a room with no door.

Finally on Saturday I went to a coffee shop and read the last chapter of Joan Halifax’s Being with Dying. Some mantras Halifax proposed for people who are grieving sounded possible for my state of mind.

I took a long walk, watching what arose for me and responding:

I accept my anger
I am not my anger

I accept my grief
I am not my grief

I accept my fear
I am not my fear

As I walked, muttering these phrases, the state I felt locked in opened up and it has not returned, even when my kapha has descended. Coming after a time of observation, there is a magic to that double wisdom—the acceptance and the separation equally held.

December 19, 2011
My dream last night just before waking: I am standing on the flat roof of a building beside a table with four chairs, two of which are in the light, two are in shadow. I look out over beautiful green treetops, and I say to myself, “I’m not climbing because it’s easy, I’m climbing because I can see so much.”

Recalling the dream, what are the four chairs? I know that the two in sunlight are for Bettina and myself. What are the two in shadow? Writing this now, I think that the light and shadow represent Bettina’s and my animae and animi, that our practice has been to embrace states of being we might have rejected before, to sit comfortably with them, just as I became more accepting of what I had called “my shadow self” in the past week.

December 21, 2011
From Bettina’s reading of Turning Suffering Inside Out, the question to pose is:

Who am I beyond this body?

So beautiful to rephrase and address for any suffering: Who am I beyond this grief/anger/tension/judgmentalism/hunger...

December 24, 2011
My dream last night (which I discounted until Bettina asked me to share it with her at breakfast):

I am talking with some French women who are thinking of buying some property in the neighborhood. I ask them inconsequential questions, and I am acutely aware that what is important is not what questions I ask, and it is not important for me to contribute anything to the conversation—what matters is my pronunciation of the French, that I speak beautifully, and I find pleasure in realizing that I am speaking well.

Only at breakfast do I realize that this dream is about my life’s work, at the hospital and outside. I am not solving people’s problems, I am asking, and all that is really important is the how, not the what, of my speech. The how matters, even if all we are discussing is superficial or merely practical. Even if the other people are from another country—homeless or stroke survivors or evangelical—I can communicate with them if I pay attention to the how, speak (as I am learning to do) their language.

When we have finished learning what the dream has to offer, Bettina shares with me a shift she has seen in the past months. She and I have both spoken about the importance of living one’s authentic life—finding the life that allows one to live authentically—my work in the hospital or Bettina teaching yoga perhaps. She has come to realize that it is not a question of finding one’s authentic life (which is almost like finding a role to fit into) and instead what is important is to live whatever life we are leading from an authentic place. It is indeed, as Tolle says, not the What but the How that is all that matters.

December 26, 2011
Yesterday, driving back from Julian, I felt I had new appreciation of the alms bowl that the monks carry and, without asking, hold until it is filled by caring laypeople. Whatever is placed in the bowl, they accept with a bow to express their thanks. I felt that I am coming slowly and steadily closer to relating in that way to the alms bowl of life—not in order to be a good monk, but in order to have the deep pleasure and freedom of the life without preferences. The deeper, more frequent our experience of that pleasure, the more often we can, not simply accept what is placed in our bowl, but value it as intended for our nourishment.

December 27, 2011
Yesterday, walking through Bisnaga Wash, I found myself saying something that has resonated with me since. Bettina is coming out of a painful week, separating out her reaction to a workman’s unsatisfactory repair of our shower from the recurrent theme of Little Bettina’s childhood: “There is something terribly wrong in this house, and I can’t fix it.”

Since the shower was her beautiful gift to us, paid for by her yoga teaching, it also stirred in her the way Little Bettina tried so hard to please her mother, and how it was never o.k. This weekend of working to tease apart her wrath at the workman from the abusive past has been an often agonizing, exhausting, fruitful time for Bettina—leading to a delicious freedom as she was finally able to contact a righteous fury towards her mother that she has never allowed herself before. What I heard myself saying yesterday was:

You’ve learned that what is important isn’t the shower. What is important is your childhood.

I repeated that, and added,
What is important isn’t the shower. What is important is the great gift of love you gave to me.

One can go on, with all of life’s challenges:
What is important isn’t that the food got a little burned when we were expecting guests. What is important is that we have food and friends.

What is important isn’t that it’s raining when we want to take a hike. What’s important is that the world gets a soaking.

How useful that reframing is in life—there is so much to yank us off the track of what truly matters. Practice takes us ever closer to becoming skilled at being able to identify what is important.