Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

February 15, 2012—March 5, 2012

February 15, 2012
Ten days ago I went overnight to the desert house, hoping to make some progress on repairs to the shower. The neighbor who was to help me was still away, and except for a bedridden neighbor’s light there was no sign of life anywhere, no car or truck went past for two days and the silence was deep. Usually I find that stillness delicious, saying to myself in wonder, “There’s nobody here.” This time I had somehow attracted to myself Bettina’s recent negative mental formations about the desert house because of her PTSD, “There is something terribly wrong about this house and I can’t fix it.” Exactly those feelings dominated my consciousness—not entirely surprising since her PTSD was a resurgence of feelings about her childhood home, and my childhood home had similar feelings for me. I not only could not shake these mental formations—the desert house quickly became 14 Edgevale Road, its emptiness unbearably cold and existentially lonely, a feeling more profound than terror. (Terror, I suppose, presumes a something.) I was Little Cynthia, trapped in an uncaring space without any human contact.

I have re-experienced, of course, much of Little Cynthia’s isolation and loneliness before; this time the startling fact was that there was no observer at all—I was Little Cynthia, experiencing the cold just as it was then, the desert house was Edgevale Road, as if the present and the past were one. I began moaning softly like Little Cynthia, and then allowed myself to sob. Finally the feelings eased just enough so that I could write about them and slowly release them back into the past until I could find some measure of relief.

In the hours and days afterwards, I knew that something important had happened, that it had happened for a reason that would somehow come clear to me. I didn’t reach after the meaning, feeling that the process would find its own way.

It has. Yesterday for the first time in my life, I knew with a startling clarity that Little Cynthia had always been a pure spirit. Somehow, without words, I have believed that the little two-year-old in the photograph, in her bathrobe, studying her wooden beads, was pure, but that after that she was spoiled, dirtied if you like, by the circumstances of her neglect at 14 Edgevale Road. Yesterday, I got it—that she had always been pure, just as the sun is always radiant and pure even when covered with clouds. The understanding amazed me, and only this morning it dawned on me that this was the meaning of the gift of the anguish I went through on the desert. In order to see Little Cynthia’s purity, her buddha nature, I had to take in even more deeply just how thick those clouds were, just how entirely abandoned she was through her early years.

I had to see just how bad it was to see the miracle of the innocent child who survived it.

February 23, 2012
This morning I was trying to sort some of the notes I’ve made at different times when I was trying to organize dharma gleanings into some usable form—hospital insights? according to topic? Notice the repetition of the word “trying” here. I felt a vague pressure in my heart and met Little Cynthia there. She began a kind of muted moan that always alerts me to her presence, and I listened to her pain. What was the nature of it? Then she told me—it was the sense of being better than circumstances allowed her to be, knowing that she had more of value, more to give than she could project into the world. She told me that, as much as her struggles with ADD, it was family indifference, with nobody to give a hoot for anything she would say or do, that made self-expression so painfully difficult. (Bettina believes that ADD is a result of family conditions.) I see now how, when I have tried in recent years to communicate my insights—as with Mindfall or dharma gleanings or the essay on forgiveness or this morning’s efforts—the current expressions of my buddha nature—those twin elements are/feel re-created.

I realized today that whenever I imagine the people who might receive my work—readers, publishers, even friends with whom I might share it—I see them through the lens of my childhood. I see them as entirely caught up in their own preoccupations, as my family was, without the time or interest to give the slightest attention to what I write. Through the years that has created a mental/emotional obstacle to my submitting material for publication, or even sharing with friends. And when I try to weave material in some coherent way, I also face the memory loss from aging that compounds the old challenge of the ADD.

March 3, 2012
I am saying a lot of goodbyes, and from time to time I am swept with grief for them. The loss I feel sometimes as I suspect that changes at the hospital will mean that I will not be using my gifts in the way that has been so satisfying to me. The sense of loss as I tried to organize my writings and faced the incompetence that reminded me of my childhood incompetence, coupled with the recognition that now the mental challenges of aging may make it impossible once more for me to be able to give. The loss of the desert house, as I now face that she is growing old at the same time that I am growing old and cannot keep up with her.

So many messages from the universe, directing me towards letting go. When I arrived here yesterday morning on the desert and turned on the water at its source, I heard a roar from the back porch. The person who removed our old washing machine while we were away must have turned a knob at the faucet, and now the water was rushing out onto the porch flooding it, so I was a long time bailing it out. In the afternoon, after I lit the fire, a large log I had placed on top rolled out—thankfully not onto the floor but to the edge of the wood stove, so I had to pour water over it repeatedly to put it out. When I finally was able to haul the log out to the desert floor, I saw that the water had removed the blacking from the front of the stove.

That night, the French film I had chosen to watch, L’Heure D’Ete/Summer Hours, was entirely about the efforts of a woman and her son to preserve all the valuable artifacts of the family home when none of the siblings had any interest in them—it was about the absurdity of clinging, the necessity of recognizing the impermanence of even what we most value, and perhaps the absurdity of attaching such exaggerated value to what is impermanent.

Today I return to the new book I am reading by the Venerable Thich Phuoc Tinh and two pages in I find him reminding us that everything is constantly in a cycle. He speaks of the human cycle wherein the old person will at some point become again like a child—toothless, without the memories she has accumulated throughout her life. I recognize that while it is my practice to recognize Little Cynthia as her feelings arise from my storehouse, I am at the same time slowly becoming Little Cynthia in this cyclical sense. Last week I was not only re-experiencing the pain of Little Cynthia’s childhood incompetence, Adult Cynthia was experiencing the encroaching future of herself as an old woman. To see that I am being asked to yield to the cycle of life feels oddly comforting.

March 5 (the happening) and June 30, 2012 (the transcribing)
A few days after I wrote the last entry, Bettina told me that she has fallen in love with another woman. I haven’t written directly about this since, not because it was painful, but because I couldn’t think how to write in a way that didn’t sound somehow self-aggrandizing. However, these months later I will try. The universe has been amazing in this period of what I have called redefining Bettina’s and my relationship. When I sat on the couch on the desert reading Thich Phuoc Tinh and taking in my place in the cycle of life, I felt a kind of wistfulness—as though I wished I could devote more of my energy into absorbing the meaning of this period of my aging. So when Bettina told me what had happened with her, I almost instantly grasped that this was better for both of us. (I wrote in red ink on a little card for her: “Only Good Can Come of This”). I could see that in the past months she has come to a place in her life where she can care for Little Bettina without my support, and is also ready to support someone else who can offer more challenges for her growth. Practicing non-attachment with the desert house and its belongings made this new letting-go feel easier. I’ve been letting go of forever for a long time now. In my mind I’ve seen the house and its cherished objects many times destroyed by fire and earthquake or just sold, as now, because I couldn’t keep up with the repairs. And in my mind I have watched Bettina go in many ways many times since before we first came together. I haven’t valued her less, only am now more ready to see her go. I’ve even felt a deep satisfaction, bordering on joy, that we were each able to see when it was time to end our amazing, difficult, beautiful ride.