Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

January 6, 2013—January 19, 2013

January 6, 2013
Even if what one is saying or doing is helpful and basically well-intentioned, if there is even a trace of meanness or ego-amplification in it, and even though nobody would ever be able to detect it, note that and don’t say or do it. The helpfulness of the words or act will not cancel out the seed of meanness you will have watered in yourself.

January 12, 2013
When we meet people, or see them in the coffee shop, we tend to size them up quickly, often without noticing that we are doing that, in terms of how we think they will affect us. (He looks boring, I should cut him off; she will try to make me feel less than; he won’t let me in; she will be interesting; he will be kind; she will be depressing. And so on.)

Over time we may pride ourselves on being able to size up people, while we are really sizing up our own conditioned fears and concerns.

Our cleverness in “sizing up” is the moral equivalent of ethnic, gender, racial, religious stereotyping, which most of us would reject out of hand—all while we secretly pride ourselves of “being a good judge of character.”

It’s as if we had built a castle with a moat where we stand hyper-vigilant at the drawbridge deciding who can pass. We don’t see that it is harmless and wholesome to drain the moat and allow people to present themselves to us, one after another, in their startling diversity, complexity—and ultimate oneness and simplicity.

January 16, 2013
Each of us is a beautiful jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing. We can observe the empty spaces without focussing on them. If we concentrate on the pieces that aren’t there, we miss the beauty of the picture.

January 17, 2013
When pain or illness—or even emotional distress—comes on, our instinct is to move in one of two directions: the past (what did I do to make this happen? what caused it?) or the future (what should I do about it? call a doctor? get some aloe vera? apologize to Jack?)

The reality is that before we go in either direction (unless my hand is burning because I placed it on the stove), we need to fully inhabit the present, feel what is happening (where and what are these feelings exactly?), and give it at least a few minutes just to be with it and accept it as fully we can. Then when we turn our attention to what may have caused it in the past or what we might do to change it in the future, we will do that without the suffering of urgency, aversion, apprehension. A mind free of suffering is likely to be far more discerning about how best to handle this or any situation.

The Why? (Why does X make me so angry? Why is my knee hurting?) reveals itself when we drop the object and simply stay with our feelings, observing them with interest over time.

January 18, 2013
I’ve been experiencing my allergy, and though not nearly as acutely as before I started yoga four years ago, it creates for me a different world. During the most recent bout, I was living with low levels of anxiety, frustration, impatience with self and others, as though my antennae had turned to pick up only signals of the terribleness of the world without its marvels. I couldn’t access joy or gratitude. I, who immensely enjoy my own company, was not fun for myself to be with. If I could have, I would have un-friended myself.

During this time—two weeks? ten days?—I didn’t alter or transcend these feelings. They stuck to me like velcro until they slowly dissolved. What I realized this morning, however, was that for almost that entire time, I hadn’t tried to change my mental state, and even though I felt that I had lost my ability to practice—which I value above everything else, because it makes everything else possible—I didn’t grieve for that or berate myself in the slightest. I fully—joylessly but without resentment or self-judgment—accepted that this was simply part of life.

This morning—sitting as usual in my coffee shop—I realized, with a kind of delight, that during these irritable and loveless days I was still practicing, since whenever we are aware, without judgment, of difficult emotions, we are practicing.

Remarkably, when I came home I decided to play an Adyashanti CD on meditation that I’d never listened to, just to see if it would be appropriate for my patients in the hospital. With the kind of surprised recognition that I feel whenever the Universe provides exactly the required input, I heard Adyashanti say that he would be speaking about how meditation teaches us to accept life “just as it is.” I can testify that practice gives us exactly that acceptance, and it is a blessing.

January 19, 2013
I’ve had another experience of the rewards of “dropping the object.”

Last Sunday, during shavasana, the pose of relaxation following yoga, I felt tears on my cheeks and a deep sadness in my heart, and I could tell that I was grieving the loss of my sangha partner. I had grieved my loss of her as my domestic partner and of our shared daily sangha practice, but for awhile we were still meeting weekly. It has become clear that for many reasons this may no longer be workable, so the grief was mourning that loss.

These days I can usually embrace a feeling and let it pass through me, without clinging to it or adding suffering with stories that feed it. When that doesn’t happen, it’s often a signal to me that there’s something underlying the present source of pain.

This time the sadness persisted several days, nagging me, but unattended because of different commitments and my allergy that created a lethargy. I knew that the loss of Bettina as my sangha partner triggered an older, deeper loss, and I figured it would speak up when I could clear space to enter it.

So today back to my coffee shop! This time I entered my sadness directly. I let any hint of a story drop and simply allowed myself to feel the wordless, image-less power of my heart’s grief. Then, when I had felt its full force, that symphony of pain, I recognized that I had felt Little Cynthia’s sadness but never grieved for her directly, with an adult’s open-hearted compassion. Or maybe, I think now, as our hearts grow ever more open we can grieve our childhoods in a more profound way. That profound compassion allowed the tears to flow freely (I am shameless in a local coffee shop where I’m sure that countless gay guys have let it out).

As I grieved for how unaccompanied, unnoticed she was, I took her in as if for the first time. It was as if the grief were only the medium for seeing her and her situation with a new clarity. I understand now that because I was seeing her through those wise adult eyes, I could see for the first time her absolute inarguable worthiness. I could see in sharp relief the jaw-dropping contrast between her inconsequence, her invisibility to all of them, and who she really was: not only her immense efforts but her very tangible “accomplishments” even of the sort that in that family should have won her deep respect (I saw how even when those “accomplishments” culminated in a summa cum laude from Harvard, with one professor writing that my thesis was the best he’d ever read, while the same year saw the publication of a then widely translated and anthologized short story—it was all greeted with barely a nod). I could see aspects of the family dynamic I never saw before—that my father considered, maybe even consciously, my sister to be “his” child and myself to be my mother’s child, except that my mother never picked up the pieces. I’ve written more of my revelations elsewhere, but this has been another instance of the rewards of “dropping the object.”