Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

June 5, 2013—July 7, 2013

June 5, 2013
The more I accept death, the more I love life, because I’m living my life in the sunshine—without the shadow of death.

June 14, 2013
In the hospital I meet Gloria, who has intense undiagnosed stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea that has continued for years. Twenty years ago she was on dialysis when she had a kidney transplant that has lasted unusually long. I can see in her face the happiness and peace with life that she tells me about. She is a Christian, but what she shares with me is clearly out of very personal direct experience with meeting challenges—everything she says could be said in those words by a Buddhist. She talks with compassion about herself in the past, and about others she’s met during her challenges—people who are still, in my language, out of alignment with their reality. In Gloria’s words, “When you’re begging God, you’re still worrying and you’re still trying to be in control.” She has come to fully understand the sweetness and lightness of surrender and gratitude, the folly of shooting the second arrow. “I have so much pain—why would I want to add to that?”

July 3, 2013
I’ve just recently—working with an object of my ill-will who powerfully and helpfully triggers my sister—come to even greater clarity, like Gloria’s, that I am fed up with the suffering that comes with ill-will. It now has almost none of the seductive hook for me. In these last years I have experienced very little ill-will, but because my awareness of my sister’s role in the misery of my childhood is quite recent, whatever triggers that early cruelty creates profound fear, grief, anger, the usual suspects. At the same time that I was working with my reactions intensely, I was writing a dharma talk on impermanence, and that proved helpful to me. It helped me to see that in order to feel ill-will, it’s necessary to solidify people who are actually in flux—we define them, and fix them, in their unworthiness. And with equal clarity I saw that I am not only doing that towards the object of my ill-will (and object, of course, is the perfect word for the objectification of ill-will)—I am also solidifying, fixing, objectifying myself. For the first time I realized that whenever we feel anger or fear or even grief, our bodies, our identities, become rigid—we have snatched ourselves out of the flow of life.

I recognize that there is a grief that is not dukkha, as we may experience after a death or witnessing the storm scene in King Lear, and it is fluid—a spacious grief that connects us to the universe, opens our heart wide rather than closing it. I feel such grief hearing the painful stories of childhood so often shared with me in the hospital.

The grief that solidifies us is the grief of our personal disappointment, it is the grief of suffering, of the unreal, the grief of attachment and aversion. The larger grief is the grief of tonglen, of taking in the suffering of the world, a grief that allows us to absorb a larger reality. We should probably learn to identify in ourselves which space we are in when we feel “grief.”

July 6, 2013
I become more and more aware of the value and liberation that comes from consistently disentangling the past from the present. Lately I have begun experimenting with rephrasing difficult emotions. First I rephrase them, if necessary, to reflect their original intensity in childhood—instead of “sad” I use “grieving,” instead of “frustrated” I use “angry,” and then I place these stronger feelings in the past tense where they belong. “I’m feeling sad” would translate into “I had so much grief.” “I’m frustrated” would become “I was very angry.” “I’m feeling anxious” would be “I was very frightened.” “I resent her success” would be “I had a lot of envy.” If I recognize in myself that my feelings towards someone have been tinged with meanness, I can acknowledge that child in myself with compassion rather than judgement: “I wanted to hurt her.” There can be a release and a great relief that comes from honoring the true nature of our feelings.

We are freed to see the present moment with greater clarity and discernment.

I’ve discovered that even the future, which most of us think about far more than we need for planning, is usually the past. We allow ourselves to focus on the future as much as we do, and even believe it is necessary and prudent, because of mild underlying anxiety. If I keep thinking about my upcoming trip in a way that is not joyful, it is probably because I am uneasy that I haven’t thought of everything I need to do, and my “uneasiness” is upcoming from Little Cynthia, who is trying to allay her ancient fears of not being adequate.

July 7, 2013
Yesterday at a day-long retreat, I began investigating “unpleasant-pleasant-neutral” in my body in a way new to me. I could observe not only that unpleasant moves to neutral, for example, but that all three can, and probably always do, coexist all at once. I felt the back of my hand as neutral at the same time that the numbness in my foot was unpleasant and the cool breeze on my arms was pleasant. It’s all happening at the same time, all of the time, only we choose what to focus on. We can choose too not to solidify—a moment later the “unpleasant” of my numb foot shifted to “neutral.” The more I take in how fluid and multi-faceted life is, I am, my loved ones or my “enemies” are, the freer and lighter I feel. And the wiser I am.