Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

July 25, 2013—August 5, 2013

July 25, 2013
A couple of weeks ago, the universe brought me one more—I suspect perhaps last—triggering of the samsara from my sister’s cruelty towards me in childhood and beyond. The incident was very small—it was simply that someone who has reminded me powerfully of my sister made some sneering comments after she misheard something I said about—brussel sprouts! Afterwards I could feel my ill-will make another appearance—this time, however, I could immediately recognize that I was feeling the fear and pain of my sister’s sneering judgments of me in childhood and afterwards. I didn’t stay with the present situation, the woman who in the past has stirred in me first fear, then pain, then my own judgmental ill-will towards her.

I realized that I had never taken in how frightening and painful my sister’s sneering judgments were. Instead, I could suddenly see, with compassion, that three people had been in the room with me when those comments were made. One was Little Cynthia, the other Little A (my sister), the third was Little S (my friend). Something in Little C’s misheard comment triggered Little S who triggered Little A in Little C. None of these little people had anything to do with the adult women—it was as though a couple of little girls had come into the room and began talking to each other. As an adult, I could feel my heart opening for all three little girls, including my sister.

After that, I felt an extraordinary change in myself, on the physical plane as well as the emotional and spiritual. It was as though my chi had shifted. I could feel heart opening as a physical manifestation, so that when I breathe my whole chest is bathed in the breath.

I carried that delicious inner spaciousness, gratitude for the smallest things, with me to my week’s vacation with friends at a lake near Montreal.

July 26, 2013
In Montreal, I recognized what else I have been feeling since I released those vestiges of ill will towards my sister that I had been carrying. In my notebook I wrote:

I don’t any longer have a need to know.
I have a need to try to understand.

Bettina asked me to clarify the difference. A need to know comes from the mind. A need to try to understand comes from the heart’s desire to have no boundaries, to expand its territory as far as it is capable of reaching.

July 27, 2013
We speak of the need for an open heart, and the heart that is truly open is not just one part of us that yields to the sufferings and joys of others. During most of our conditioned lives we experience the world mostly through our eyes and our minds, and then, if we are caring people we allow our hearts to join the crowd. With a truly open heart, the heart is in the lead—we don’t wait for an invitation from someone’s suffering or joy. Whether we are chopping carrots or shopping for toothpaste, the open heart is the space from which we go out into the mundane everyday world, it is the primary space from which we experience that world, and our eyes and minds are allowed in as necessary.

July 28, 2013
Here is one way to think of the Christian Trinity. Jesus is an “ordinary” man who eats, drinks, even suffers within the realm of conventional reality. He drives the money lenders from the temple, engages with the daily world, teaches and washes feet, as would a maha bodhisattva who chooses to operate within the daily world to end the suffering of all beings. God is ultimate reality, the emptiness that embraces all with total compassion. The Holy Spirit is the flow between Jesus and God, and so between us, as we operate within the conventional realm, and the Ultimate—”The kingdom of God is within you.” It is the flow that enables Jesus—and ourselves—to manifest in miraculous ways, and with understandings beyond the limitations of the conventional.

July 30, 2013
It seems likely when we dread some anticipated event—the loss of a passport or a job, the death of a pet—what we are dreading is not the event itself, or the challenges it may entail, but the feelings we anticipate will be evoked in us. Different people respond in different ways to the loss of a passport or a job, even to rape or homelessness. So it is not the imagined facts—what might happen, what we might need to do—that make our hearts race. What we are dreading is our own reaction—fear, anger, grief, our own suffering.

July 31, 2013
I’ve been reading “Whipping Girl” by Julia Serano, a trans woman, and I can feel that her message, which I’ve been absorbing, blends with my deepening awareness, thanks to practice, of the samsara that arises from our “solidifying”—fixing of people (or anything) into a solid “It” (to use Buber’s pronoun of objectification). She illuminates how eager we are to decide: “this is who a transsexual is, this is how I can fit her into one of my present boxes.” Instead she points us to the fluidity of gender/sexual experience, and how rigidly we project our own way of being in the world onto the fluidity of other human beings. As in:

Not surprisingly, the researchers’ academic backgrounds seem to be the primary determinant as to what explanations for transsexuality they will posit. Being that Harry Benjamin (who was trained as an endocrinologist) believed that transsexuality was caused by fetal hormone levels, and Richard Green, Robert Stoller, and John Money (all trained in psychology) looked to relationships with parents and/or events that occurred during one’s formative years as its primary cause, it is not surprising that social scientists generally argue that transsexuality is the result of social gender norms, lesbian and gay scholars claim it is the result of heterosexism, feminists blame it on patriarchy, and poststructuralists simply deconstruct it into nonexistence. (p. 155)

August 1, 2013
Maybe scrupulously tended gardens are examples of conventional reality, a world where we can be offended by “wrong” colors or ants devouring the corpse of a possum in a flowerbed or dead leaves on the swept paths.

Wild nature brings us in touch with ultimate reality, where we can experience the beauty of the inseparability of life and death, predator and prey, flower and yellowing leaf, sun and rain, light and shadow, right and wrong, cruelty and tenderness. Somehow we know not to bring trashbags to fill with the dead leaves on the forest floor, and as they crumble under our feet we can take in how they are becoming part of the earth that becomes part of the tree.

Nature’s immense power to heal resides in her reminders to us, on a cellular level, that we can lower the stress that we carry from the dualistic and fragmented messages of conventional reality. She informs us through our senses that what we are seeing, hearing, smelling offers a deeper harmony than our best attempts to improve her, a more profound reality where the whole scene breathes with one breath.

August 2, 2013
No birth, no death
is a very beautiful statement, and of course true. Still it is difficult for me to hear that phrase without instantly envisioning exactly what I wished to free myself from—our minds are so conditioned that it’s easy for those words to create powerful images that reinforce our conviction of the reality of birth and death. I have found it more helpful to the conventional mind to take in that I have no beginning and no end. This is something I can experience as a reality in the present moment. I can feel how the air that I breathe—the air that is me—is continually drawing from and flowing into a vaster atmosphere. I can feel that my body is indistinguishable from the nourishment I absorb, the water that I drink, and those “not me” elements are continually becoming my own flesh and blood. I can understand how my nourishment from plants, clouds, rivers is indistinguishable from the endlessly continuing processes of nature, I can marvel at how far that water travelled, not just to sustain me, but to become “me.” However much conventional reality leads me to experience my separateness from my breakfast cereal or my orange juice, it is not such a challenge to understand and to directly experience that I have no independent existence.

I am not just “dependent” on elements and sentient beings outside myself in every moment of life. I am not just “connected” to those elements and beings. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s language, we inter-are. There is no boundary between myself and the world/the universe—no way to say where I begin or end.

August 5, 2013
I was oddly moved by Julia Serano saying in Whipping Girl that before she transitioned, she experienced “a great deal of sadness”. For whatever reason, it had never occurred to me that gender dissonance would create sadness. As I observe more closely my opening heart, now when I look at people on the street or in the coffee shop, I can see their sadness, and that evokes in me a deep gentleness and tenderness. How could sadness not be a universal underlying experience for most people? Whatever joy or pain they may experience, in childhood and later, they carry with them the buried knowledge that life is limited, that those they care about will not always be here. If they have not practiced seriously with the five daily recollections—or, perhaps, have developed an unusually deep conviction about the reality of heaven—and found some peace with that knowledge, how could they not live with underlying sadness? And once we see that, how could we respond to such deep vulnerability with anything less than tenderness?