Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

October 3, 2013—October 23, 2013

October 3, 2013
“It just is”—the deep acceptance of all that life offers—is a key piece of Buddhist wisdom, one that a few of the patients I visit in the hospital have attained.

Often people recoil from that wisdom. It’s as if instead of it just is, they hear in just ice. As though the Buddha were asking them to shrug their shoulders at suffering, at Hitler, at slavery, at genital mutilation. It can take the discoveries of practice to recognize that It just is does not mean indifference and inaction, just as non-attachment does not mean detachment. Both can and do coexist with the greatest compassion and the wisest action.

October 9, 2013
I’ve developed a warm friendship with my loss of memory. It began with simple—not so simple—acceptance. It’s true that I may not be able to recall what I had for dinner last night or something deeply meaningful that you told me about your life struggles. For awhile I’ve known that what I had for dinner is entirely unimportant and that if you allude to what you told me, your story will unfold before me again because it was and is important. I don’t have a job where my livelihood depends on pleasing a boss who expects me to remember. So I came to accept my loss of memory—it just is.

These days I see deeper gifts in not remembering. Now that I’ve given up trying to keep track of the happenings of the past—when I last talked with you, what we talked about, the last time I did the laundry, what Mary meant when she said that about Paul, what the commentator said on NPR this morning—I can see very clearly how disposable it all is.

It’s rather like when we move to a smaller apartment and go through our things. Stuff we were holding onto for years can go into the Goodwill box without any sense of loss, and we can feel a delicious sense of lightness in our being. I live in that lightness of memory. I can live very comfortably with just a little! What I can see so clearly now is how much energy it took to keep searching there for stuff, which is after all of so little importance though we inflate it, make each act of memory important in itself, feel shocked and disappointed if we lose one useless scrap of it, rather like the hoarder who is horrified if you throw out the old torn shirt that she hasn’t been worn in years.

Released from the effort and busywork of remembering past trivia, which we—like an office manager who pumps up self-importance by creating pointless memos—tell ourselves are of great value, I can now live much more fully in the present moment, and much freer from the constant drone of thoughts. I can spend much less time with what is insubstantial in my life, more in the company of what is trustworthy and real.

I shared these thoughts with Mannie, and her eyes lit up. She’d just been to visit a hoarder, no room anywhere in his house, and she could see it is the same with memory. “You feel as though every little unimportant thing is valuable, you have to hold onto it because you might need it someday.” She also connected it to the way people these days collect endless reams of family pictures online, often so intent on preserving memories that they are taking those pictures of their three year old instead of playing with her on the floor.

October 14, 2013
I always had difficulty (read: sometimes slight contempt) about “asking” God for anything. Even for a theist, I felt it was crass—almost insulting, as if He doesn’t know what He’s doing, or what is truly best for us. Now I see it differently, as a way of transitioning to surrender. Most of us hang on so tightly to our illusion that we are in control that it is terrifying when we become aware how small that control is. When we encounter that anxiety, we have first to acknowledge our human desires and hopes—please don’t let my brother die, please let me keep my job—and understand that we must turn them over, releasing our illusion that we are the master of our fates, recognizing that we are not the ones who determine outcomes, no matter how many Plan B’s we have designed. For most of us, that is already a challenging step. When the Bible urges us in twenty different passages to ask God for help, the writers are using skillful means. For most of us it is only then that we can move ahead to full surrender—not what I want, but what you—"God," the Universe—wants. Only then, for most of us, can we begin the real process of listening to what "God," the Universe wants from us, rather than talking, asking. The problem is not, I see now, with the asking, but that often people get stopped at what is really a beautiful gateway to a much deeper spiritual truth and peace.

October 23, 2013
Last evening during meditation, I had an experience that went beyond loving-kindness or compassion for the others who were sitting with me. I felt a flow in and out of them, a non-differentiation, a dropping away of all sense of Me and Him or Her. It seemed unimportant whether I was Myself or Andy or Grace or Greg because none of us are any of those selves. The more loosely we hold our own identities, the easier it becomes to find identity a not very important attribute. As we lose more and more of our own personality, other people’s personalities start to melt away and we see more clearly into the essence.

Of course this has been happening with me continuously over time, and my own willingness to claim my own impermanence from moment to moment and decade to decade, in both small and dramatic ways, has accelerated this non-attachment to Self. It is clear to me that I am simply not the person I was a few months ago who wanted to create suffering for someone who reminded me of my childhood and who is now a friend. I am not the person who some months ago loved the musical Cabaret so much that she ordered a DVD and never listened to it and now has no interest in watching it. I am not the person who always enjoyed the distraction of listening to the radio in the car and now much prefers her own company. If I am not these people, if it is even possible, as I discovered in these past weeks, that I am a person who no longer chooses to work in the hospital, if I am so porous, hold my "self" so lightly as I might hold a spoon or a screwdriver, then it is no leap at all to feel how those people whom I used to be are no more Me than Andy or Grace or Joe.

There’s a bit of wisdom about marriage, variously expressed, that goes: How can you make a commitment for thirty or forty years? you can’t—you make a commitment for each day. This is the acknowledgement of Krishnamurti’s affirmation that we are changing constantly and we must always look at our partners afresh.