Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

New Gleanings

January 1, 2014—February 4, 2014

January 1, 2014
HAPPY NEW YEAR! Bettina, who used to be so painfully sensitive to even a little light shining in her bedroom that she could not sleep, moved into a new apartment with a bright streetlight across the street from her bedroom window. It does not bother her. We rejoiced over all this tells us about the unexpected fruits of practice.

Happiness is not having a dark room.
Happiness is having a room with light and not minding.

January 6, 2014
While I enjoyed the time with my cold last week, I was glancing through Dipa Ma and came across the observation of a student of hers. Unlike myself, he had been quite seriously ill, and he recognized that in that period he was able for the first time to “understand what was my body, understand what was my mind, and understand what was the way of meditation.” I suddenly saw that that was what my little illness had allowed me to do—to see those separations as clearly distinct, and to find immense freedom and a new sense of control of one’s life in being able to “know what was what.” It’s freedom, because one no longer has to helplessly allow one’s whole being to be danced around like a puppet by the mind or the body, as it is when we take their will as Ours. It’s control, because now we can select how to relate to each one. Do I want the mind to keep talking now? is that useful? We can see so much more clearly where the on-off switch is when we know she isn’t the whole show. Does the pain in my elbow think she can speak for all of me, or is she just a pain in my elbow?

I think illness is such a good time for this clarity, because we have fewer positive hooks. If my body isn’t feeling so great, I don’t value her at that moment as a source of great pleasure, and have much less need to identify with her. It’s easier then to say, “Oh, that’s just my body doing her thing.” If I’m sick, my mind doesn’t offer me much delight either, it’s not impressing me with its cleverness, so it’s easier to separate her out too.

Of course I think I was headed this way before this little illness, in one sense for years before this illness. Still the truth of it seems simple and obvious to me now in a way that I didn’t quite experience before.

I understand what is the body, I understand what is the mind, I understand what is the way of meditation.

January 29, 2014
A couple of afterthoughts to earlier entries:

As a means of loosening up our illusion of a fixed, continuous self, I’ve remarked (November 7, 2013) that it can be helpful to see ourselves in the third person, as a she or a he. By shaking up that ego identity, that practice can also change how we experience our relationship to others in our past. One of the ways we are held in the unreal is our tendency to see ourselves as the central character in every remembered drama. By dropping the “I” and calling the woman in that drama “she”, we get to correct that distortion by seeing ourselves as just one player in the scene among other shes and hes. If our memory says that “At Digital Corporation I worked on a team with with Don, Mimi and Ron”, we can realize that—even in the realm of conventional reality—it is more accurate if we think, “At Digital Corporation, she worked on a team with Don, Mimi and Ron.” In our lives we are all part of a far larger team, and it helps to be reminded that we are no more capitalized, no more central than the others.

So we can begin our practice of substituting “she” or “he” in our remembered thoughts, while knowing that the deeper practice is to have a “she” or “he” feeling about our present selves.

The attitude of blessing (December 5, 2013) has some different effects from the practice of gratitude. Gratitude receives, and gives thanks for what it has received, while the practice of blessing changes the direction of the flow—our caring moves outward toward the person or object. Gratitude sees only what is the “best” in what it moves towards. With blessing, we are sending loving kindness to the towel with dirty stains or the difficult person warts and all—not because we see the usefulness of the towel or because we can see the buddha nature of the person. We bless not because it or s/he has given us a gift, but because it or s/he is. The attitude of blessing is the attitude with which “God” or “the Universe” views the world.

We can feel gratitude for a sunset. We can give our blessing to a muddy puddle.

February 4, 2014
As we become less and less inclined to value distractions, we can begin to examine what role they may play in our lives, and the understanding may surprise us.

Most of us don’t begin to appreciate how much energy it takes to live in our thinking minds. (Before practice brings us some relief, we don’t even realize that there is any alternative). Much of that energy goes into the work of taking what are the continual incoming random signals in our brain and trying either to push them aside or switch to a more promising signal or to make sense of them by turning them into coherent stories.

When we turn on a podcast or a TV or check out a blog in most cases it is because, without realizing it, we are seeking to turn off this endless, often chaotic, mostly pointless self-talk. Our listening devices, however banal or even unpleasant their output, offer us somebody else’s thoughts (the news, the audiobook, the blogs, the Facebook pages) or experiences (the pranks of the YouTube cat, a Beethoven symphony), blessedly presented in some kind of order. Distractions can provide us with restful breaks that we crave from having to keep up the tiresome task of imposing some order on our own relentless mind-chatter.

It’s not surprising that distractions so readily become addictive.

Sometimes we turn to distractions as a flight from difficult feelings—though the distinction between feelings and thoughts is often blurry. Most often our search is for some way out from the never-ending effort of trying to get our busy minds to make sense. Sometimes, that effort is very satisfying or necessary; often it is simply tedious and pointless. It’s as if we find ourselves trapped in a strange kitchen with all kinds of useful and useless and outmoded kitchen utensils scattered everywhere over the floors and counters and stove. Every now and then we can enjoy finding the right ones and can use them to make a delicious and satisfying meal, while most of the time we have to walk and move around them and through them, as we try to decide whether there’s a drawer somewhere to put them in, whether they are worth keeping or should just be thrown out, whether we could maybe use this pan to make an omelet. Faced day in and day out with the cluttered kitchen of our minds, we could be glad to enter someone else’s neat and orderly kitchen.

Practice, of course, is our way to stay in our own kitchens and still find peace.