Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

April 25, 2015—May 26, 2015

April 25, 2015
The placebo effect for pain, which some studies say can operate for as many as 40% of patients, can be accounted for rather briskly as a removal of the second arrow. Our belief that our pain has been seen, that all will now be well, helps us to drop our aversion and wanting, our fearful stories, eases our tension and allows our physical and emotional beings to relax. Real measurable effects appear in the heart rate and blood pressure—much as they do with Buddhist practice. Apparently when the placebo effect operates, it does not last forever. Small surprise to practitioners, who know that one dropping of the second arrow doesn’t ensure that the pain won’t reappear. Our practice is more effective than the placebo because of just that—the practitioner practices. We don’t give up when the pill doesn’t work—knowing that we must drop the second arrow more than once, we are able to effect profound healing over time.

April 26, 2015
When we align ourselves with reality and accept the whole package as “it just is,” we don’t lapse into apathy. To cease fighting inner battles with the way things are is to have more energy for the tasks before us, while the feeling of relaxing into life makes us love it more fully than we ever did before.

May 24, 2015
It’s true I may be a bit OCD about language, still today it occurred to me that we call ourselves “human beings,” not simply “humans,” and yet we call other species simply “dogs,” “elephants,” “chickens,” “spiders,” “birds,” “cockroaches.” How would our relationship to other species change if we were to speak of a “dog being,” an “elephant being,” a “chicken being,” a “spider being,” a “bird being,” a “cockroach being?” The difference we’ve created in our language makes it easier for us to set ourselves apart from other sentient beings.

May 26, 2015
In the past three years I have surprised myself by not wanting to listen to music—my little tower of beloved CDs needs to be dusted. What was happening, I see now, is that I have wanted to cultivate the stillness in my mind, to eliminate even beautiful distraction.

And that helps me to recognize that music has been for me a distraction, or at least, as my fellow sangha member Baron named it, a “sound track” to thoughts, emotions, household chores. I could love it, ride into feelings with it, appreciate it—and still not give it a space inside myself in which it could be allowed simply to be itself, to be simply listened to.

As overthinking in my daily life has more and more dropped away, there is more and more space for silence to grow. Or perhaps as I come to trust the silence more and more, the inessential thoughts seem more and more intruders on that welcome space.

Having cleared so much away, I can return to music in a different way. That new space is now like a great temple or cathedral that the music can permeate without the interference of mental activity. If the music I hear is, like much romantic music, expressing and transforming dukkha, I respond not by meeting its imagined feelings with my feelings, dukkha with dukkha. I am more as in the space of the hospital—where I embrace those feelings with compassion rather than participating in them with empathy. The sound isn’t out there ahead of me, or behind me as a soundtrack to what I am doing, or in my heart evoking old feelings. It lives entirely inside my consciousness (though as with any concentration, it has a spaciousness beyond my personal consciousness), taking up all of that now available space.

I’m not believing that my experience is typical or common. Music is for some, as it was for my mother, a way of having their hidden feelings confirmed—she had no use for the dukkha-free worlds of the baroque. For others the pleasure is in a mental activity of noting instruments and variations on a theme. However I’m guessing that perhaps for many music is a dharma door, their personal pathway to samadhi, to the experience of concentration, allowing them to simply listen, to drop all distractions of the thinking mind as serious practitioners can through meditation, so that music becomes a blessed and necessary way to the sanity of pure awareness.

These days for me, flute music, Bach, Mozart seem especially conducive to these states, and chanting of course, which I can finally allow to inhabit me in a deeper way. And of course jazz, since it mirrors reality with its flow that cannot be anticipated, shaking us free of our demands for conventional order, our reliance on expectation, and affirms the beauty and the larger trustworthiness of no resting place.