Gratitude in Difficulty

Here’s another passage from Morning Pages–a practice that I fell out of with a recent work schedule shift, but I’m making every effort to get writing regularly again. I just finished one of my Morning Pages journals, and in the first pages of the new one, I dedicated the efforts to gratitude, as it was the day after Thanksgiving. While I do not want to limit my Morning Pages and their creative openness, I’m taking a meditation on gratitude as a general inspiration for this journal, and this is the second entry with that spirit.


 

Look! Two days in a row! I’ll get back into this. Well, as I look at these pages, I think on gratitude. Perhaps, a general intention for morning pages is wrong, but I won’t let it guide my writing beyond a general mindset.

It’s hard to feel gratitude sometimes. Your mind can be compressed to a few square inches of mental space where it walks the same grounds of complaints and anxiety again and again. The trick is not to get trapped here and think that those thoughts are the mind. Getting beyond the focus on these gets the mind loose into its true nature–openness.

For instance, this morning, I can’t find my keys–which is a serious annoyance for me. I also have a headache and body pains. I’m hungry. I’m tired. As I focus on these other grievances come out and multiply. A legion.

However, if I take a moment, breathe, and relax into just being here–writing in this particular now–the thoughts slip past.

Here is one of the greatest gifts of mindfulness–setting the mind see and not confusing it with the thoughts that come and go.

Such openness allows the spacious embrace of gratitude to come in every moment, even when you have a headache. 🙂

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Right after I finished writing this entry, I read this passage:

It doesn’t matter what comes up. You don’t have to analyze anything when you are meditating. You can simply maintain your dignified posture and pay attention to your breath. The technique is that you look at the thoughts as they arise and say to yourself, “thinking.” Whatever goes through your mind is purely thinking, not mystical experience. Label it thinking and come back to your breath.

So you are there. You are thinking.You don’t try to get away from your thoughts, but you don’t stick with them or encourage them either. Thought patterns are just ripples on the surface of the pond. They come and they go. They merge into each other, and you take the attitude that they are not a big deal.

Bodily aches and pains and physical irritations also come and go. They may seem more problematic than your thoughts. But in meditation practice you regard physical sensations as also thought patterns. Label them thinking. Aches, pains, pins and needles–all thinking. This keeps everything simple and straightforward, so that you can appreciate everything as port of one natural process.

–Chögyam Trungpa, Mindfulness in Action, pp. 22-23.

May this inspire you to find gratitude even in difficult days. May you see that your thoughts are not your mind.

Gassho!

 

Nothing to Do…

If, if, if…
A set of checkboxes
Mark them all, and…
Get happiness?
Even a spiritual path–
A pursuit of spiritual materialism
An accumulation of ego
The doing of an “I”
“My attainment”
A misperception
Of Truth
“I” am not solid–an illusion
The word, a placeholder,
A Transcendental Unity of Apperception
My “Higher Self”?
Not like anything conventionally conceived:
The ebb and flow of everything
Not separate from it-
A divine chaos–unfolding
The beautiful, empty, mysterious Tao
Emerging-abiding sway of all difference
The path: There’s nothing to “do”
Nowhere to “go”
Enlightenment is here: in this moment
Nirvana in samsara
Just live: realize this one step.

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Inspired by a wonderful meditation this morning and all the wise things I regularly read: in this case, I’ve been particularly moved by Dainin Katagiri’s You Have to Say Something. This passage clarifies some of the final lines:

So, how can we practice zazen as an end in itself? All you have to do is take a step. Just one step. Strictly speaking, there is just one thing we have to face, and nothing else. If you believe there is something else besides this one thing, this is not pure practice. Just take one step in this moment with wholeheartedness. Intellectually, we think about the past and the future, but if we take one step, this shore and the other shore are now. Taking one step already includes all other steps. It includes this shore and the other shore. This one step is zazen.

I’ve also been amazed by a recent find of Loy Ching-Yuen’s The Book of the Heart: Embracing Tao. I would put it up alongside the Tao Te Ching and the Dhammapada; it’s a beautiful intertwining of Taoism and Buddhism written by a true master from about a century ago. I plan on writing about several passages in the future. For now, enjoy these selections from the sections On Tao:

3. Life is a dream,
the years pass by like flowing waters.
Glamour and glory are transient as autumn and smoke;
what tragedy–for with the sun set deeply in the west,
still there are those
lost among paths of disillusionment.

Our heart should be clear as ice.
Forget all the worldly nonsense.
Sit calmly, breathe quietly, heart bright and spotless as an empty mirror.
This is the path to the Buddha’s table.

5. What labor we expend sorting out our mundane chores year after year.
But doing them without regret or tears,
without resistance,
that’s the real secret of wu wei
like the mountain stream that flows unceasingly:
Elsewise, all we do goes for nought.

We can hold back neither the coming of the flowers
nor the downward rush of the stream;
sooner or later, everything comes to its fruition.
The rhythms are called by the Great Mother,
the Heavenly Father.
All the rest is but a dream;
We need not disturb our sleeping.

To see his brilliant fusion of Buddhism and Taosim better, compare this quote with my analysis of wu wei here and my analysis of the famous lines about flowers falling in Dōgen’s Genjōkōan here.
Finally, my words here make subtle references to Chögyam Trungpa, Immanuel Kant, Martin Heidegger, and Gilles Deleuze, and this meditation and wordplay would never have come to be if I hadn’t recently read the Dalai Lama’s How to See Yourself as You Really Are, all of which (these myriad sources!) I highly recommend to anyone willing to begin a spiritual path with heart.


May this inspire your own investigations and journeys along the path, fellow wanderers. May you find ideas to play with and solace in the beautiful words of all these masters who have brought these insights into my life.

Gassho!

Tao a Day — Verse 38: The Sage’s Relation to “Self”

To give without seeking reward
To help without thinking it is virtuous–
     therein lies great virtue
To keep account of your actions
To help with the hope of gaining merit–
     therein lies no virtue

The highest virtue is to act without a sense of self
The highest kindness is to give without condition
The highest justice is to see without preference
– Trans. Jonathan Star (excerpt – opening lines)


We live in a time of little virtue. We are told to look out for number one. Famous writers have propounded philosophies in which greed is a great virtue which helps everyone. It seems that all around us, most of the time, people are concerned most about what they will get out of a situation; we are told that this is natural and good to be self-involved like this.

From a certain perspective, spirituality is in utter opposition to such a view. The stance of what can I take, what can I get, is yet another way of maintaining the certain safety of ego. It upholds I, me, and mine, and it furthers the goal of solidifying them as of the utmost importance. According to the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa, spirituality moves against this but stands in constant danger of falling into the traps of ego-fulfillment. We all too readily fall into spiritual practice as something to hoard, something to show that I’m wiser than others, or something that makes me remarkable and worthy of being looked up to by others as a guru, realized one, or some other egoic hero. The Buddhist emphasis on the practice of compassion is both a means to reach enlightenment, and at the same time, compassion–focusing on others as more important than “me”–keeps us from falling prey to these traps. I’m not implying that Buddhism is superior to other spiritual disciplines. Hardly. I’ve known Christians and pagans who displayed compassion first and foremost, and their spiritual practices and personal virtues were all the more noteworthy and admirable because of this outward oriented engagement with the world.

The Sage also exemplifies the Te (virtue) which does not focus on self above all else. She gives without seeking reward. She does not tally up her great deeds. Instead, she, like water, acts in a way that supports all, rather than herself. This was discussed in a previous post about being in accordance with the flow of nature–the unfolding of Tao. Having virtue, Te, is completely about actualizing the Tao as the microcosm of the macrocosm. That was discussed in my post on inner virtues to some extent. In this case, let’s remember that the Tao continuously gives the 10,000 things. It is both the origin and totality of all. This totality continues to ebb and flow into being. It continually gives. Nothing statically remains as some sort of beloved object that Tao holds onto for itself. Rather, Tao loves bringing forth the ever-arising new of change. So why do we grasp at possessions and holding back that which is mine, when Tao shows us to move and flow: to give and support life without interest in self-bolstering?

Tao supports all. Those seeking to cultivate Te should as well. I heard an interesting Dharma talk last night in which the priest ended in saying that compassion is being able to hear whatever another person has to say without limiting those words to what we want to or are able to hear from “my” perspective. Letting go of oneself enough to be completely present to what appears (in this example, the words of another) is Te–it is being in harmony with nature and being able to act within that harmony, wu wei. Thus, the Sage responds to what arises: recognizing that “The highest justice is to see without preference.” The Sage opens his eyes, sees the world as it is–Tao, and acts skillfully from this proper seeing. Such a proper seeing shows that the “self” is an ever-unfolding process of emergence, one that mirrors Tao: the appearance and disappearance of the 10,000 things of Tao–the mysterious flux of universal becoming in all its myriad forms.

Having “Te” requires seeing and actualizing “Tao”


Here is the rest of the verse for further reading. Have a look at the closing lines if nothing else:

When Tao is lost one must learn the rules of virtue
When virtue is lost, the rules of kindness
When kindness is lost, the rules of justice
When justice is lost, the rules of conduct
And when the high-blown rules of conduct are not followed
people are seized by the arm and it is forced on them
The rules of conduct
are just an outer show of devotion and loyalty–
quite confusing to the heart
And when men rely on these rules for guidance–
Oh, what ignorance abounds!

The great master follows his own nature
and not the trappings of life
It is said,
“He stays with the fruit and not the fluff”
“He stays with the firm and not the flimsy”
“He stays with the true and not the false”
-Trans. Jonathan Star

Murderous Zeal – Letting Go

Disclaimer: This post is much more personally revealing than most posts I write. This will not be quite as didactic, rather processing with the intent of expressing what I need to express but cannot share with the person with whom I wish to express it. Some of you may know me enough to know who that is, and to those, I say that this is not meant to judge or cast aspersions to that person’s character, a person I love with all my heart. Instead, this is trying to put into words what I have experienced, the pure, raw pain of it, and the folly I see in what has happened. Disagreeing with another’s choices and trying to accurately describe them as they are, to call a spade a spade, so to speak, does not mean that you belittle them or that you necessarily even think poorly of them (judgment can mean both identification as well as moral judgment; judgment here is meant as the first of these two). Believe me, that’s part of the depth of my pain expressed here. So, those of you who know, either don’t read this, and let my expression be, or see what I have to say about what I’ve felt and how I’m moving forward. Expressing this here is therapeutic for me. This is not meant to cause any stir; that person will likely never see it, and I wouldn’t publish it here if I thought that that person would. So either let this be, or read it to share my expression without any more motive than that.


You took the ideology of relationships from a friend, a maxim we would have previously scoffed at, and you embraced it as creed and animating principle. “If we were together again, it would have to be completely different.” Thus armed, like one of the furies, you killed “us” with a murderous zeal that I’ve never previously seen — lashing out in fear and pain, you held dear the despairing mantra: “This must die.” Yet, must it have? You never stopped. You never questioned. You held on with certainty, out of pain, unwilling to see how things could already be different. You instead repeated fatalistic stories of how they could never change without this melodramatic action.

Stumbling forward, revising what you said from one conversation to the next, galvanizing your certainty as having been one clear idea that you held all along — not merely a reactive lash of pain which grew into a clearer purpose with time — you stand, superior, self-righteous, cold, and cruel. I’m cast as naive, weak, and pathetic, so worthy of the death you dole out. Yet, our conversations reveal that your position has not been clear throughout beyond the reaction of pain, and your words come again to stubborn, self-righteous contradictions, and after knowing you for years, it all shines as an inauthentic escape from that which you can’t face. The hardest has ultimately been the empty promise of friendship, the last thing to die after love and family: the third and final death. I’m no more than an acquaintance now. Best of luck with your coping with this pain, with your soothing escape from it. May your pain and resentment have been quenched. I fear deeply that you will feel them again in your next deeply intimate connection, as I am not the source of your emotional reactivity. My greatest hope is merely that you can be real about this at some point, for your own growth.

I’ve been working on letting go of my pain in regards to this for some time. It’s been hard. It’s been painful (ironically, letting go of pain is painful). I’ve lost more than I can put into words, and that clings to me like an old skin that I can’t slough off — so close to a fresh rebirth if I could only peel off an essential layer of who I have been. Strangely, a few sentences in a popular psychology magazine have helped me find acceptance in ways that so many wise words from friends have been unable to do (more due to my own difficulties than any ineffectiveness of theirs; sometimes, only the right words stick — one key opens a door): “To let go of a past injustice that preoccupies us, we must relinquish our natural burning hope for equity. or at least for exposing to the world the wrongdoer — your brother, your crooked business partner, your vicious former friend — for who and what he is. Dimming that eternal flame of rage is effortful. The bad guy won. It happens.” (Psychology Today, Jan. 5th 2015, p. 56)  Indeed, it does happen, and so many of the things we need to let go of are not done by “bad guys” at all, my case included. We are people. We make selfish, myopic, or childish choices sometimes. That’s how it goes, and perhaps, the first step to letting go in cases like mine is accepting that — accepting that someone you love deeply can throw you aside, can lose sight of you, but it’s not really about you. They’ve done something “bad”, but it’s not something you should take personally, no matter how deeply that cut may go into your heart. The Stoics would remind us that there are things that are up to us, and there are things that aren’t. Only the first deserve our concern, and the only part of this situation that is up to us is our reaction to it, so let’s not make the other person’s decision — that part of existence that is up to him or her — about us. It isn’t. It’s about them. Let it be, and wish them well from a place of strength and dignity, as hard as that might be, because it still hurts…

In line with what I just said, I’ve also been inspired by a book by Chögyam Trungpa entitled “Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior”. In one passage, he states:

As human beings, we are basically awake and we can understand reality. We are not enslaved by our lives; we are free. Being free, in this case, means simply that we have a body and a mind, and we can uplift ourselves in order to work with reality in a dignified and humorous way. If we begin to perk up, we will find that the whole universe — including the seasons, the snowfall, the ice,and the mud — is also powerfully working with us. Life is a humorous situation, but it is not mocking us. We find that, after all, we can handle our world; we can handle our universe properly and fully in an uplifted fashion. The discovery of basic goodness is not a religious experience, particularly. Rather, it is the realization that we can directly experience and work with reality, the real world that we are in. Experiencing the basic goodness of our lives makes us feel that we are intelligent and decent people and that the world is not a threat. When we feel that our lives are genuine and good, we do not have to deceive ourselves or other people. We can see our shortcomings without feeling guilty or inadequate, and at the same time, we can see our potential for extending goodness to others. We can tell the truth straightforwardly and be absolutely open, but steadfast at the same time. The essence of warriorship, or the essence of human bravery, is refusing to give up on anyone or anything. (pp. 16-17)

Here, warriorship is not meant in terms of violence and war, rather courageous action in life’s difficulties with wisdom and dignity. In letting go, I think there’s nothing greater to aspire to than the courageous realization of our freedom to be upright and dignified, to walk forward with intention of loving-kindness for the world, when every signal and resonant vibration of pain tells us to stop, turn back, give up, and be jaded. This simple way of seeing the world for the beauty that it is may just be the hardest thing to do, especially in times of severe pain, but this is precisely the choice that is up to us, and it is more important in these times than in any other. Has my pain fully subsided? Of course not. However, I can choose to see it, to embrace my situation with courage and dignity. Most importantly, I can choose to love myself in all of this. What better thing to share than that, and how better to share it than being a sacred warrior?

I hope that someone out there reads through this long post and finds some point of inspiration for his or her own journeys. If you make it to these words, know that you are not alone, dear friend.

Gassho.