Sunday, June 27, 2010

Seeing Things As They Are

This last week has been nothing less than life changing. I have felt the immense flux and range of human emotions; pleasure and pain, loneliness and doubt, joy and excitement, frustration and confusion, followed by insight and clarity. I have laughed and cried many times - mostly in silence. More than anything though, after a month of travel, I feel like have settled into India, and into myself. The pilgrim's initiatory rites of chaotic confusion, vomit and diarrhea, lonesome blues and irritability have passed, and I am settling into an easeful peace and contentment. Allowing things to simple be as they are.

The six-day Heart Sutra retreat at Tushita was a deep breath of fresh air, proving to be immensely beneficial and inspiring. It had been over a year since I had really visited the teachings of the Buddha. Now, the Dharma has once again caught my mind-stream and swept my heart toward the path, of wisdom and compassion. The teachings are just so universal to the human condition - like subtle common sense. The tools and methodology for cultivation and developing one's mind are just so down to earth - filled with wholesome reason and logic, and most importantly, immediately affective in ridding oneself of afflictive or destructive emotions, and cultivating positive ones.

The retreat gave me the structure and discipline I needed to actually sit and examine, "What the hell is going on in here?" For most of our lives we are so busy, constantly moving from one activity or thought to the next, that we very rarely stop and pause to actually reflect or process what is taking place in our lives. We rarely allow ourselves the space to be mindful, to observe the patterns and thoughts, and their causes and conditions, which are governing our lives and often inflicting great harm and suffering upon ourselves and those around us. Only later, sometimes after many years, do we look back and see where we went wrong... which leads to regret. This is the beauty (and often the pain) of retreat. To give ourselves the gift of mindfulness. To explore and bring awareness to our own mind and body. To listen, to feel. And hopefully, with compassion and gentleness, befriend ourselves. To allow what is to simply be, in totally acceptance. What a precious gift. This does not mean that we are to condone our bad behavior or negative emotions, but rather we can accept them as they truly are, and learn to deal with them.

I will provide a very personal example. During one of our analytical meditations, we were asked to imagine someone or something that we strongly desired was sitting right in front of us. Poof! Immediately Charlotte appeared. Shining and smiling like an angel before my eyes. Then, we were to analyze. What is it about this person or thing that is so attractive? So appealing, that we grasp for it? After running through a laundry list of qualities and attributes that I thought she possessed, making her such a wonderful person, I realized that these qualities were thoughts and feeling within my own mind. They are subjective. There is no such thing as an inherently beautiful or compassion, objective Charlotte. Someone else may look at her, without the experience I have had, and perceive her in an entirely different manner. Is there experience any less real, less valid? In this sense, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Therefore just as the beauty, the compassion, and the kindness of Charlotte exist as thoughts or feelings within my own mind, so does the happiness and joy I feel. They are not waiting for me in California, but rather exist right here within my own heart, waiting to be awakened in the present moment.

This may appear quite simple intellectually, however to directly experience this through realization of my own condition was liberating. For you see up until this point, I had been suffering a great deal in India without her. I did not even realize until meditation, but I had been feeling very lonely - suffering from self-pity, confusion, grasping, and attachment. I was even debating whether I had made the right decision, coming to India by myself. Sure I was having fun, meeting great people, doing wonderful things. However, unconsciously I was feeling that my real happiness was dependent on Charlotte being by my side. I was grasping on to what in Buddhism is known as "self-cherishing." And we all do this. We become so caught up in our stories, and recurring thoughts - we identify with our pain. Our common language expresses this: "I am lonely. I am sad. I miss Charlotte so much. Poor me. Blah blah blah...." We carry this suffering in our heart, and replay it over and over, like endlessly scratching a scab. Not letting it heal, I was suffering about my suffering.

The object of our desire becomes so real, and our pain becomes so self-important, that it engulfs our mind, and obstructs our view of reality. This is why the negative emotions are called afflictions. And this downward spiraled slippery slope of negativity derives from the subtle seed of ignorance - a misconception that we make all day, all the time. We mistake things as being solid and compounded, fixed and unchanging, independent in and of themselves. When in reality all things are constantly changing, are impermanent, and do not inherently exist independently (as modern Physics is now affirming). All things arise from their appropriate causes and conditions. A flower blossoms with a seed, the right soil and nutrients, water, and sun, etc. And all things are made of the parts of the parts of the parts.... Which we then label as a thing, "flower", "me" or "I", "Charlotte", etc. Isn't the flower just the composition of it's parts? The stem, leaves, thorns, petals, roots, etc... And what about the parts of the stem, the leaves, thorns.... and the parts of each of those parts... until infinity. Right? Even sub-atomic particles are made of even smaller sub-atomic particles. In this sense, we can say that all phenomena are empty. Empty of what? Empty of an independent, solid, and inherent existence. No-self.

This may appear straightforward to understand at the intellectual level. But because our patterns and habits are so strong, an intellectual understanding alone is not enough to actual change our actions and behavior. Because we fundamentally mistake ourselves as existing independently, we likewise mistake all things "outside" ourselves as independent and external, solid and fixed. In effect, we mistakenly believe that these things outside of ourselves will bring us happiness and joy in our lives. We mistake the pleasure of the cake as the cake itself. Just as we identify with our emotions, saying "I am angry."

During meditation, I realized that with Charlotte gone, unconsciously and quite automatically, I had been craving and grasping for her due to this fundamental delusion. As if the happiness, joy, and love I feel for her, could somehow exist outside of myself - I longed for it. It is this love that says, "I love you because you make me happy." This is so limited though, a conditional love diluted by attachment. True love knows no attachment. Genuine love says, "I want you to be happy." Like the light of the sun, it knows no boundaries. Only with this understanding, can we truly develop boundless compassion, unconditional love - like the love a mother naturally has for it's child. Totally selfless, the mother would die for it's young. We see this even with animals!

A soothing peace and calm penetrated my afflicted mind, unfolding a wave of joyful content. I feel like I am now ready to receive her in my life, fully, as she is. With no expectations or judgements, I can begin to truly love her, unconditionally. Likewise I can begin to love myself and others in this way. I am slowly beginning to see things as they are. I think.


Samuel Ramos said...

Wonderfully said. Pure gold. Thank you for sharing these insights.

holy flame said...

U know what PA says True Happiness
lies in making others happy

sounds and feels like u right there now........

That's a beautiful thing!!!!!

Here's a little song from '73

Light seeps through my window
Peeks in from above
Head rests on my pillow
next to the one I love

Lost in a dream
Never know quite where I've been
Lost in a dream
Never know quite where I've been...

I imagine Charlotte, there now by your side.....keep deepening, my dear son, deepen with passion

All love in the Beloved,