Detaching by Debriefing: Life as a Part of Meditation…

Release through discernment begins by pondering various events and aspects of the world until the mind slowly comes to rest and, once it’s still, gives rise intuitively to liberating insight (vipassana-nana): clear and true understanding in terms of the four Noble Truths (ariya sacca). In release through stillness of mind, thought, there’s not much pondering involved. The mind is simply forced to be quiet until it attains the stage of fixed penetration. That’s where intuitive insight will arise, enabling it to see things for what they are. This is release through stillness of mind: Concentration comes first, discernment later. –Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo

I recently participated in a mediated discussion with a group of women. Some of the women were offended that other women in that group were, seemingly inexplicably, not speaking to others in that same group. Interestingly enough, the majority of the women who often don’t speak when spoken to, eventually synopsized the situation by claiming that the women who were offended by not being spoken to should “stop taking things so personally.” One “non-speaking offender” said, “My life is complicated; I have problems; and I don’t always feel like speaking. It’s nothing personal. You should just understand that I don’t  have  to speak to anyone when, or if, I don’t want to.” Yet, this same woman was upset that the people to whom she formerly refused to speak, simply because  she  was in a bad mood, later refused to speak to her once she felt like speaking!

Please, don’t apologize. Take a few moments to reread what you just read. I have ruthlessly edited for simplicity’s sake; yet, I, myself, still can’t understand, or believe, what I’ve just written…

Now, for the really freaky part: There were two group facilitators, and each of them agreed with this woman. They claimed, that they, too, often had bad days where they didn’t feel like speaking, and because of this, it made them more “compassionate” when they encountered others who were not speaking because, obviously, they were in a bad mood. And because of their ability to be understanding and compassionate, if someone who refused to speak to them yesterday speaks to them today, they speak – because they’re just that “big.”

I had a problem with that – and I said so. I think they’re driven not by compassion, but by self-indulgence or Self-ishness  (in the Buddhist sense of the word). It seems to me that the women who were upset, if they were truly “compassionate,” would have been much more understanding, rather than complaining about being treated as they treated others. They were offended that certain people no longer spoke to them after they had previously squashed those people’s sincere greetings, or inquiries as to their health, or worse, stared them down with utter hostility because of being in a “bad mood.” In other words, they want the right to be rude, simply because, like a toddler, they don’t “feewul gwood,” but once they feel better, they believe it is everybody else’s responsibility to make sure that their happy state of mind continues by indulging them – even though they are incapable of paying anyone else the same courtesy. Additionally, they lack the understanding that other people’s words, actions, prejudices, etc., should not ever be the foundation for our “happiness”…

Compassion is complex. It is much more than “feeling sorry for someone.” In fact, I believe that ‘compassion’ would be concerned for another’s feelings at all times, no matter how it was feeling that day. I also believe that compassion would not want to hurt someone in a way that it truly understands “hurt” can be conveyed. So, this experience got me thinking about the sinister power of emotion. What follows is my actual post for today, the one I would have liked to have written without this seemingly circuitous introduction. This is what I would have liked to have said had we not all had to simply agree to disagree and drop the topic…

I have worked in the retail industry for the past four years. If a customer walks up to me, needing either information, or just feeling like shooting the breeze, and I am in a bad mood, I don’t have the option of pouting and not speaking. I didn’t have that option when I taught in the classroom, or when working at a service desk, either. I believe that most people would agree with me, here, and say that obviously, the whole “not-speaking thing” doesn’t apply to professional situations. Consequently, my question is “So, we can only abuse the people we love, or with whom we live, or upon whom our financial security does not depend?” Please. Think about it.

Emotions (how we feel) are not “us.” They don‘t have to color our lives. We can observe, but yet not be or become, those emotions. Emotions are not inescapable or inevitable; yet, if we treat them as if they are, they become not only “habit,” but also our prison. And ironically enough, we, too, can become the prison of emotion. We “store” these emotions/feelings (particularly the destructive ones) in our backs, arthritic fingers, necks, shoulders, and even breathing capacities.

Meditation facilitates our learning how to distance ourselves from emotion/feeling in a direct, purposeful way. I’m referring to detachment, not psychosis. Through the practice of meditation, we learn to conduct that same kind of observation in our daily flight; in the waking moments of a fitful sleep; and even as we are doing the seemingly most un-meditative things, like participating in an unfriendly discussion, or actually confronting, with scientific objectivity, our own pain, depression, fear, bitterness, or feeling of having been wronged. Oh, wait a minute, the latter is actually very “meditative!” It’s just not possible to do it in a detached manner until one first learns to meditate. And after benefitting from the discipline of meditation, when one feels wronged or hurt, they are less likely to want to hurt back, or to feel their hurt in a self-destructive way. Non-meditators call this type of observation or internal review “obsessing,” “brooding,” or “perseverating on the negative,” and rightly so, because in their case, that’s exactly what it is.

And then there’s the day, sometimes only after years of meditation, that you realize that the former “you,” when faced with a particularly trying situation, would have literally killed yourself, or most definitely “acted out” in ways that would have brought numerous and immense complications to your own life, as well as the lives of others, thus increasing your karmic debt load, exponentially…

Now, you are, at least, a little bit freer to be more compassionate; less judgmental, and poised on the precipice of promise…

Yep! That’s it for today! If it helps, I’m glad. If not, that’s understandable because as the Buddha said, each person must travel his or her own path. So, I’ve written this only to reach out and communicate the lessons in a personal experience, not “save” anyone — no one can do that no matter how hard they try. Liberation is a blossom of personal experience. Or so I have heard…

Namaste.

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Reference:

Dhammadharo, A. L. (1979). Keeping the breath in mind & Lessons in samadhi. Valley Center, CA: Metta Forest Monastery.

 

 

 

 

Come, Let Us Reason Together…

We often think of ‘renunciates,’ i.e., those living lives of “ascetic self-denial,” as holy people who have given everything away for the purpose of living lives of poverty and contemplation. Yet, even after giving away all of our material possessions, we can still be encumbered by immaterial ‘possessions’ such as anger, greed, and delusion. And lately, it seems to me that if we could free ourselves of our delusions, we’d be done with anger and greed.

If we cannot stop clinging to our delusions, we might as well keep our money, fine clothes, big houses, or just the hard-earned pittances of the grueling 9-5 minimum-wage existence because nothing will change, and as the old saying goes, it’s easier to be miserable with money than without it. Nothing will change until we ‘let go’ and stop clinging to our puffed up sense of ‘self’; our delight in others’ misfortune; our need for others’ approval; and our “right” to revenge. I know this because I’ve lived “with” and “without,” and additionally, despite being aware of some of my delusions, my actions often tell me, at the most disheartening times, that I am still  under the influence of those delusions.

In the  Dhammapada, the book to which I like to refer to as the “Buddhist Bible,” the final verse of chapter 7 says:

Delightful to the worthy
are the places where others
find no joy.
Being free of the pull of passions,
the worthy rejoice anywhere
precisely because
they seek no delight.

That verse means something to me because I’ve read it about a million times. And it was, perhaps, the 999,998th time that it really started to mean something to me. It is now a quite common experience for me to reread something in the Buddhist canon that I’ve already reread, maybe hundreds of times, only to discover that it had either completely gone over my head or hadn’t even entered it before.

I keep mentioning my deficits, not because I want people to think how “humble” I am, but rather because it’s so scary to write about these topics because I am not a monastic, monastic scholar, or initiate. Also, as someone who has always loved words, and was an English major in college, I’ve learned, through my studies, and as a result of my meditation practice, that words are all but useless. The Buddha told his followers NOT to believe what he said because he said it, but rather to believe it because they’d EXPERIENCED it. Now,  that’s  humility. But it’s also true. We will not attain nibbana (nirvana) by reading “just the right book,” and even the Buddha, himself, if he still walked this Earth, could  not  grant or give us nibbana (nirvana) with a magical wave of his hand. As he directed us, we must be our own saviors:

“Monks, be islands unto yourselves,[1] be your own refuge, having no other; let the Dhamma be an island and a refuge to you, having no other. Those who are islands unto themselves… should investigate to the very heart of things:[2] ‘What is the source of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair? How do they arise?’ [What is their origin?] — from the Attadiipaa Sutta: An Island to Oneself. translated from the Pali by Maurice O’Connell Walshe

I must say, here, that I am so fascinated by this directive to be islands unto ourselves. Prior to this, as any good English major, I’d always quoted the great poet, John Donne:

“No man is an island…”

Mr. Donne was very right — and very wrong…

It’s very different “knowing” something because someone (even a reputable someone) has told us something, and knowing it because we’ve experienced  it. This is why someone could tell us the ultimate “secret to happiness,” but their words might mean nothing to us because we are either not ready to “hear” or “see” it, or simply because they are simply not the right words for us.

“Eureka moments” are usually quite personal and uniquely fashioned.

Namaste.