Friday, June 8, 2012

Let Go of Everything Completely

What should wash up on my shores of Stumbleupon this evening but a ten year old recording of the Venerable Sarah Thresher speaking in San Francisco on the topic of healing.

It sounded as though the organizers of the talk has set the topic out for her as "Healing the Pain" but she addressed the broadest ranges of individual and physical healing, all the way to healing suffering between nations. And she did so with an engaging series of stories and examples from her own life. I found her teaching style delightful and I commend the audio to you when you have time.

What I have always found compelling about Pema Chodron, Roshi Halifax and also Joko Beck is what I call their Great Grandmother Compassion. No, not that they are literally a great-gran anything, but that they pull no punches, don't sugar coat anything, and their stories are meant to help correct you. To help correct your mind. And however unpleasant it is to be corrected, it's because they love you. After hearing this talk, I now include Ven Thresher in that set of teachers as well.

So as much to get these concepts and practices more firmly in mind myself as to share them with you, here are a few of the approaches Ven Thresher raised during her talk:

Whatever is happening, I need to have happen. Whatever comes, let it come. Try to recognize exactly when we find ourselves saying "This shouldn't be happening to me!" And then say to yourself just: "Well, this is what's happening." When we find outselves thinking "This is outrageous!" then note that is resistence arising, and allow it to be. Because it is what is happening. The toughest part is that part where you say "...and I need this to happen." No I don't need this disease or car accident difficult job situation exactly, but I need to recognize where I am resisting this set of circumstances so I can let go of the resistence which is only increasing my suffering. So I need to work with it, with things as they are.

The only thing you can control is your response to what is happening. Keep asking the question: "Why don't I want to accept what is happening?" If we can recognize in moments of resistence or suffering that we don't actually have to need anything extra, we are complete. Wisdom mind says we don't have to create additional needs. Ask yourself, resisting: "What is it I think I need (that I'm not getting)?" If you can identify (correctly!) what it is you are holding on to that is causing can begin to let go. "But that thing I'm holding onto gives me my identity!" What is it you think you are losing if you do let go? Pride. Self-importance? Sense of self? "If I let go of this, what's left?"

When I let go, things change. When I let go, what actully changes is me. Circumstances haven't changed. I have accepted them and therefore can more effectively adapt and respond to them.

View whatever arises as the teacher. Freedom is the mind that doesn't hold onto anything. Because really there is nothing to hold on to (groundlessness is reality). Once you are not trapped by the mind you can help yourself and others. "Let go of everything completely; there are no difficulties."

There is really not a lot I can add to that except to say these are things I really needed to hear right now, and hope you find them similarly compelling.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dreams of Falling

When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I started having dreams where I would fall from a tall building or crumbling cliff. The sensation was itself terrifying, flailing helplessly into blackness. Subjectively the fall would seem endless, always with the added fear of what would happen when I hit bottom. Objectively the sensation may not have lasted more than a few moments. I would apparently shout quite loudly and then wake up.

One of my parents suggested that, it being my dream, the next time it happened I should just dream up a soft landing. I scoffed. Sounded so simplistic, so like a parents advice when really they could not understand that if I had any control over my dreams I would not be falling in the first place!

And yet somehow in the subsequent weeks and months, when this dream would occur I recall thinking "wait, I can try and change this." Suddenly there was a small space, inside the dream, where I could look at it without being completely overwhelmed by that seemingly endless sensation of falling. It took some practice, but I vividly recall the first time I was able to conjure just a grey piece of solid ground underneath me. Such sweet unbelievable relief to be landed, resting, no longer in stark peril. After a few months the dreams stopped completely, and for years afterwards I gave it little thought.

By college, I had run into the concept of lucid dreaming and could occasionally 'wake up' inside my dreams, and perhaps affect their course or content. I mark this as the first way in which I ever understood that my mind was somehow multilayered...that myself and my mind were anything but unified and monolithic. That a technique applied with one part of the mind can affect how another part of the mind operates, functions or reacts.

I think this is why, when I encountered Buddhism, it made so much sense to me that hundreds of years of self observation, comparing notes, codifying over centuries could lead to a theory of mind not too far from our own neuroscience. And that everyday practices such as lovingkindness, tonglen, and Zen sitting, working with precepts, could help me or anyone else create the space to better respond to everyday struggles.

In extremis, the past week I have been losing stamina, feeling more and more dizzy. Over the weekend I crashed so hard while out with my children I had to lie down on the sidewalk. The cascade of panic about possible outcomes to the situation was very much a free fall. Even now, days later, I still get stuck in loops of what might have happened, how badly things might have turned out. And what might happen next.

So it was just last night lying in the dark in bed, I remembered about the dreams of falling. From a practical day to day standpoint, especially given my current challenges in recovery, I realized that the practice now must be to try to recognize when I am falling while awake, and instead of focusing on the terrifying heights or the fear of the crash, to try to work with crafting a soft landing place. May it serve all beings.

Fear not.