"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart enough to engage Life directly, to be more fully Present in a kind, clear, and helpful way."

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call! Musings on Life and Practice by a Long-time Student of Meditation.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Suffering Is Not Enough: Take Two

(This is "Take Two" because I first posted a piece entitled "Suffering Is Not Enough" with the same introductory quote from Thich Nhat Hanh on May 30.)

"Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. 
They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time."
---Thich Nhat Hanh, "Suffering is Not Enough"

“Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior's world.”
Pema Chödrön,
 The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times 


During  the MMM Circle* last week, one of the regulars wondered aloud if some of the difficulties she had been experiencing were related to the fact that for the past several weeks folks had been sharing a lot of the "darker stuff" during our Monday morning sessions.  Although we didn't really address Stephanie's comment directly as the conversation unfolded, it certainly caught my attention.  A cartoonist may have drawn me with a little light bulb over my head (or perhaps the word "duh!" written in a little thought balloon). 

I think I, for one, perhaps had lost sight of that simple truth: Suffering is not enough!

 Grandson Demetri and Daughter Persephone Pappanikou
Although it is clear that the Practice deepens our ability to perceive and work with the darker and denser emotional clusters that so often keep us frozen in the patterns that cause us to feel disconnected from the Ongoing Miracle, it is also clear that at times we need to turn our attention to the simple blessings that surround us at each moment.  For the most part, they are always there.  Stephanie's passing question reminded me to make a more conscious effort to notice! It changed the nature of my experience for the rest of the week.  The world became lighter and brighter again.

One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Stephan Gaskin, taught that Attention = Energy.  At a very fundamental level, what we choose to attend to, what we focus our attention on, we energize in our lives and in our world. The Practice enables us to see how that operates more clearly.  We come to notice the impact that even the quality of attention has on ourselves and others. We see directly how cultivating our kindness and compassion and freeing ourselves from judgmental reactions dominated by subconscious grasping and aversion allows us to make healthier choices in the world that we are co-creating moment to moment. 

Unlike some new age teachings that believe that giving any attention to "negative" feelings or thoughts is not helpful, the Practice invites us to open to "the places that scare us", to be willing and able to feel fear and sadness and anger and all the modes of experience that we have learned to repress and avoid.  Unexplored and unaccepted, that stuff forms an armoring over our hearts that prevents us from deeper contact with the Sacred Reality that we are immersed in. 

Yet, it is obvious that we can sometimes get stuck in the darker and denser mind states and allow them to dominate our awareness. They will, of course, eventually pass, (especially if we can successfully let go of the storylines), yet at times it can be quite helpful to make a conscious effort to "change the channel." We can, in that moment, decide that suffering is not enough and place our attention on the dance of clouds in a summer sky, or pause and look around at the beauty that we've created in our living space.  At times just turning our attention to the sounds around us can recreate the sense of spaciousness that allows even the darker emotions to float like clouds within the clear blue sky rather than dominate our consciousness.  The Practice, in developing our ability to point our attention gently and precisely where we choose, affords us that opportunity.

(If a shift doesn't happen immediately: take a walk, listen to your favorite music, do the dishes and actually feel the warm water on your skin and look for the rainbows in the soap bubbles, etc.  You'll find what works for you.) 

At other times when the emotional weather tends to be cloudy, I've found that it can also be quite helpful to take some time to contemplate the people and things and experiences in our lives that we are grateful for, to allow ourselves to actually feel the warmth of that gratitude in our hearts and minds.  At times, focusing on that feeling of gratitude has been a valuable daily practice and I've spent some of my time on the zafu in a form of maitri (or metta) practice sending heartfelt aspirations for the well being of those in my life who I deeply appreciate. Perhaps, this could work for you, as well?

Pema Chodron
So, at this moment,  as I sit here at the computer, I feel deeply grateful for the Reminder that emerged in the MMM Circle once again.  (Seems like I did turn to that channel, huh!) I feel gratitude for the support of others who are sincerely exploring Practice, for their courage and heart, for their diligence and competence.  I'm grateful to the Teachers and Teachings that have brought the Practice into my world.  I also am grateful for the chorus of katydids and crickets ringing outside this open window and the coolness of the breeze on my skin.  (Perhaps, they are the greatest teachers!)

Although I am committed to not ignore the reality of suffering in this world, I hope that I can also continue to remember that suffering is not enough, to turn my gaze, to touch again the wonder and beauty of Life as it is.

* Each week after periods of silent sitting and walking meditation, the participants of MMM's Beginner's Mind and Beyond Intro Group converse about their experiences with the Practice during the week and discuss themes that I--or others--bring to the Circle.

2 comments:

opeyemi said...

Thank you, Lance, for these words of wisdom and centering practice...
As a woman of African descent, I have found that I have to move THROUGH feelings in a more active way-- especially the darker ones-- in order to get to that place of peace and mindfulness. I DANCE, first. I do breathwork practice. Sometimes, I cry. And THEN, the peace arrives!

Anonymous said...

I like this one!
Being 'Forever 5', traveling 66 thousand mph on a rock through space and darkness puts it into perspective for me, as well as,......"where you look, determines what you seek"

Good stuff! Have a great day dude!

Find Your Joy!
Carol