― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
“Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
There was a time when a grey, gloomy morning like this would invariably send my spirits spiraling downward. I could get really depressed. Confined to the tunnel vision of my own thoughts and feelings, I would become oblivious to the Ongoing Miracle we are immersed in.
Today, that didn't happen. I blame the Practice for this turn of events.
Although I would be dashed between the rocks and hard places of my own unexplored childhood trauma and dysfunctional conditioning any number of times over the years, the Collective Kensho of the late 60's and my own Peek Experience of Infinite Perfection gave me enough of a Jolt to propel me on a journey that turned towards Spiritual Practice again and again.
Now, at age 71, although I am no stranger to Sadness, it seems I've found a way to Not-Do Depression so much. The inner belief structures and narratives that could operate to lock it into my current reality just can't seem get a toe-hold in the Gracious Spaciousness of Awareness that I've found to be accessible much of the time. (Of course, I put my butt on the zafu 12-17 hours a week, often with other people, during Fall Ango. )
The Theory and the Practice
So, here's the Deal.
Left without the continual mental chatter and habitual reactions that create the "narrow chinks" of our habitual perception, sadness, like all phenomena, is impermanent. It comes and goes of it's own accord. At times, it may evoke tears. (Yay!) At times, it may not. Yet, as the Practice deepens over time, even though the flavor of energy we call sadness may do passing encores in moments of melancholy or brief bouts of bittersweet, if you embrace it with an open heart and mind, it usually doesn't develop a "mind of its own" and push the down button on your own personal version of an elevator to Hell.
Yet, at least in my case, this didn't happen overnight. It took the development of a serious Practice over the course of a long time. This involves the sometimes excruciating task of opening the heart and our mind to Life with all it's inevitable ups and downs. This requires great courage, effort, a gentle persistence -- and a deep kindness towards yourself and others. Contrary to prevailing opinion, these are all qualities that can be cultivated.
It just takes Practice.
It is certainly true that as the Practice unfolds, there can be moments of outright wonder and gratitude and bliss. You may be blessed to experience all the big bang moments of human consciousness imaginable. Yet, this isn't the Heart of the Matter. In fact, an attachment to going for the gold and trying to get all the goodies in the spiritual dimension can hang you up, maybe even more than other forms of grasping. The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa called this Spiritual Materialism and spent a lot of time with his Western students pointing this out. (I suspect he saw clearly how deeply we've been conditioned by our super- charged capitalist upbringing.)
Once this ground rule is understood, the Practice becomes quite ordinary. It's No Big Deal. It's about simply "assuming the position" -- again and again, on and off the zafu. Ultimately it is about releasing our own agenda and opening into the present moment wherever we are. We Practice by simply paying full attention to this very breath, this sight, this sound, this feeling as they emerge each moment.
There just isn't anyplace to go other than where you are. There is nothing more extraordinary than the ordinary. In the Embrace of an Open Heart and a Clear Mind, Infinity is visible to the naked eye.
Looking up from the keyboard, taking a breath and relaxing my shoulders just now, I gazed out the window.
It's as clear as a bell out there.
I love it when that happens.
Originally posted December 2013. Revised.