"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Though it is impossible........

"When you turn the corner
And you run into yourself
Then you know that you have turned
All the corners that are left"

---Langston Hughes, The Final Curve

There is nothing like a weekend in New York City to bring you face to face with yourself.  I generally consider myself to be pretty open-hearted, relatively unafraid, able to meet most folks eyeball to eyeball without withdrawing into myself.  That is, afterall, the essence of the Bodhisattva Vow, right?

And then there are those times..........

As folks met for Monday Morning Mindfulness at Community Yoga in my absence this week, I had the opportunity to explore Practice quite differently.  The setting was a Manhattan bound R train heading for the notorious confines of Port Authority.  At one point,  a women, disheveled and smelling of urine, stumbled and fell across my lap.  Lost in a non-stop rant about everybody being "into her business";  she then recoiled from me, apparently aghast.   Regaining her balance, at least physically, she arose and then sat next to me, all the while continuing the agitated conversation with herself.

It took me a couple of minutes to move through the initial shock of the physical contact.   Watching feelings of repulsion and fear arise and pass, observing thoughts emerge and dissolve (Eeek. I'm freaking infected with something, etc.), I took a long, slow breath and began to relax. Here it was--what my buddhy Peal might call "hard core Zen"--yet another chance to do Tonglen on the front lines. Absorbing what I could into the expansive space of the Heart on the in-breath, breathing out to extend my aspirations for peace and well-being--hers, mine, theirs, ours--into a subway car rattling through the darkness, I practiced.

Breathing in, breathing out. 

At one point, as I began to allow my gaze to turn toward her, I noticed that her agitation increased immediately.  Her ire at other folks "being in her business" was, afterall, the locus of her current hell.  I cut loose of any attempt to engage her more directly--and that's when the real work began for me.
I felt completely powerless, utterly helpless. 

Oh no, not THAT!

As a child I witnessed my mother's struggle with the demons of her own psyche, up close and personal.  Diagnosed at times as a paranoid schizophrenic, at times as manic-depressive, her struggle to navigate through life were a painful journey that, of course, affected me deeply.  Although I certainly enjoyed many perfect moments of childhood (wandering through fields for hours in awe of grasshoppers and butterflies, sitting on a hillside watching a rainbow emerge and dissolve, etc.), I also was often profoundly frightened and saddened as, again and again, my mother would disappear into the throes of her mental illness.  As a young child feelings of utter helplessness were not uncommon.  I ached to have Mom "re-appear"--and was powerless to bring that about.  I could see those same feelings emerge--in spades--as I sat there that morning hurtling toward Port Authority.  I can feel those feelings emerge now as I sit here at the laptop. 

Breathing in.  Breathing out.

Stephan Gaskin
The first presentation of the Bodhisattva Vow that I came across was in Hey Beatnik! This is the Farm Book, a publication printed on the Farm, a huge, sprawling commune in Tennessee founded by Stephan Gaskin and his coterie of hippies which, at one point, numbered well over a 1600 folks.  In Gaskin's words the Vow is:
Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all.
The deluding passions are inexhaustible, I vow to extinguish them all.
The way of the dharma is impossible to expound, I vow to expound it.
It is impossible to attain the way of the Buddha,
I vow to attain it.

When I first read that, I was transfixed.  There didn't seem like anything else worth doing.  And, although my current understanding and translation of the four vows has softened the edges of the youthful hippy bravado displayed (who are we to "save" anybody? etc.), these four vows still form the bottom line for me--so much so that I don't really know whether I'm choosing this path or the path is choosing me at times.Yet, over all these years,  it's highly possible that I've never allowed myself to fully appreciate the meaning of the word "impossible".

Breathing in.  Breathing out. 

A few weeks ago, during the MMM Circle, one of the participants expressed that she was having a particularly hard time of it. With a tear of emotional release running down her cheek, she exclaimed "nothing is working anymore."  Without a moment's hesitation, I pointed out a different way to look at it, what technique might be helpful, etc.  I then felt a dull "thud".  Quite understandably, she felt "talked at" rather than supported.

As I sit here now, it's not hard to connect the dots.  At a deep level, rather than allow myself to feel the depth of "helplessness", I shut down and went into my head where "answers" are easy.  Rather than acknowledge and feel the deep sadness of our human condition, the powerlessness that lays at the core of our personal power, I was all too ready to tell her how to not feel!  Duh.  Mea culpa.

So, the Practice deepens as it will.  I'm increasingly curious to see how often I shut down in those places. Since that day on R train, I have experienced many moments of that aching, deep sadness, feeling myself helpless to alter the suffering that I experience within me and around me.  Although each line of the Bodhisattva Vow underscores the impossibility of attaining the stated vow, I think that my Aries male patterns oftentimes have propelled me to stress the positive actions that can be taken as a way of shielding myself from the painful aspects of our shared predicament.  Although in my own mind I was seeking to do it right, to be helpful, it is likely that I was often fleeing from feeling helpless.   

Now, at age 67, the wisdom of acknowledging the utter impossibility of accomplishing the vows I've taken becomes more and more apparent.  Allowing my heart to open to that is obviously an important edge of practice for me.  

Yet, interestingly, that doesn't lessen the Commitment I've made.  It still seems like the only thing worth doing.  Though it is absolutely impossible to achieve, all I can do is stay Present as best I can--and soften. When push comes to shove, all I can do is lean into the feelings that emerge from Life as it is--and allow my Heart to feel its way toward freedom--for myself and all sentient beings.

That seems fair enough.


Skeets said...

Is there anything else in life like reading your Brother's thoughts and feelings? A soul raised with you who is not you but perhaps is you in a closely related parallel universe?

PS: I am NOT a robot!

Brenda said...

Beautifully expressed -- both your experiences in the moment and the longer trajectory of what it has meant to you to practice these many years.