“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
Although at one point back in the 1970's I actually practiced Mirror Gazing Meditation as a way to explore aspects of my subconscious, these days I don't spend much time in front on a mirror.
Being retired now, I don't have to appear with the proper clothes and haircut at the proper place at the proper time each day. Sporting little hair on the top of my head, a washcloth is usually a good enough brush--and Betsy is generally quite expressive at the points at which I cross the line between un and kempt, periodically coming at my beard and mustache with scissors -- and great zeal.
These days, it seems that Sitting Practice is my primary mirror.
Taking the time to gaze steadily and kindly at the flowing river of Mind as it merrily meanders along is increasingly interesting at this stage of the journey. In fact, with a bow to the Fall Ango practice I observed at Zen Mountain Monastery years ago, I recently upped the ante. I've committed to going off the grid and observing a Day of Mindfulness each week, as well as Sitting outside to observe the sunset daily when I can this fall.
I didn't leave the Monastery because I don't like to Sit. Meditation practice is often the most interesting part of my day.
It is also, I think, the most helpful.
As the Practice deepens, I'm grateful to acknowledge that even the more gnarly emotional whirlpools that swirl through my awareness don't seem to rock the boat all that much. Even the momentary bursts of violent self-hatred and anger that still sometimes emerge are usually just experienced as waves crashing over the rocks. These days those feelings readily become water over the dam--on and off the zafu. Just around the bend, the river generally forms a clear, deep pool mirroring the grandeur of the emerging autumn foliage and a brilliant clear blue sky.
Beyond the Blame Game
As I mentioned last week, the Lojong Trainings of Tibetan Buddhism consists of working with a series of aphorisms as a framework for training the mind. It is designed to cultivate our inherent potential for Wisdom and Compassion, to see reality as it is, and to respond to the events of our lives skillfully. Originally encouraged to pursue this study by one of my CircleMates in MMM, for the past few years I have read, and re-read, a number of translations and commentaries regarding these 59 slogans. I continue this study, currently selecting one slogan each day at random to explore.
One of the most intriguing of these slogans is Slogan 12: "Drive all blames into one." The Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa claims that it is "the essence of the Bodhisattva path."
In a radical departure from our conditioning, whenever we find ourselves blaming someone for something in our lives, whenever we find ourselves assigning fault to another with a strong, condemnatory, emotional charge, this slogan encourages us to take ultimate responsibility for what is occurring. This slogan instructs us to begin to observe and transform our habitual conditioning. Rather than allow the usual story lines to carry us along the crest of aggressive emotions to blame someone (or even something) for our discomfort, we are instructed to use the situation to discover for ourselves exactly where and how we are stuck. Rather than continue to harden, we allow ourselves to soften, perhaps, ache a bit--and take a good look in the mirror.
Then, in a perhaps even more radical departure from the habitual way that we react to the world, Trungpa points out that the practice of "driving all blames into one" also means that whenever we are blamed for someone else's discomfort that we actually accept that blame as well--and do what we can do to correct the situation. (Which sometime means really letting go and doing nothing.)
A commitment to look in the mirror of someone else's reaction and sit with that one for awhile is no mean feat. At first you may find yourself convinced that their point of view is nothing more than the distortions of a fun house mirror, but as you let go of that one and again take ultimate responsibility, you have an opportunity to see what you're really made of--literally.
Opening to the deeper dimensions of your being, you may find yourself sitting with fear, humiliation, confusion, anger, shame, and guilt. Over time, all the emotional boogie men imaginable are liable to have their say.
Yet, as the Practice deepens, it seems to get a bit easier. Sitting still, breathing in, breathing out, you learn to watch with great care and gentleness. Then, at a certain point there is just the mirror. Then, it too dissolves.
What remains at that point is just the grandeur of the emerging autumn foliage and a brilliant clear blue sky.
Originally posted October, 2013. Revised