“All these years of practice, same shitty old mind”
It’s said that Samsara, the endless cycle of birth, old age, sickness and death, is subtle, grinding and pervasive. And so it is. Recently, I had the “opportunity” to look directly at my own root klesha, that of anger (kleshas are the habitual behaviors that keep us stuck in Samsara, lifetime after lifetime –https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kleshas_(Buddhism).) On a recent trip with my wife and dear friends, I got triggered and without thinking acted out of irritation and anger. In addition to directly harming someone most dear to me, I could instantly feel whatever merit I may have accumulated in years of meditation practice completely drain away.
It’s also said that a single act of anger can destroy lifetimes of merit. And so it felt.
Actions cannot be undone, only addressed by subsequent action. We practice, we stumble, we get up again and resolve to do better. Perhaps, with grace, to soften the karma of this earlier action. And so it goes,
around and around and around…
Two poems then, the haiku above and the poem below, speaking to the experience of action and remorse – may they be of benefit
anger, rising like a flame,
brief yellow, white hot
and she’s hurt
this girl you’ve always loved
you’ve burned her to white bone.
actions refuse to be undone.
whatever merit you’ve gathered
turns to dust, blows away
on the icy winds of hell.
dedicate whatever days remain
breathe only love and loving kindness.
you will fail
but at least you will try.
prostate and purify
collect mantra like dreams
offer incense, the tendrils of smoke
rising into heaven. your hair
Note- some poems are prompted by a word or a phrase, perhaps an experience. This was suggested by an impossibly beautiful tree deep at the head of the unfortunately named “Negro Bill Canyon” off of the Colorado Rive near Moab Utah.
by the time we reach the top of the canyon
we’ve walked through most of our words
this trail of sand and stone, the solitary blooms
of tattered desert flowers. this deep in the canyon
all light is reflected, shattered light,
passed from rim to rim until it settles like mist
luminous dust, a dry and brilliant rain.
we never know what we’ll find in the deepest canyons
of our lives like these incandescent leaves,
such improbable green, or this stone, the rich red
of freshly oxygenated blood, the red of iron and of time,
of pressure and erosion, the true red of benediction, the hard,
Last week I had coffee with a friend who’s living under a cloud of uncertainty about his job; the company he works for is embroiled in complex, very public litigation with a competitor that could cause his company to go out of business or merge, with radically unpredictable consequences for him and for his co-workers. The fatigue was etched on his face—he’s worn out by worry– “I just want this to end, to go away!” he said.
No solution. Can’t fix it.
Later, I spent some time with another friend who’d recently been fired from his job, and he was manic, absolutely bewildered. He’d been taken by surprise, and to make matters worse, his old boss was seemingly out to get him, even after the fact. Bewildered. Be-wild–ered. Transported back to wilderness, to deep shadows and mortal danger.
No solution. Can’t fix it.
I could go on. Another friend entering year three of cancer therapy, a relative who underwent a life saving transplant operation, only to face intrusive therapies for the rest of his life. My own battles with health and my own peculiar psychology. The list is long, all with one thing in common, whether it’s my own predicaments or those of others–
No solution. Can’t fix it.
Maybe it’s age, but it does seem like the hallway is narrowing, like fewer things are new, more things are breaking down. I can be completely empathetic for my friends in distress, but that’s not what they want, and it’s not what I want for them. They want, I want, whatever it is that has them feeling cornered to stop.
We want it fixed.
When the vice begins to tighten and fear arises, space collapses and time stretches. We feel crushed, andwe’re certain it will last forever.
The Shambhala teachings point out a couple of important truths here- first, that this “crush” is an essential part of the human deal (it happens on some level pretty much all the time to each of us); and second, that there is no other place to go, no place to fleeto.
The truth of our lives is that there’s no way out. Fear of death, of loss, is with us from our first in-breath. Each of us will eventually lose everything and everyone we’ve ever cherished, and our “job” is somehow to be Ok with that.
Ultimately, it’s the very inescapability of our predicament that contains its own answer. From minor irritation, to the loss of a life’s work, to the loss of a life’s love, to our own moment of death, this is the ground of being human. Like it or not, we’re staying. And yes, this can indeed suck. Pain is real, we do age and die and encounter innumerable challenges along the way. But there’s a profound element of choice in how we react to these challenges, how much of the drama we write ourselves.
Happiness and comfort aren’t the same thing. Maybe joy can permeate pain. Perhaps great suffering and joy can (must?) co-exist.
The core Shambhala teaching of Basic Goodness, that we are all basically good, sufficient unto the task, that all of this sacred world is basically good, suggests that right here, even in the midst of our worst predicaments, magic can still arise. If we can stop struggling to control the every fact of our lives, even for a moment, space and luminance can emerge.
This is the essential truth and magic of the world, that it doesn’t come out “right,” that there’s no “right,” that in fact, there’s no “out,” there’s only this; and the more we can stop fighting and begin to flow with “this,” the more our experience of the world and of our lives might be transformed.
I heard a story once- a great Tibetan teacher was asked what he thought a fully awakened being actual experiences. He said “impermanence and emptiness all the time.”
I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with a 92-year old woman named Ann and fell completely in love with her. We traded life stories—hers was longer. I asked her, from her limb “at the top of the tree,” what “really matters?” She smiled. People, she said, your people matter — other than that, more and more I think that not much else really matters.
We care for each other. Each of us is alone and we’re all in this together. We offer our hearts and our compassion, our tonglen practice, and we share in each other’s pain for as long as we’re here.