Facing up to the truth

The reason why silence is so disturbing to us [is this]: As soon as we begin to become silent, we experience the relativity of our ordinary everyday mind. With this mind we measure our space and time coordinates, we calculate probabilities and count up our mistakes and successes. It is so useful and familiar a state of mind that we easily think it is all there is to us: our whole mind, our real selves, our full meaning.

Life, love, and death frequently teach us otherwise. We bump into silence at many unexpected turnings on the road of life, in unpredictable ways, in unexpected moments. Its greeting has an effect which is both full of wonder and yet often terrifying. Our thoughts, fears, fantasies, hopes, angers and attractions are all rising and falling moment by moment. We automatically identify ourselves with these fleeting or compulsively recurring states without thinking what we are thinking. When silence teaches us how unreliably transient these states really are, we confront the terrible questions of who we are. In silence we must wrestle with the terrible possibility of our own non-reality.

Laurence Freeman

Spring: Undoing and letting go

All though our lives, we experience loss, in little and big ways. Some we acknowledge explicitly and grieve for. Others we may not have had the time or space to grieve for and they can come up later on in life, and attach themselves onto some other loss. There can also be the gradual loss of our hopes and dreams, or the plans we have invested in our work, or the direction of our lives.

Robert Neimeyer, who has written extensively in this area, says that when we go through a significant loss we have an undoing of our individual and collective life histories. It affects our world, and changes our sense of self. If it is a significant loss, such as the death of one who meant much to us, or the loss of a partner or even a move from work or familiar suroundings, we can feel uprooted and homesick. He says that what is needed at such times is having people to turn to who care for us, as we “tell and retell our story”. We need someone who can listen.

Why is this? Because as humans we like to give our lives meaning by underpinning them with a coherent and consistent story. Thus when we experience these losses we need to reorganize our sense of sense and our sense of meaning in life. We reach a limit where we are invited to tell our story again, but in a new way. The losses of life can make us hard and fearful of life or can make us more open, more caring for others.

The Tibetan Buddhist master Chögyam Trungpa talks about a soft spot, a raw spot, a wounded spot on the body or in the heart. A spot that is painful and sore. A spot that may emerge in the face of a loss. We hate such spots so we try to prevent them. And if we can’t prevent them we try to cover them up, so we won’t absentmindedly rub them or pour hot or cold water on them. A sore spot is no fun. Yet it is valuable. Trungpa Rinpoche calls the sore spot embryonic compassion, potential compassion. Our loss, our wound, is precious to us because it can wake us up to love, and to loving action.

Norman Fischer, Love, Loss and Anxious Times

Barney

For the last few months our cat Barney sits by me as I sit meditating. I always find it a comfort as he sits there, looking on. He brings to meditation, as he has brought to our lives since he arrived at our doorstep some thirteen years ago, a gentleness and strong support. He also could rest in himself and sleep, with one eye on me, without any concern or worry, without needing to wonder where his life was going.

Even as I was sitting beside him I could not match his contentment. I found it hard to leave my self-centred thoughts, those opinions and judgments about events and people which really have no solid reality one day after they appear. He rested, content, simple, of one piece; I spun around my petty concerns, my stories which I exaggerate, my scattered mind racing and worrying. He was a living lesson in meditation, in being content to rest in the warmth of the sun.

It reminded me of this early Irish Poem, written by a monk in the 8th Century about a cat called Pangur Ban, or White Pangur.

I and Pangur Ban my cat,
Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Pangur bears me no ill will,
He too plies his simple skill.

Tis a merry thing to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

When a mouse darts from its den
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

The two wolves

A Native American grandfather was speaking to his grandson about violence and cruelty in the world and how it comes about. He said it was as if two wolves were fighting in his heart. One wolf was vengeful and angry, and the other wolf was understanding and kind. The young man asked his grandfather which wolf would win the fight in his heart. And the grandfather answered, “The one that wins will be the one I choose to feed.”

So this is our challenge, the challenge for our practice and the challenge for the world — how can we train right now, not later, in feeding the right wolf? How can we call on our innate intelligence to see what helps and what hurts, what escalates aggression and what uncovers our good-heartedness?

Pema Chodron, Taking the Leap