A central truth of practice is that in order to come to the present, we must go through the past. This does not mean we have to relive or analyse our childhood, but it does mean that when our attention steadies itself in the here and now, we will be met with the residue of our past conditioning. Awakening means exposing and investigating areas of this past conditioning where the sense-of-self remains identified within a pattern, thought or emotion.
Rodney Smith, Stepping out of Self Deception.
The paradox is indeed that new life is born out of the pains of the old.
Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out.
To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freshly, to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.
Some of us have a hard time believing that we are actually able to face our own pain. We have convinced ourselves that our pain is too deep, too frightening, something to avoid at all costs. Yet if we finally allow ourselves to feel the depth of that sadness and gently let it break our hearts, we may come to feel a great freedom, a genuine sense of release and peace, because we have finally stopped running away from ourselves and from the pain that lives within us.
Wayne Muller, Legacy of the Heart
….Go into the fields, consider
the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before….
A lifetime isn’t long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.
Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.
In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.
Live with the beetle, and the wind.
Mary Oliver, The Leaf and the Cloud: A Poem
Contemplate beginning. When you think of birth you think of ‘I was born’, but that is the great birth of the body, which we can’t remember. The ordinary birth of ‘me’ which we experience, in daily life is ‘I want, I don’t want, I like, I don’t like.’ That’s a birth, or seeking to be happy. We contemplate the ordinary hell of our own anger, the anger that arises, the heat of the body, the aversion, the hatred we feel in the mind. We contemplate the ordinary heaven we experience, the happy states, the bliss, the lightness, the beauty in the here and now. Or just the dull state of mind, that kind of limbo, neither happy nor unhappy, but dull, bored and indifferent. In meditation we watch all these within ourselves. So in practice we are looking at the universe as it is reflected in our own minds..
The quality of mind we are talking about……. is a mind which responds to something with attention and then returns to its own natural state. It doesn’t elaborate on it, doesn’t get caught up in it, doesn’t get excited about it. It just notes that this is what is happening. Every time it happens, it notes it. It doesn’t get blasé. It doesn’t become conditioned. In this way, it is like a child’s mind. When something interesting happens, it will note it and then let it go and move onto the next thing. This is what is meant by a childlike mind. It sees everything as if for the first time. It doesn’t have this whole backlog of preconditioned ideas about things. You see a glass and you see it as it is, rather than seeing all the other glasses you have seen in your life, together with your ideas and theories about glasses and whether you like glasses in this or that shape, or the kind of glass you drank out of yesterday. We are talking about a mind which sees the thing freshly in the moment. That’s the quality we are aiming for. We lose this as we become adults. We are trying to reproduce this fresh mind, which sees things without all this conditioning.
Tenzin Palmo, Reflections on a mountain lake: teachings on practical Buddhism