Sunday, July 12, 2020

In the Newness of Each Moment ...

     A chronic sense of discontent haunts most of us. "I can't get no satisfaction" as the song goes. We assume that 'if only this' or 'if only that' THEN I'd be happy. If not happiness, then at least a temporary dulling of this insatiable hunger in our belly should be attainable 'if only' I work hard enough, long enough, smart enough, etc, etc. Being trapped in & being driven by discontent leads to endless negative consequences: workaholism, other addictions & compulsive behaviors, burnout, nihilism etc.
     Meditation practice can bring much-needed clarity to our lives.

     “At the base of the conditioned mind is a wanting. This wanting takes many forms. It wants to be secure. It wants to be happy. It wants to survive. It wants to be loved. It also has specific wants: objects of desire, friendships, food, this color or that color, this kind of surrounding or some other kind. There’s wanting not to have pain. There’s wanting to be enlightened. There’s wanting to be as we wish they were.
     Our daydreams are imaginings of getting what we want; nightmares of being blocked from what we want. The planning mind tries to assure satisfaction. Most thought is based on the satisfaction of desires. Therefore, much thought has at its root a dissatisfaction with what is. Wanting is seeking elsewhere. Completeness is being right here.
     When we see the depth of wanting in the mind, we see the depth of dissatisfaction because wanting can’t be satisfied: when we get finished with one desire there’s always another. As long as we’re trying to satisfy desire, we’re increasing wanting.
     Ironically, when we experience the depth of dissatisfaction in the wanting mind there follows a great joy. Because when we see that no object of mind can in itself satisfy, then nothing that arises can draw us out and we begin to let go because there is nothing worth holding onto. The more we see how the mind wants, the more we see how wanting obscures the present. To realize that there is nothing to hold onto that can offer lasting satisfaction shows us there is nowhere to go and nothing to have and nothing to be – and that’s freedom.
     When I first heard the Buddhist ideas about suffering, I strongly resented and resisted them. I thought it was a pessimistic trip. I thought, ‘Oh this is Buddhist stuff from the East, where half of the children die before they’re five years old. Of course they think the world’s full of suffering, people are starving all around them and lying dead in the streets. But we’re not suffering here! I’m not suffering, damn it!” But seeing the scope of my wanting showed me how deeply and subtly dissatisfaction created my personal world, and that seeing freed me from much grasping, from thinking that all my wants had to be satisfied, that I had to compulsively respond to everything that arose in my mind. I saw that things can be a certain way without needing to be acted on or judged or even pushed aside. They can simply be observed.
     When I saw how vast, how potent desire is in the mind, I became frightened. I thought there was no way out, not realizing that the power by which I had recognized this condition of suffering was itself the way out. Gradually, seeing the dissatisfactory nature of much of the content of mind was opening a path to freedom. When we see that what we’re grasping is on fire, we stop reaching for it. Slowly, the mind is reconditioned to see what it’s doing.
     And we discover there are many ways that desires cause this dissatisfaction. There are, for instance, things we want that may never come our way, or things we only get once in a while, or which don’t stay for long. There are also things we get, and, after we get them, we don’t want – which is really disconcerting. Sometimes I see this with my children. They will want something so badly that we’ll go from store to store until we find it. Then, we get it and an hour later they’re saying, ‘I wish I hadn’t gotten this … I wanted the blue one.’ That’s really the heartbreaker. And, that’s in all of us. We want and we want and we want … and nothing can permanently satisfy us because not only does the thing we want change, but our wants change too. Everything is changing all the time.
     Can we think of any pain in our life that was not caused by change? But when we deeply experience this flux we don’t recoil in fear of what might be coming but rather begin to open to how things are. We don’t get lost in fatalistic imaginings or ‘noting matters’ nihilism, but instead recognize that everything matters equally.
     When the wanting becomes the object of observation, we watch with a clear attention that isn’t colored by judgment or choice; it is simply bare attention with nothing added: an openness to receive things as they are. We see that wanting is an automatic, conditioned urge in the mind. And we watch without judging ourselves for wanting. We don’t impatiently want to be rid of wanting. We simply observe it.
     Only that bare attention, that non-wantingness that can just be in the moment, has the power to decondition our compulsive reaction to wanting. It disconnects the intense pull of conditioning toward satisfying its wants. Each moment of non-wanting is a moment of freedom. Mindfulness allows that non-wanting. When there is just clear attention, when there is just watching, there’s not wanting. If you’re watching desire, wanting doesn’t continue to seek the object of satisfaction, wanting itself becomes the object of attention and the momentum that leads to action is absorbed.
     When we come to see what is freeing and what is not, we come to appreciate what will create more grasping, more painful wanting, and what will take us to wisdom and set us free.
     As this practice matures, we come to trust ourselves more. Buddha spoke about these teachings as being ‘open-handed.’ The nature of these teachings is ‘come taste for yourself; it’s for all to see.’ Experience it for yourself. We practice not because we like the teacher or the appealing way the teachings are offered or the people who are practicing the teachings, or even because we admire someone who seems to be working with the method. When we taste if for ourselves, that taste of freedom convinces us.” 
       Stephen Levine. “A Gradual Awakening.” Anchor Books, 1989.

     “Letting go of our suffering is the hardest work we will ever do. It is also the most fruitful. To heal means to meet ourselves in a new way – in the newness of each moment where all is possible and nothing is limited to the old.” Stephen Levine

Rebecca Burke - Deer - oil on canvas 2019

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