“We need to be aware of what we are practicing in any moment. Because whatever we practice, we get better at, whether it’s the skillful OR the unskillful.” Christina Feldman
Sadly most of us (unconsciously) routinely practice avoiding the present moment, opting instead for all manner of distractions, as well as outright dissociation. Something about the present moment gets us to shut down, run away & hide, often alone.
BUT when we're suddenly hit with an existential bomb - the diagnosis of a serious disease like Parkinson's; or our world is rattled by serious physical injury eg our body crashing against a bus' windshield; or worse, being overwhelmed by a whole series of serious challenges in rapid succession - we MIGHT actually open up to ourselves, those close to us, & possibly mental-health specialists about what we're going through, and share our experience of shipwreck.
Such shared curiosity & examination of life's most challenging & most meaningful moments is precious intimacy - with ourself, others and life itself, and feels refreshingly expansive, wholesome & healing! Very recently, I had the privilege of deeply listening to two old friends share their journey through major current challenges.
"To be enlightened is to be intimate with all things." Zen Master Dogen
“It is the perspective of the sufferer that determines whether a given experience perpetuates suffering or is a vehicle for awakening.” Mark Epstein MD
“We suffer to the exact degree that we resist having our eyes & hearts opened.” Adyashanti
Whether we're part of a joyous celebration, OR shoveling a large mound of sand from one spot to another, OR undergoing a searingly painful medical procedure, we're at our BEST when we're fully open to & fully engaged with present moment reality - not judging it in any way, neither trying to hold onto it, nor trying to escape it. This may sound weirdly counterintuitive & counter-cultural, however, the proof is in practicing & experiencing this for yourself.
Siddhartha Gautama was born over 2,500 years ago, in what is now Nepal, to royal parents. But when he realized that despite his privilege of youth, health, wealth, power & position, he & everyone he loved - like everyone else in the world - are subject to constant change, aging, sickness & death. He was shocked but inspired, leaving all that he had behind (his wife, young child, parents, possessions & kingdom) to search for the cause of suffering and the way to end it. After years of severe asceticism, and meditation, he succeeded, attaining enlightenment, after which he was called the Buddha.
"The Buddha stated the cause of suffering through his Four Noble Truths:
• There are suffering & dissatisfaction in the world & in our lives.
• The cause & origin of that suffering is Craving.
• The cessation of Craving is the cessation of suffering.
• The eight-fold path leads us to the end of that suffering.
This is Buddhism in brief: suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path leading to the end of suffering.
Buddhism is not about rites, rituals, prayers & incense. It is not a religion, but a scientific investigation into overcoming sorrow at all levels of mind & body ... certainly beyond any religious belief system ... as well as beyond anything science currently offers.
... the Buddha made it clear that if you follow the directions, awakening can be achieved in a single lifetime, even in as little as a few days. This is as true today as it was at the time of the Buddha." David C. Johnson. “The Path to Nibbāna. How Mindfulness of Loving-Kindness Progresses through the Tranquil Aware Jhānas to Awakening.” 2017.
"The wisdom that the suffering doesn't belong to you will itself get you out of suffering, without you having to do anything." Shri Atmananda
I stumbled on this insight on my first longish (10-day) silent meditation retreat. My suffering from "meditation pain" felt so massive, that I was certain it couldn't possibly be mine alone, and that I must somehow be helping to process all of humanity's burden of suffering. As soon as I gained that perspective, the suffering disappeared, replaced by blissful ease & joy.
So suffering is impersonal - nobody's out to get us, we're not unlucky or cursed, etc. Yet we take many things, especially suffering, VERY personally. Learning to LET GO of the sticky mental habits that cause suffering is considered skillful practice ie a practice that reduces our own & others' unnecessary suffering.
Along the same lines, the sense of being a 'self' that's alone & separate from everyone & everything else - a lone wolf, me alone against the world - is an inherently cold, contracted, lonely, fearful. Our natural state is inherently warm, expansive, connected, joyous.
We can actually practice residing in our natural state. And when we retract into separate self, we can learn to recognize & release this, and return to our natural state.
Life is both dreadful and wonderful.
To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects.
Smiling means that we are ourselves, that we have sovereignty over ourselves, that we are not drowned in forgetfulness.
How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow?
It is natural— you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.” Thich Nhat Hanh
"Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside." Ramana Maharshi
but when you look back,
you realize how quickly the years have flown by