If you are a serious meditator, you have the potential to liberate a deep sense of happiness that comes when you’re your critical, complaining self drops into a great spaciousness. In my next pieces I want to discuss how this happens.
Even in times like we have experienced the last year, where stress around us and within us seems to have permeated everything, it is possible to do this. There’s a deep well of happiness which is waiting within each of us to burst out. In Buddhist terms this deep well is referred to as sukkha, which we fail to experience whenever it is covered over by suffering/dukkha.
Whenever human beings feel threatened, they focus on the negative because of the urge to survive. When we muster our energy to avoid harm, we have little left to act compassionately toward ourselves or others. The more we feel threatened the more we overlook our feelings of genuine connection with others and the world around us. Instead, we stay on edge to protect ourselves and our loved ones from harm.
The first thing we need to do is acknowledge our own specific fears. When negative emotions are not acknowledged, our vision narrows, our intuition shuts down, we lose the ability to be reflective, and are likely to cause harm to ourselves or others. The best way to support this process is to make good use of the three-legged stool, buddha, dharma, and sangha or mentor/teacher, teaching, and community. This is similar to a good 12 step program. Without an effective sponsor, attention to specific steps in the program laid out in the Big Book or elsewhere, and support from a community of folks who are also recovering, our stool is likely to fall over. In meditation practice, it’s quite similar, although our recovery is from a more fundamental addiction, addiction to our inner dialogue.
I have worked with many people over the years to name and become intimate with the fears that keep their inner dialogue compulsively going, so they can be fully present to whatever they experience. This courageous unburdening through a supportive meditation routine has frees us to do what I call “enlightening delusion.” As Dogen says, “The ultimate paradox of Zen liberation lies in the fact that one attains enlightenment only in and through delusion itself, never apart from it.
First, we name our deluded fear as we relinquish our hold on any and all images of how things need to be, or should be, or might have been. By practicing not resisting what is over and over again, and saying “yes” to each feeling or emotion, we find we are able to both accept whatever’s happening regardless of how negative it is, and no longer suffering about this suffering.
A friend of mine was recently complaining about how rents in his neighborhood have soared in the last twenty years due to gentrification. “I can’t stand that our neighborhood has become so chi-chi. It shouldn’t be this way,” he said. He brought up both the increased gentrification of our neighborhood (which is also Zen Center’s) and the increase in crime. First, he ranted and raved about former then latter. Then he moved on to the city’s myopia to drivers’ winter needs by putting in so many bike lanes on streets when it’s too cold to bike half of the year or more. As he continued his rant, I began to feel exhausted.
How about just, “Yes, this is the way things are,” and if you remain upset, sponsor your upsetness. I am not suggesting being a doormat. Once we have fully accepted something, we can move on to decide if we want to try to modify it. “Yes, the neighborhood has become chi-chi and crime ridden and I feel sad about it, but I am going to do something to try to make it more livable.” There’s really no word that comes close to the warm, calming glow we can all feel when we fully embrace what is, which includes sponsoring (but not indulging) any and all related emotions that come up. Dogen calls this “cultivating and expressing parental or grandmotherly mind.”
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher