This is my second of three pieces on Suffering as a portal into boundless light from a quote by Dogen: “The whole universe is one bright pearl. We cannot help but love this one bright pearl that shines with boundless light.”
As you continue and deepen your meditation practice, you may notice that you are handling your suffering better than in the past. You may develop an adeptness at recognizing stress and seeing its destructive nature. Especially in times like these, when our country’s cohesiveness seems to be coming apart at the seams, it’s important that you limit putting yourself in situations which are likely to create unneeded suffering.
The best way to realize the “boundless light” infusing and surrounding the pearl are through the practice of patience and persistence, the third and fourth paramitas. The practice of patience includes learning to tolerate failure, disappointment, defeat, unpleasantness, and confusion without giving up. This means when you make a mistake or do something you regret, instead of judging yourself or getting upset, you acknowledge it, take a deep breath, apologize if appropriate, and move on. The more patient you become with yourself the more you discover that you are becoming patient with others.
When we are impatient with ourselves or others, we are generally clinging to a single idea or point of view about something. But according to Buddhist teaching, each feeling or point of view we have is always only one of several alternatives. I have been helping folks whenever they are caught by one point of view by practicing with three alternatives to whatever reference point they are stuck on:
For example, someone does something that makes you angry at them. In a meditative context, might you, 1.) fully experience the anger; 2.) move through it to experience not being angry; 3.) bring the anger back and hold both the anger and its absence together at the same time?
And when you are ready, 4.) can you let go of both and move into neither being angry nor not being angry?
As a meditative tool, you might be surprised at how well this four-part exercise works.
To be patient doesn’t mean to sit on your hands. “Sitting on your hands” is inevitably avoiding, copping out, or being tuned-out, and in some circumstances all three. That’s why patience’s hand maiden is persistent effort. Can you muster energetic resolve to stick with something that you aspire to do without getting caught in an expectation?
Can you do that even though you do not know the outcome, or whether the effort is worthwhile, or even if you’re headed in right direction; can you simply stay with whatever you are trying to do? This doesn’t mean that every minute you are present, it just means you return, return, return. This was so well articulated by Malcolm Gladwell 15 years ago when he discussed his “10,000 Hour Rule.” If we want to be proficient at anything, all we need to do is repeat it over and over.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t change course if we intuit that we are doing something impossible. It just means differentiating between what we can and can’t change and, as a result, what we spend time and energy on. As the Serenity Prayer says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
My second teacher’s dharma name was Dainin, which means “great patience,” When I was upset about something, he would remind me “this moment is like this.”
If we stop suffering about our suffering, we find that it is not too difficult to embody Dogen’s line, “this one bright pearl that shines with boundless light.”
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Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher