Articles by " Jan"
13 Jan
2020
Posted in: Books, Practice, Tuesday Night Insight
By    Comments Off on The Opposite of Suffering is Not Happiness

The Opposite of Suffering is Not Happiness

At tomorrow’s Tuesday Night Insight group, I’m going to be talking about the First Noble Truth, which Phillip Moffitt describes in Dancing with Life as the Buddha’s proclamation that “suffering is an unavoidable reality of ordinary human existence that is to be known and responded to wisely.”

“When you collapse into suffering,” Phillip writes, “it is because your ego sees suffering as a personal failure and feels humiliated. This sense of failure is based on the ego’s mistaken idea that winning in life means no suffering.

“Your ego may well be under the delusion that the opposite of suffering is happiness. When your ego believes this, then every moment of suffering is felt as a personal defeat, insult, indignity, or proof of your inadequacy or of life being unfair. This is subjective suffering, self-centered and neurotic…

“Your ego isn’t bad, nor are you a bad person because you have an ego. The ego is a result of causes and conditions and, in my view, is necessary for a healthy, whole life. I tell students: don’t leave home without it, but don’t let it drive the vehicle on your spiritual journey…

But if the opposite of your suffering isn’t happiness, then what is it?

“Non-suffering is having a relaxed, composed mind that is fully present with whatever is occurring in the moment. And it is the capacity to be in relationship to whatever is arising such that you’re able to respond from your deepest intentions. And it is a feeling of relatedness in your life that is free from aversion to suffering.”

***

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

12 Jan
2020
Posted in: Books
By    Comments Off on It Seemed a Tedious Exercise at First

It Seemed a Tedious Exercise at First

I had such fun reading Out of My Head by Tim Parks (in which he writes of his fascination with theories of consciousness after learning to meditate, and about which I posted here) that I immediately followed up with another marathon reading of another of his books, Teach Us to Still, which tells how he came to be meditating in the first place.

From the Forward:
“I never expected to write a book about the body. Least of all my body. How indiscreet. But then I never expected to be ill in the mysterious, infuriating way I have…

“I had no desire to tell anyone about my malady, let alone write about it. These were precisely the pains and humiliations one learns early on not to mention. You need only look at the words medicine uses — intestines, feces, urethra, bladder, sphincter, prostate — to appreciate that this vocabulary was never meant to be spoken in company. We just don’t want to go there. My plan, like anyone else’s, was to confide in doctors and pretend it wasn’t happening.

“On the other hand, this is reality, and in my case there was the happy truth that just when the medical profession had given up on me and I on it, just when I seemed to be walled up in a life sentence of chronic pain, someone proposed a bizarre way out: sit still, they said, and breathe.

“I sat still. I breathed.

“It seemed a tedious exercise at first, rather painful, not immediately effective. Eventually it proved so exciting, so transforming, physically and mentally, that I began to think my illness had been a stroke of luck.”

***

The book is quite a read. Especially when it (finally) gets to the part about learning to meditate:

“I felt I knew what he [the meditation teacher] meant when he spoke of everything flowing, mind and material dissolving into energy. Nor was it unthinkable that the strange pains I had been feeling had in some way to do with all those years of sitting tensely, racking my brains over sheets of empty paper, building up hopes, rejoicing over some small achievement, overreacting to setbacks and disappointments.

“And it was true that if you placed yourself, or your attention, as it were beside the pains, if you just sat together with them and let them be, not reacting or wishing them away, they did in the end subside.

“Likewise the thoughts: if you let them bubble up without judging them, or engaging them in any way, they gradually fizzled out. What’s more, you felt that a certain serenity had been acquired in this process, an understanding that much of the pain we feel comes from our reaction to pain, much of our agitation from our excitement with agitation.

“…paradoxically, letting go, you actually gained control, albeit of a different kind from the control you’d spent your life seeking.”

***

Bingo.

6 Jan
2020
Posted in: Books, Mystery
By    Comments Off on Not Entirely Certain

Not Entirely Certain

Note: There’s a recall for my computer, so I have to take it in tomorrow to get the battery replaced — which they say will require 3 to 5 days (!!!) — so I guess I won’t be posting again until next week. Unless I get my computer back sooner. Stay tuned.

In the mean time, I leave you with another excerpt from my new, favorite “dharma” book: A Month in Siena, by Hisham Matar.

“It was late spring. The Roman sun was out. Around noon we looked for shade. Diana spotted a green beside the Sant’Andrea al Quirinale. We lay under the canopy of a high pine. The grass was cool and accepting against my back. My head was now lower than my chest and I could feel the blood gather between the temples. Diana lay beside me, resting her head on my chest.

“I remember getting that odd feeling, a sort of mystery toward my own anatomy, not entirely certain of what was contained beneath my ribcage. I felt then what I felt now standing in the Sala dei Nove: that an independent will operated these secret clocks inside of me, that the operations and very texture of my organs and the blood that ran through them belonged to some other order of existence that stood apart from my sense of my self, from my ideas and emotions.”

***

Photo by David Matos on Unsplash

5 Jan
2020
Posted in: Art, Books, Mystery
By    Comments Off on What It Might Mean to Truly See

What It Might Mean to Truly See

Yesterday I started reading A Month in Siena, by Hisham Matar, and I’m already loving it so much that I’m feeling a little giddy! Not just because there was a time when I spent quite a lot of time in Siena, but also because he writes about looking at the same piece of art, over and over, for an hour or more each time, which is what I do when I really want to “see” a piece of art.

Matar says, “A picture changes as you look at it and changes in ways that are unexpected. I have discovered that a painting requires time. Now it takes me several months and more often than not a year before I can move on. During that period the picture becomes a mental as well as a physical location in my life.”

It’s like that for me too!

Matar is fascinated is with certain works from the Sienese School of painting. He writes, “I cannot say that they gave me pleasure. Yet I kept, almost against my own intentions, returning to them. I would often look and quickly pass. They left me feeling unprepared and in need of translation. They stood alone, neither Byzantine nor of the Renaissance, an anomaly between chapters, like the orchestra tuning its strings in the interval.

“This curiosity has deepened over the past two and a half decades. The colors, delicate patterns and suspended drama of these pictures gradually became necessary to me. Every few months I go to the National Gallery in order to look once more at Duccio di Buoninsegna’s The Annunciation or The Healing of the Man Born Blind.

“The seeing, who include Jesus, his audience and the version of the blind man now healed, sedately occupy the lower half of the painting. They are contrasted by the playful and brightly crisp activity in the upper half of the picture, where a hopscotch of arches and windows, peering into empty spaces, stare openly. They seem to be deliberately leading one’s gaze away from the human activity below.

“It is in that direction, upward, that the second representation of the blind man, the one still visually impaired, is facing. It is a painting that is questioning and ironic about what it might mean to truly see. It is not definite about the answer. It has always, and throughout all the many years that I have been returning to The Healing of the Man Born Blind, seemed to be a space of doubt.

“If I am away from London for any significant period of time, there inevitably comes the moment when I must search in the local museums for something from the Sienese School…

“To look closely at their work is to eavesdrop on one of the most captivating conversations in the history of art, one concerned with what a painting might be, what it might be for, and what it could do and accomplish within the intimate drama of a private engagement with a stranger.”

Ah, another mystery!

***

The Healing of the Man Born Blind, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, courtesy of The National Gallery, London.

2 Jan
2020
Posted in: Mystery, Teachers
By    Comments Off on Home is Not Somewhere Else

Home is Not Somewhere Else

In the most recent newsletter from Spirit Rock, Jack Kornfield writes:
“After I got the call that Ram Dass had died, I closed my eyes. He is still here.

“I could feel the vast field of love that was shining from Ram Dass when Trudy and I taught with him just a couple of weeks ago. And I always will. On the final day of this last retreat, called Open Your Heart in Paradise, Ram Dass was frail and didn’t have access to many words. But he was there in the most powerful way. He swam delightedly with the group in the ocean, chanting ‘Oh Joy, Oh Joy.’

“And on the retreat’s last morning, he put his hands on a basket of 350 wrist malas, each tied with a thread of his gurus blanket, to tenderly bless them. Then, as participants came by slowly to receive their malas, he silently looked into each face, offering to all what is sometimes called “the glance of mercy”, a gaze so full of love that it left many of us speechless and weeping, drunk with blessing…

“For me he is family and Sangha, even now still spreading his playful tough delicious love everywhere, connecting with our hearts, “yum, yum” as he would say. He was so ready to leave the wheelchair and his skinny and broken body, to go home.

“Home is not somewhere else. It is here, in life and death, in the eternal dance of consciousness, weaving together form and the formless mystery from which it all comes.”

***

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

29 Dec
2019
Posted in: Practice
By    Comments Off on You Are a River of Transforming Whims

You Are a River of Transforming Whims

Excerpt from Sparrow’s Guide to Meditation, by Sparrow, featured in the January 2020 issue of The Sun magazine:

“…Sit comfortably, either in a chair or cross-legged on the floor. (You may wish to use a firm cushion.) Try to keep your spine straight as possible, without being rigid. Close your eyes. Pay attention to your breathing, noticing the breath entering and leaving your nostrils (or your mouth, if that’s how your breathe.) You’re not trying to breathe slowly — or quickly, for that matter — just noticing the flow of air in and out. After three or four minutes, stop. Unless you’re desperate to keep meditating; then go on for as long as you like…

“Meditation teaches that change is constant. You fool yourself into believing that you are a fixed entity, but you are not. You are a river of transforming whims. This sounds like some Buddhist abstraction, but if you actually try to meditate, even for three minutes, you’ll discover that it’s true…

“Around fifteen years ago trees began speaking to me. I don’t usually hear words — I just have a sense of consolation and guidance — but sometimes there is a distinct message. A tree in Brooklyn said to me today: Most of the time we seek what we don’t have, but sometimes we seek what we already have. This tree is describing meditation…

“Meditation is an optimistic practice. The theory is that, by closing your eyes (or leaving them half open) and doing nothing, you can change your consciousness. Most people are too pragmatic to accept this harebrained notion, but scientific studies suggest that it’s true…

“Meditation is like practicing the guitar, but without the guitar….

“At some point your practice will be threatened — by a sudden emergency, a family crisis, a crucial deadline. Feel free to stop meditating or, conversely, to charge into the face of the enemy and meditate twice as long…

“If you offer your meditation to God, it becomes a prayer. If you offer your meditation to the universe, it becomes an affirmation. If you offer your meditation to humanity, it becomes activism.

“Don’t be afraid of the word God, but don’t get too excited about it either.”

***

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

27 Dec
2019
Posted in: Books
By    Comments Off on “And.”

“And.”

My sister gave me this great book for Christmas: 200 Women, by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday.

It’s basically interviews with 200 women, from all over the world — some famous, some not — all beautifully photographed (by Kieran E. Scott) and all answering these five “simple” questions:

  • What really matters to you?
  • What brings you happiness?
  • What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  • What would you change if you could?
  • What single word do you most identify with?

I love the concept and have been thinking about how I would have answered the questions. Especially the last one:

What single word do I most identify with?

Creative,” came to my mind right away. Also “Expressive.” And “Buoyant.” Quite a lot of the women in the book chose “Courage” or “Love” or “Gratitude.” (A couple chose: “Fuck.”)

But the answer I like best is: “And.”

That’s the single word Margaret Atwood most identifies with. “And.” She explains, “It means there is always something more.”

***

I’m going with that!

25 Dec
2019
Posted in: Practice
By    Comments Off on Christmas at My House

Christmas at My House

May your holidays be happy, however you have them.

22 Dec
2019
Posted in: Poems
By    Comments Off on The Life of This World

The Life of This World

from The Southern Cross
by Charles Wright

The life of this world is wind.
Windblown we come, and windblown we go away.
All that we look on is windfall.
All we remember is wind.

***

Photo by Mike Lewinski on Unsplash

19 Dec
2019
Posted in: Practice
By    Comments Off on It’s an Illusion.

It’s an Illusion.

This week I haven’t been be able to post as often as I would have liked. I’m sorry about that. The trend may continue, however, since my mother’s dementia is worsening and it takes more time now to be able to help my father cope with the situation.

It’s hard. For him. For her. For me. For everyone.

As novelist Juan Gabriel Vasquez writes,
“Adulthood brings with it the pernicious illusion of control and perhaps even depends on it. I mean that mirage of dominion over life that allows us to feel like adults, for we associate maturity with autonomy — the sovereign right to determine what’s going to happen next.”

Pernicious. Yes.

***

Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash