Last week I didn’t teach due to my husband’s surgery, but requested that the class meet on its own, and that they discuss what they would like to be learning next.
When we met this week, they shared their findings. They requested that at some point soon we go back and review the earlier dharma talks, particularly ones focused on The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Some of them were not in the class at that time so it would be new for them, and others felt that they wanted to revisit the material now that they have over a year of meditation practice that will give them a new perspective on the subject.
So I plan to do that over the summer, in effect have ‘summer reruns.’ Maybe this will be an annual tradition. Those who are traveling in the summer won’t miss anything new, and it gives me a vacation from prep time to relax and renew. I know, I know, I just got back from Mexico, so how much more relaxation do I need? Hey, I’m just responding to the request of my class!
We also discussed how it seems a time in our lives of needing to expand to hold all the extremes we are experiencing in an open embrace, we had a discussion about how that feels.
Personally, I am currently holding elation, euphoria and relief because I have a new granddaughter, healthy and beautiful, and her parents are finding their way quite naturally, maintaining their own health and equilibrium. Yay! And because my husband had a successful surgery and is now officially cancer-free. I am incredibly relieved.
But I am also holding concern, worry and sadness because just beyond the edge of the immediate family, there is open heart surgery, severe or chronic illness and huge life challenges. I work to be present for all of it, and to hold these feelings in an open embrace without becoming overwhelmed. This involves creating a spaciousness to receive them all: the elation, the sadness, the worry. All are welcomed. None is denied entry. Each is given a turn to express itself, but only awareness gets to sit in the throne and hold the space. Awareness holds all of it with an open loving intention.
Because of all that’s been going on our lives and in the lives of those we love, and because it is natural for our minds to label and organize all this information, we might start labeling these experiences. One sangha member said, “Everyone was so happy to be done with 2009, imagining that 2010 would have to be better, but…”
So we looked at our natural inclination to judge a whole year by the cumulative contents of our experience. It is really just another of the ways we cause more suffering in our lives. When we determine that a year is a lost cause, we feel we are just waiting for it to be over and get to the ‘good’ year that is coming. If we can let these organizational concepts of days, months and years go, we can be more present, allowing each moment its full expression, without having relegated it to being a part of a larger time frame that is already named and blamed.
Our brains are busy organizing information, collecting data and fitting it nicely into some kind of framework. That’s how we created the whole concept of linear time. It’s a filing system, nothing more. Very efficient, but it's just a filing system. We need to be careful not to mistake these systems for the truth of our experience. It’s like letting the IRS determine what you will have for dinner. The right brain doesn’t have to be in charge of every little thing, and noticing when it is making statements that are causing suffering is a valuable insight.
There’s another set of labels that gets bandied about a lot in my circle of friends. As they increasingly notice that they and those around them are finding their bodies ‘betraying’ them, there is a tendency to say ‘Welcome to old age.’ I have to wonder if this is useful, this labeling all our experiences in the old age file. By association it brings up so much baggage. There is so much we as a society attach to old age, mostly in the form of limitations. So is this label a means of acceptance of the fact that we all will die sooner or later, which is healthy, or is it a kind of trap that takes us out of this moment, this set of actual sensations, and creates an overlay of suffering that only exacerbates whatever challenge we are actually facing?
So this is how the conversation went this week. Lots to think about. Lots to notice in the way we talk to ourselves and others about what we are experiencing. How much is true? How much is really our direct experience?
In the coming weeks, I’ll be doing some dharma talks inspired by watching the documentary on PBS “The Buddha.” If you didn’t get a chance to see it, you can check on http://www.pbs.org/thebuddha/ for local listings or get it online. It isn’t required watching, but you might enjoy it.