In bodhichitta training, we learn to use whatever pain or fear we experience to open our hearts to other people’s distress. In this way, our personal misery doesn’t close us down; it becomes a stepping stone toward a bigger perspective.
Welcome to my experiment in awakening. I hope to turn these blogs into a book about this adventure this year. I have studied and practiced Buddhism, the Course in Miracles and other traditions for the past 30 years, but have only recently entered into a new experience with mindfulness and the power of practicing non-attachment. I would love company on the journey and know many of you have the same destination to live in loving-kindness, awake to our true selves.
Since blogs post as most recent first, you may want to go to my first entry in December 2010 (in the archives) which describes the genesis and purpose of this experiment. Any constructive feedback on any of my blogs is most appreciated. My practice and my writing are both works-in-progress.
I have included the following, copied from a blog I wrote, in response to one of my siblings claiming I was “complaining” in these blogs. My siblings are wonderful people, but I felt I needed to further describe what I am trying to accomplish and communicate, so I wrote this:
Much or spiritual life is self-acceptance, maybe all of it. Indeed, in accepting the songs of life, we can create for ourselves a much deeper and greater identity in which our heart holds all within a space of boundless compassion.–Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart
My intention isn’t to write this only for my own benefit–though certainly it has helped me– but to also help others who may identify with what I say–those who are ashamed of their “flaws” and afraid they will be rejected if they “complain.”
Hundreds of books are written by seeming wise and non-neurotic folks describing the benefits of non-attachment, mindfulness and loving kindness, but the ones that helped me the most are those who were not ashamed to show their “baggage.” I am grateful to the Pema Chodron’s and Jack Kornfield’s of the world who are advanced Buddhist practitioners, but revealed their broken hearts and childhood traumas. Pema Chodron describes her confusion and despair about relationships before and during her practice. Kornfield discusses the pain caused by his violent and harsh father, and how that informed his Buddhist practice. Tara Brach tells of her own and others’ lack of self-acceptance in her book Radical Acceptance. Their revelations gave me great hope that my own traumas could be transformed into compassion and even wisdom.
We all enter the spiritual path as ego-based beings, and as such we have ego-based hopes and fears. Practice is virtually never what we expect. We feel like we’ve got it all wrong, thinking, “The more I meditate, the worse I become.” My teacher, Gendun Rinpoche, always responded to this by saying, “When you see your own shortcomings, it’s the dawn of qualities. If you only see your qualities, there’s a problem.”
-Lama Tsony, “Facing Fear” from the magazine, Trycicle
Some people may think it is self-indulgent and self-centered to write blogs like this. Oh well…. Others say I am “brave” to reveal my dark side, the character defects, the struggles.
I say it is terrible and sad that we must be “brave” to share about our vulnerabilities, our imperfections. I say one of the reasons people heal in groups like AA is because they are finally “safe” enough to admit they hurt, that they have hurt others, that they are confused, that they feel lost and out of control, that the demon of craving and attachment has turned them into what Buddhists call, “hungry ghosts.” Yet, the miracle is that when they face and admit those “shameful” things, they are finally on the way to being free of them.
So let the complaining continue! My healing began 30 years ago when I first understood how much the story of alcoholism and violence affected my relationships with others and myself. Equally important fo me was to discover how many, many thousands of others were escaping the same battlefield. I was not alone. You are the audience I am writing for. You, who hide behind masks of perfection. You who thought you could find a way to make everything okay. You who thought it was all your fault–or all their fault. You who lose your temper too easily, who are jealous and envious, judgmental and fearful. My people! You are my people! And I think Buddha would say the same…
Okay, now I’m going to complain some more. You have been warned….
Both my parents were alcoholics. They did not like it when the kids complained because our unhappiness fueled their guilt which in turn increased their drinking. There were rules my siblings and I understood all too well, one was: “kids are not allowed to complain, only we can complain–we are the suffering adults.” My brother and sister rarely, if ever, complained. I did. There was hell to pay, yet I never wised up:
I couldn’t seem to acquiesce in the face of the frozen silent or not-so silent rages from a mother who had not gotten her way about something.
I showed I was upset when I found my father holding back my mother’s knife-weilding hand.
I think I was unhappy about being thrown down the stairs because I had been crying too much.
I guess I showed alarm when I awoke in the middle of the night to hear smashing plates on the kitchen floor.
I was not to complain about any of that.
Kids in alcoholic families are supposed to take care of everyone else, do the bidding of others because they were more important, or in greater pain, or more ill than anyone else. There is a Supreme Rule in such families: Do whatever it takes to keep the alcoholic “happy” because if the addict is unhappy, everybody pays. In fact, spend your life trying to make everyone happy and never asks yourself “what might I want?” It seemed to me that by not obeying those rules, though believe me I tried, I was seen as the complainer, the problem, the reason mother had a migraine and father was passed out in the basement.
Hence the pushed button…BIG, pushed button…
I know I should be done, free of childhood traumas and roles by now. I know that it is unwise to keep the old stories running and not live in the present moment. And that is why I turn to Buddhism which tells me– as I hope I am sharing with you in all of these blogs–that loving-kindness and compassion are the fruits of mindful self-awareness, that I don’t have to be ashamed of, or destroy or ignore my “unskillful” ways. In fact, I cannot make progress if I disown my “bad” side.
I write these blogs because I see a lot of people who are ashamed of their “dark” side, but the only problem is their lack of compassion for all the fear that generated the “ugly” stuff.
I write because don’t think I am the only one–even at my advanced age–who is still seeking wisdom, struggling to learn how to practice mindfulness, open-heartedness, non-attachment.
I write about my demons in these blogs because I know if I face, name , investigate and learn to love even them, they will transform–and so will yours.
I write imperfectly and may find later that I disagree with myself…but then, I’m still in Peoria and enlightenment is more than a bus ride away…
So, let’s everybody complain about how we can still get too attached, too greedy and selfish, even mean sometimes—and let’s complain that it is hard to admit it; that we would rather hide behind our addictions to people, places and things than admit we are scared and controlled by our stories. We are not so different. We need not be perfect.
As we take the one seat and develop a meditative attention, the heart presents itself naturally for healing. The grief we have carried for so long from pains and dashed expectations and hopes arises. We grieve for our past traumas and present fears, for all the feelings we never dared experience consciously.
Somehow, in feeling our own pain and sorrow, our own ocean of tears, we come to know that ours is a shared pain and that the mystery and beauty and pain of life cannot be separated. This universal pain, too , is part of our connection with one another, and in the face of it we cannot withhold our love any longer.
–Jack Kornfield, A Path With Heart
Thank you for visiting my blog!