Philosophy Riffing | Attachment and Buddhist Approaches to Partnership

I was having a conversation with a friend this morning about Buddhism and attachment/clinging regarding partnership. This was in reply to comments I had made about heartbreak and possibly falling into despair. I ramble a bit in the first response, but I thought I raised a few good questions without any solid answers. Hopefully it will be interesting to others as well. NOTE: there’s a little blip in the first recording where I edited a brief mention of something out, but it didn’t affect the overall content.

Heartbreak | Music | Songs for the Deep

I hadn’t planned to write more heartbreak posts, but ultimately, the journey through the abyss to safety (recent I Ching reading but also reminiscent of the Moon card) is a fraught one with new challenges and rapids along the way. For me, this is much more true than I’d like to admit. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve cried about her, thinking about how I’ll never see her skin and smile again, or reliving a moment I wish I could change to maybe make things end up differently. It hurts so bad some days, and I couldn’t tell you why those days are worse. Every day, I wish my heart would stop beating. It just hurts too damn much, and some days, like today, something breaks you into full on panicky hyperventilation and crying, and you can’t even really say what triggered that exact moment. However, even then, there are events that make you feel understood and seen.

I went to a concert last night – Garbage and Alanis Morissette. These two artists really brought this to mind because they both have songs about some difficult emotional experiences. Listening to them and seeing how popular they both are, even 20+ years later, made me think of previous heartbreak and the sense at that time that so many songs are about love lost and pain around it. There are certainly more songs about this experience than the opposite (not that there are none of those), and it made me realize that the experience of loss, grief, pain, and frustrated hopes is more common, impactful, and lasting than that of some deep joy realized, which is generally more fleeting and less deep.

If we think of this in spiritual terms, we’ll quickly arrive at the Buddha’s fundamental truth that upholds all of the Four Noble Truths – the first one: there is dukkha. There is a suffering in existing. It occurs on both great and mundane levels, and those great levels speak to our greatest desires (see the second noble truth) and the difficulties involved in them ending or not being fulfilled.

Our relationships with others are a fundamental. They are part of being in the world (riffing on Heidegger here but pulling in a Buddhist direction). We become entangled in the desire of being with, regularly. There is both some of the greatest beauty and the greatest suffering in this, as other humans reveal the depths of who we can be, what we can feel, and how we can flourish.

In any case, I wanted to pick a few songs from this experience alongside a couple others to really pull at the heartstrings regarding heartbreak and the pain in it. Music can give voice to the human experience in profound ways that make us feel seen. Perhaps this is cathartic in itself. I know that even in just driving to the concert, “You Oughta Know”, spoke to my more fiery feelings of being overlooked, unvalued, and cheated. I’ll just leave it as a reference here without linking it for better options that don’t delve into such anger, but even that can be valuable and worth expressing in its own way.

First, let’s go with Garbage’s “It’s All Over but the Crying”, which speaks to ending, loss, and the grief afterwards as well as the poor treatment and misperceptions of someone else. They didn’t play this at the concert, but I was really wishing they would have played something from “Bleed Like Me”.

Beyond that, Garbage played a newer song, “Even Though Our Love is Doomed”, at the concert that really spoke to me. The main refrain kept asking why we kill the things we love the most. I kept wondering the same, as my feeling time and again is that extraordinary was traded for ordinary in my situation. I can’t help but feel like I was told I was superlative repeatedly but then was not chosen because of more or less bullshit reasons that never really made sense and seemed historically revised and over-hyped over time. In the end, I have to wonder why we kill the things we love the most, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one who feels a resonance with that question. Furthermore, the song has a “even though” this killing is doomed, you still want the person anyway because you see the beauty of that love. I couldn’t understand that any deeper than I already do. As a friend pointed out today, that’s why I hurt so much now and feel dead – I loved that deeply that its passing is a grief to my core.

Between sets, songs played over the speakers, and an old fave came forth and reminded me precisely of the strength of crying out against not having been chosen, of the feeling of what it is to roll in the deep of the abyss. Adele’s song is a classic for a reason in this genre.

In a note more fitting with my usual musical journeys of late, I was walking home today, listening to my newest post-rock album release of focus, the fantastic Transmission Zero’s “Bridges”. Their song, “Still No Sign”, has this haunting feeling of floating through space, waiting for some signal and it never coming. That’s the feeling of waiting and not hearing anything, of feeling on edge with the hope that continues to cut rather than soothe, as every moment is that Buddhist play of dukkha and tanha arising together. I felt so haunted by this song that I stopped in opening my building’s door and just rested my head on it for a second to catch my breath and resolve. It’s simple but feels like a deep journey of waiting and yearning.

Finally, most importantly, I wanted to share a positive note. Alanis ended her set with “Thank U”, and it struck me hard, even though it was a song I never really liked before. The journey through pain, through the heartbreak, even in its angriest moments like some of her more memorable moments from “Jagged Little Pill”, is ultimately soothed in gratitude, in moments like telling the audience that she certainly recommends getting your heart trampled on to anyone. These are part of living with others and vulnerably putting our hearts out there. In the end, that’s how we become strong and how we give back grateful compassion. Every day, I feel like dying right now. I really wish my heart would stop sometimes, but ultimately, I also always paddle on past that abyss of deep waters, keeping my resolve to continue, do well, and give my kindness to others. It’s incredibly hard, but every time, I’m thankful for continuing, despite feeling unworthy and unfit for the challenge. I love the closing lines. I’m thankful for my own disillusionment, my facing nothingness, my sitting in silence, and the clarity of strength I find in myself every time I do that with vulnerable surrender and resolve rather than anger or self-involvement:

Thank you India

Thank you providence

Thank you disillusionment

Thank you nothingness

Thank you clarity

Thank you, thank you silence

Alanis Morissette – “Thank You”

May this help others feel both expression and some gratitude for continuing forward in heartbreak.

Gassho!

Heartbreak | Facing Death

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, and although the intensity of the thoughts and feelings have ebbed and flowed, I feel like it’s important to return to, even if it’s mostly to focus my own mind and practice in the writing. Beyond that, however, I hope these words help others. The words are dedicated to them, with that intention.


In my last post, I said: “I’m left feeling like, to steal a poetic line from said person, in experiencing life right now, I’m watching the death of my concept and experience of love as I watch the death of a relationship.”

Honestly, death is on my mind a lot these days. I find myself muttering to myself, “I hate my life. I wish I could die.” It’s so by rote that it almost feels like a script, but there is still weight behind the self-talk. Deepest samsara – when clinging and desires aren’t met – hurts greatly. That’s why so many coping mechanisms revolve around escape and altered states. It feels nearly impossible to just sit with the full intensity of these painful feelings.

I find it haunting and thought-provoking even after years, that Camus opens his classic work of philosophy, “The Myth of Sisyphus”, with “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” Ultimately, it’s true – each and every one of us stamps the meaning on our own lives and has the ultimate say on whether it is worth living or not. Our approach to our lives is ultimately one that leans into mortality and affirms life as worth living… Or doesn’t. The same problem resonates, albeit somewhat differently, with Viktor Frankl’s famous “Man’s Search for Meaning”. He emphasizes that the root idea of his approach of logotherapy is that “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how” (supposedly a quote from Nietzsche, although it seems more like a rewording). The need for meaning is crucial in these existential approaches to the human condition. They are the key agency we have in making sense of our mortal lives and making them shine in the dark horizon of death (riffing on Heidegger and Foucault’s ideas of finitude in “The Order of Things”).

To return to the pain of deepest samsara, the meanings and identities we cling to the most, for me a future of partnership and family, are those that make life feel meaningless when they’re shredded to pieces (I actually wrote a masters paper on precisely this topic – the problem of the loss of meaning and the world becoming senseless after trauma). How do we face such scenarios? With Frankl, the loss of such meaning was a key indicator that others would succumb to the concentration camps. To Camus, it would mean falling into an overwhelmed despair in the face of the absurd, and if he truly is a follower of Nietzsche, would lead to nihilism – willing nothingness: choosing suicide.

In my darkest moments, that’s precisely how I feel – a pointlessness to my life, a wish for it to end, an overwhelming feeling like both myself and everything else doesn’t matter. The person at the core of my heartbreak recently reached out and told me she hoped I was finding peace in the end of our time together. That hurt so deeply. I wanted to scream. The only peace I feel is the peace of death: the death of meaning, and as I’ve described here, that is not any kind of peace that the living thrive in, quite the opposite.

Overall, however, I have long-developed self-care routines and the desire to do well for all sentient beings. These keep my strength focused beyond my own story, and they lead me to lean into compassion. For instance, I am kind to others I encounter, trying to be present and warm to them as genuine encounter. A contact at my local grocery store befriended me online recently, and I found that she has been in prison for a car accident and is just making her way back out into the world. Moments like that make my heart break and bring perspective to how much kindness and warmth needs to be cultivated and shared in this world. She thanked me for always being kind to her and spoke to others in her other job being rude. We all go through so much poor treatment and bad circumstances, even some bad karma from our own poorly made and poorly informed choices. We all deserve compassion. For the most part, that’s my North Star, when I’m not overly wrapped in my own story to see it.

I’m inspired by the path and the direction of the bodhisattva, aiming at a deeper engagement with reality. The new desire: working for the enlightenment of all sentient beings – a heroic and impossible task, that of wisdom and compassion. May that be my concern rather than samsaric worries about my own future.

I’m closing this off with three quotes that I hope will develop and connect these existentialist and Mahayana Buddhist themes.

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Albert Camus – “The Myth of Sisyphus”, p. 123

When a Zen priest who has taken a sufferer under his care has reason to fear that he is not equal to his suffering, he will visit him repeatedly. Not with the intention of relieving him of distracting worries, but of reaching his inner self. He will try to make him face his suffering by bringing its full extent and magnitude to consciousness. He will help the sufferer to see that great suffering is not overcome by refusing to face it or by surrendering to it in despair. He will warn him of the danger of allowing himself to be solaced, and of waiting for time to heal. Salvation lies in giving full assent to his fate, serenely accepting what is laid upon him without asking why he should be singled out for so much suffering. Whoever is able to bear suffering in this way grows to the stature of his suffering, and he detaches himself from it by learning more and more to disregard the fact that it is his suffering.

This detachment paves the way to healing, and healing follows of itself the more sensitive one becomes to the suffering of others, and the more selflessly one shares their sufferings. This fellow suffering is quite different from the sentimental sympathy most of us indulge in, which, easily aroused and quickly dissipated, remains ineffective because it is not selfless enough. True compassion not bound to words forges the most intimate bond between human beings and all living creatures. The real meaning of suffering discloses itself only to him who has learned the art of compassion.

If the sufferer’s ears and eyes are opened by this clarification of his state of mind, he will mark that neither flight from reality nor denial of suffering can bring him detachment. And if, thrown back on himself, he shows that he is trying to become one with his fate, to assent to it so that it can fulfill its own law, then the priest will go on helping him. He will answer his questions, without offering anything more than suggestions and, of course, without preaching.

For there is something that seems to him very much more important than words. Gradually he will fall silent, and in the end will sit there wordless, for a long time, sunk deep in himself. And the strange thing is that this silence is not felt by the other person as indifference, as a desolate emptiness which disturbs rather than calms. It is as if this silence had more meaning than countless words could ever have. It is as if he were being drawn into a field of force from which fresh strength flows into him. He feels suffused with a strange confidence, even when his visitor has long since departed. And it may be that in these joyful hours, the resolve will be born to set out on the path that turns a wretched existence into a life of happiness.

Eugen Herrigel – “The Method of Zen”, pp. 124-125

We are reminded again of Dogen’s description of his own awakening: “I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun, and the moon and the stars.” According to one Mahayana account, the Buddha was enlightened when he looked up from his meditations and saw the morning star (Venus), whereupon he declared: “I am awakened together with the whole of the great earth and all of its beings.” It’s not that every living being became enlightened in the same way that he did at that moment, but that his own personal awakening was an achievement of the whole. Awakening, then, involves realizing that “I” am not inside my body, looking out through my eyes at a world that is separate from me. Rather, “I” am what the whole universe is doing, right here and now.

David R. Loy – “A New Buddhist Path”, pp. 86-87

May this provide solace to those feeling the abyss looking back into them after staring into it. May you find that you take a leap and a net appears.

Gassho!

Heartbreak | Loneliness

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, and although the intensity of the thoughts and feelings have ebbed and flowed, I feel like it’s important to return to, even if it’s mostly to focus my own mind and practice in the writing. Beyond that, however, I hope these words help others. The words are dedicated to them, with that intention.


I’ve recently been going through an on-again, off-again, dramatic semi-relationship with someone who has excited me to the possibility of a future together and made me feel more alive than any other romantic partner I’ve had. The only reason that really matters as backstory is that something in the progression of this connection and its long, slow, painful demise has made me really sit with my feelings regarding partnership and compatibility. I’m left feeling like, to steal a poetic line from said person, in experiencing life right now, I’m watching the death of my concept and experience of love as I watch the death of a relationship. I plan on writing more on that in a second post, but in this one, I want to focus on the related feeling of loneliness.

I’ve been lonely in relationships for pretty much all of my adult life. I wonder if this is normal. For me, I think it’s primarily because I’m a person with some particular and unique interests. It’s hard to share space and life with a person and feel like you’re not connected on many levels. Perhaps, it’s because of my ideals of partnership which I’ve written about on here before. I really seek a deep engagement with a partner, not just sharing of space and time. With that, I tend to throw in a lot of energy and support that doesn’t get matched, which leads to more feelings of disconnection and even resentment.

Loneliness when losing someone who meant so much to you, loneliness even during the slow fade of such a loss, is much more brutal. It’s like the sun went down and isn’t coming up again. In a way, it reminds me of my recent post on the tarot where I talked about three cards being about choosing love, not being disillusioned and not giving up hope. That was a positive, can-do interpretation. It could be just as much that in choosing this love, I was moving into an experience of disillusionment and despair. Now, I think about future relationships, and I see little to no likelihood that I’ll find someone else with the compatibility and partnership I seek. In a sense, such a spiritual friend is rare. I’ve thought about my experiences and the statistical demographics of who’s out there in the world, and in all likelihood, the frequent pulls of the Hermit card in the last few months are wise counsel for getting deeply in tune with myself, my own wisdom, and my own solitary path.

With feelings like this, most balk, and tell you you overreact, even though they don’t have a single real counterargument to a logical and experiential breakdown. I think we’re given way too many expectations of ending up with a partner with an Aristophanes’ story of another person somehow complimenting us out there, just waiting to be found. There’s simply no guarantee. Just as there’s no guarantee I will live past today. When faced with that, people tend to react really strongly to protect this groundwork, existential desire. A co-worker recently heard me out and said, “I agree with everything you just said, but it makes me sad because you don’t get a happy ending in this perspective.” This shows that, ultimately, the standard paradigm is a wishful thinking fallacy.

Sitting with loneliness is particularly hard because I feel out of place in a very physical sense. I live just a mile down the road from the person, and this neighborhood is new to me. I don’t feel fully at home here. Everything reminds me of her. Everything reminds me of how I’m facing a future of being alone, not having a family, not becoming a father. These are all things I held much more tightly than I thought. I have been trying to patiently sit and look at those feelings and fears arise with as much peace as I can muster, but the Buddha was right: the things we cling to are really what cause samsara. It’s incredibly difficult to not react to such feelings without squirming and running to the next.

However, I think that sitting with all of this offers one of the greatest opportunities for spiritual growth, even though I’m barely up to the task most days or fail on others. I wanted to write about my experience after reading a chapter in Pema Chödrön’s classing “When Things Fall Apart”. In sitting with ourselves in our most vulnerable, our most tender, we cultivate the warrior’s heart that opens us to more compassion for all beings. In many ways, this time has made me more patient and open to others, instead of less so. This kind of healing and growth leads to warmth to life, even in darkness.

Not wandering in the world of desire is another way of describing cool loneliness. Wandering in the world of desire involves looking for alternatives, seeking something to comfort us–food, drink, people. The word desire encompasses that addiction quality, the way we grab for something because we want to find a way to make things okay. … Not wandering in the world of desire is about relating directly with how things are. Loneliness is not a problem. Loneliness is nothing to be solved. The same is true for any other experience we might have.

Cool loneliness allows us to look honestly and without aggression at our own minds. We can gradually drop our ideals of who we think we ought to be, or who we think we want to be, or who we think other people think we want to be or ought to be. We give it up and just look directly with compassion and humor at who we are. Then loneliness is not threat and heartache, no punishment.

Cool loneliness doesn’t provide any resolution or give us ground under our feet. It challenges us to step into a world of no reference point without polarizing or solidifying. This is called the middle way, or the sacred path of the warrior.

When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself or feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in the moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart? The next time you get a chance, experiment with this.

Pema Chödrön, “When Things Fall Apart”, p. 65-66

May these words help others sit with their most difficult experiences of feeling lonely and spur them towards compassion and wisdom.

Gassho!

Philosophy Riffing | Valuing Yourself and Sitting with Being Alone

I recently was trying to explain my thoughts to a friend in audio clips regarding preparing for a future of potentially ending up alone rather than with a partner and how one should spiritually approach sitting with oneself. I thought the audio clip was me at my best in terms of pulling together a variety of ideas from different sources and tying them together into something meaningful, so I wanted to share. It’s about 9 minutes long, so only jump in if you’re interested.

Morning Pages | Clinging in Emptiness

I wrote this passage in Morning Pages a few days ago – a practice I’ve been trying to work on again as a means of self-care and continued spiritual development. Personally, this passage really felt like a deep expression of the heartbreak I’m currently going through, but at the same time, it riffs hard on Marcus Aurelius and Buddhism. As such, especially after reading it again and finding it much more cerebral and poetic than the emotional mess I thought it was when I was writing it, I share it here.


Here “I” am. I’m not sure why I write that in this moment, but it feels weighty. Perhaps more accurately, it feels light. I have the slogan in mind to regard all dharmas as dreams (#2) [note: this is a reference to the Tibetan slogan practices of Atisha – a path and practice I’ve been meaning to dig into again. #1 and #2 both helped me through my dad’s passing a few years back]. That includes me. I’m not the same as yesterday, a week before, or 5 years ago as I just saw in pictures. What can I take from this in this moment? Well, it clearly indicates, at the least, that the worries I have now will change. They may grow. They may wither. They may be fully replaced. Also, my body will change – perhaps for the better with more exercise (and a better diet), but mostly, I will continue to fall apart.

What is there to cling on to when all is emptiness? Why am I clinging so hard to a particular outcome? And yet… It’s still worth hoping for. I’m grateful for this moment.


May this give you pause to see the flux of change that is emptiness – the lack of inherent essence to all that is. All dharmas are dreams. However, may it also give you pause to consider what you hold dear and why. I plan on writing more on adapting through change in the next post.

Gassho!

Walking Along the Dhammapada — Chapter 17: Anger

I’m taking another journey through the Buddha’s lessons on the path of the Dharma (one way you could translate the title Dhammapada). A few years ago, I wrote posts on a handful of chapters, but I didn’t go over every chapter. This time, I’m challenging myself to post on every chapter and share them here.


The key lesson to take away from this chapter that speaks to the greater spiritual path of Buddhism and The Dhammapada is that of self-control vs. reactivity. A wise, awakened one is liberated from the pain of as the Buddha puts it in the Fire Sermon the burning of the senses, passion, aversion, and ignorance. In other words, liberation is the extinguishing of clinging. This allows one to control one’s actions and act skillfully rather than being pulled along by our desirous and aversive reactions. This is the difference that’s listed in early lines:

Give up anger, give up conceit,
Pass beyond every fetter.
There is no suffering for one who possesses nothing,
Who doesn’t cling to body-and-mind.

The one who keeps anger in check as it arises,
As one would a careening chariot,
I call a charioteer.
Others are merely rein-holders.

The Dhammapada, 221-222, trans. Fronsdal

In other words, you can become liberated by observing yourself through mindfulness, letting go of reactions, acting well, and thereby becoming one who drives the chariot, rather than just being pulled along by the horses.

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This can be summarized in a term that came up in my other translation many times: “well-controlled”. That’s the aim. Ultimately, that control is liberation. It comes from wisdom, insight, and mindful engagement. Otherwise, we are just pulled along reactively by our impressions and reactions.

The only way beyond a reactive, conditioned, samsaric pull is to be ever wakeful, holding anger in check in body, speech, and mind. Liberation is and comes through holding the reactivity of conditioning in mind and then letting it go. It’s a seeing, releasing, and doing differently. Thus does one choose and thereby drive the chariot.


May this inspire effort to gain control of skillful action rather than mindless reaction.

Gassho!

Walking Along the Dhammapada — Chapter 16: The Dear/Affection

I’m taking another journey through the Buddha’s lessons on the path of the Dharma (one way you could translate the title Dhammapada). A few years ago, I wrote posts on a handful of chapters, but I didn’t go over every chapter. This time, I’m challenging myself to post on every chapter and share them here.


I’ll be honest – I find this chapter difficult. It’s difficult precisely because of questions I’m currently wrestling with in my own personal development. They’re also questions related to ongoing queries I have for Buddhism around the life of a householder vs. that of a monk. How does one handle the issue of attachment in the middle of a standard, nonmonastic life? It’s a problem in terms of finding balance and a Middle Way through the tangles of craving and clinging. The best I can come up with is seeing the attachments we have and letting them be without grabbing onto them with clinging and craving, but that is incredibly difficult to do, and that’s precisely why one is pressed to go into the freedom of a monastic life. This chapter has a very strong tone that doesn’t help me with these considerations at all, and like much of the oldest Buddhist teachings, it feels like one is only able to find liberation by leaving the life of the householder behind and severing all attachments.

This may all sound like some kind of philosophical knots over a non-issue, but one description of the founding of the practices of tantra in Buddhism precisely highlighted this issue (and unfortunately, it’s been years, so I can’t remember where I read it now). It was the legend of a king who asked the Buddha for practices to find enlightenment while still holding onto his sensual life, basically (surely a legend because tantra is one of those practices from other Asian spiritual traditions Hinduism/Bön that were fused with Buddhism as it grew and travelled).

In any case, let’s focus on one main passage here. This whole chapter really emphasizes that craving/clinging in its various guises keep one rooted in samsaric suffering. This fits with the Four Noble Truths. There is suffering. Suffering arises from tanha (craving/clinging). One can be liberated from suffering by ceasing the bond of tanha. There then is a path forward to realize this goal. This chapter emphasizes that aspect of tanha – we crave that which we desire. We crave for that which we don’t desire to not happen. In fact, whatever else doesn’t fit the desired or undesired is so separate from our affected awareness, that we just ignore it. These are the three poisons: desire, aversion, and ignorance. We can see in passages like this chapter that clinging/craving drives all three on a continuum of sorts. Think of it like a number line where – craving = aversion, 0 = ignorance, and + craving = desire. It’s worth mentioning here that the titles in my two translations point to this as well: “The Dear” – we cling to that which we hold dear; and “Affection” – affect, our emotional movements that pull us hither and yon in samsara, are driven by the clinging in the 3 poisons. There are several lines that point out these dynamics and then accentuate different versions of affection where it is at play and that such things should be avoided. The overall summary is captured in the final emphasis:

Craving gives rise to grief;
Craving gives rise to fear.
For someone released from craving
There is no grief;
And from where would come fear?

The Dhammapada, 216, trans. Fronsdal

In terms of my own struggles, I’m left thinking of these considerations, and I think the path is truly that of sitting in the midst of the swirl of affection, whatever arises, and seeing how there is the pull of desire and aversion as well as the lack of interest in ignorance. We can watch what comes up within our mind and try to respond skillfully rather than getting hooked into craving and the karma that arises from acting within it. What this means for myself in terms of relationships, my own stories, and an engaged life, is an ongoing investigation.

In relation to that little idea of karma, I love the closing lines in this second translation, where good deeds are presented as analogous to a seeker’s family who celebrate his return home into Nibbana. As such, we have yet again an emphasis on acting well from the stance of nonattachment at the end of this chapter admonishing the seeker to not cling.

When, after a long absence, a man safely returns home from afar, his relatives, friends, and well-wishers welcome him home on arrival.

As relatives welcome a dear one on arrival, even so his own good deeds will welcome the doer of good who has gone from this world to the next.

The Dhammapada, 219-220, trans. Buddharakkhita

May this bring others to recognize the role of clinging in samsara and get them to investigate its role in their lives.

Gassho!

Feeling Negativity, Leaning Into Compassion

Note: I feel that things have progressed since starting this post in ways that highlight some personal misunderstandings on one side and the very need for compassion and an open heart and how healing that is on the other – the message I started writing here last week. As such, I decided to finish the post with that message. So, even though the opening lines don’t feel current now, I still feel like this post should be completed and shared.


When we are rejected and shamed by those we care about, they are some of the hardest moments to be upright in a mindful practice. I’ve spun in this a lot recently. I will readily admit I’ve failed for the most part, rolling hard in my own patterns and stories, looking for a magic solution or reversal rather than calmly adapting to conditions with the equanimity of wisdom.

Although friends and articles on psychology and relationships have helped me, I have found a certain part of The Dhammapada to be crucial to healing. I’ve written here before of key passages in the first chapter of The Dhammapada regarding realization of mortality, hatred, peace, and quarrels (for instance, this post on a previous experience and this passage is still one of my most popular, even a couple years later). This passage has acted like an anchor, allowing me to transform my pain into understanding and empathy, rather than continuing to be pulled along by emotional reaction. I’d like to talk about this passage a bit again.

I recently downloaded a different translation of this by Acharya Buddharakhita that left me pondering this passage again. I’m going to share several lines and then make a small comparison.

“He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me” — those who harbour such thoughts do not still their hatred.

“He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me” — those who do not harbour such thoughts still their hatred.

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world; by non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is an eternal law.

There are those who do not realize one day we all must die. but those who realize this settle their quarrels.

The Dhammapada, Chapter 1: Verses 3-6; Trans. Buddharakkhita

“He abused me, attacked me, defeated me, robbed me!” For those carrying on like this, hatred does not end.

“She abused me, attacked me, defeated me, robbed me!” For those not carrying on like this, hatred ends.

Hatred never ends through hatred. By non-hate alone does it end. This is an ancient truth.

Many do not realize we here must die. For those who realize this, quarrels end.

The Dhammapada, Chapter 1: Verses 3-6; Trans. Fronsdal

First of all, both of these follow the opening of this chapter’s focus on how mind shapes a happy life or a life of suffering. We’re shown an existential depth to this that we should recognize our transience, our mortality, and let go of the poison of animosity — the ultimate toxin of desire, aversion, and ignorance. It’s a colossal mental shift to let go of this kind of victimhood – the drama of our lives – but if we can see the passing nature of things, there’s an opportunity to make that shift and see things from a larger perspective. Second of all, I like the difference in how the end of these two selections are translated. One says “settle their quarrels”, emphasizing that the recognition of mortality is a motivator to take action, actualizing that my mind is not only my personal thoughts but my deeds based on those thoughts and those deeds in relation to others. There’s great wisdom in making a move to show that you hold no hatred for someone else and wish them well (I will return to this below). The other translation has it as “quarrels end” as though the realization of the mark of impermanence leads to an immediate washing away of negativity. I think this focuses on the power of the realization in a way that is incredibly poetic, but it does lack that extra element of action. I think this idea is best highlighted by thinking of both of these translations.

One of the basic forms of meditation in some of the Theraveda traditions is that of metta or “loving-kindness” meditation. I’ve actually read a book focused on this approach that argues it was all the Buddha claimed was needed for Enlightenment, and honestly, given passages like that in The Dhammapada above, I can understand that position, especially because I’ve had some of my strongest feelings of insight and compassion from doing metta meditation (as well as the similar, in my mind at least, Tibetan practice of tonglen).

The practice develops loving-kindness for oneself and expands it, offering it eventually to those who we see as hurtful to us. This, then, is a practice about letting go of the painful reactions to ourselves and others in our lives, and practicing it in earnest really can help open the heart and mind. I’ve linked the book I mentioned above and here again, The Path to Nibbana, and here is a shorter description of how to do the meditation. I’ve been trying to take time to do the meditation myself recently, but beyond that, I’ve been trying to take the intention of it, the version of the mantra of old that I have in my mind from practicing it in the past, and put it out there in the world where I can, even if I don’t sit and meditate today.

May you be happy.

May you be healthy.

May you be at peace.

May you live with ease.

I find when I approach the world with this mindset, I find more understanding for others and more love for myself and my own failures (of which, there are many). Recently, when I’ve felt hurt, I’ve tried my best to develop this mindset, and it has made everything much better, and ultimately, I feel like it may even heal the hearts of others a little — perhaps just that intention has some impact in the world.


May this inspire others to cultivate loving-kindness and compassion, especially when it feels difficult. May this help other see that our lives are short, and quarrels are misguided.

Gassho!

Just Doing in the Midst of Emotional Difficulty

I had an odd yet intense spiritual experience recently. I’ve been meaning to sit and write of it since but find myself feeling both daunted and also maybe a bit too insecure to share due to the personal nature.

However, I feel that it’s for the best to do so. So, I will try to write this in a manner that’s without a flavor of gossip or personal samsaric rumination.

Recently, I was dumped by someone for whom I really cared. I thought that she and I had a future together, and I had been working hard to convince her to work towards that with me. Ultimately, there was some disconnect that could not be bridged, so that path is gone.

That’s just background, though. It’s not the focus.

I was in the middle of knitting a hat for her when she broke up with me via text. I saw this turn as a likelihood, but it didn’t take away the surprise, due to sheer undesirability if nothing else. However, I was left with a quandary: what to do with this knitting project that I was roughly halfway done with? I had sunk in about 30 hours of work, and I knew that I had that much more to go to reach the end. I wouldn’t want to keep it for myself. My roommate tried to claim it, but that felt weird to me as well. I also didn’t want to tear it up and reuse the yarn or throw it away…. So, what?

I decided to finish it and send it to her, knowing that it wouldn’t change anything, just for the pure act of completing a gift I had planned and giving it. Doing this in the miasma of feelings I had, especially spending 10s of hours and 1000s of stitches wading through to the end, was incredibly difficult emotionally. Knitting is soothing, usually. In part, I think I’ve gravitated toward it over the last few months as a sort of mindful, therapeutic practice to help me through one of the most stressful times of my life, but this time, it was mindful in the opposite way. I had to show up and be present for every single stitch. Furthermore, there were a couple points where I overlooked something in the directions and had to “tink” (backtrack/unstitch) a full round or more. Each round was 144 stitches, so those events meant a lot of time reversing just to do those stitches over again.

One of the key takeaways for me in pretty much every version of Buddhism is to sit with whatever arises, without attachment or aversion. It sounds simple, but it is incredibly difficult to actually do. Sitting through an emotionally laden task just to reach the end of it was sitting with whatever arose — the beauty, the despair, the fatigue, the joy. An experience like that really reminds you that we have a variety of emotions that are intertwined in our life. Even darkness has the flickers of stars, the moon, and fireflies. Over the hours, I walked through a lot of darkness, and it was quite the experience — one I feel I’m failing to capture in words here.

By the end, I felt acceptance for whatever arose in my situation as well, as uncomfortable and unwanted as it may be. I was reminded time and again of the Zen saying: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” Sitting and working on the project to the end, merely to give it away as planned, without attachment or clinging to any reactions (as difficult and tiring as that was) felt like this. It felt as being engaged fully in the project, watching my story of ego flit by without it attaching to me or stopping the task. Ego struggled to push, pull, drive an emotional reaction to everything that was happening, especially the symbolism of the 1000s of stitches left in my hand. However, I’m also reminded of another quote that always signifies to me the process of beginning and completion:

a thousand-mile journey
begins with a single step

Tao Te Ching verse 64, trans. Hinton

In every moment, there is just this, just this step. There is just the chopping wood, just the carrying water. We live our lives, already in the midst of nirvana, but as the sages would tell us: we still need to fill our bellies and those of others. Daily life goes on, even after enlightenment. We merely can show up to it without the struggle of attachment, aversion, and ignorance. Our minds, the interpreters that build the five aggregates which lead to an emotional reaction and narrative built on top of our experience of now are challenged to the core to sit and just do, just be. This experience was that. It was a shikantaza of knitting, and I’m grateful to have sat with it.


May this inspire readers to sit with their most difficult experiences and find peace and insight in the process.

Gassho!

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