No Escape

[Continuing with the theme No Hope, from the last entry]

In the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa, and the presentations on those teachings that we have from his student Pema Chodron, one of the great themes is that an essential element in walking the ‘spiritual’ path, the path of radical compassion, radical acceptance, as it has come down to us through the centuries from those who have followed and interpreted the teachings of Gotama the Buddha, is that there is no escape.

The first noble truth of classical Buddhist teachings is “Life is suffering.” Though this idea is widely misunderstood by most of the Western translators and interpreters of the Buddha’s teachings – the sense of the original is better translated as “All clinging to life involves or creates suffering” – it is essentially just an observation about the reality of human experience: we can’t escape these feelings of dissatisfaction, this sense of lack that permeates our lives.

This is the “hopelessness” that Pema holds out as a positive thing, much to the dismay and confusion of most of us. The reactions I get to suggestions that hope is not something to cling to range from shock to outright anger:

What? Give up hope? Never! Hope is all we have! Never give up! Believe in the ultimate wonderfulness that we can achieve and never stop hoping for better, more, never abandon the quest for perfection.

That may be overstated, but it catches up much of what passes for wisdom in popular self-help psychology. And it sells. For some, it seems to work, at least temporarily. But it misses some really profound understandings of our human situation.

What we tend to do when things get tough, when things aren’t going the way we should like them to, is look for some escape from this unpleasantness. Much of what fills the world today, materiality, activity, religion, philosophy – any realm really – is nothing but some highly refined and developed effort to escape from reality, to fill that void with something.

We seek sensual and intellectual pleasures to escape that gnawing sense of dread, and we find all manner of sophisticated means to avoid the pain that comes from too much reality.

But in the end, there is no escape.

Whatever we do, it always ends. There’s always something happening that we wish would go away, or something we wish would happen that just won’t. And when we get something we want, we know that it could be lost in a heartbeat.

This is the truth of life that the Buddhist teachers speak of as “impermanence” or “emptiness”. The Buddhist path involves, at heart, being willing to bang into that truth over and over again until it comes clear to one that this is the nature of our life. “Sampajanna” is the Sanskrit term, which means something like ‘constant and thorough understanding of the truth of impermanence.’ Everything changes. It’s an obvious truth that we spend most of our energy denying.

It is this sense of no escape that is intended in the teachings of hopelessness, in the idea that our only salvation lies in giving up hope. Radical acceptance. Coming to terms with reality.

There’s nothing wrong with the hope that lets us undertake a new journey toward a goal that is clearly and simply a way to get beyond some thing in one’s life, or in society at large, that is problematic. When you see a problem, you address that problem in clear-eyed ways, and the ‘hope’ needed there is simply to see that yes, it is possible that I can do this. It’s not some unrealistic goal, and there aren’t insurmountable obstacles to realizing it. It’s possible. That’s a positive, human kind of hope.

It is when hope is used as an escape from the reality of our lives that it becomes a block to development of contentment and joy. It is when hope becomes an unrealistic quest for lasting, permanent security and grounding that it leads us down a dead end road.

Impermanence is a fact of life. It is as unavoidable as death itself. Finding any kind of contentment in this life necessarily involves acceptance of that truth, else we go from disappointment to disappointment, careening along leaving a trail of disasters, and never find peace.

Relationship as spiritual practice – John Welwood

A few excerpts from a good, but difficult, article published on Lion’s Roar. My wife and I have been reading this, on recommendation of her sister, but I can’t say that we’ve understood it’s application to us personally yet. Perhaps others may find insight into this and be of assistance.

The intro says:

Living with someone we love, with all the joys and challenges, is one of the best ways to grow spiritually. But real awakening only happens, says renowned psychologist John Welwood, in the charnel ground where we acknowledge and work with our wounds, fears, and illusions.

Welwood:

..the ego acts as a survival mechanism for getting needs met while fending off the threat of being hurt, manipulated, controlled, rejected, or abandoned in ways we were as a child. This is normal and totally understandable. Yet if it’s the main tenor of a relationship, it keeps us locked in complex strategies of defensiveness and control that undermine the possibility of deeper connection.

The charnel ground is an ideal place to practice because it is right at the crossroads of life, where one cannot help but feel the rawness of human existence.

The chaos that takes place in your neurosis is the only home ground that you can build the mandala of awakening on.
-Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Trungpa Rinpoche suggests that if we can work with the “raw and rugged situation” of the charnel ground, “then some spark or sympathy or compassion, some giving in or opening can begin to take place. The chaos that takes place in your neurosis is the only home ground that you can build the mandala of awakening on.” This last sentence is a powerful one, for it suggests that awakening happens only through facing the chaos of our neurotic patterns. Yet this is often the last thing we want to deal with in relationships.

Trungpa Rinpoche suggests that our neurosis is built on the fact that:

…large areas of our life have been devoted to trying to avoid discovering our own experience. Now [in the charnel ground, in our relationships] we have a chance to explore that large area which exists in our being, which we’ve been trying to avoid. That seems to be the first message, which may be very grim, but also very exciting. We’re not trying to get away from the charnel ground, we don’t want to build a Hilton hotel in the middle of it. Building the mandala of awakening actually happens on the charnel ground. What is happening on the charnel ground is constant personal exploration, and beyond that, just giving, opening, extending yourself completely to the situation that’s available to you. Being fantastically exposed, and the sense that you could give birth to another world.

 

Fleeing the raw, wounded places in ourselves because we don’t think we can handle them is a form of self-rejection and self-abandonment that turns our feeling body into an abandoned, haunted house.

Intimate personal connecting cannot evolve unless the old love wounds that block it are faced, acknowledged, and freed up.

The only way to be free of our conditioned patterns is through a full, conscious experience of them. ==  …allows you to digest unresolved, undigested elements of your emotional experience from the past that are still affecting you: how you were hurt or overwhelmed, how you defended yourself against that by shutting down, how you constructed walls to keep people out.

As they become willing to face and embrace whatever stands between them—old relational wounds from the past, personal pathologies, difficulties hearing and understanding each other, different values and sensitivities—all in the name of loving and letting be, they are invited to “enter into reality.” Then it becomes possible to start encountering each other nakedly, in the open field of nowness, fresh and unfabricated, the field of love forever vibrating with unimagined possibilities.

A girl’s story

This story in four parts is wonderful and terrible, almost a tragedy, though the epilog redeems it. It is a story that America needs to hear, one that reflects realities many wish to deny. Whatever our own story, or that of our loved ones, we can be happy and consoled that we haven’t had to suffer through this.

If you don’t understand what’s going on with trans people, this is a very good place to start. A place that will take you to the heart of it, and open up your heart just a bit.

Allison’s story.

Emma Lindsay on the mess in DC… the best case for optimism yet

Emma Lindsay – Thought she starts with the Manning pardon, it gets wider and takes a very open-minded look at the whole issue of what the Dems have done, what the Repugs have done, and how it all may hold some promise for positive development… at least her commentary is well worth reading. She’s one of the best, clearest, most honest bloggers I’ve read.

As I struggle through the Trump election, the specter of growing normalization and acceptance of the representatives of hatred and racist/classist that seem destined to populate our government, and all the rising signs of fascism, it is increasingly hard to maintain the even-minded approach that I would like to think I believe in.

I am committed to the idea that an approach of inclusiveness and moderation, rejecting us/them dichotomies and divisiveness, will bring us greater freedom, justice and understanding as a nation. But sometimes…. I just want to blast them. So it’s helpful to read those folks, like Emma Lindsay, who are able to see the positives and find optimism in spite of seeing the realities as starkly as I do.

I am also finding it helpful to return – once again, as I have many times before! – to the practice of tonglen and the lojong. A fellow practitioner mentioned to me recently that the teachings say that difficulties are things to be grateful for, and I remembered, yes, Lojong #13, Be grateful to everyone! It certainly applies in the current circumstances.

Chogyam says it deals with ‘conventional reality’ and that ‘without this world we cannot attain enlightenment’ for there would be no path. As long as we have an understanding that we are on the path, all the things that seem like obstacles are actually essential parts of the path.

So let’s be grateful to the horribleness, because it’s certainly giving me an opportunity to practice like nothing before!

The new year

Despite the traumas and tragedies of 2016, we will ride on into the new year. Taking some time to reflect on what we would like to see happen in our own lives is good to do at this time of year, setting intentions for growth and development, especially in terms of our personal project of awakening.

Maia Duerr has a great post that outlines this process, which she suggests to do on the new moon, which is today I think. “How to do a Reflection and Intention Process…” offers some great suggestions for the content and ritual process that can help us make this a meaningful time, and maybe it will help us all set an arc for a better 2017!

 

Gary…

… a quote from Gary Snyder that I want to remember, and hope will serve as the stub for more on this idea…

Meditation is not just a rest or retreat from the turmoil of the stream or the impurity of the world. It is a way of being the stream, so that one can be at home in both the white water and the eddies. Meditation may take one out of the world, but it also puts one totally into it. Poems are a bit like this too. The experience of a poem gives both distance and involvement: one is closer and farther at the same time.

Being the stream… I find myself resisting this so much lately, which is likely the source of my discomfort and stress. I just want to grab a rock and cling, hoping the rushing water of these last few weeks will subside soon. 

I recognize the wisdom of Gary’s words, but it’s hard to release that rock, roll over and see that the sky is still there, and go with the water, being the stream. Fear arises. Back to the cushion.