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I write this post as I am presently in Florida, checking out the Tampa area to see how I feel about living here. I want to be exploring the area more but I also feel pulled to go to retreat as well.
I am writing this post because I grew up in America – Hawaii for a seven plus years and then Virginia for more than 25 years. In being raised in the West (and actually, many “Eastern” cultures are now using a Western paradigm, so this post may apply to a varied demographic), I developed a tendency to feel like I always need to be doing something. I always need to be working toward some goal. A day spent not accomplishing anything is a wasted day, a day to feel guilty about… I could go on, but you know how this ends. The rat race continues, but I am consciously stepping out of it. This is not an easy process. It is messy and there are not many examples to follow to see if I am “doing it right.” In previous posts, you may have noticed how I have studied with a Western teacher named Julie Henderson (PhD) who coaches that kindness to self is more than just taking an hour or two a day for self care needs. She mentions that we need to be extra vigilant about the ways in which we are hard on ourselves, especially if we are the anxious, pleaser, hyper vigilant, or depressed sort of individual. It is time to slow down and truly track what our bodies are trying desperately to communicate. Do not wait for the nasty crisis to indicate that it is time to change jobs and create an easier lifestyle! If you are wondering, she created or gathered a set of playful, creative, mischievous exercises (breath, sound & movement) which she calls Zapchen Somatics which helps to come down out of our heads and land comfortably in our bodies.
With this context in place, I am a Buddhist practitioner. Or at least, I do my best. However, my rat-race-conditioned-mind makes it difficult to claim a Buddhist lineage when I “do so little practice” in a day. In other words, all I have to do is think the words, “I am a Buddhist practitioner” and guilt instantly arises. Why is this?
One reason is that when the Buddhist texts were written, it was in a different culture and a different age. In ancient India, or Nepal, or Tibet, there were no radios, TV’s, videos, face books, twitters, cell phones, etc. So their pace of life was much different from our Puritan-work-ethic-influenced lifestyles. I am confident that there were some days or even weeks when there was no grain to plant or harvest, there were no wars to fight, and people either could not read or grew tired of it. So that left nothing to do except sit around and drink tea or smoke pipes, etc. The key words here are sitting around doing very little.
This point was brought home to me as I listened to a Dharma talk by Dr. Hun Lye, the president of Urban Dharma center in Asheville, N.C. He reiterated that applying the Western work ethic and self-deprecation to the ancient Dharma texts will only lead to trouble. Here is why – realizing that there were days or weeks in ancient India where people just sat around literally accomplishing nothing, the Dharma texts (sutras and commentaries) state explicitly that one should not be lazy, that one should apply oneself day and night to right action. Not a single second should be wasted! Those words are meant for “lazy” ancient cultures. They are not meant for our frenetic, buzzing, high-speed brains.
Fast forward to today when we have every technological convenience imaginable (and every type of technological distraction available!), then we suddenly have busy busy minds and lifestyles where we desperately need to slow down. But we don’t know how to slow down. We don’t think it is okay to slow down. We feel guilty when someone suggests that we take a vacation because we are working too hard. Generally it takes some sort of crisis to jolt us out of this horrifyingly brutal pattern of self-flaggilation. To answer my question above – how is it that I am being kind to myself and slowing down, and yet I have this deep-seated need to be finishing as much accumulation of Buddhist practice as possible – RIGHT NOW. This dynamic leads to a very complex (and time and energy wasting) inner dialogue. Some days I set off with the sky as my goal and of course I am disappointed when I fall short. Luckily, these days I notice faster and faster the ways in which I am biting off way more than I can chew. But I still have guilt around this topic.
I am presently “attending” a Buddhist retreat where we are accumulating Amitayus mantras. Amitayus is a manifestation of Buddha Amitabha and Amitayus is one of the long life granting manifestations of enlightened mind. We “should” do Amitayus practice before starting a major practice to ensure we have the vitality and strength to complete said major practice. In this practice, we are aiming for 100,000 mantras each.
What if this is unrealistic for me? Then I would be going against my root lama’s wishes, right? What if I am truly listening to my heart? I have spent years doing psychological-astrology analysis of my chart, years receiving process-oriented bodywork and further years of embodying forms of bodywork and yoga. I am about as grounded and embodied right now as I have ever been. I am aware of most of my gross psychological fallacies (misunderstandings, conditioned habits, etc). If there is an inner lama, perhaps I am just starting to hear “his” words of wisdom. I don’t know. I definitely do not make this arrogance-inducing claim. I just wonder if I am starting to hear “his” faint whispers which are urging me to listen to my body, to listen to my heart and to let the old tapes of guilt and ensuing confusion drop away.
Anyway, on the first day of the retreat, I noticed many layers of resistance and frustration arising. I tried to lie down and then return to the practice. This simply led to a pause and then further frustration. So I left early. And do you know how guilty I felt for departing prematurely? I actually wondered if I would make it home safely because perhaps the wisdom beings might be upset with me (although in reality it is my own karma which determines this). So when I returned yesterday, I felt humiliation, guilt and sadness among other less than savory emotions. But I kept most of this to myself. When I worked up the courage to approach my teacher, he was joyful and equanimous as usual – as if nothing had happened! I’m not even sure he was aware of my having left early. Ooph! Good grief – all that self-deprecation for nothing 🙂
So I pushed myself yesterday. There were some occasional pangs of pain as my post-shingles neuralgia pain came and went. There were one or two contractions in my belly. But overall I pushed through these on purpose. I had a dream which indicated I would benefit profoundly from returning to retreat. That is why I pushed forward. I did a lot of mantras in six hours. I am very proud of myself. I rejoice at my accomplishment. But who knows what I stirred up in the process.
I say that because today I woke up and my sinuses have decided that a dam has crumbled – they are draining like I have a winter-time cold. So I threw the I Ching to be clearer about my situation. Do I go to retreat ASAP? No – that would be unkind. Ah ha! Do I do one session today only and rest before and after? Yes, that is good. Ahhhh…. Having that reassurance, I can relax deeper and feel good about missing the morning retreat sessions. Things change, impermanence is guaranteed. What can I control? My reactions to that change. Just do my best, let go just a little bit more. And check in every day – am I being as kind to myself as possible? And perhaps kindness will take many different forms – one day I will do 10,000 mantras and another day I will purposely accomplish very little, allowing my mind and body to rest down and relax deeper. I don’t promise to feel good about accomplishing very little, but I am coming around!
Thank you for reading!