Learning in the Trenches
I am sitting across from my director on a warm Thursday afternoon, discussing a possible solution to a work issue. In the time we spend talking, there is an inside movie that has already started rolling. A very big I play the starring role. The thoughts are weak at first, but the feelings and emotions flicker closely behind, threatening to become a deluge if not for the awareness that's along for the ride. More than a duality is at work here; the mind that filters the information it hears and one that is crafting the replies. Then there is also the mind that's just watching it like a silent movie played out on stage. They all seem to be happening at once. The mind evaluates the answers before they come out but it somehow knows the inappropriateness of some from the resultant feelings. Something negative is already at work. Embarrassment arises and the first impulse to repress these feelings comes as quickly as it goes.
Our conversation in the office soon ends but the mental drama continues. I figure I haven't taken a coffee break yet and decide to take a short walk outside. The feelings appear and disappear and thoughts associated with them continue like connected dominoes. It's all very interesting, now that I no longer care whether the feelings stay or go. There are intentions to laugh out loud. Then there is giddiness when I start to see the craziness in all its glory. Was any of it necessary? No. Useful? Absolutely. Sayadaw U Jotika once said in a Dhamma discourse, "The School of Life" that the same lessons will come again and again until we have learnt them well. Seeing things as Dhamma seems to take some sting out of life.
Contemplating this series of events later, I wonder: how did negativity arise in that split second or lean towards resentment instead of joy? Previously, when I saw the mental process as just a jumbled association of thoughts, it seemed like unrelated thoughts relating to each other through snippets of story here and there. Lately though, there seems to be a more of a direct cause and effect between these feelings, perceptions, intentions and thoughts; conditions make it ripe for one mind to come up and not another. Agony or elation, praise or blame, everything is just flowing. Concepts aside, isn't the mind just taking us for a ride in this 'mind-made world'?
While having breakfast this morning, I felt a need to use the toilet. This was only a passing sensation, but the mind took that and immediately an image of the toilet arose. Then it remembered that there wasn't any toilet tissue in the bathroom and intentions to get more toilet tissue arose. There was an awareness, and awareness of the awareness. It all happened over a few seconds but there was this realisation that there was no one "doing" or "remembering" anything. The process was just happening with a life of its own through conditions, cause and effect.
When momentum develops and things get interesting, can we really separate Dhamma from life or life from Dhamma? This moment is just a happening and seeing. Insights cannot just be the privy of the few who manage to go on longer meditation retreats. Individually, when we figure out how to bridge that separation between our 'retreat life' and 'outside life' the momentum of practice becomes that much stronger. That bridging happens when we figure out how to apply the skills we learn to our everyday life. One might counter that 'outside life' seems to be so much more complicated, with an array of responsibilities. Another might say that there is so much more stimuli out here and 'it's oh so peaceful' in a meditation centre or retreat. Agreed. Yet what are we searching for, after all, in vipassana meditation? Is it for the temporary reprieve or insight into the nature of mind and matter? Sayadaw U Tejaniya from Shwe Oo Min Dhammasukha Meditation Centre in Myanmar usually likes to tell yogis, "You only have the six sense doors and no more."
After some bouts of yo-yo meditation of getting all enthusiastic in retreats and all but forgetting the "practice" outside, I've concluded that mind-blowing insights in a retreat are meaningless unless they really change our attitudes, perceptions, actions and speech for the better. This new quality of the mind must be available anywhere and any time, beyond peaceful, accommodating situations. I accept this more this time, coming back to the big city after a longer meditation retreat in Myanmar. Walking along a big thoroughfare recently, I realised that the only difference between the sounds of birds and the sounds of car horns is in the mind's judgement and reaction.
A couple of weeks ago at a dinner reception, I overheard a student tell a college counsellor the myriad of reasons why she could not start school that semester. The counsellor answered gently, "Dear, why are you putting obstacles in your way?" That struck me as such an incisive question, one we sorely need in our attitude towards meditation beyond the centre walls. Why do we say time and time again that we just cannot do it out here? Why is it that if we can find the time to go to college, get a job, raise children, go to movies, or cook dinner, that we cannot find the time to practise? Could it be that we feel the practice is some 'other process' that we must set aside time for and cannot spare enough hours?
The practice is life, and life is practice. Why can't we just be?SBS