Friday, August 13, 2010

working with obstacles

"[You] do not have to pretend that everything is okay. And you do not have to wait for things to get better in order to practice. Instead of viewing mishaps as personal attacks, you can include them in your practice. You might even welcome them, for it is when you face difficulties, not when things are going smoothly, that you learn the most. That is what tests the strength of your practice. " - Acharya Judy Lief

This week was one where I seemed to be haunted by mishaps, or parenting and life challenges. In addition to still being sick, our appliances were visited by a mysterious plague causing first the dishwasher, then the refrigerator, and finally the washing machine to break down, all within about 48 hours of each other. And because we were all sick, we couldn't really address these breakdowns in a timely manner which meant that dishes and clothes piled up and our meager income was spent on takeout. My poor toddler, unable to go to his usual activities, spent most of each day indoors being sick, cranky, uncomfortable, and susceptible to tantrums. My baby was a bit out of sorts himself, and also in need of a change of scene and more interaction than I felt capable of.

I spent the week coughing my lungs out, trying not to trip over the mess in our apartment, negotiating repairs with my landlord, nursing both my children in what seemed an unending series of feedings and feeling victorious if I managed to get us outside for a thirty minute walk by 11:00 am. Oh, and I lost my patience, a lot. I had a very hard time holding my experience and not just reacting to it. Instead, I began feeling rather victimized by reality. Victimized by the inanimate objects showing their impermanence, by my body showing its impermanence, by my children showing their ever changing natures and moods. I wanted things to be different. And that's when I would break, and react to my toddler with frustration or impatience rather than nurture. Which of course just made everything so much worse.

There is a lojong, or mind training slogan that says "when the world is filled with evil, transform all mishaps into the path of bodhi". As Acharya Lief says above, it is when things get tough for us that our practice really takes place. Can we pause for long enough in the midst of obstacles and watch our reactions? See where we are getting stuck? Notice where we are tightening? See where we want to blame others for our difficulties? Desire that things be different from what they are? Can we see where that energy turns into aggression? Where we want to attack, lash out, force things into changing? And can we unstick ourselves? Do something different?

A teacher once told me that when I noticed myself about to argue with someone or something, I should spin myself around in a circle and laugh instead. That this would be the most compassionate thing to do, even if the other person thought I was crazy. We don't have to do something as extreme as this when we feel our frustration and aggression rising. Sometimes just pausing is radical enough to change the familiar flow of habit energy and allow us to make a different choice. Maybe we still yell, but more softly! Or we decide not to say anything at all. Or we cry instead. Something different. Something less harmful. Something that creates the possibility of joy perhaps rather than suffering

There is another slogan that says "always maintain a joyful mind". I noticed so keenly this week when I acted out of my dissatisfaction rather than joy. Noticed when I was making these mishaps all about me and things not working out for me. Noticing means practicing. Watching the mind. Holding our experience in our awareness. Noticing is inherently gentle. We aren't judging - we are just noticing. We don't make ourselves wrong for feeling angry or victimized. We see it. Touch it. Feel it. We can even feel humorous about it. "Oh dear. There I go again. All about me, me, me. Poor me, poor, poor me!" It's pretty funny if you really begin to notice how you talk to yourself. Humor also helps cultivate gentleness. We don't need to beat ourselves up so much for being human. We can hold ourselves in loving kindness, extend some compassion to ourselves. Buddha is still in there. Buddha just got a bit obscured by our opinions of and attachment to how things should be.

Being mindful does not mean we don't make mistakes, or that our mind is never stolen away by worry, desire, anger, what have you. But it does mean we notice and come back. Come back to our trust in basic goodness, in our own sanity and compassion. In the basic goodness, sanity and compassion of our children. And then we get back onto the path of bodhi and start walking it all over again.

As Acharya Lief continues in her teaching: "Transformation does not mean that all our problems go away or that we overcome all our difficulties. It does not mean that the world is suddenly all rosy. It means that the path of dharma is big enough to accommodate whatever arises, good or bad. When you work with mishaps using the tools of mindfulness and loving-kindness, your relationship to such mishaps is transformed—and in the process, so are you."

Wishing you continued transformation this week and gentleness as you work with your own particular mishaps.

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