"Examine the nature of unborn awareness."
It took me an extra week to realize why I was having trouble with this slogan. It turns out I had a preconceived notion that the nature of unborn awareness would be a warm and comfortable feeling - something I could really snuggle into. That is not my current situation.
My assumption is rooted in that analogy about the clouds not being the sky itself, spoken in regard to the delusions of our minds and Buddha nature. In reading the slogan, I assumed that unborn awareness was synonymous with Buddha nature and that this examination would occur during a clearing of the mental clouds, however brief.
I've had none of that over the past couple of weeks. So I assumed I was not connecting with the teaching. In fact I was too buried in my unborn awareness to examine it.
Can anyone say irony?
I may be faced with a very big decision in the next few weeks. In this waiting period, my mind has been flying around in circles. It's filled with words and scenarios and what-might-happens. There is a roiling in my stomach that gets worse when I'm trying to sleep (I’m writing this at 1:00 am). It only occurred to me ten minutes ago that this is the exact unborn awareness the slogan is referring to. In this case I'm not experiencing a soothing place of meditative bliss, but rather the piercing discomfort of uncertainty.
There is nothing about my current circumstance that can be dealt with. Nothing can be done to make it dissipate before the natural conclusion of these events. The Third Lojong phrase is telling me my job is to simply notice the discomfort and stay with them.
As Pema Chödrön would say, I have to become "curious" about this feeling and avoid running away from it. Talking won't make things go faster. Thinking only results in revolving thoughts. Therefore, I am left with only sit and stay, Fido. Stay! Yes. Thank you for this lesson.
Can I go to sleep now?
“Regard all dharmas as dreams.”
Have you ever had a lucid dream? It’s happened to me twice.
In the first, I was at the top of a large, wide staircase. The edges of the steps were made with some kind of stone, but most of the surface was covered with red carpet. It appeared that I was in some kind of gilded theatre. Instead of walking down the stairs, I wanted to fly. At each step I leapt up and floated for a short time, working my way down two or three steps at a time. Suddenly I realized I was dreaming and that if I really wanted to fly I should be able to just concentrate. Bingo! I was flying.
Then I woke up.
The second time was more complex. I “woke up” in my bed as usual, got up and walked out of my room into a hallway that contained cabinets, a mirror, and a sink. I was going to start getting ready for the day when I realized my house doesn’t have a room like this off of the bedroom. Yes! A lucid dream! Deciding to take advantage of being aware, I started walking around.
Then I woke up.
Still laying in bed, I thought about how cool it was that I’d had a lucid dream. I got out of bed and exited the room only to find myself once again in an unfamiliar floor plan. A lucid dream inside of a lucid dream! Cool! This time, I was determined to stay in the dream.
Then I woke up.
The world seems completely solid in a lucid dream. Lucid dreams are seductive. You can make things be just by thinking about them. Having done it twice, I want to do it again. I wish there was a switch I could flip to make it happen at will. So far it’s been a big goose egg.
Or so I thought until recently. In truth, lucid dreaming is just an exaggeration of what we do on a daily basis when we turn our attention inward to the alternate universes created by our minds. These realities appear so solid at times that they impact our body chemistry, facial expression and emotional state. The only thing lacking in comparison to a lucid dream is the absolute immersion of the visuals. Otherwise the illusion is just as complete.
When the world of our mind helps us envision how we might approach a problem or communicate something important to someone, it can be a useful tool. More often however we trend toward mindlessness, building elaborate fantasies about that we want to say but won’t. We imagine ourselves surmounting our intractable problems through acts of will or heroism that we will never realize. In these moments we reinforce our impotence in molding the world to our desires. In short we suffer.
It’s hard to imagine my life without my mind churning out stories all the time. As a creative person, these stories are the raw materials for my work. I can see though that I could gain significant benefit in terms of minimizing my own suffering if I could recognize my unproductive “mental lucid dreams” earlier and prompt myself to wake up as quickly as I do in the sleeping variety.
I’ll keep working on that.
I'm trying an experiment. Recently I got Pema Chödrön's Compassion Cards, which are a complement to The Compassion Book. The set is comprised of cards containing the lojong slogans ("mind-training" teachings), one per card, with associated commentary on the back. When I opened the box I found it comes with a little cardboard stand that can fit a couple of cards at a time. So I decided I would put each card up on my night stand each week and think about that slogan for a week - to see what happens.
This week, I was particularly drawn to the part of the part of the teaching that has to do with awareness of the preciousness of human life and that death comes for everyone.
I started out by waking up each morning and being grateful for the ability to participate in a new day; that I have the opportunity to continue to grow and work toward greater equanimity. Three things this week helped to focus my efforts in learning from the phrase.
The first is what I've dubbed The Purge, which is my current effort to go through everything I own and get rid of the things I don't want or need. I predicted the process would be challenging because I definitely have unproductive emotional attachments to many things. These attachments leave me feeling emotionally and spiritually stuck and ultimately I have come to feel buried by these physical possessions.
Understandably as a result of digging through these things, I've been facing some very old thought patterns and feelings. The result of this work is that it's getting easier to part with things. Some of the patterns and feelings are moving on with the stuff and I'm getting better at staying with difficult feelings until they lose their power over me.
It's been transformative so far. In thinking about my phrase of the week. I recognized how lucky I am to have the opportunity to do this work. It is a privilege to be in a form where I have the agency to recognize and confront the shenpa that increases my suffering. Of course then I start thinking - boy I hope I'm around for a while to enjoy this progress I've made - and YES, I realize this IS in itself an attachment! No one can say the human form doesn't come with a certain amount of cognitive dissonance.
The second thing that helped connect me to the teaching this week is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I've read a decent amount of 19th century literature so I'm pretty familiar with the vocabulary and grammar. The problem is, I don't like the story that much. Ugh! The characters are insufferable! Even the main character Elizabeth. Who knows maybe she'll be redeemed by the end of the story - no spoilers!
Yes, yes. I'm reading it anyway. Why? Because I really want to read Pride, Prejudice and Zombies and I don't want to read it without having the context of the original so I can fully enjoy the humor.
In any case, here I am thinking now - boy it would be a real bummer if this was the last book I ever read. If I die suddenly, I would've spent my last bits of reading time in my life reading something I don't like.
And yes! this is also attachment 1) I have an attachment to reading the first book before reading the second book; 2) I have an attachment to reading books I like. Therefore, I am suffering...insert cognitive dissonance comment again here.
So where does that leave me? Not too bad off. I recognize the attachments I'm dealing with aren't epic and maintain a certain sense of humor about them. Still there's a different flavor when you recognize it could all end at any time. Any day could be the last day I have to read or the last day to decide what to Purge. Any decision could be my last decision.
Two days ago there were two doctors found murdered in their apartment in Boston. One of those doctors worked at my hospital. I didn't know her personally, but by all accounts she was young, bright and working in a really necessary and complex field -pediatric anesthesiology. She and the other doctor were engaged. So much potential. Were they reading anything they liked? Did they get a chance to purge? They're both gone but I have the privilege of going on. That truly is a blessing indeed.
So in this final day with Lojong phrase number 1, I dedicate my practice to Lina Bolanos and Richard Field through whom I can learn the truth that there are no guarantees in terms of when, where or how I be making my exit.
Now buy the Book!