"First, train in the preliminaries."
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.