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Oh, Blogging, Today You Are Difficult

November 1, 2010

And all I want to do is read and eat pesto soba noodles.

So I will quote extensively from Pema Chödrön (recent celebrated guest teacher in San Francisco) in one of her famous books, When Things Fall Apart.

These piece in particular helped me considerably during the street retreat last week.

It’s as if you just looked at yourself in the mirror, and you saw a gorilla.  The mirror’s there; it’s showing you, and what you see looks bad.  You try to angle the mirror so you will look a little better, but no matter what you do, you still look like a gorilla.  That’s being nailed by life, the place where you have no choice except to embrace what’s happening or push it away.

Most of us do not take these situations as teachings.  We automatically hate them.  We run like crazy.  We use all kinds of ways to escape—all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and just can’t stand it.  We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.  In fact, the rampant materialism that we see in the world stems from this moment.  There are so many ways that have been dreamt up to entertain us away from the moment, soften its hard edge, deaden it so we don’t have to feel the full impact of the pain that arises when we cannot manipulate the situation to make us come out looking fine. [13]

So many times, even in one single day, the situation is not the way I would like it to be.  I do not act or appear the way I would like to.  How do I respond in those moments?

I remain amazed at how much the pillars of (a) everyday metta practice and (b) sitting meditation help me to greet these gorillas, these frustrations and disappointments, with patience, curiosity, and more friendliness.  Not to excuse them, or take them out on other people, but just to hang out with them for a while.

Feelings of fraudulence.

Inconvenient sexual tension.

Restlessness.

Irritation.

Wanting political struggle in the Bay Area to be something other than it is.

Fearing being wrong more than I fear causing harm.

Realizing this.

Quite the gorilla.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 1, 2010 5:25 pm

    Hi Katie, just a note to say thanks, I appreciate your practice.

    Max

  2. November 1, 2010 10:23 pm

    Thank you, Max. I’m really grateful for the intersections in our paths right now. And for the folks who helped make that possible.

  3. Cat permalink
    November 2, 2010 12:45 pm

    Ugh. What do you do if you’re faced with an army of gorillas? And they all want to beat you down?

    Half-joking, half-serious. Still appreciate this quote. I wish I had more time to read a whole book—could you send me a list of 5 dharma books that really hit you?

    I’m starting to realize that even my reading consumption is composed of blog-bites, article snacks and skim-by headlines. Is that living too much in the present or not enough, haha?

    Cat

    P.S. How come you didn’t bring up these gorillas at dinner last night?

  4. November 2, 2010 8:44 pm

    Worrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd. Learning to be interested in moments where the situation, usually my own action, is not the way I’d like it to be has been an important process for me. Cuz, without being able to observe these moments, I spin off into frenetic, manic, absorption in thoughts or whatever’s in front of me.

    But sometimes I’m afraid of the patience…………….because doesn’t patience sometimes really mean caring less? It’s probably my underdeveloped patience practice preventing me from doing it right, but often when I try to be patient with an unwanted situation I’m really just suppressing my desire for it to change.

    How do we learn to be more skillful at drawing these distinctions? For instance: I can learn to accept the feeling of anxiety I get around someone with aggressive communication style, be patient with it and watch it leave by the same door it came in, but in practice this means that the drive I felt to have a (scary) conversation with them about it also leaves.

    In a way the same old question: how can I/we relate to our desire to (like Cat’s saying) not get beat down by the gorillas?

    Word also to the pesto soba noodles. <3

  5. November 3, 2010 10:49 am

    @Cat: Yeah, I hear you on the bite-sized reading rut. Your book rec request has pushed me past a tipping point, so I’ll post a list later today! :) And I don’t know why I was mum on the gorillas on Monday — just too much to get to in an hour, I guess. Next time. The army of gorillas is definitely a familiar feeling. In my wisest moments, I guess I manage to marvel in their fearsome splendor for at least a second before they attack!

    @Ryan: I always appreciate working through these questions with you. And as you know, I’m no expert. What your question about patience brings up for me is the idea of continually striving for balance. Balancing the effort and the letting-go; the uncompromising search for truth and the gentleness and kindness. For myself, I can feel it when a sweet spot comes along and the brightness, flexibility, strength, and caring all kind of line up and pour through my thoughts and actions. It’s not something I can force to happen, but practicing has given me a method for encouraging it to arise.

    So maybe patience can be balanced with something like curiosity. If my patience is actually more like checking out or repressing, just wanting the whole thing to go away or blow over, I’m not curious about what’s going on. Then the drive to act might wane. On the other hand, if the patience feels like excitedly waiting for my garden to grow, or contentedly watching a windstorm outside my window, that’s more of the balance and engagement I’d like to encourage, over time.

    In practice, I think of it a little like learning to play a drum set, maybe? Trying to keep a steady beat with a kick-drum while improvising and going all over the place with the snare and tom and crash cymbal, etc. (Sorry if that’s a flubbed drum metaphor, hehe.) So to use your example about aggressive communication, it’s being able to attend with patience to my inner anxiety, keeping that base/bass, *while simultaneously taking skillful action externally* to address the harmful behavior. And also having understanding for the person who may similarly be acting out of their own anxieties and pain. (Doesn’t mean giving a pass to the harmful behavior, but actually helping myself be less reactive to it, more responsive.) And doing all that at the same time is not easy! If you sat me down at a drum kit right now I’d seem hopeless, even though in my head I kinda get the idea of it.

    Don’t know if that makes any sense, or is helpful. Much of that discussion operates on the level of sila/behavior, I think. On the level of vipassana/insight, it seems like paying curious, firm, gentle attention to where the “patience” turns into aversion/repression might be a great place for learning. Just seeing how the whole thing works. Less like “How am I doing? Am I getting better with the patience yet?” and more like “What am I doing? What are the qualities of impermanence, suffering, and egolessness that come along with these sensations when I am feeling anxious?”

    Frankly, I think it’s pretty cool that you’re even on to the common trap of repression/avoidance/aversion disguised as patience. Gettin wise to the trix of the mind, yo…

    Looking forward to sitting with you tonight. <3

  6. November 3, 2010 2:26 pm

    I think the drumset metaphor is a good one, because it reminds of the increased complexity of what we’re trying to do. Like, just because you learn to comfortably use the base pedal doesn’t mean you aren’t going to hit rims trying to solo around the toms. Both are necessary, different but mutually supporting, parts of an overall practice…..along with other skills such as stick height which are important but I’ve never cared about!

    Anyway aside from the extended drumset metaphor, I think this is part of a general point, which is to be careful about how dhammic practice (and also political practice!) can be adapted to rationalize preexisting tendencies. Kloncke told me once that the analysis of some teacher was that the unrigorous, new agey, salad-bar approach to historically south(east) Asian spiritual traditions can tend to sap their meaning, because exactly the parts most difficult for each person are often left out…..and conversely the easiest parts are often adopted, or even unthinkingly changed to fit!

    I super appreciate the touchback to curiously observing as a way to check this tendency, helps me avoid spinning off into endless self-scrutiny. :)

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