Friday, December 30, 2011

What we talk about when we talk about worldly winds

What we talk about when we talk about worldly winds

There's a great story by Raymond Carver, called "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love".  Recently, in the New Yorker, there was a story by Nathan Englander called "What We Talk About When We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank".  Someday I'd like to write, "What we talk about when we talk about worldly winds".  Not today, today is for reflection.

The 8 worldly winds are:  pleasure and pain, praise and blame, fame and disrepute, gain and loss.

I'm reading Vajragupta's Sailing The Worldly Winds, just finished the first few chapters.  To my knowledge the first kindle edition from Windhorse.  Unfortunately I didn't do the urban retreat, they read the book then.

So he asks about my response to some questions in exercises at the end of the chapters, and I thought I'd reflect here on them.  My preceptor is on solitary and my other closest spiritual friend is out of town.  Others are busy.  I prefer to speak this stuff in person, but I'm a little isolated--a worldly wind of sorts.  

One week I'm in contact with a lot of people who are supportive (because they too are on the journey), there's more than usual sangha activity, or I'm on retreat.  And then I'm not around anyone at all.  (I like solitude, but not isolation from spiritual friends.)  Part of the spiritual life is making conditions more conducive to deepening the spiritual life, by hanging around sangha more, developing spiritual friendships, simplifying life, having more free time and less responsibilities to practice (meditation, reflection, Dharma study, friendship, altruism).  It demands great creativity in this distracted and distracting society in New York City.  

For a long time I had a kind of rugged individualism, I was willfully meditating every day, plowing through books.  I couldn't keep that up.  I just don't think the conditions are supportive enough.  Having children is a topic for another day, but children make non-work time full of another kind of labor of love.  There's will power plus making conditions more supportive, so will power isn't needed as much, or can go to more and more refined things.  Just like you realize in meditation, some things you fight and some you just happen.  Learning how to work to improve things is a subtle and complicated art, but it takes clarity and confidence in the teachings.

After the winds of more supportive and less supportive environment for the spiritual practice, the next thoughts about worldly winds are about love life and work life, both which can make one soar to the hights and depths.  (I'm working on an essay about the Dharma and divorce.  And one on my last retreat.)

I think about my worldly wind triggers.  I think I covet my personal time.  When I don't feel like I've had enough, I get bitchy, like that's going to change things.  I notice I can suck it up for a weekend, but often at some point I break.  In some small way, maybe, but there's a point where I just say, "f&$% it," and I lose my discipline.  I tell a story about my experience of parenting.  I feel a great responsibility to give what I didn't get, which is a presence.  My mother came home from work distracted, focused on making dinner, then watching TV.  My step father was curious and alive because he meditates, and exerted a positive influence.  He ultimately led me to trying meditation, which led to the Buddhist path. I want my kids to have a present and alive parent--which I have to tell you is not easy for me.  I want to retreat into a book or computer or something.  I find when they do things I don't like, it's like my mind gets jammed and I can't think.  Thinking around my children is very hard.  And yet somehow on the journey I can improve.

So when my children have hours of homework to do, even though they're in first and second grade, I freak out sometimes.  My parents didn't really help me much with my homework, and I didn't have as much homework as they give now.  I have a really undertow of resistance to my children having so much homework.  Even though I was a teacher, and I'm committed to being the what my children need, and they need help with homework, even so, I find myself checking out at times, and just getting so wazzed out that I'm not helping them with their homework.

The lokadhammas should really be translated "worldly conditions", which I think properly puts the emphasis on conditionality, but "worldly winds" put a kind of emphasis on how things blow back and forth.  I always think about that Zen story when I think about the worldly winds.

Vajragupta provides antidotes to the worldly winds.  Praise and Blame is transcended by truthfulness.  Fame and infamy is transcended by individuality, integration.  Gain and Loss is transcended by generosity.  Mindfulness is the antidote for pleasure and pain.  He references Vidyamala's book (which I want to read) and Breathworks.

I learned from Marsha Linehan, what you need to do with pain is to face the pain.  I've always felt ambivalent about gently leading my patients towards their pain, out of the theory that it will be helpful.  I say theory, because how would you prove that.  

The test is in people's experience, and everyone is different.  In the end, even if someone suffers pain in remembering, it's never quite like when it happened, and if someone's there to process it with them, then that is really profoundly intimate and healing.  In my clinical experience, for what ever worth that is, what ever proof that is.  

Freud used to talk about science of psychoanalysis.  I prefer the art, though I don't really like to indulge in dualities.  I'm expressing a personal preference.  That's why I'm not into evidence based practice.  To ratify common sense and clinical experience with "science" is a waste of time.  Like science proving how healthy meditation is.  Sorry, doesn't need to be proven.  I mean, go ahead and prove that if you want.  And I'm sure I could really learn from evidence based practice of psychotherapy.  I think people who like books and not supervision favor evidence based practice more.  I've just never had a book required or given to me that was evidence based practice.  I'm sure I'd love that too actually  But I digress.

Vajragupta asks in the reflection exercises, how could you fight being blown about by the worldly winds (after he's provided his antidotes)?  I really do think mindfulness is the solution.  I once had a friend suggest that suffering was a trigger to look for more mindfulness.  

Generosity is also a solution.  We can get so caught up in ourselves, and spin our wheels.  Doing something for others is less ambigous if you're a little sensitive to exploring what someone else might need.  Now there are all kinds of questions about helping people, and I was thinking about that the other day when I lent a patient Living Poor, a Peace Corps account of living in Ecuador.  He gives nails to one guy to help him out in business, and the next day his brother shows up.  "I want nails too."  When you give someone something you're susceptible to sibling transference.  "I want some too, it's not fair!"  When you give someone something, you create expectations.  Now that's not fatal, I'm not saying dont' be generous.  But we've got Chogyam Trumpa's concept of idiot compassion.  And this just goes to show that there's no formulaic solution except being present and mindful, no easy answers. True generosity is a complicated and deep thing.

So what's the antidote to the frazzled, overwhelmed, irritability I get after not having a little free time with myself?  What's the dharma door's opportunity?  My friend has always told me, I made this life.  I chose this profession that absorbs my whole being so much, that I'm often exhausted after work.  Then I chose to have children.  It's a huge responsibility that people rarely grasp.  Once they're here, you can't change your mind to it's a decision that colors the rest of your life.  The urge to reproduce is perhaps too unexamined in most people.  I was older, and thought a lot about it.  But my friend reminds me that I was a little ambivalent about it.

Some Buddhist friends don't want to have children, because it's a huge time suck, or they just see through the urge to reproduce.  I think it has been helpful to me to clarify things and grow up in a kind of way.  I would never wish away my children.  But I have to admit that it's taken time from my meditation practice, and when my will was weak, given me a built in excuse for taking my foot off the accelerator.  Other worldly winds can become intensified in that context.

So there are some of my rambles around reflections on the worldly winds.  While Vajragupta goes on about the bodhyangas, you'll just have to read that part of the book to get that.  While we need to tidy ourselves up, we also have to develop a vision of where we're going.  I like the spiritual journey, I think it provides the best suggestions in developing a vision.

(btw, found this interesting bit by Subhuti on the lokadhammas (you have to listen for a while, or go to section 5).  Also Vajragupta has a talk from the Urban Retreat)

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