(p.583 of Essential Sangharakshita)
Cut off from what I really think and feel,
The substance of my life becomes ideal.
A whited sepulcher, a plaster saint,
Is not much use however bright it's paint.
Dreaming, awake, I must do all I can
To join the inward and outward man.
Death Stares me in the face: I watch and pray,
So near the goal and yet so far away!
I don't really like to comment, the poem stands on it's own, but I have thoughts, and I want to communicate how the poem affects me.
I think what he's pointing at in the first two sentences is narcissism. When I take a hard look at myself, I see some narcissism. I think I was brought up to push hard questions under the rug, or when I heard that message, I found it something to internalize and not reject. But reading the beginning of Stephen Johnson's Character Styles (which was lent to me once, and taken from me once, so I've never finished it), he has a sort of accepting curiosity necessary to look at what for me isn't easy to look at.
I saw my son crumple when I pointed out that he didn't live up to a standard in completing his homework. Instead of righting the ship, he crumpled into emotional unavailability. It annoyed me. I hate that trait in myself. I've done something wrong and I need to fight to make things better. No matter that it doesn't easily yield to solutions. That's another little character issue I have with myself, I want to not just crumple like Ned Flander's parents, who say, "we've tried nothing and we're all out of ideas." (I can't find it on YouTube, but that's irrelevant.)
I like the line by Shantideva, where the warrior, when he sees his own blood fights harder.
I like the Milarepa line where in the spiritual practice you don't chase the sticks like a dog, but like a lion you turn and face the stick thrower.
I like the way the Buddha looked at old age, sickness, and death, and chose to become a spiritual seeker, in the legend of his life. I like the way you can take a cold hard look at the three characteristics of existence. Goldstein says in Breath by Breath that people often don't attend the lectures on impermanence, it's a kind of inconvenient truth.
What I hear Bhante saying is that when you lose connection with reality, you build up ideals that are unrealistic, that perpetuate the narcissistic disappointment, and leads to not moving in a positive realistic direction. You can get stuck. Pema Chodron drums on this drum: Start where you are. Where you really are. I suppose I'm one of the silly people she keeps talking to.
I can usual spiritual lingo to not change, hide my flaws, etc. I've always loved the talk Dharma and Denial. That talk has always spoken to me, and yet, I'm frustrated I'm still working on the same issues. I used to tell patients that it's a spiral, that you engage the problems at a higher level, hopefully. I need to take my own advice.
So little time lift. "Death Stares me in the face" the poem says. The stakes are high.
When I drop my children off, after my time with them, I often cry. I cry for a million things, least not just pure not wanting to drop them off. But I also cry that I'm not a better man, and yet I need to keep asking myself what I am doing to work in that direction, and not just wallow in narcissistic self pity. It means something, I've got work to do. Without blinders. "I must do what I can."
The dawn in the birth of a new person. Change is hard, but it is possible, and it's even more possible when you try and do something realistic about it. And watch for entitlement and narcissism, two character traits I wish to move away from. I wish to be humble and clear sighted. I must tolerate that the electricity that comes through Sangharakshita's writings often only shocks me for a little bit and I move onto the next thing, and yet see if there's anything I can do about keeping the pressure on, tuning the lute strings appropriately.