Life as an Alien (written 2013)
Into my second decade of practice and I find outside reassurances of spiritual maturing, practice evolving. I have felt these turnings over the years, internally, most often provoked by retreats and more intensive sitting and immersion than daily life seems to permit. And here's the thing: though I value and yearn for these pure practice spaces, I've found that more and more this awareness, this mindfulness is what I do. My thoughts and emotions are accompanied by the observer who looks at them in practice terms.
And so last night, listening to Ajahn Sona's dhamma talk for my Birken cataloguing work, I find references to the out-of-synchness with the world I am so conscious of now. That watching people in a mall, I could be from some alien planet. That sense of separation, though, is melded to a deep sense of connection, two sides of a coin. Look how we struggle to be happy! Look how we make mistakes again and again!
This lesson repeated in the Zen teachers I've been reading in the last couple of weeks. First Thich Nhat Hanh and now Charlotte Joko Beck. Their practicality and bluntness can be helpful. Joko Beck's reassurance that the seeing of our human-ness, the ego and self-ness that arises over and over is the practice maturing. Living in this awareness constantly. Falling forward into suffering, is how I think of it, instead of back...like the progress I made as a teen in water skiing attempts. When I fall so that the pain is clear and in my face, I know the cause, I see the process. She mentions “life as atonement”...not guilt, but refusing to add to the world's suffering.
Knowing the reality of the suffering that is inevitable for human beings, sometimes I feel this little spring of sorrow open. The sorrow is for the realization that things are not, cannot be, as I once thought they were: That romantic love, family love, good intentions would shape a protected universe of unadulterated joy. I think God was in there somewhere too. From this realization at first I fell into a bleak place of no joy. The dark night of the soul so often referred to in literature and in spiritual teachings.
And now, over years of practice, emerging into a realization and acceptance of what is: this world, both paradise and hell. And what it is to be human, the line of good and evil running through each of us. And what it is to be mortal...to know impermanence and its inevitability. And yet to feel the joy in that alongside the suffering. To know that the mistake of imagining separation, obsessing with the pursuit of personal happiness (me against the world), is what causes the pain.
And yet, this body, this human embodiment and these habits of mind, they will “wish”. They yearn for a fairy tale world of happily ever after. This is the seed of that sweet sorrow. Now though it is like a pinprick, like a flash of too bright light where tears spring unbidden and my throat clenches.
Yet, recognition of truth brings a smile. This is what I see in the gently up-turned lips of the Buddha as he is conventionally shown in pictures and images. Contentment and serenity are possible and only out of reach to the extent that I am unwilling to reach. The central question of the journey: will ego keep hold or awareness allow flight?