Time Delay (written 2015)
Ovens are usually equipped with a handy feature that might be called delayed start or time delay. If the cook needs to tuck a casserole into the oven early and go off to do other things, the meal waits in this suspended time period before the oven turns on and the heating process begins. In this way, you're able to use the time you have available, say early in the morning, and the meal is ready just when you need it, at the end of the day. I'm not composing an instructional manual here or even a modern cook's handbook. But I do the cooking, mostly, in my home. I am also doing the work of practicing the Buddha's Eight Fold Path, one breath at a time. And there seems to me to be some useful overlap here in understanding how my practice is working these days.
In the Upasika training that I'm undertaking (for a bit of explanation on that see the “About Me” page), I've found that the depth of my practice is rapidly increasing. That is, the mindfulness I've been working to develop over a couple of decades is becoming more than ever my set point. Notice I didn't say my behavior is suddenly saint-like! But continuity of awareness of how I am intending to behave has been ramped up several notches in only a few months time. It flags, of course, mostly when I'm tired or ill or have had my inner resources stretched by several “crises” in a row. But even then, I gotta say, I will know how I am behaving even as the behavior unfolds. I don't need someone to be hurt or angry and to act out in response. The light of awareness inside tells me as words leave my mouth or as I press the send button, or as I move away from an unpleasant encounter. I've had this happen before. What is becoming apparent to me is that this is my “set point” these days. It's a more often than not kind of thing, this awareness. I hope it lasts. But I also know all things are subject to change so it's important that I keep doing the work, and don't sit back and decide “I”ve got it”.
But this is where I see the time delay metaphor applying. At least twice recently I've had this process unfold for me: Someone's behavior triggers for me an ego-aversion. I don't like this. I want something else to happen. That kind of thing. I am able to be with the nastiness of this feeling and let it ride through. I restrain my responses. And I know both that I am restraining them and that the problem is all of my making. That doesn't make the feelings any less uncomfortable. In one case this meant a bout of private tears, in another, keeping myself out of a conversation temporarily until I could watch the narratives my ego was weaving begin to recede into muted mumbles. Then I was able to replace the grief, in one case, and the anger, in the other, with deliberate thoughts of lovingkindness both for myself and the other.
Here's where the time delay made itself known. A few hours later, when circumstances brought up the situation again, I noticed that my original responses just didn't recur. That's all. In the hours between setting a more wholesome intention (setting the time delay on the oven, if you will) and the arising of necessity for acting (sitting down to my meal) the heat of the dhamma had done its work.
I dunno. I'm a failed poet (though generally a pretty good cook) and I have a penchant for metaphor. Maybe this doesn't make the point I'm after. But it feels right. What I'm seeing is that I can get it in my head that I am causing my own suffering and that my responses are harmful to myself and others. And I can choose to plant other thoughts in a rather mechanical way. But then I have to trust and give it time. And my heart will get the message. Change is happening all the time. And my choices do nudge that change in the right direction. All the ingredients are there, in the making of the meal, in watching my own mind and reactions. Then I need only set skillful intentions and have patience. Something surprisingly warm and wholesome emerges.