|36"x36" From This Shore|
I've been mulling over the idea of "familiarity" after hearing a comment by a favourite teacher of mine, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. He answered a question about why we find it so hard to keep up a meditation practice by saying: "We are more familiar with our pain, our blockages, our darkness than with our bliss and warmth. We are trying to become more familiar with these qualities by going inside to our inner refuge. But what are you more familiar with your breakfast or your morning practice? If you don't have your breakfast you will miss it because you know the immediate effect of your breakfast but you're not sure of the immediate effect of your practice so you go where there is no doubt. If you trust your practice as much as you trust your breakfast your life will begin to change for the better."
How many people have you heard say, "I can't meditate". Maybe you have even said it yourself? It seems simple and obvious really, that we are drawn to the familiar. And yet we don't see how it blocks us from doing or being the things that we aspire to, those things that we have "intention" toward but somehow don't get to. When we talk about familiarity we are really addressing the pull of habit in a slightly different way. But somehow it seems more doable if I think to myself that I am increasing my familiarity with something, rather than feel that I am pushing against or trying to break a habit. Perhaps it is just about language, but then language is a powerful thing.
I've also been looking at the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) difference between "thinking" and paying "attention". This seems central to meditation and any awareness practice. I am often startled to see that when I think I have been "aware" of something, I am actually just thinking about it. Jan Frazier describes the difference so clearly in her book, "The Freedom of Being" : "One of the great discoveries in the life of spiritual inquiry is the difference between attention and thought.... Attention is encounter, without any charge to it. It simply looks. There is a feeling of stillness... Attending is simply being with, acknowledging the presence of something.. There's no resistance, no mental activity, no reactivity... Thinking involves processing, applying prior learning, projecting ahead. There's a tendency to label, analyze, imagine and rehash... Thinking about something is more likely to stir anxiety, excitement, obsessiveness, unlike attending which is more calm."
|36"x36" Ode to Jimmy Wright|
And don't get me wrong I am not tossing out thinking with the bath water, it serves a perfectly good function (the bath water), in it's place. But the fact is we would suffer less and lead lives of much more sanity if much of the time we simply attended or were aware of things. Ideas and solutions could bubble up out of this spacious place of awareness, instead of the dog's breakfast that comes from chewing the bone of our familiar thoughts, especially when something troubles us (says she to herself).
I am all about the words this week. A friend has me listening to some Stephen Batchelor talks that he wants to talk about and I liked Batchelor's translation of delusion, the last of the 3 poisons that Buddhism refers to (greed, hate and delusion). Instead of delusion, Batchelor talks about bewilderment. I certainly observe my own bewilderment often enough. I can cosy up to bewilderment. I reserve delusion for others :)
So there it is. I have spent part of my week pondering words and part purging old photographs in an effort to clear away some of the things in my home that I never use or even look at. Last week it was clearing away the snowbanks on the old paper trail. It feels like a little ritual of "as on the outside, so is the inside". It must be Spring. And of course there is always time to paint. Hibernation seems to be lifting. I am rising earlier. I feel more energetic to actually "do" things, rather than simply nestle into the lair.
Wishing you some good words of your own to explore, some glimpses of Spring and perhaps the inclination to clean a drawer or two in either your inner or outer homes, or both.