Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Resistance

I don't know how your mind works, but I've known for a good long while that mine seems to automatically resist a lot of what it encounters on a daily basis. As with many things, that realization stayed totally in the background because I really didn't want to look at it.

But, as generally happens, eventually, lately I've begun to look at it -- be more aware of how often it happens, look at the situation, and realize how miserable I can make myself by such actions. I can resist anything -- a different way of doing things, something somebody else suggests (this was a real problem back when I was working!), or things that I might be considering in my own life, independent of anyone else.

A few days ago this trait came to mind in a big way. I drove from Oregon to Santa Rosa, CA, and considered many route possibilities -- all of which are long familiar to me. I ended up taking what was probably the slowest route -- 11 hours door-to-door -- while thoroughly resisting the route that would have been easiest. Even more foolishly, I was aware all along that I was resisting that route, and why, and that my reasons were not valid. I simply did not want travel through the city of Sonoma, and that was based completely on past memories of heavy traffic on weekends during tourist season, none of which would apply in this case. Still, I resisted, and chose the long way. After I arrived here, I looked at the map and saw just how close this location is to Sonoma, how easy it would be to get from here to there, and from there to good freeways. Through resistance, through simply seeing a bottleneck that didn't exist, I bought myself two or three extra hours of driving. I'll certainly return through Sonoma!

But, this time I really felt the misery I caused myself by the mere act of resistance -- which has a root in aversion. Aversion is the opposite of craving, and between the two, they are the root of all human mental suffering. Aversion comes from having something you don't want, craving comes from wanting something you don't have. Both avoid accepting what actually does exist, and thus is born unhappiness.

Lately, I've been letting go of resistances when they arose and I noticed. This incident has taught the importance of such awareness, and even more, the importance of accepting what is, and letting go of resistance. Life is easier. I am  happier. There are many more important examples, of course, but this is the one that hit home.

What resistances do you see in your own daily life? Ask yourself, is this resistance merely a habit? Is it leading me to mental suffering and unhappiness? Is it easier in the long run to simply recognize resistance for what it is and cease resisting to these simple and often unimportant issues in life?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Solitude

Some of us are born to a solitary life, and I seem to be one of those. I have long been content with my own company, introspective and probing of my mind and its actions and reactions long before I found Buddhism. The older I get, with the constraints of work mostly in the past, the more I seem to sink happily into solitude, whether it's in a monastic setting or here in my little cottage in the garden.

I have had moments of seeing that much of my life seemed pre-designed to place me in solitude of one kind or another, with little family, little sense of home, many superficial friends and a few true friends scattered far and wide across the country. I've seen that perhaps the intention behind this design was to give me the time and place for introspection or, even more, for meditation.

I'm not sure I always saw this as a positive. There was for a good long time some amount of underlying resentment and sorrow that I never found the kind of life I wanted, that no matter what turn my life might take, it always took me in a direction that in the end promoted solitude rather than the close companionship I desired. I always worked, was always around people during the day and often into the evening, partying with co-workers or friends. But I also had lots of time for solitude, whether it was long hikes or bike rides alone, or just cocooned at home with good music and a good book.

Over the years I seem to have become totally comfortable with the solitude, although I admit that I find the heavy solitude of life at the hermitage in the redwoods to be more than even I am comfortable with! It seems strange, but I like my solitude punctuated by music I love, or the sounds of human voices on the radio or TV from time to time, although I prefer to read -- and of course, meditate -- in quiet surroundings.

My life is never without 'issues' that come to the forefront of my mind and need to be addressed. Life itself (actually, the human mind) seems to produce them in a never-ending parade and I've found that whether I'm watching/listening to media, reading a book, preparing food or cleaning house, my strong mindfulness works on these issues even in the midst of distraction. My teacher calls it moment-to-moment meditation, and it's a skill I've had for many years now. Solitude helps immensely, even if it's not silent solitude.  In fact, this subject and title came from a line in a book I'm reading. That line, some of us are born to a solitary life, struck me so deeply that I had to stop reading, had to contemplate this, then had to sit down to write this post. I'd never really seen my life in that light before, but it seemed so clear, the insights so strong.

The Buddha said that in order to attain enlightenment 'a monk' should live in solitude and contemplate the teachings and the workings of one's mind (paraphrased). Many take that literally, although finding true isolation is not so easy in this day and age as it was years ago in Asia where many hermit monks lived alone in primitive caves or forests, and where many probably still live that life deep in the mountains away from cities. It's something I've been drawn to, without the courage to follow it through.

And while I'm  pretty sure that my own style of solitude surrounded by a TV and music and a computer are not at all what the Buddha had in mind, I think it's worked fairly well for me. I've had years where I spent many hours on the cushion, in deep meditation. Nowadays, my cushion time is limited but the mind is always aware, and despite the TV, music, books and the computer, I live in happy solitude where my mind is always free to stop and contemplate whatever arises during those long hours alone. And, while the environment within these walls is something I can control, there is often noise (loud music, loud voices, barking dogs) right outside the walls, so I have constant, ample objects for contemplation! I contemplate the benefits of wholesome qualities such as compassion, kindness and generosity, while letting go of unwholesome qualities such as ill-will, resentment, anger and such as they arise. I see the inherent suffering that's connected to those unwholesome qualities. I am able to immediately see their passing impermanent nature and recognize that they are not 'mine', but merely products of the mind that will only harm me if I grasp at them. I live more and more in a calm state of equanimity with the many things that arise from within my mind or outside the walls.

And that, after all, IS what the Buddha had in mind.  Impermanence, suffering and non-self are the three marks of existence which the Buddha called the universal, fixed law of Dhamma. It is often said that full insight into the three marks of existence is the main condition for liberation leading to Nibbana. So, does it matter whether I live in a Himalayan cave in total solitude, or in a tiny cottage in a backyard garden with TV, music and books? It probably does, on some level, but this is what I have and this is a kind of solitude that seems to work for me. Most importantly, it is what is. It's what I've got at this moment in time. Rather than fight it, or long for something different, I'm happy to accept what is, with the full knowledge that no matter what I do or don't do, it will change due to impermanence. And there will be another reality to accept. And happiness comes from that acceptance.