Saturday, July 26, 2008

DIARY 68 - Observing Snail Trails

On occasions I cannot help but have a heightened awareness, an insightful prescience. I can pin point trends, distinct observable patterns in perception and actions, from the surface textures of memories - much as a snail cannot help but leave evidence of it's midnight travails - I leave a mental footprint behind me. I examine these trails, and interpret them in the light of my present viewpoint- and suddenly aspects of my past gestalt become all too frighteningly apparent. It isn't always pleasant, and there are times when I'd much prefer to be a blind and insensate cretin. Awareness is a double edged sword - cutting your flesh even as it moves to free you from bondage.

I've been dwelling on the subject of unsatisfactoriness for some time. The tone of my reflections has often been heavy hearted - its not always been comfortable. But, none the less, I've observed keenly how disaffection can rule my thoughts, actions, and the direction of my life. It's a feeling similar to having a rather cumbersome and fidgety dog come settle on your lap - all you want to do is just throw it off at the first opportunity. This is what I've done - thrown off the unwanted arrival by taking corrective action - a change in my career, lifestyle or place of residence. This could be flipped onto a more positive take, by saying I've been in search of a truly satisfying life, and that this urge did of itself bring me to Buddhism. This has helped me perceive the trails in painfully sharper focus. Padmavajra said to me he thought melancholia was the result of a heightened sensitivity to dukkha (dissatisfaction/suffering). I appear to have never left my melancholic reaction behind, it is still a dominant influence, even within my subsequent Buddhist lifestyle. Any spiritual movement, however old or new, is an imperfect phenomena, dependent upon the admirable qualities and flawed virtues of it's current practitioners. The Western Buddhist Order, and myself within it, are not exempted from this. So I can feel disappointed at times with the way it, and I, have turned out. What still no dhyana and no arahants !!!

This last week I've been at Padmaloka, in Surlingham, Norfolk, on the Summer Retreat, whose theme was The Three Trainings - in Ethics, Meditation & Wisdom, pretty basic, but fundamental Dharma Teachings. Before leaving I kept saying I didn't feel in the mood for a retreat, only to be re-assured that that was bound to change once I got there. Well, it didn't. A dense pall of dissatisfied fog surrounded me, and wouldn't shift. My meditation was flat, my engagement with study was OK, but not really sparky, and the evening Puja just felt like I was enduring a meaningless grind. Five days in, during the puja ,I felt myself as this being cut in half, spliced spiritually and mentally right down the middle. One half was mouthing the words in call and automatic response, hoping some vestige of sraddha would be stirred, whilst the other half was this scathing observer - disinterested and resentful, an actively disengaged nihilist. After several nights and days of perpetually sleeping in a bath of lethargy, I spent that evening tossing and turning in mental combat, a fight where neither side appeared to win. I rose the next day feeling simultaneously robbed of sleep and of meaning.

Fortunately I was at Padmaloka, and could call on the ample resources of spiritual friendship there. I spent a beneficial couple of hours talking with Padmavajra, going over what was going on. Sometimes, as he perceptively commented 'Vidyavajra just needs to talk', and this is so true. Everything seems less serious and intractable once I can express, converse and enter into a dialogue about it. It also requires an insightful good listener, and Padmavajra is that to a tee, but also a keen observer. I don't think he and I, have had many lengthy conversations before this - and when we have, they've been largely concerning Dogen - and not about me. The outcome has been entirely positive - that I do know the things I need to do to get myself back on track, the sense of purposelessness and lack of meaning I sometimes experience, does mislead me, and I can take it far too seriously. Sometimes the flaws I perceive in a jewel, distract my attention from its overall sharpness, polish and sparkle. My meditation may be lacking in vision and direction at present, but I'm very alive to other aspects, to the Dharma,to study, to spiritual friendship. to ethics, to simply wanting to help others with their lives, spiritual or otherwise. I felt appreciated and seen, by Padmavajra in a very helpful way. He also suggested that I could still be in a process of grieving over Richard's death, which has undoubtedly been a significant part of what has been clouding my vision recently.

So the rest of the week went extraordinarily well. If anything I had to look out for getting over intoxicated and swinging from over absorption in melancholy, to over excitedness about enjoyment. I had to keep reminding myself to calm down. I experienced how effective I can be in study groups these days, how good a Kalyana Mitra I can be too. All quite challenging to the prevailing self view. On the last day I had my most deeply absorbed meditation for quite a few years, so something had definitely moved on. Padmavajra suggested that I get more involved in teaching the Dharma, particularly about Dogen - through leading study groups, or through supporting GFR retreats. He also was very appreciative about my Dogen writing, saying some very encouraging and favourable things about my website. This makes me think I should make more effort to publicise it. Also, to explore this 'existential life koan' of dissatisfaction more directly through my writing. I feel a strong enthusiasm to follow through on all these suggestions. This appears a positive way forward , a means to emerge out of my recent trough, I just need to put my energies fully behind it.

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