Monday, June 27, 2011

DIARY 141 - Solitary Notes No 2 - Plane with the grain.

There's an old Taoist saying that if you're encountering lots of rough turbulence, constantly stopping or starting, find yourself digging your heals in, and not really developing any forward momentum in ones spiritual life, its probably because you're 'planing the wood against the grain.' This can make 'planing the wood with the grain' sound a bit like taking the less challenging easier route. but imagine you are trying to make something of yourself, you're the raw unfinished lumber, that needs its rough bark removing, its surface planed, sanded and varnished to reveal the beauty of the underlying grain. Well, practicing the spiritual life is more like that to me, I'm trying to bring out the underlying beauty, and that wont happen if I'm planing against the grain all the time.

This flow diagram below, is one way of visualising the basic framework of my practice, how I can more effectively 'plane with the grain.' of my life experience.

Rather than setting my sights on some remote 'enlightened' horizon, my working ground is right here in my every day life 'to discover the jewel in the dungheap.' And within that my principle areas of practice are three:


1 - The Allure of Beauty

Whatever I do has to be beautiful, be attractive, be alluring, to draw people in, to engage them on a more deeper level with things. I also need to be drawn in, to engage with beautiful things, because without them imaginatively I turn into a desert. If I'm to maintain creativity I need to feed and nourish my heart and 'soul'. I've always done that through art, theatre, cinema that's emotionally and imaginatively rich, and through contact with nature. Its vital I do this, otherwise I feel increasingly impoverished. I don't get enough of this sort of nourishment, so I come perilously close to running on empty. I have to give this a higher priority.

2 - Kalyana Mitrata

I've talked about how important this is to me before. How I imagine it's scope has expanded in recent years to pretty much incorporate everything I do - all forms of interaction with others, from rituals, art projects, friendships, relationships. Being a Kalyana Mitra is ideally to be a 'beautiful friend' to cultivate the attractive, alluring, engaging, virtuous spiritual qualities of the 'beautiful friend.' I need to constantly check out how I'm doing with this, sometimes I do go into auto-pilot with it. Essentially I'm cultivating spiritual beauty.

3 - Prattitya Samutpada

It took me a while to settle on this term. Initially the quality I was struck by was a need to feel connected, which manifested itself in my enthusiasm for collective practices, communities, sangha and kalyana mitrata. But it also cropped up in my love of biographies, oral and conventional histories, archaeology,nature. So it stretches from connectedness in the immediate present experience, through to a sense of empathy and connectedness with cultures and people from the past.

Then it seemed inter-connectedness was a better term, and then prattitya samutpada, sometimes translated as 'interdependent origination' or 'conditioned co-production.' A term that incorporates both connectedness and interconnectedness, the smaller individual perspective and the larger universal perspective. I've found my thoughts and writing dwell, and get excited by the theme of prattitya samutpada quite regularly. In reflecting on my experience, on how I could cultivate beauty or Kalyana Mitrata, I inevitably coming up against my self, my conditioning, my limitations,my disconnectedness, my loss of the larger perspective when focus narrows to my smaller self preoccupations.

I've given these three principle practices an imaginative description in that they all behave 'Like three shoals of golden fish' alluring, fascinating and yet fleeting. The flow diagram has two further levels practice, each triadic group of practices interacts and supports each other. One can never practice one without encountering the others. There are also cross connections between The Allure of Beauty, Kalyana Mitrata & Prattitya Samutpada, and the practice of Sila(ethics) Samadhi(meditation) & Prajna(wisdom) - 'Like a book with three covers' - and the practice/fruit of these, my Pure Land, that would be recognised by the presence of Stillness, Simplicity & Contentment -'Like three silver spheres on a mirror' each individually perfectly poised, stable and stationary, yet each reflected and absorbing itself into the universe that surrounds it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

DIARY 140 - Solitary Notes No 1 - Giving up on Enlightenment in this life

My fortnights solitary, was a time for reflecting on times past, present and future. This sort of spacious solitude I just don't find in my everyday life. My life is composed of a variety of relationships and interactions, ones that rarely leave sufficient psychic space for touching base with the one primary relationship - with me. That isn't a complaint, more an observation, that I am still pondering the implications and consequences of. One seems to be getting out of touch with where I'm actually at, and exhibiting the early signs of burning out. Certainly, over the last seven months it has been one huge creative project after the other. I'm aware that during this creative and organisational ferment I've been keeping inadequate tabs on how I was doing, Only in passing noting the desire to meditate drying up and the disillusioned ennui that seemingly surrounded it. Well, a fortnight away started a process of reappraisal, and what consequences this will have for how I practice the spiritual life.

During the first week I reviewed what my current spiritual ideals were. The solitary chalets windows began to resemble a rug made up of post it note strips, with ideals, connections, desires, interests and enthusiasms written on them. I still held one ideal that I've had for over forty years; to only bring things of beauty into the world. How I envisage doing that has changed, but the underlying ideal remains intact. Today its also about my relationship with beauty itself, whether its in the form of art, friendships, virtue or nature, as much as my creating beautiful objects or rituals.

I came up with a number of headings that eventually morphed into a flow diagram. This began with my basic working ground and principle practices, and flowed upwards to how my Pure Land might manifest itself. After twenty years of practice I needed to acknowledge that 'Enlightenment in this life,' rather than motivating me, had become an actively demotivating factor. I no longer envisage myself achieving this, I clearly don't desire it enough. The desire I'm left with, is a rather perverted greedy and envious one, a headmasterly disciplinarian, that compares and reprimands me for my apparent shortcomings as a Buddhist practitioner. This can leave me bereft of faith in the effectiveness and achievements of what I'm actually doing. If I do a formal structured meditation practice such as Mindfulness of Breathing I flounder in the inadequacy of it, and the energy I'm willing to put into it rapidly dissipates. I took a book on Mindfulness by Ajhan Brahm with me, which I had to abandon reading. I was fine cultivating a silent present moment awareness, even focusing on the breath, but as soon as he started talking about, nimittas, beautiful breaths and dhyanas, I mentally switched off. My diminshed ability to sustain interest is quite pronounced.

I see this actually as good, its honest, its liberating to reconsider, in the light of letting go of Enlightenment in this life, where that leaves my practice. Basically in a more healthy balanced relationship between my ideals and how I'm choosing to live them out. This doesn't necessarily mean I need to throw everything else away. I'm not rejecting the Buddhist path, just adjusting and realigning myself with it. I'm moving the goalposts into the field where I'm playing ball. The actual, rather than the virtual playground.