Yesterday morning, I was driving to my stepson Jaden’s apartment, which he shares with his girlfriend Sierra, to drop off some food for them. Very few people were out and about on the road but I managed to get “stuck” the bulk of the way behind what I consider to be the standard Missoulian driver (translation: they were driving 5 miles under the speed limit). As I have a great desire to go a standard 5 miles OVER the speed limit around town, irritation is commonplace for me while driving. (I put intentional and ongoing effort into infusing my practice into the action of driving and I’ve come a long way and still have further to go.)
When irritation rose up in me, while puttering behind what seemed to be the only other car on the road in town other than my own, I saw my irritation straight away and laughed light-heartedly (which helps me to befriend my irritation). Then I said out loud to myself: Well Nicole, this is it, isn’t it? THIS is the practice of inclusiveness, right here and now. I mean, if you can’t work to enfold this super minor frustration into your practice then what possible hope is there for working with bigger moments when they arise? Then, as is often the case when I talk to myself, I answered myself back: Good point buddy. You’re totally right.
So, here is the verse our local paramita practice group has been reading & reflecting on daily this past week, which I took and pieced together from the section focusing on the Third Paramita from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:
Inclusiveness is the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. To suppress our pain is not the teaching of inclusiveness. We have to receive it, embrace it, and transform it. The only way to do this is to make our heart big. We look deeply in order to understand and forgive. The Buddha gave very concrete teachings on how to develop inclusiveness – love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. If you practice these Four Immeasurable Minds, you will have a huge heart. If you keep your pain for too long, it is because you have not yet learned the practice of inclusiveness.
I watched a Dharma talk by Brother Phap Hai in our Plum Village tradition last weekend and in it, he offered a prompt for us to ask ourselves: What does it mean to transform my suffering? As this was very well matched with paramita #4, I picked up his prompt and ran with it amid the pages of my journal this past week, here’s what came up for me:
A cloud transforms into rain. A seed transforms into a flower or a tree or a plant that grows vegetables. To transform suffering is to make good use of a natural, intrinsic element of life in order to bear the fruit of a new offering.
Wood is transformed into heat and ash when burned. Had the wood been simply thrown away in the trash, it would have been left un-utilized; its usefulness wasted. To transform suffering is to activate it with the fire of awareness, to make good use of what it has to offer, on its way to changing form. Just as wood when transformed into ash becomes much easier to carry – suffering when transformed eases our heavy burdens. Suffering, when ignored, grows heavier and heavier over time.
To transform suffering means to face it and embrace it. To allow it in as a guest in the living room of my consciousness and become curious as to why it has come calling (just as I would with a friend who knocks on my front door unexpectedly).
Phap Hai spoke about how our pain can be seen as noble messengers. With this in mind: transforming my own suffering is about listening to what those messengers have to say and show me.
The last line of our daily practice verse has really resonated for me over this past week: If you keep your pain for too long, it is because you have not yet learned the practice of inclusiveness.
Two specific, separate and current personal challenges come up for me in regards to this line, both involving other individuals and me holding onto my pain for too long. I’ve been asking myself: Why am I holding onto this pain? Why do I continue to spin around and around with it? What am I missing/not listening to in regards to what these noble messengers have to say and show me? As is often the case, I have more questions than answers. But questions are where to start. Proper answers cannot be found without inquiry.
Something that has risen up for me from these self-inquiring questions is this: in both of these cases where I am continuing to carry around my suffering, I am stuck in the view that I am not being seen, understood, and from a deeper more vulnerable place: valued. In both cases, I’m feeling as though I need to prove my worth, somehow. This insight then creates more questions: Why do I need these certain people to see me? What am I wanting to be seen for? Does is really matter if they don’t understand me? What does it mean to me to feel valued?
A few days ago, I penned this down in my journal:
Inclusiveness: seeing things as they are and not more. The more I sort things & people into a list of yes & no – Nicole Approved and Not Nicole Approved – the more I suffer.
I came across a meme on Twitter recently, posted by @TinyBuddha, that is helping to serve as a new guide for me:
I could say a lot more on this topic but I would guess at this point you may be starting to glaze over, if you haven’t abandoned the ship of this post already. So I’ll end by saying this: I have a lot more work to do when it comes to inclusiveness, and I’m glad to be held lovingly in a practice that offers me tools in this regard.