Deer Park, Day 15

Freshly mulched Circle Garden :)

Saturday February 22nd, 2020
Day 15

I finished a book
Free to pursue other things
A small weight lifted

4am (tearoom)

Mark the day, mark the time. It’s 4am and I’ve done it. I just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I made it all the way through. It’s a miracle. Okay, well, not a miracle but it is astounding. If someone were to ask me what the book is about, the honest truth (my truth) would be: I really have no idea. If pressed (which: who does that about a book?), I guess I’d say something seemingly meaningful but actually avoidant like: it’s a coming of age story; a finding who we are story; a story about running until there’s no where left to run.

So I read the book and this morning I finished the book. So, that’s a thing that happened. In two-weeks time spent at a monastery, I read the 530-page book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

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Percolation: The other day, as our work crew was readying to fill the 1988 Toyota with mulch down at the gate, someone mentioned having a preference of shovel. He said he’d been working with it the last few mulching times and gotten to know how it handles, and thus, preferred to use a particular one. Someone else joked: Ah, so you’re attached to it, to which I lightly (and surprisingly) chimed in: I think there’s a difference between attachment and making efficient use of a tool, or something to that effect. As Buddhist practitioners, I think this is a topic that is in need of unpacking. Tossing around the word ‘attachment’ doesn’t do us any favors if we don’t know what it means for our own self and what our motivation or end-game is with it.

Too often, this word gets used with a jilted tone or in a snide manner in a skewed context. It’s not at all helpful to tell someone else when you feel they’re attached to something. It’s also not helpful to patronize someone about it. “Now, now, be a good Buddhist and don’t be attached.” Blech. Who wants to be treated like that? (And I’m coming from experience here. I’ve heard long-term practitioners chide people, myself included, like this.) Spiritual whitewashing is something I have very little tolerance for. As soon as I get even the slightest hint that someone isn’t being sincere or isn’t well-grounded or is caught in the form of the practice, I high-tail it the other way.

In my way of thinking, connecting with others and gravitating towards certain people and certain things is not necessarily attachment. I also don’t think all preferences equate to being attached. For me, attachment is a rigid structure for denying the truth and reality of impermanence. It involves relying on someone or something or some experience to be a certain way in order to make us feel a certain way. When we’re attached, there’s something we want to have stay the same and not change. So, in my view, I think there’s potentially a way to be in close relationship with others and to have likes and interests without being “attached.”

And, as with most things, there’s a spectrum when it comes to attachment, so in a sense, preferences are an attachment, they’re just on the low end of the spectrum. Where any particular attachment falls on the spectrum I think depends on how quickly we are able to shift gears when something unexpected happens. If we prefer a certain shovel, for example, but our shovel is unavailable, we might say: Oh darn. Well, that’s okay, this other one will do. Sure we would’ve liked to have had access to the other shovel but it’s not a big deal to use a different one. It’s on the very low end of the attachment spectrum.

It’s this low end of the spectrum area that has me thinking that perhaps to label it all as attachment, does the actual strong-natured, unhealthy style attachment a disservice. It’s kind of like if we use the word love and say I love you to our BFF and then also say I love this hamburger. When the same word is used to describe two very different situations, doesn’t the meaning of the word suffer? I think it does.

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Stop Struggling

One of my new practices for 2020 is to enfold one card per week into my routine from Thich Nhat Hanh’s set of Everyday Peace Cards, 108 Mindfulness Meditations.

On Mondays, I pick out a new card and then I read it every day for the next week. In just the past 3-weeks, I’m finding that the teaching on the card then naturally percolates and bubbles up for me throughout the week and helps to inform my daily practice. And sometimes I’ll do a bit of free-form writing in my journal about the card’s teaching as well.

The card shown above is the one I’ve worked with this past week: Stop Struggling.

As soon as I first read it last Monday, I chuckled aloud. You have struggled in the past, and perhaps you are still struggling – but is it necessary? No. Struggle is useless. Stop struggling.

In part, I reckon that I find it funny cuz it’s true. And in part, I reckon I find it funny because Thay just slices right into the heart of things and tells it like it is, making it sound so easy to do, when in my view of reality it often seems impossible. So I find it funny because I know how stubborn I can be!

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Non-Attachment

In Buddhism, we have teachings centered around non-attachment. But how do we apply this and make sense of it as laypeople – with romantic partners and close friends and kids and family and pet people?

And aren’t we also encouraged – neigh urged – in our particular mindfulness tradition, to take refuge in the sangha? To lean on and lean into our people for love and support, care and connection?

How do we reconcile this paradox?

I think I figured it out. Ready?

I think what it comes down to is that it’s not that we need to love, depend, and rely on our people any less than we are – it’s not that we need to un-attach from them, necessarily. It’s that we need to simultaneously love and depend and rely on our own self too. We need to enjoy and revel in our own company, just as much as we enjoy and revel in the company of our closest people.

Perhaps non-attachment, then, refers to our ability to keep good company with our own self, right alongside of giving mad love to those we adore and cherish when we’re in their company.

Daily Practice – Day 15

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Day 15 – Today I sat for 10 minutes.  It felt like a natural progression to increase my sitting time by a few minutes.

The picture above I took just minutes ago.  I find it illustrates beautifully the great challenge of life.  What is the great challenge you ask?  From what I can tell, the great challenge is grasping.  Interwoven with grasping is attachment and interwoven with attachment is delusion.  Every difficulty we encounter or create in our daily lives can be linked to grasping, attachment, and delusion.

The daffodil above is a vision of loveliness.  Its golden petals are in delicate balance.  It is beautifully unfolding and its vibrance is set up magnificently against the cobalt blue of the bottle.  Yet soon it will wither and die.  The flower will not last long in its current brilliant state of being.  If we are caught in grasping its form, as it exists today, we will be saddened and disappointed when it starts to wither.  Looking deeply we can see that when we are caught up in grasping we are also attached to something.  In this case we would be grasping its beauty and attached to how it existed in the past.  The delusion is that the flower is of a permanent, unchanging nature.

This is a simple example that may be easy to understand.  However, this is also how we interact with many things and experiences in our daily life.  We often grasp at thoughts, views, emotions, events, people, places, and things.  We often get attached to how things used to be or are supposed to be.  And we often get stuck in our delusion that life is permanent, unchanging, and separated into realms of right and wrong.

It is not the unfolding of life that causes upset and difficulty to arise, it is how we relate to it and move forward.