While I was away this week, off on my first week of six weeks of vacation (two of which I will be teaching summer school creative writing to Junior High School kids), my 7:30 Wednesday class got together and did their own assignment: "What are your distractions, past and present?"
Ah, a good one.
My head is swimming with lists and lists of numbers, piles of defilements and possible ways that potential can turn into crud or credentials, all to be used against understanding suffering. Out in the heat of the Chicago afternoon I emerge covered in a thin sweat - from nervousness or sudden exposure to the heat, I cannot tell. Nervous about what? The Truth, with capitol letters? About confusion? Or about how my back aches because I haven't done this much sitting in weeks. Weeks of doing some sitting, 15 minutes here or there, but nothing like this, waiting for Khandro Rinpoche to burst silently into the room, pulling us all up by our egos and quietly conducting open heart surgery all while cradling us in loving kindness, one by one.
Being in the presence of such a teacher is both a distraction and also distracting, the pain of wanting to be close to her pulling me into my intimacy issues faster than any lover. How do I open my heart to what she is saying? What she is saying goes below even what she is saying, as Virginia noticed, so deep that even the way Rinpoche appears distracted for one moment (looking out the window at the passing bus) is mindful. Is that what one could work toward? Having distraction even itself be mindful?
Today she said the thing that just killed me, the thing that slayed me and I don't want to write about it, all I want to do is complain about how my back aches then go eat sushi in Chicago, watch some movie or tv series on tv and forget for just one night about dharma. But as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, again and again, there is no privacy, no place where the dharma does not rest, and so I am compelled to try and transmit what I heard in what she was saying...
She talked about our basic ground, our basic goodness, always there. Many have talked about it being like the sun and when the clouds go over it we forget there is a sun behind the clouds, always, shining its light nonetheless, just on the clouds instead of us. But She spoke of this in a way which was more active, even more direct, which is her manner: she spoke of how it is as if we have a thin film over our basic goodness, a sort of sticky layer of fog, which is made up of, composed of, established by "movement" - the movement of our thoughts, distraction of our minds, fidgeting of our bodies. We, that's right, WE move away from our basic goodness, because it is MOVEMENT that tells us we are alive. We don't trust stillness. We are creating that fog. "And this is basic creativity," she said, which believe it or not didn't shock me so much, as I have been coming to some understanding of this lately, that creativity, whether for better or good, is storytelling, often a distraction in itself, if used for the "wrong" purposes. It's what she implied by this that killed me -
RESISTANCE IS THE BASIS OF OUR LIVES. I often talk about how resistance is important in our lives, shows us, in life as well as in creativity, where we need to do work, where gentleness could help us out, where, as one of my students put it once, we could put down a little red flag and come back to later, after we are done writing, if it is too painful for now. But from what she is saying, this static energy of creation, this constant movement, this isn't "issue-based" this isn't "about me or you" no, this is our basic reactivity. We do this REGARDLESS of what is happening, it is JUST WHAT WE DO out of existential worry, anxiety and fear of not being, of disappearing, of a need to be known by our selves and others.
Whoa. Somehow, for me, this depiction of distraction really took me to a whole other level, one I am not even sure I can describe. Somehow I feel like I already "knew" this intellectually, but her description of that thin fog, that layer, really hit my heart. I relaxed, instantly, realizing how much that meant I could stop struggling against certain stories. And yet, as is often the case with me and dharma, my heart also broke. "Oh no," I seemed to instantly conclude, "It really IS endless, isn't it?". Distraction isn't just, resistance isn't just, forgetting the instructions isn't just about memorizing the four noble truths, the eight fold path, the five part path, and so on. It's not just about awareness of certain moments (and yes, I thought - I realize now- I could let up sometimes and not others) it's actually constant. All the time. Again, what a huge deal and yet, it's also no big deal. If the work is going to go on forever, I'd best relax a bit and pace.
Pacing. This I have gotten better at just in the last week with Becky, with whom I have finally decided to run a 5k. Thanks to my students who are runners (you know who you are) who have and/or will take on bigger runs to inspire me, though you may not have known it, to run. I, too, have found I do best if I pace, settle in for the long haul. And yes, I just recently discovered that somehow I thought distraction, suffering, wasn't a long haul. It was something I could figure out in some areas, not others, and let the prior go while I mastered the more difficult latter bits.
Only that's not true. Secret, purportedly hidden bits from view have recently come back to light for me and lo I have discovered that seeds don't grow in the dark. Just because I let it sit for a bit doesn't mean I understand it any better now. Becky was quick to point out that this confusion (which happens to be about conflict with living family members) is actually a good sign - that some of me HAS changed and no longer feels congruent with this atrophied part "left behind". And yet, as always, the despair struggles to be stumped up with hope.
How about neither? What if either is a distraction? I gave the director of the Chicago Shambhala Center a letter tonight, requesting a meeting with Khandro Rinpoche. He said "She has a busy schedule, I'm not sure she'll be able to meet with you." And I smiled and gave him a slogan, familiar to Shambhalians, though only my mind said it, my heart of course hoping for her counsel: "No hope, no fear." He smiled back and tears entered my eyes as I smiled and left the room.