More and more, the teaching practice takes me into the community where I engage directly with students. My focus right now is on bringing the continuity of the Dharma into the market place. Although retreating is an important form for self-knowledge, I find myself less interested in the immediate results of a retreat and more interested in helping students investigate their relationship to the ups and downs of their everyday life.
Nature, death and spontaneous freedom continually interweave themselves into my teaching. From the forest of Thailand, where I spent several years, I bring a deep awareness of the healing quality of nature into my teachings. Relaxing into our true nature allows us to realize what it means to be a human being. It is here we find a resting point, a counterbalance to the speed and turbulence of our culture.
My work in hospice brings a sense of urgency into my teaching. Working with the theme of death and dying reveals the here and now of life to us, how important it is to open to each loss, change and transition that marks our path. Life is precious. We need to awaken without hesitation.
Many of us crave to be more calm and centered. We know that life has more to offer than this fleeting material world. For each of us, the Dharma offers an immediacy of freedom for which we do not have to strive or wait. In practice, we can learn to relax deeply into the moment and rediscover spontaneous freedom.
One of the more common emotional responses to practice is that at times we feel like we are failing in meditation. Nothing seems to be going according to the instructions. We try diligently and then hear that striving will not get us anywhere. We want to like ourselves but are full of self-contempt. We would like to wish everyone lovingkindness, but we do not feel that in our hearts. All of this has us feeling like a spiritual failure. One way to sidestep the thought that our practice is not going well is to remember that our practice is about self-knowledge, and self-knowledge is always working. Like a mirror that always reflects what it sees, it may not be showing us what we want to see, but it is always reflecting back what it sees. The practice is to accommodate what we see, no matter what is reflected back. Just let the reflection show us the state of affairs. Now comes the hard part. Do not attempt to change, judge, or get over what we see. If we want to do something, relax with what we see. Let the built up tension be dispelled. If we try to get over a problem before we understand what the nature of the problem is, we will further complicate our struggle. Much of our struggle is arising from the sense of being a personal failure. In a culture built upon evaluations and comparisons, many of us feel like we are defeated before we begin. We lead with self-uncertainty and for a Dharma practitioner that is the worst possible assumption. Awakening needs everything from us, and self-uncertainty holds us back in timidity. We have to address this assumption head on to end its tyrannical rule.
Relax, observe, allow, and respond are the quiet R-O-A-R of the Dharma. These words place us in the proper orientation to life so that life can affect us. Notice this is not passivity, since responding is essential. These words set us up so that we are aligned with our spiritual intentions, each word offering a perspective on the ease and observation needed for our spiritual fulfillment.
We cannot talk about the fundamentals of Dharma without mentioning honesty. All we have to do is meet a truly honest person to know that honesty is infectious. We sense that it must take courage to live with honesty and integrity, but what it really takes is a love of the truth. Honesty in Dharma practice is simply the love of what is true. It is behind all of our inquiry and Dharma investigation. "What is going on here?" is the soul searching question that opens the doors of the heart. We release our deceptions for two reasons: first, it is painful to deceive, and second, we have a profound urge to know the true causes and motivations for our defensiveness. That urge, when properly honed, will be our vehicle for the completion of the spiritual journey.
Surrender is not something we decide to do. It is what is left after we have tried every way to avoid or surmount a problem. Surrendering is releasing your guard and allowing the experience into you without protection or defense, and therefore it is an activity of faith. Mostly we try to adapt our way through a difficulty, changing strategies according to the results, but surrender is not another response to a problem, it's the ending of time, distance, and separation from the problem itself.
Faith means "to place our heart upon." It encompasses trust, clarity, confidence, and devotion and is the opposite of spiritual despair. Faith is not faith in something; it is the willingness to allow something new and unknown to enter our consciousness. Faith is the willingness to explore a new perception of life beyond what we have known life to be and provides no guarantees that the search will lead to a better outcome. Why do we offer ourselves to the unknown without any assurance? Because it becomes intolerable to our hearts to stay where we are.
Wisdom is the integration of truth into your life. It is not theoretical or abstract in any sense, but a steady confidence of knowing what is true. Wisdom comes from seeing an experience in stillness, free from our normal commentary. Our narrative confines us to just what we have known and in the absence of the narrative arises a new perception. This is called wisdom.
Mindfulness is the ability to generate attention toward oneself or an outside object. It is a step toward more conscious living. But mindfulness is coming from our exertion of will; that is, we are making ourselves mindful. When we relax our efforts, mindfulness goes away. As long as we are in control we will continue to believe in the truth of separation and will not see the end of the assumption of self. This is the spiritual fix we are in: either we let go of mindfulness into effortless awareness, or we stay bound to the person who is making herself conscious and thereby limit freedom.
Our culture has made renunciation into an austerity rather than a virtue, a contraction rather than openness. The word has the negative connotation of self-deprivation when it really means releasing ourselves from what binds us. We are usually willing to release any constraints that do not serve our greater intentions. Simplicity is the natural result of renunciation, but simplicity is not an austerity. It is not forced, but rather is the natural clearing away when everything in excess has been eliminated. Ultimately we simply renounce our separation and live life from that view and intention.
Wise intention is the energy that moves all spiritual practices forward. We mistakenly think it is our willpower, but it is always and only our intention. There are two expressions of intention: the primary intention associated with the longing to be free and the secondary intention for gain and acquisition. The secondary is formed by the mind from the primary intention, and that is the reason we believe that satisfaction can come through desire. The mind tells us that. For the energy to be reinvested back into the primary we have to prove to ourselves that secondary gains will never be truly fulfilling. That is what is left for many of us to do.