Friday, May 23, 2014

Becoming a Real Rabbit

Remember the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, the stuffed animal who was loved so deeply by a young boy that he became alive?

I've been playing with idea of that as metaphor for being  Externally, there's a form we present to the world -- generally pleasing, attractive to some, invisible to others. Like a Build-a-Bear for humans.

Right under that skin, like a layer of fat, is fear. Maybe it's fear of being abandoned or fear of death or fear of inadequacy -- but it's all fear. Terror, even. We maintain our plush exteriors to keep the fear hidden from ourselves and the world, and we work too hard for success or drink too much or obsess about our appearance or whatever we do to keep that fear from poking through the stitching that holds our exterior together. For some people, the fear layer may be tissue-thin, like Thinsulate. For others it's like blubber that keeps arctic animals warm.

But it's only a layer. Under that is our true nature, which is radiant and kind and loves unconditionally. This is our real rabbit. It too can leak out through the needle holes made by the stitches that hold us together, but only if we can poke holes in the fear.

And that is why we practice. Meditation and contemplation and study are the ways we wear through the fabric of our selves, the tools for poking holes in the fear, and letting the real rabbit inside us out so that it eventually becomes who we are.

In the Velveteen Rabbit, one of the older toys, the Skin Horse, tells the still-stuffed bunny about becoming Real through a child's love.

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit,
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

from 'The Velveteen Rabbit', by Margery Williams
That last statement gets at equanimity, one of the Brahma Viharas, or Divine Abodes. Enlightened people may still be hurt, but they don't make it worse by interpreting it or projecting additional arrows. Equanimity creates space and balance for everything to be accommodated, painful and not. 

By RJDaae
In the book, the boy develops scarlet fever, and all of his toys have to be burned, including the Velveteen Rabbit. But since he has been so well loved, the rabbit becomes real.

A teacher once told me the Buddhist practice is about "loving the self to death." Rather than deeming our constructed selves as something deficient and wrong that must be stripped away and discarded, it's about loving our inner nature so much that the exterior we created at the Build-a-Human workshop can dissolve.

We love even the form, seeing it as a misguided attempt to protect that which we worried was too fragile to stand up to the world. When we love our defenses, they become redundant and fall away. The constructed skin wears out, and the buddhanature shines through.

For that to happen, we have to develop trust in our nature, just as the Velveteen Rabbit had to believe he could become Real.

And that is hard.

"You trust your impure nature more than your pure nature and yet talk about enlightenment. Enlightenment arises by not doing anything. Samsara arises because you have to do so many things. But you still see that – Samsara - as being easier than Nirvana. If this is not ignorance, what is?” Her Eminence Mindrolling Jets√ľn Khandro Rinpoche

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mothers and metta

It's said, in traditional Buddhism, that over the course of our many lifetimes every being has been our mother. In traditional Asian societies, this was meant to help us see with the eyes of love and compassion.

From the poems of Shabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol ~

All living beings have been your kind mothers . . .
Just as you feel love for your mother of this life,
Generate love for all beings, your mothers from the past . . .

In contemporary society, after more decades of blaming deficient mothering for all of our psychological ills, the idea of looking at every being as your mother may not generate feelings of deep,appreciative love. For some, it's more like a feeling of horror. And then there's that moment when you speak and hear your mother's voice come out of your mouth saying something that you always hated hearing ...

But here's the thing -- every parent wants the best for their children. Their ideas of what's best may not coincide with what the child needs, but they're likely unaware of that. Every parent I know would gladly take all of their children's suffering on themselves, but you can't do that. As a parent, you can only try to help them learn how to reduce their own suffering. And you don't always do that skillfully. For one thing, you can't pass on skills you don't have.

The Buddha, who was skilled at presenting his message in ways that people could hear it, also offers the inverse of seeing every being as a kind parent from a previous life:

Even as a mother protects with her life
her child, her only child,
so with a boundless heart
should one cherish all living beings:

Radiating kindness over the entire world
spreading upwards to the skies
and downward to the depths,
outwards and unbounded,
freed from hatred and ill will.

See all beings, even your parents, as your children. Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

What are you expecting?

For many years, I thought the best way to get through life was to be prepared for the worst. Going into a situation, I'd envision the worst thing that could happen and how I would deal with it. I would be ready -- even if it rarely, if ever, came to that.

The problem with that, of course, is that you walk into every situation defended, tensed, ready for battle. That leaves you unprepared to see the best thing that could happen. If you walk into an unfamiliar room full of people you've never met in a configuration you've never seen prepared to be ignored and out-of-place, you give off that energy, almost guaranteeing that will happen.

One of the gifts of Buddhist practice is learning to trust that you can work with whatever happens, best or worst or somewhere in-between. In fact, best and worst are just labels. Life just is.

That's more advanced practice. The first step is figure out what your view is -- what is the undercurrent to the attitude you bring to the day? What are the words beneath the words you speak to yourself? When you know that, you can -- if you choose -- play with shifting that.

"At some point, we need to stop identifying with our weaknesses and shift our allegiance to our basic goodness. It’s highly beneficial to understand that our limitations are not absolute and monolithic, but relative and removable. The wisdom of buddha nature is available to us at any time."
Pema Chodron
The Women in Buddhism Group at the Interdependence Project will be exploring Right View at its May 17 meeting. What is your view?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Forgive everyone everything, starting today

Human Journey, an initiative of Desmond Tutu, is challenging us to use the month of May to ingrain our forgiveness practice.

The Forgiveness Challenge is based on the idea that forgiving can bring peace and love to your life -- and therefore to the world. "With each act of forgiveness, whether small or great, we move toward wholeness" - Desmond and Mpho Tutu (his daughter) write in The Book of Forgiving.

In Buddhist terms, forgiveness is about letting go -- of resentment, of anger, of the belief that we can control other's actions, of the small, finite, damaged self who is acted upon, of the evil Other who acts. It's a way of extending lovingkindness and compassion, of seeing that we're all human and that hurtful actions are carried out by hurt people.

While we don't condone harmful actions, we recognize that those who carry them out have a confused and deluded view. We can never know all the causes and conditions that make people do things, but we can know that even when their actions are aimed at us, they arise from another person's thoughts.

As we do with lovingkindness, we extend forgiveness to ourselves. At first this may feel strange -- but over time, as with lovingkindness, it becomes liberating. We're no longer holding onto a picture of ourselves as the person who blurts out the wrong thing or is mean or angry or selfish. Because we are human and confused, we do those things. Because we are human and confused, we forgive ourselves -- letting go of the fixed, solid, rigid sense of self that says "I always ..." and opening up to the possibility that we can do it differently.

We accept all parts of ourselves, even the ones we've hidden in the basement. And we accept that we are not condemned to repeat those mistakes -- we can behave more wisely.

Who can you forgive today? Can it be yourself?