For Saturday’s webinar we were asked to reflect on the question, “Is the body great or small?”. I noticed the frustration I felt with the way the question was formulated and my internal resistance toward setting a label, defining the body in terms of it’s size. As soon as I said something about the size, it became reduced to that – size, something relative, a concept. The body itself did not seem to matter that much any more. It held no mystery.
Still, in our lives we do have to measure, to compare. “Is the practice great or small?”. If I don’t measure it, how do I even know if I’ve moved at all or am still stuck on the same spot? How could I measure my practice? Not in hours spent on the cushion, or the number of Dharma books I read or retreats I attended. I guess ultimately it was about the question, What is it that I want from my practice?
The measurement I came up with for the moment is not quantitative and is about if and for how long I can stay intimate with life without contracting and shutting the world out. How long can I stay in direct experience (painful or frustrating as it can be) without resorting to my habitual ways to protect the self (by leaning on the familiar negative states for support)? To see if I “progressed” I can compare how I handle the situation at hand with the way I habitually behave in similar circumstances. For the time being this measurement is good enough for me.
The way of love is not
a subtle argument.
The door there
Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn it?
They fall, and falling,
they’re given wings.
– Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks
About a week ago I had a very emotional experience when I found myself in the bathroom of my friend’s apartment during a Halloween party, having a face-to-face conversation with the person I had come to the party with. A nightmare situation indeed! Not much was said but the few words he told me went straight into the heart. I felt the warmth spreading in the body, gathering into a nauseating lump somewhere in the stomach area and heard how the mind immediately started producing a story. There was this moment when I could both feel the sensations in the body, hear the beginning of the story – “How could be do that to me?” – and watch it as if from the position of the observer. The observer asked the story-teller, “What has been done to me“? and that question brought my attention from the inside to the outside, to the person’s face and the texture of his voice, to the reddish lights of the bathroom.
At this point something interesting happened. The pain was still there, but did not feel as unbearable, the story stopped and now I could see that the person was suffering. As I was feeling that raw energy inside, it was transforming into compassion for that other human being who was aching just as I was. In the middle of it all I somehow managed to not get consumed by the strong emotions by bringing the attention to what was real – the experience of my only feelings of hurt and anger and the perception of another person (the expression of his face, the sound of his voice). This was one of the most powerful and liberating moments I’ve shared with another person. I saw that it was possible to interrupt the story-line and stay with the experience of hurt and anger while remaining open and connected with another human being. By choosing to fall, I got the strength to engage the wings I did not know I have.