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Lions Roar : March 2019
Restraining the impulse to buy a dress I wanted with money I didn’t have, I experienced the cruelty of craving. Indulgence wouldn’t end the craving, really. I saw this and felt superior. Actually it was suppression: I lacked the ability to see through the next layer of self-deception. I continued to pull attention away from stressful mental events and re-place it on breath, the way a mother distracts a child with a toy. The shift sub- tracted energy from painful patterns. I remember discovering I could enjoy sad moods like thick red velvet curtains. A new intelligence was developing, the mind less reactive. Self-hatred still seduced me. I remember the shame of ruining the meditation center’s perfect snow by walking across it. The teacher tried to persuade me this was delusion. It didn’t work. Still, minor transcendences occurred. I felt the subtle energy of yarrow, trying to talk to me. A fellow meditator came down the hall and I instinctively flinched, sure they were angry with me, then unex- pectedly saw the fear was all mine. What a strange, beautiful experience. I treasured it. Invite your heart to know whatever it is feeling. Achy or open, happy or vaguely neutral—let it all be, with less judging and resistance. “Attention, attention, attention!” one of the retreat’s teachers, Larry Rosenberg, would call out into a room full of people being silent. It was a cru- cial wake-up call. This is always the first moment, and the last. I saw that for myself. Once with a terrible flu, I knew the next moment could be death—no different from this fleeting one. Forty years on, it still amazes me that I can direct awareness to such events. The “world” isn’t out there. It is looking through my eyes, hearing with my ears, thinking with my brain, feeling in my body. All the fleeting strangeness of life, and it keeps moving, faster and faster. I remained full of a kind of rage to meditate, to go deeper and stay longer in retreats. I followed mentors to a Burmese monastery, for ultraprecise Theravadan instructions from a strict and loving teacher. I observed belly breaths, pressure of foot on ground, the process of getting lost in thought again and again. The mechanics of attention fascinated me. I discovered on my own how to balance laser- like aim and gentle receptivity. Sensations arose and passed; form and identity eroded. I was a nun, wearing the same clothes as the other nuns. Objects grew tinier and thinner and suddenly all vanished. Then Sayadaw, my meditation master, offered lov- ing-kindness meditation. It evoked felt-sense images of beings throughout space, and I bathed them in goodwill, including the woman who had terrified me by falling in love with me, and me with her. She was safely far away in the U.S., so I could love her too. Meanwhile, the Burmese army was murdering unarmed protesters outside the gate of the mon- aster y. The first noble truth roared onto center stage. I exited the country, a kindness for my wor- ried parents. Out of robes, I continued to generate loving-kindness. It brought an unexpected sense of agency that was supportive of actual relationships (though those remain a tricky area). Back in Boston, I told my dear one I needed to be celibate for a year to clear up a traumatic sexual past. My Sayadaw had suggested it. I began to understand that how I paid attention was important. The quality of attention is influ- enced by intention. You can invite helpful attitudes, loving-kindness, compassion, focus. Mindfulness is an attitude, too, a way of knowing life. My year of celibacy ended, and I felt clear and calm enough to invite my friend to be lovers. But she had tired of waiting and found someone who wanted kids. Invite your mind to relax, to rest in itself. Notice its knowing aspect. Notice the contents and the mind’s relationship to whatever it’s experiencing. If this doesn’t make sense, always allow whatever comes up to be there. There is no correct response to these invitations. When resistance or challenges arise, kindly make space. See if you can let go of making things different. At forty I found myself at the feet of Hima- layan gurus. One used a sharp hand-clap as his deepest instruction. Shock! No room for gradual Invite your heart to know whatever it is feeling. Achy or open, happy or vaguely neutral—let it all be, with less judging and resistance. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2019 62