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Lions Roar : November 2019
It seems to me there is a strong common theme that runs through all your teachings. Is it possible to summarize your basic message? I think it’s about being able to stay with difficult and unpleasant experiences, all those things we habitually push away. If we can be open to the entirety of the human experience—the pleasant and unpleasant—then our experience of life is complete, and from that comes a deep sense of well-being and happiness. You see, the problem with avoiding the negative parts is that you also are closing your- self off from the joyful parts, so the whole thing is unsatisfying. The most fundamental way we keep ourselves stuck and unhappy is by always looking for what’s pleasurable and avoiding what’s painful. It’s the most rudimentary level of how human beings relate to their world, very primitive, really. But instead of pushing away difficult experiences in a knee-jerk way, we can be patient and tolerant with them. If we do that, we find we don’t have to reject that part of the human experience. The pleasant things, the ones we grasp and cling to, are easy to experience. We don’t really need a lot of encouragement to do that, although we need encouragement not to grasp, of course. What is more difficult and totally unhabitual is getting our nervous system used to holding or allowing those unpleasant or unwanted things, learning not to be afraid of these energies. This may not seem deep, but it is very important. Without being able to do this, we can’t really stay present and allow for our experience to deepen. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, my root teacher, talked about “making friends with yourself.” This really intrigued me, because when I started medi- tating I felt like I got a lot of proof that I was pretty messed up. It was more like making enemies with myself. But in order to make friends with yourself, you’ve got to hold and make friends with your whole experience, both the positive and negative. This is fundamental, because without it, nothing can happen. To the degree that it’s happened, to that degree your experience can deepen. I’d be curious to hear what you think the basic message is, to see if it’s the same. What I see is that you are continually pointing out the awakened mind that we can experience in the gaps or pauses in our usual discursiveness or story- line. You encourage us to rest in that open mental space, even though it is uncomfortable, because there we experience the basic, enlightened nature called “ordinary mind.” That’s right. This was never intentional, exactly. However, as my own experience deepened, such as it is, I began to realize that that simple thing is where awakening happens. The teachings say that the essence of the awakened mind is unbiased and free from judgment. It is fresh and open. This prac- tice allows you to rest in that space because you’re not caught in push and pull, like and dislike. This is the deeper, inner meaning. What is help- ful is that it can be received at different levels. Many people report that they receive it initially as encour- agement not to run away from things. But then, if they get serious about wanting to free themselves from suffering and benefit other people, it takes them deeper and deeper and deeper. You’ve always been very open about your personal issues and how you’ve worked on them through your Buddhist practice. At this point in your life, what are you focusing your practice on? It’s the same thing we’ve been talking about—staying present and not running from whatever life presents to me. Based on that, it’s now about deepening. I spend weeks and months in retreat sometimes, just staying open, letting my mind rest, and not run- ning away from anything. That’s very profound, you know. The most profound things are the simplest— very, very simple. But not so easy to do because of our habitual pattern to exit or run away. Speaking of very simple but profound instruction, I notice there’s a sign in the entrance to Gampo Abbey that says “Enjoy Your Life.” We don’t usually think of it as a spiritual teaching, but enjoying your life is really a transformative practice. It’s a great sign to have in a Buddhist monastery. Right away, it presents a paradox: Aren’t you here LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2019 56