Sunday, December 1, 2013

where practice takes you

Many of the responses in my previous post reflect a perspective that pervades how people generally think about practice these days, namely, that the point of practice is to help you in your life or, in this case, help you to find a way through a difficult situation.

While many practices can help you in difficult situations, the help usually takes the form of seeing and not being trapped by the reactive mechanisms operating, both yours and others.

However, when you take the aim of practice to be able to meet difficult situations, you are close to adopting a transactional relationship with practice. In transactional relationships, you are primarily interested in what you get out of the relationship. If you find something that is more helpful, you take up that. The focus on what you get out of the practice inevitably reinforces the sense of self that keeps you from experiencing life without that sense of separation.

Perhaps there is a progression here. You may begin to practice with the idea that it will help you in your life, but as time goes on, you realize that you have become more interested in what you can accomplish through the practice (awakening, presence, whatever you want to call it). But as still more time goes by, you come to appreciate that any kind of goal, any kind of objective, prevents you from being present in your experience and, increasingly, the only thing to do is experience whatever is arising as completely as possible.

That kind of effort is often extremely challenging. In the case of being falsely accused of cheating, your effort requires you to experience the emotional pain of social humiliation and approbation, the pain of the loss of friends and human connection and/or the pain that comes with the recognition that, despite your best efforts, you may never be respected or appreciated the way you would like to be. On the other hand, there are joys, too, the joy of freedom from conventional notions of success and failure, the joy of the peace that comes when you know you can experience whatever life throws at you because you know, experientially, that there is no "you" as such, and the joy that arises naturally when there is no separation between you and what you experience. But these joys are not the same as the joys that arise from human connection and affection.

Yes, mind training and other practices may help you in difficult situations, but the aim of the mind-training instructions is not simple utilitarianism. They give you a way of being in your experience, whatever it is. Not everyone wants to live this way, but if you are taking up mind-training, taking and sending, mahamudra or any of many other practices. that is where you are headed.