As the period of confusion and wrongness wanes – what the Christians sometimes call a period of ‘desolation’ – comes a period for me of ‘consolation’. After the crisis of decision, action, intolerance and frustration, the aspect of practice that favours inclusion, acceptance, release and tenderness comes back to the fore.
The practices that want to be practiced at this point are gentle and grounded in kindness and the now, but with a sense of reaching towards the proffered helping hand of God, rather than a feeling of lonely struggle to escape a dissatisfying now. This period of the cycle is called ‘equanimity’ by the Buddhists, though this is also one of the four illimitable skillful states of mind the Buddha encourages upasikas to cultivate- pointing out that process and form are not so distinguishable in the end.
Insight practice, at the moment, is in the form of radical inclusion. I’m using the pointer ‘this too, this too’. If anger comes up, I resolve to accept it. If I feel I shouldn’t be angry, I resolve to accept that too. This helps with any kinds of neurotic double-binds in which I can feel bad for feeling bad. As long as I apply ‘this too’ to things externally I do not like – in the form of unpleasant actions, speech and appearance – then it isn’t a spiritual hideaway from dukkha. This practice wants to be practiced, is the felt sense; after all the griping about how touch the previous phase of the cycle was, there is an urge not to fight. If there is any tension in the body in reaction to a thought or feeling, that is my clear signal that I am averse to something I can accept. This too, this too, is part of life. The technical side of me sees it as stepping below pain and pleasure to a level of unconditionality. I can hate the sin, indeed, but I can love the sinner- whether that is me or anyone else. Any sense of hypocrisy, or hopelessness, or arrogance just needs to be gently included too. It is very ‘clinical mindfulness’ in that I can accept a situation and then choose my response. Just stopping long enough to say ‘this too, this too’ gives me space to decide to act as kindly as I can.
I am also practicing metta (loving-kindness) in a traditional form, using a string of beads my partner got me (a loving association) to set the intention to wish beings happiness, beginning importantly with myself. My formulation is: May I be happy. May I be safe, well and happy. May I live in peace, may I be at ease, in harmony with the world. May I be happy- and may I live in loving-kindness. I deliberately slow down and don’t worry about any desire to strain to feel as fluffy and kind as possible. The sensations in the body are not important compared to cultivating the desire to be happy, regardless of my faults and failings. This wants to be practiced, as I’ve said. I could have done with some metta when I was spinning in indecision, and it can feel less necessary when I’m already feeling kind, but perhaps a bit of it now will remind me at the spiritual rock bottom to be a little kinder then. The subtle self-attack here is obvious, really. At some point, a person I am grateful to appears in my mind’s eye, and I take the time to finish the recitation I am making before transferring that intention over to them. May my parents be happy… my colleagues… my family… my friends. It rarely occurs to go to people I am less pleased with. But at that point, ‘this too, this too’ arises, so I do not make a problem of my imperfection. It feels more right to pray, then, to be prompted to include these people, rather than to feverishly do metta for everyone I hate in order to try and balance some cosmic scale.
Both are bringing out feelings of woe that seemed bizarre. This is the time I end up with more kriyas, those involuntary body movements that people seem to get fascinated with but that I now see as the body expressing what the heart isn’t being allowed to say via the mouth. (You are not more spiritual if you bounce on your cushion or yowl or twitch. If anything, I’d say you’re fighting more. Let them out and don’t get excited.) If I relax into the practices, the bodily reaction tends to be less repressed and more straightforward than this: I sob. There is a bittersweet tenderness, a feeling of loss and hope commingling, relief and sorrow at the battle ending, and I sob without tears. It starts as quickly as it ends as the bad vibes work their way out from whatever rock I was hiding them under. This too is a practice; allowing this vulnerability to manifest, this suffering under fire, this unacceptability that I am asking to accept itself with my pointer, these unspoken basic traumas of the ego being diminished against its wishes once again. It is again of kindness, tenderness; the body cries in relief and sadness, fully expressing how it feels, the whole ambivalent, bizarre shebang, despite my desire for certainty and simplicity. The body simply doesn’t lie. You may not hear the question it is reacting to, especially as practice continues and things get less rational and more intuitive, but you can certainly impute it from the answer your body is giving. Wrongness underlaid by rightness, as the ego gets defensive, but strains at the same time for liberation from itself. This is grief. Warmth and comfort arises as something unconditional arises from within to give consolation, when I have not asked for consolation. When I give up the right to feeling good, it feels pretty good.
- How would you act towards a person who was wronging you, if you knew very soon they would die, in upset?
- What thoughts, feelings and images arise when you do metta? Can you let them arise, not something to be fixed or analysed?
- Can you appreciate and enjoy a tough situation?