Responding to change

The cycles of practice are starting to become a little less opaque, which is very encouraging, as I could often feel very lost at times.

Jack Kornfield quotes Ram Dass as calling himself ‘a connoisseur of my own neuroses’. I used to dislike this way of looking at practice, seeing it as over-psychologized and implying that no real progress in becoming more healthy a person could be made. However, I now understand that he was talking about become aware of the habits of mind that are so pervasive that they tend to colour whole aspects of our lives. If there is no difference between life and practice, then these patterns will determine the shape of our responses to the change that is being wrought on us by contemplative practice; they will be the most obvious expression of us changing. It isn’t therefore ‘over-psychologised’ if you then use that mindfulness intelligently to determine what an appropriate practice for today is, or to relax in the face of all this change by remembering it’s just another turn of the wheel.

Therefore, I can see how my own reactions form the conditioned, visible part of that cycle: the change that is now obviously out of my hands, however I practice. While I cannot choose the phenomena that come up in this cycle of practice – sometimes strong emotions, desires or energetic experiences – I do not want to imply a lack of agency, whether perceived or actual, though. While non-inherency has been discussed here at length, that ‘not-self’ that makes free will and determinism an interesting paradox indeed, the awareness of these reactions allows a certain moral auditing. When I say moral, I mean sila in its widest sense: the wise reflection on whether I am living in the way I want to and know I should (or not), as opposed to any implication of merely dramatic judgements on sins or heroism.

Instead, I want to focus on responsiveness. I see myself wanting to lose myself in the creative, energetic part of the cycle, when I can choose to use this energy to buoy myself up and do beneficial things. I see the laziness that this slides into as I relax, and can use this as an opportunity to push myself healthily to maintain whatever progress I made while more bouncy. I see the clinging as the pleasant part of the cycle fades away and the sensation seeking that replaces it, and can choose to be mindful of it. I feel the mixture of negative emotions, fears, doubts and irritability that forms the turning of the wheel around to the other side, and instead of trying to power through, I can be patient. Instead of problem solving in a self-absorbed manner as it reaches a crescendo of uncertainty and confusion, I can with good grace take my life down a notch, do gentle practices, and allow whatever is painfully surfacing to emerge and leave. When the confusion lifts and I feel relieved but embarrassed, I can apply humility, which is the knowing of exactly how imperfect I am and how that is neither wrong nor unique.

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