Firsts and the Christmas Blues
This winter season seems especially dark for me. I’ve slipped into a depression of sorts. There are a lot of reasons, but they are ones that I feel I can overcome with some revisiting of two “Firsts”: The First Noble Truth and The First Reminder, both come from two essential teachings of Buddhism.Today I’d like to share and reflect with you on these “Firsts” … so I hope we can journey together for a brief moment.
Before we go on, a little background: The First Noble Truth is the Truth of Suffering, more aptly phrased perhaps as the truth of recognizing discontent. This teaching came from the Buddha’s first series of teachings. The First Reminder (or First Ordinary Preliminary) is that this human life is precious and hard to come by, and we ought to make it meaningful. The Reminders are part of the “ordinary preliminaries”, they serve as the foundational practices that prepare practitioners to begin the profound practices of Mahamudra.
So what do the Firsts have to do with depression or the blues? It’s something that I’m working on, and something that has been a profound reflection over the past couple of weeks. What I’m experiencing right now, is perhaps the very essence of what the Buddha termed “suffering”, what we in the western world term “discontent”. I’m not sure what I’m so discontented about yet, but then again, that’s why meditation is so core to working on this. I am beginning to pay more attention to my thoughts, my ideas, and what’s going on in general and seeing what it truly is. It’s not to say that I’m judging myself (though the temptation is ever present), but just noticing (which is hard for me to do as an analytical thinker). Noticing is an act that is so subtly powerful. In noticing, I feel that my mind is nurtured, and cared for. The Dzogchen Pönlop Rinpoche eloquently likens the practice of tranquility meditation to sitting down for coffee with your mind and just listening. It seems like I’ve been really doing this for a couple of weeks now, and just listening, and letting it vent, something that I’ve not really made a big effort to do for a while. Simple presence is doing its work in healing a dark wound in my own life. So what’s next? Well, that brings me to the First Reminder.
The Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje, in his Preliminaries (Tibetan: Ngöndro) wrote: “Meditate on this precious human body, so hard to attain and easy to lose. I shall make this life meaningful”. The main thrust of this reminder is to remind us that life is a precious opportunity that is difficult to find, and that life is workable.This Reminder has been especially relevant for me. As I wonder why I’m going through all this, and why this and why that, I go back to this one precious teaching that reminds me that it’s ok, and I have to work with myself where I am. I remind myself that life isn’t supposed to be about suffering, discontent, or whatever word may come to mind, that there is another way. Instead, I have to replace this thinking and this resistance with, as Tara Brach puts it, Radical Acceptance. Of course, this doesn’t mean I’ve solved this problem completely. I’m still working with it, and more importantly being with it. It’s going to be a bit of a journey to work this out, but with a reminder that underneath this black cloud is a luminous, clear mind, I think I’ll be ok.