And So It Goes … Again: The Second Reminder

First things first, a happy new year to all you readers. We find ourselves again at this time of year that, from what I hear is among the most profitable for health clubs, yoga studios, even religious organizations as we all resolve and embark

Ninth Karmapa

Ninth Karmapa

on the path of fulfilling those resolutions. I’ve been asked a lot about what my resolutions are for this new year. Let me tell you that I’m not going to resolve to be thin as a stick by summer, or even necessarily make any resolutions about my practice (at least in terms of quantity). My new year’s resolution is actually very simple. I resolve to accept myself and my life more, and to be more present (aka mindful). That’s it. No meditation marathons, no diets from hell, just a simple resolution to live more fully.

So, now that that’s out of the way, how did I get there? Well, if you haven’t read my previous post, Firsts and the Christmas Blues, you ought to take a moment to read it. If you have read it, it was in the context of working through the blues that I described earlier that I discovered just how incredibly self-critical I am: I’m too fat, I don’t meditate nearly enough, I need to do more at work, and the list goes on. As I took the time to be with this self-critical talk, I realized just how crippling it is, and how afraid it made me to just go out there out of fear of failure, or perhaps at the very least rejection.

Another reminder of what good fortune I have came in re-encountering the teachings of Chögyam Trungpa and of one of his most prodigious students, Reggie Ray (by way of a general re-encounter with the Kagyü tradition). In reading some of the texts again, I was reminded again of the teachings on mindfulness and presence in the moment. Inherent in these things, is a sense of acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t just mean accepting what’s going on, but also accepting the entity that is experiencing that moment (meaning yourself). In letting go, we “unclench” both proverbially and physically. I find I’m a lot less defensive in this mode. This acceptance acknowledges what is happening and is present for it, which brings me back to the Reminders (see Firsts and the Christmas Blues for a bit of an introduction on the Reminders).

The second reminder is that of impermanence. All things composed (which is basically everything), according to the Buddha, decay and are impermanent. To bring this down to earth a bit, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (one of the great modern Nyingma teachers), wrote: “continual change, relentless change, is constant in our world.” We all get this, at least on an intellectual level. We know that things are bound to change, all the time, but deep down inside, we believe they don’t, or at least wish they don’t. A very simple realization I gained is that I, we all “suffer” so much because we refuse to acknowledge or to believe that our world, and everything in it changes, constantly, and that this includes ideals. No matter how much I want a relationship, no matter how I want it all to shake, it won’t come to be out of my “wanting it”. This, I think is one of the big flaws of the “Law of Attraction” teachings, but I digress. The point is, that I wanted a fixed, permanent world. I was willing to live through flux, through bad relationship after bad relationship, hoping that one day one would come that was “permanently good”.

What does this all have to do with acceptance then? Well, when we accept life as flux, when we accept that life is as it is, we resist less and we suffer less. But let’s make something eminently clear. Acceptance here doesn’t give us license to be catatonic or pessimistic. Quite the opposite. We become more dynamic, more creative, and more optimistic about our circumstances, and we take this approach with us into our lives. The second reminder invites us to take the focus off that “permanently good” thing, emotion, whatever we want and instead direct our focus to the brilliance of this very moment. The Dharma is not teaching us that we cannot plan, be prudent, or to have dreams. Instead, it invites us to remember this one pithy instruction: “shit happens”, go with it, and have a sense of humor about it.

What I hadn’t realized until now is that shit happened. All the while I was too busy with my mind’s own story, contemplating my perceived inadequacies, bemoaning my circumstance, and own unrelenting desire for something permanently good to realize that I needed to pay attention to my body, to my mind. This was just like saying “thinking” during meditation after a thought, but the thought in this case was much larger and all encompassing. So, having had this particular thought, doesn’t mean I won’t slip into the doldrums ever again, but maybe next time I’ll recognize it more quickly, and remind myself that relentless change is inevitable, and that “shit happens”.

Happy new year to all of you, and my sincerest wishes for a happy, prosperous, 2011.

SARVA MANGALAM (may all beings benefit!)

P.S.: Best of luck on all your new year’s resolutions

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