"Understanding means throwing away your knowledge.” Experience is your best teacher."
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Life since the retreat has been really interesting. In many ways I feel as if I've been re-born, if that makes sense. I've been re-learning how to walk, speak, eat, and move through the world in this new, mindful way. In an email to my dharma teacher last week, I said that I feel as if a huge light switch has been turned on in me and I really don't want the lights to go out again. Practice, practice, practice.
Over the past week or so, when things have gotten busy, I've found myself sort of wishing that living in the world wasn't as challenging as it often seems to be. But then I remember to come back to the simplicity of practicing mindfulness and I realize that it's not the world that is making things difficult, it's me.
It's amazing how deeply ingrained our habits become, how easy it is to distract ourselves when something challenging arises, or to blame the world (or other people) for our suffering or difficulties when all along we have the ability to cultivate deeper understanding in ourselves and live our lives with more freedom and peace. I've read this quote attributed to the Buddha a million times but after actually experiencing this on a deep level at the retreat, I realize just how true it is: "Peace comes from within, do not seek it without". We have the capacity at all times to drop all of our perceptions and illusions and really just experience the peace available to us. But the trick is, we have to get out of our own way first.
Thay says: “When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with the world or our friends or family, we blame the world or the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.”
In this practice we're often encouraged to come back to "beginner's mind". We cultivate love and understanding by throwing away our knowledge of how things should be, and actually experiencing things as they are. And so I watch the habits of distraction arise. I watch the urge to blame, project, persuade, and how they try to assert themselves into my newly illuminated world. I come back to how much more liberating it feels to actually experience the moment in all of its beauty, challenge and complexity, knowing that the only way out of my suffering is to compassionately wade through it. So I simply practice learning how to walk again - solidly, like a free person, without these ghosts chasing after me. I simply practice learning how to sit with ease of mind and spirit. I re-learn over and over again how to breathe, smile, and eat with mindfulness. In this way, the lights will stay on and never get switched back off again.
Until next time...let the sunshine in :)