Buddha Nature: Living in Attention

Encountering problems

Perhaps most significant for me was the insight that emerged about the way to approach problems in my practice or in my life. I noticed, with a certain wry amusement, that the change in how I related to problems in either area followed the five stages in dying that Kübler-Ross outlined in the early ’70s.

First, I denied that there was any problem. My attitude was that the technique itself would do the job. All that was necessary was to plow through. It didn’t matter that my body was falling to pieces, that I had blinding headaches much of the time, that my digestive system shut down, that I was unable to be civil to my companions, that I spent much of the time in a dull depressed state. Nothing was wrong, just keep pushing. When things got so bad that I had to admit that something wasn’t working, I was angry. The first phase of this was blaming, blaming the conditions, the teaching, the teachers, you name it. While there was a certain validity in some of my criticisms, the anger was essentially a reaction to problems that I still wasn’t prepared to face. When I ran out of specific factors to rage at, the universe, the world, whatever became my focus.

Eventually this stage ran its course and I started bargaining, trying to manipulate the conditions of my life, making trades here and there, in order to continue plugging away at the practice as I thought it should be done. Short term gains were the rule, but one after another, the various ploys failed to produce sustainable results and eventually I had to give up trying to manipulate my world.

That letting go opened the door to depression. Nothing worked. It was hopeless. I remember being greatly inspired by the story of Trungpa Rinpoche opening one of his talks with the single word “hopeless” repeated at five or ten minute intervals with silence in between. It seemed to me that he was right on! I’ve always found depression to be one of the most difficult states to work with in meditation. Perhaps because the dynamics are so similar, it’s easy to slip from the practice of awake acceptance into a state of passive self-absorbed despondency. Essentially, I had to let go of practice as I had understood it up to that point and walk into the dark.

The dark lasted longer than I wish to recall. It was in the dark that I had to accept that there were deeper problems here than I had wanted to acknowledge. There was no use raging about them: these were the cards that had been dealt to me. Bargaining was useless: there was no thing and no body that I could trade my position with. Gradually, the now all too obvious conclusion dawned: something was demanding attention. So I started, using the manifestations of the problem as the trail that would lead me to the problem itself.

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