I did something else with the previous post about writing, which you might see at a later time. But for now, I'd just like to offer a few comments and links to my new creative writing blog, as well as a post here about attachment. For those of you who have an interest, I have posted the following over at Creative Writing the Dharma:
*a poem about second language learning
from my early days as a Zen student
*an essay about medieval maps, the painter Vermeer, imagination, and Europe.
* and a short prose poem.
Now, let's take a look at some comments from Dean's current blog post on The Mindful Moment. About his 16 month old son, he writes:
The process of attachment, in seeing him do this, is really quite interesting. If I spot him before he makes his way over to the TV remote and remove it before he arrives he's not too upset. He'll just stand this a little disappointed look on his face and watch you walk away with this prize. If I get to it when he's already hovering over it he'll cry a little that something so close to his grasp was taken away. If I'm too late and he gets hold of it the level of emotional angst he'll experience will be proportional to how long he's had hold of it. If only for a second then not too bad. If he had it for 10 seconds or more then he'll let us know he's upset that we've taken it away.
But isn't this something we all do? I see people craving after their iPad's or iPhones (or whatever it is they desire) and if the deal falls through they are a bit disappointed. If we get our hands on it however and it gets stolen we'll wail and cry much like my son. Even as adults we do the same thing!! Our level of suffering is in proportion to our level of attachment.
This last line is most interesting to me. It gets at the way in which, for example, the habits we have for a long time are the hardest to break. For example, the fact that I sometimes bite my nails in response to stress and/or anxiety. This is an old, old habit of mine, dating back to childhood. And even though it's not as strong as it used to be, it's rare that my finger nails make it a month without being chomped on, at least a little bit.
But habits are just one kind of attachment. Or one way to describe how we might attach to someone or something. Lately, I have experienced a lot of opportunities to pay attention to attachments around identity. Honestly, they seem almost endless. Just when there is a letting go that happens, and some relief seems to come, right behind it another narrative comes flaring up in an effort to fill the gap. This isn't a terrible thing; it's just how it is.
Dean talks in his post about pushing beyond the boundaries you've created in your life. How the attachments to a certain way of living limited him and how he's been making some conscious effort to shift that. Right effort has really been on my mind lately, especially given that I had spent much of the past several years living a busy, sometimes in overdrive life, and now am in a period that's quite the opposite.
Attachment to spiritual teachings, rituals, and methods are pretty common. And I think as such, it's probably a good idea to go against the grain of whatever it is you hold precious once in awhile, to check that attachment. What's this have to do with Right Effort?
Here is a traditional set of teachings from the Maha-cattarisaka Sutta: The Great Forty:
Abandoning the wrong factors of the path
"One tries to abandon wrong view & to enter into right view: This is one's right effort...
"One tries to abandon wrong resolve & to enter into right resolve: This is one's right effort...
"One tries to abandon wrong speech & to enter into right speech: This is one's right effort...
"One tries to abandon wrong action & to enter into right action: This is one's right effort...
"One tries to abandon wrong livelihood & to enter into right livelihood: This is one's right effort."
All good stuff I'd say. And yet how easy it is to get hung up on "right" and "wrong," trying to maintain some sort of purity. If your like me, you probably have had some of that "good Buddhist" story running through your head. It's insidious. And if you have a whole community of people running that narrative, then it's doubly reinforced for each member.
So, what would it be like to deliberately enter into say "wrong speech" or "wrong action," not to be contrary, but to notice attachments to being seen as a good practitioner? For most of the past two years, I have been skipping out on retreat practice. The reasons behind this are a mixed bag, but lately it has occurred to me that doing meditation retreats is something that some Buddhist communities - including my own - view as part of being a dedicated practitioner. Dedicated is really just another word for "good" when you look at it closely. And I've noticed the tension I have experienced around this issue - how I sometimes get hooked on what my fellow dharma brothers and sisters are thinking about my absence from retreat practice. It's kind of silly when I think about it - wanting to be "seen" as a "good student" - because in the end, it's really not about that at all. Being respected and elevated within a community doesn't mean squat when it comes to breaking through greed, hatred, and ignorance. But it's so easy to forget that when you've spent much of your life trying to be liked and cared for by others.