Messy Path

The final (Spring 2015) issue of Inquiring Mind features thoughtful interviews including the engagingly titled,"A Messy Path: Conversation with Joseph Goldstein and Pascal Auclair". Among their memorable comments are Goldstein's remarks, beginning with his recollections of how his meditation has developed since 1967:

... I was really practicing for enlightenment and awakening. I see the whole point of my practice over all these years as going in that direction. I think we can understand enlightenment in very pragmatic terms. It doesn't have to be some kind of mystical metaphysical something or other. I see it as just weakening and uprooting greed, hatred and delusion in the mind. I think for people who have committed to practice over many years it actually does happen. The Dalai Lama has said that when you look back over five years of your practice, if in the beginning you got angry ten times a day and now you get angry seven or eight times, you have made good progress. I find that reassuring.

When I look back to my early years, I remember my mind having judgments about everybody and everything. That has really diminished; at least it has become manageable. Perhaps the most profound depending has been in regard to selflessness, integrating that insight into my life. It's been very freeing to experience thoughts and feelings less personally, to be less caught up in the movies of the mind, and to realize that the body grows old all by itself—it's just its nature. All of these are works in progress, but it's amazing to see the trajectory over these fifty years.

Pascal Auclair agrees ("When I started, I didn't have the capacity to even imagine what was possible for the mind and the heart. I didn't even consider that the mind could question itself and gain perspective and clarity around its own functioning. And it feels like I am only starting to understand how to practice.") and adds commentary on the responsibility he feels for what he says, thinks, and does, especially as a leader and a teacher, especially in relating to people of other genders, races, sexualities, backgrounds, and life-experiences. He notes:

Also, to me, as a teacher, it feels very important that I say to people that this is a messy path. You are going to fall on your face several times. That's how I traveled the path, you know. The whole path can become very idealized, with the beautiful meditation posture and the Buddhist statues and all this talk about kindness and not having any anger and being full of wisdom. People ca easily think that there is something wrong with them because they get worked up with their children and other issues of daily life. I think it's one of my responsibilities to talk about the Dharma the way I learned and experienced it. It was a very messy way, a rickety way. It's not easy. But we can talk about it and own it and look at it together.

Joseph Goldstein responds enthusiastically:

I love what Pascal said. I am going to move to Montreal and become his disciple. Yes, messy. Pascal raised this whole question of a greater understanding of diversity and how much we have to learn about our unconscious assumptions and the language we use. That's a huge new arena for the teachers in the West and I think it's really important. We keep learning about these issues because otherwise, the mess stays a mess instead of the mess becoming part of our learning.

What is also messy is going through the endless ups and downs of our own practice it's clearly not just a linear path upwards to greater and greater clarity and calm. We get caught up again and again. We can be sitting and wondering after thirty years of practice if we have a capacity for it. So all of this is just part of the path. As Trungpa Rinpoche says, "Meditation is just one insult after another."

For me, the times that Pascal calls "messy" are the times of difficulty in our lives, in our practice, in our teaching. Those are the situations when the Four Noble Truths are most alive, because at that time suffering is not theoretical. If we have enough perspective or space in our minds to recognize it, then there is tremendous possibility there. We can actually investigate the causes and say, okay, what's the release from this? So I see all the messiness as a tremendous time of learning.

And just to echo something Pascal said a little earlier, which I also share, is that no matter how long I practice, it always feels like I am just at the beginning. Because the Dharma is so vast and we're always just at the forward edge of whatever our understanding may be. That's what keeps it so vital.

More to follow ...

(cf. Mental Noting (2009-05-03), Inquiring Mind (2012-03-05), Opening to Love (2013-09-27), ... ) - ^z - 2015-05-23