Saturday, August 14, 2010

If Buddha Was a Woman

The Challenge of Detaching, From a Feminine Perspective.

Daughter number two left this morning early. I heard the sound of her suitcase being wheeled out on the concrete driveway. She was driving to meet up with her sister three hours away. The two of them are embarking on a cross-country adventure, ending at my oldest daughter's new school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 

Lying in bed, I noticed the time, 5.53 am. There was no point in trying to go back to sleep. Better instead, watch the body do its thing. Jaws clenching, stomach tying itself in a knot, heart pinched, arms becoming heavy, throat tightening. And thoughts to match, of all the things that could possibly go wrong during their upcoming trip. With the short-lived relief of being with a few breaths, here and there. 

I am a chronic worrier, just like my mother was before Alzheimer's did its job. Of the five hindrances, anxiety is my biggest enemy, and one I need to keep on investigating. Lying with it for two hours this morning, I was gifted with a few insights about the beast:
  • One major culprit is mind's tendency to make up stories about future.
  • Mind's wanderings is fueled by fear of grief and permanent loss.
  • Mind deludes itself into thinking that it can use thoughts to control outcomes.
  • Beneath rejection of impermanence, is clinging to foolish wish for a fixed state.
  • When I go back to breath and present moment, anxiety lessens.
  • If I am fully present with sadness and grief from actual situation, mind is less likely to wander.
  • Just observing anxious state of mind is sufficient enough to bring some significant relief.
  • Holding fear as mother would a scared child, is rather sweet.
The Buddha has his own take on the subject:
"What do you think, monks: is corporeality permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, Lord." — "And what is impermanent, is it painful or pleasant?" — "Painful, Lord." — "What is impermanent, painful, subject to change, is it fit to be considered thus: 'This is mine, this I am, this is my self'?" — "Certainly not, Lord." — "What do you think, monks: Is feeling... is perception... are mental formations... is consciousness... permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, Lord." — "And what is impermanent, is it painful or pleasant?" — "Painful, Lord." — "And what is impermanent, painful, subject to change, is it fit to be considered thus: 'This is mine, this I am, this is my self?" — "Certainly not, Lord."
"Therefore, monks, whatever corporeality, whether past, future, or present, in oneself or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near — all corporeality should with right wisdom, thus be seen as it is: 'This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.'
"Whatever feeling... whatever perception... whatever mental formations... whatever consciousness, whether past, future or present, in oneself or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near — all... consciousness should, with right wisdom, thus be seen as it is: 'This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.'
"Seeing this, monks, the well-instructed noble disciple becomes disgusted with corporeality, becomes disgusted with feeling, with perception, with mental formations, with consciousness.
"Through his being disgusted, his passion fades away. His passion having faded, he is freed. 
~ Discourse on the Snake Simile: Alagaddupama Sutta (MN22)
The Buddha is very pragmatic. Why get attached to something that cannot be relied upon? I understand his point, intellectually at least.

I also think women have it a little harder than men. Women as bearers of the mother archetype are inherently set up for strong attachments, particularly to their children. This makes the job of detaching particularly challenging. I wonder if the Buddha's discourse would have been different, had he been a woman?

There is some wisdom in anxiety, after all.

How about you? What is your experience of being with anxiety? What have you learned?

6 comments:

  1. Great post! Anxiety...I've had my fair share of it. Quick story; My son was born on a beautiful clear and crisp September morning, and it was the greatest joy of my life. The thing is though, that morning was September 11, 2001....and my brother was in the Pentagon....and due to all the phone lines being tied up for a few hours (I live in Virginia near DC) none of my family made it to the birth....and two hours after he was born my wife and I were told he had Downs syndrome, which was something we did not know before.

    I told everyone afterwards, this was the definition of bittersweet.

    Looking back now, I had no control over any of those outside cricumstances, but the anxiety I felt that day taught me how much we rely on life going the way we planned, and how my expectations had foiled my own happiness so many times. Oh, today I am most definitly attached to and love my son more than anything in this world, but I take every moment with him as if it were my only moment I had.

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  2. Thank you Kyle, for sharing such tender experiences.

    I agree with you, those moments when we get shaken out of our usual comfort zone represent huge teaching opportunities. That is, if we approach them with the right attitude.

    All hindrances do . . .

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  3. Dear Marguerite, thank you for sharing your wisdom. Yes I too suffer, mainly from fear. It plays havoc with my mind and just generally with my body. Fear of inferiority, fear of loss, failure, insecurity you name it. I think we all do, acceptance plays a part but only after a struggle. My mind just has this super grip. It is so addicted to logic. I am learning to observe it. Then I read sutta very similar to one quoted above - This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self. This always without fail puts my heart at rest.

    However I do need to resolve something. How do I accept (ok so I have these "faults" when at the same time I am rejecting (this isn't me, mine)?

    In the end we and all things about us are just atoms. It is just energy appearing as me, as the guy that just cut you off on the road or insulted you. I am learning to see it as this, this flow of energy and all my mind is doing is being stuck in a dream interpreting it as something that just does not exist. Just in the dream. Including it's self.

    I hope that I am not getting the wrong understanding but that is where I am at at the moment.

    Much peace for you dear soul.
    Miro

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  4. Thank you for sharing, Miro. My take on this one is, whatever works . . . For myself, I find the practices of concentration on breathing, and also metta towards myself quite effective. Swimming, and walking meditations are also very powerful.

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  5. "Holding fear as you would a scared child." I like that one, a lot. :)

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  6. Thanks Ian. Yes, tenderness, whenever we are so moved.

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