Thursday, November 11, 2010

Burnt Out

(Back from two and a half week retreat with Ruth Denison, at Dhamma Dena Desert Vipassana Center, I am devoting the next few weeks to sharing Ruth's wonderful teachings.)

Ruth's Lesson On How to Deal With the Hindrances.

Twelve days, it took for me to finally experience islands of pure mind, freed from hindrances

First, came the cravings for the comfortable life left behind. Wanting more food, less pain during sittings, a room without a mouse roaming at night, and none of the hassles from a scarce water supply. Then came the anger from unaddressed shadowy forces, that made their way into my dreams every night. Anger, recognized, soon left the path wide open for anxiety about ridiculously small, and also more 'legitimate', bigger things . . . All for me to own, since I was alone with no familiar presence to blame for my unhappiness.

This is what the untamed mind does. Spoil otherwise perfectly good moments with self-created afflictions. 

Ruth had a few things to say about hindrances:

We can awaken to that which is hindering us and is imprisoning us from our most inner self. It takes a long time to love ourselves. We can attain peace by burning out the hindrances with wisdom and mindfulness. The observing mind is the fire that burns the impurities. We allow whatever is, we sense it, and then we reflect on it, and hold the hindrances out. Saying not this, not this, as often as necessary. And then returning to the object of our attention.  Realizing the cessation of suffering through observation and investigation of the living process. Gradually, the mind gets purified. 

3 Burnt Cans in Mojave Desert
Ruth also placed great emphasis on taking responsibility for our suffering. We wake up to the fact that we are the creator of our suffering. This is radically different from the usual way, when we attribute our suffering to outer causes. This does not mean that we are uprooting ourselves of all our unwholesomeness, but simply that we are creating the conditions for the uprooting. We are shifting from a place of ignorance and not understanding ourselves, which is where most of humanity lives, to cultivating a different theme. I am the creator of my dukkha, because of my ignorance. There is joy when we realize where it's at, that we cannot throw anything away, including the disturbances. This is the standpoint we need to hold in the midst of resentment or criticizing. Handling body and mind sickness with great compassion, and taking responsibility, not throwing anything away and justifying.

And we chant:

May I abide in well-being
In freedom from hostility
In freedom from ill-will
In freedom from anxiety
And may I in this way 
maintain well-being in myself.

May we abide in well-being
In freedom from hostility
In freedom from ill-will
In freedom from anxiety
And may we in this way 
maintain well-being in ourselves.

Now, whenever I encounter impurities in the mind, ready awareness springs up, and I can feel in a very physical way thoughts, emotions, and attached sensations being burnt out, and slowly replaced by the object of breath. BURNT OUT. Such a powerful image.


  1. Thank you for sharing your journey, friendly, benevolent and courageous.

  2. Thank you, Doris! The sharing is part of the journey, a manifestation of sangha friendship.

  3. "The observing mind is the fire that burns the impurities."

    I will be reminding myself of this often, and living it.

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. Yes, Lori, I too have been living with that image. Wise mind thrives on such similes. You may also enjoy tomorrow's video in which Ruth refers to a little flame :)