Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Loosening the Knot

I have taken the new habit of following early morning sitting meditation with a brisk walk out in the city - San Francisco. This morning, walking and being with steps, and breaths, and the smells of freshly cut grass in Alamo park, and the glorious views at the top of each hill, I was met with a familiar tightness in my midst. There were obvious causes for the unpleasantness - outer circumstances bringing a host of unhappy thoughts and emotions. Lots of fear and aversion . . . 

Here we go again, I thought. This 'I' of mine is not liking things the way they are, based on recent circumstances and likely future events. 

From Ajahn Chah, in A Tree in a Forest:
We contemplate happiness and unhappiness as uncertain and impermanent and understand that ll the various feelings are not lasting and not to be clung to. We see things in this way because there is wisdom. We understand that things are this way according to their own nature.
If we have this kind of understanding, it's like taking hold of one strand of a rope which makes a knot. If we pull it in the right direction, the knot will loosen and begin to untangle. It' ll no longer be so tight and tense. 
This is similar to understanding that things don't always have to be the way they've always been. Before, we felt that things always had to be a certain way and, in so doing, we pulled the knot tighter and tighter. This tightness is suffering. Living that way is very tense. So we loosen the knot a little and relax. Why do we loosen it? Because it's tight! If we don't cling to it, then we can loosen it. It's not a condition that must always be that way.
We use the teaching of impermanence as our basis. We see that both happiness and unhappiness are not permanent. We see them as not dependable. There is absolutely nothing that's permanent. With this kind of understanding, we gradually stop believing in the various moods and feelings which come up in the mind. Wrong understanding will decrease to the same degree that we stop believing in it. This is what is meant by undoing the knot. It continues to become looser. Attachment will be gradually uprooted.
Not just the teaching of impermanence, but in my case, certainly the teaching of suffering also. Feeling the burn from the tightness, and seeing it for what it is: self-induced suffering to be done away with, one mindful moment at a time.


  1. Sort of reminds me of the old "Chinese" finger cuffs - the harder you pull, the tighter it gets. As always, the post is spot on and I am reminded to let life unfold with gentleness and love for all, let the I flow as a trickling stream into the great river of Being.

  2. Dear Marguerite,
    Posts like this are the reason I read your blog. I love so much of this blog, but there is one part that I must comment on. Do you think it is possible that your experience with your father is clouding your vision of the way the actual, current world is? I believe that if you live in San Francisco in the year 2011, then you are not living the "dis-empowered feminine" in a "patriarchal universe" unless you are choosing to. I intentionally make this comment after a beautiful post where you don't bring up these issues. Also, I just had an experience with my therapist (who is very quiet and listens a lot) where she looked right at me and said, "The only person victimizing you is yourself."

  3. I would add that such comments ("The only person victimizing you now is yourself.") can often be trite, uncompassionate or even harsh, and premature. But in this case, she had already helped me to feel and get in touch with my past, and finally decided it was appropriate to point out the simple truth. I thought, "Those people aren't here anymore. Am I really being victimized in my current world?" I also think about all the people who actually are/were being victimized and are/were so much happier than me. In your case, is it really coincidence that you had the kind of father you did, and are now spending decades writing and talking about the pervasive patriarch everywhere in society keeping women down? Let us honor the feminine forms of power and the masculine forms of power.

  4. I love taking walks in the morning. Everything is so peaceful and the world is just waking up.

    I like Ajahn Chah's comment on relaxing. Sometimes we're so uptight and into our emotions one way or the other - well, I'm this way..not sure about others :)

    We can relax by not getting caught up in the emotions. It doesn't mean the emotions won't come up, it just means that when they do we have the wisdom to step back and view them with a very friendly and unattached demeanor. In doing so we can better learn to relax and I also think that is helps us cultivate more light-heartedness and humor in our lives.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  5. This is a bit where I move away from Buddhism. There should be no battle with this 'I'. This 'I' only asks to be seen and understood, completely, kindly.
    Identifying craving, aversion, fear or ego is no reason to stop looking. Go beyond. The aversion is the result of an emotion. The emotion appears because a different reality was/is imagined. This constructed reality is the result of transfers, the mind projecting past events where emotions were repressed.
    There are lots of those childhood scars still acting, still strong because we haven't acknowledged their presence, we haven't accepted the past event and the emotions we had are still looking for a way out...
    It's probably more important to look deeper once in a while than stay aware in surface of things most of the day.
    Seeing things as they are, and not as they should be.

  6. JDB, for me the hardest thing about the knot is its habitual, deeply rooted nature. This is where loosening the knot from both the body and mind angles is so important. Relaxing the tightness in the body, and wisely understanding the role of aversion to the unpleasant, and craving for the pleasant in creating this unnecessary suffering.

  7. Dear Anonymous, the whole feminine/patriarchy bit was not the least part of my experience this morning :) although I agree it has been a definite undercurrent to some of my past troubles! No, this morning was a more generic type of suffering. Sexless, just plain human.

  8. Nate, yes, humor! I get too serious often. Thank you for the gentle reminder . . .

  9. The other 'Anonymous, it seems the 'I' I was referring to is different from the one you are alluding to. I agree with you unfinished psychological business from our past needs to be dealt with or it will keep haunting us. And the 'I' from a fixed idea of self, one that is not relevant to the moment is to be recognized as a pure construction of the mind, that's all.

  10. If we do nothing more in a day than letting go a little bit more....it is a good day lived

  11. Indeed, starting with 'seeing' the knot, and understanding its true nature. That has been one of the biggest shifts for me. For a long time I felt what Ajahn Chah refers to as the knot, and I took it to mean that something was wrong with 'me'. If only I could not feel the knot, then I would be happy. The funny thing is I was right about the end goal but I was clueless about the journey to get there. True understanding of what is at stake makes the suffering bearable, and a source of tremendous compassion for oneself and all others.

  12. Yes indeed. And a very hard thing to do! Working with body and mind, both, relaxing the tightness, the reactivity, the aversion . . . I find the body has a body of its own. So many habitual physical tensions, that set an overall climate of unease with the moment.