At the beginning of the session, while my guides & I were looking at a book of mandala images, mostly from nature, I noticed in particular an image of one of Hildegard of Bingen’s illuminations. It is the four seasons, I think. Large animal figures are blowing the winds in towards the world, from the four directions, and maybe angels are turning the keys that move the world. In the bottom left corner is a tiny alcove, in which sits Hildegard, in her nun’s wimple, recording this vision in a book, using a quill pen. Seeing this illumination at that juncture was auspicious: it reminded me, throughout the session, of the possibility of being fully within whatever was arising, while also grounded in this body & mind. It reminded me that at any time, I could reframe my experience, and go back to the alcove (the body, the mind). It reminded me that whatever was about to happen, Hildegard & others like her had probably been there before – I have had this sense with other experiences – and I was in good hands.
As my experiences began to shift and deepen at the beginning of the session, I had an intuitive sense of, Oh, this! I know this! Sort of like a homecoming. There was nothing in it I felt I needed to resist, and in fact I knew that the less I resisted, the better things would go. This might sound odd, but a previous place I had felt this sense of informed and wholehearted consent was in getting my wisdom teeth yanked a couple of years ago. I liked the dentist, and I trusted him. When he started on the first tooth with the pliers, and the enamel started making shattering sounds, there was a moment of real fear. But then I thought, You have come here to let this man take your teeth. Let go! And the first tooth came flying out. The second one took a little more doing, but soon enough, it was out, too, and both of us were delighted to see it, gnarly & slick with blood, as its sister had been. He had freed me of teeth that were no longer serving me well, and I had worked willingly with him to make this possible.
Let this be for the good of all came up as I passed from one state into the next. I could feel I had no expectation of what ought to happen, or what I wanted to happen, and I could feel the commitment to allow this for the good of all consciousness to form my intentions throughout the session. The insight arose: any point within this experience can be an opening into the infinite space of open awareness. I found this was true, just as I had found it to be true in working with Reggie Ray’s embodied awareness practices, and with tai chi training.
I reached a place of feeling at ease and stable, having in some sense crossed over. I could focus my awareness on the body, relaxing the legs and feet and face. I could welcome awareness, and allow it to deepen without limit or obstruction in any sense or any direction. Then arose the insight of suffering: beings everywhere imagining themselves to be separate and isolated, when in fact we are all participants in – and embodiments of – awareness. I turned back towards this suffering with a sense of profound grief, and also knowledge that my vows and my intention meant I could not shy away from it. Beings are numberless, I vow to free them all. Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to let go of them all. Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them all. The Buddha way is unattainable, I vow to embody it.
I remembered two photographs of my father I had looked at the night before:
1. my father is in an airplane, sitting next to my little nephew, and looking really creepy: grey, puffy, fat, sweaty, hairy. next to him, the boy is sweet, perfect, shy. my father is trying to protect him, but his idea of this is plainly insane with worry and control.
2. my father is holding a bunch of orange dahlias, and beaming at the camera, at my mother, at my nephew. He is still in the body of a man who eats too much, and probably drinks too much, and works too much, but he is radiating pure joy. the picture is captioned in pencil, in my mother’s writing, Goompa’s pom-poms. Goompa is what my nephew calls his grandfather.
I found myself entering the state of being my father: the heaviness of an unloved body, the way he tends not to see his inherent good qualities & is thus constantly laboring to justify his existence and stave off annihilation. I found myself entering into the being of my mother & brother in this way, and then my husband, and my dog. It was hard to go into the dog: the distance felt greater, and also the grief.
On retreat three weeks ago, I studied the Vajra Songs of Longchempa, which include the bodhicitta that exchanges self and others. In the next phase of the session, I found myself doing this literally. Exchanging self and other: entering into the consciousness of others, now without the layer of grief I had felt so deeply, earlier. The insight arose: if I am in here, awakened awareness is in here, and so within any possible state of consciousness, awakened awareness is present. No one is alone. No one is cut off, whether they are conscious of the connection, or not. I found myself traveling back to a resort in Bali, where a group of followers of an enlightened Australian man were staying. I could see all of us there, at breakfast, eating fruit & honey & delicious red-rice bread. I could hear one of the disciples telling me about her teacher, how amazing he was, and I entered into that mind, where I saw there was a spark of awareness that knew this whole thing was a game: she was primordially just as awake as anyone, and while it was fun traveling to Bali to be with An Important Person, ultimately the task was to be in her own true nature. I visited some Klansmen at a rally in South Carolina: what are you up to? I could feel that part of the pain they were experiencing was the internal knowledge of falsehood, which needed to be staved off with ever greater displays of aggression.
Throughout all of this, there was a sense of not clinging to anything, of allowing consciousness to travel. Sometimes I felt a sense of pause, of gathering. To what shall I apply this consciousness now? I found if I waited a bit, an answer would come. Either it would be time to shift into one of the meditation sessions, or some new imagery would arise from within the music, or elsewhere. I could feel it was important not to become attached to the stuff that was happening, and to check in with the space of awareness itself, resting there. I felt aware & immensely grateful to the lineage of teachers, known and unknown, who have kept the teachings of primordial, compassionate awareness alive and available in this world.
The meditation sessions were welcome. All three – breath, metta, open awareness – were felt as expressions of the same seamless consciousness. At the same time, each one was like a stone thrown into a pond, causing different ripples. I was aware of being grateful for the opportunity to be a good citizen, and let go of whatever was happening, in order to focus on the room, and my guides, and the meditations. I was aware of taking pleasure in good citizenship, and in not indulging in focusing on the extraneous, exotic elements of my experience. True, one of my guides was giving off rainbows, and it was a little harder than usual to tie my pants, but, c’est la vie.
The end of the session felt sweet. I could tell I was returning to something more like where I tend to spend my days, and the music came to feel like a lovely line back into the world. I felt like a kid in bed, listening to her Walkman, and enjoying the beauty of the sounds & lyrics. Ladysmith Black Mambazo singing Reveal Yourself struck me as especially moving and apt.
I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to do this work in such a beautifully supportive and well-thought-out environment. May these insights and experiences be for the good of all.
108 Names of Now