I am using Weeping Buddha and the lojong sayings and commentary from Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness by Chogyam Trungpa as a study, together.
I’ve been practicing tonglen for almost three decades, and it is my main practice.
This is the fourteenth weekly installment. To start at the beginning go here.
As the two quotes from Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness by Chogyam Trungpa attest above, taking responsibility for everything that happens to you will open you up and move you along the path of enlightenment. My mother was the ultimate test case for this slogan.
She’s crazy — seriously — and those close to her would all agree 100%. She makes trouble, stirs things up between people, and enjoys (my assumption) the chaos and sadness she causes because then she tries to control and sooth and be close. It’s a vicious cycle. After years of emotional arguments (me losing it, and her a bit gleeful about that), drawing boundaries (she overstepped them), and separations (mostly from her side, despite what she said), I wanted to step off. This slogan was key.
In my life I never held my tongue or turned the other cheek when it came to my mother.
I finally looked at her as a very old woman. We helped move her and survived, barely. After her heart surgery, when she had a stroke and needed to be in a safe environment while doing rehab, she stayed with us. It was a wild toad ride. I am here to tell you she tried very hard to cause problems between me and my doctor (hers too), my oldest brother and myself, between my oldest brother and my husband, between my husband and I, and as a fact, she was a gremlin! When she wasn’t doing that, she simply criticized all day long. I kid you not.
I had compassion for her in terms of understanding she has never been in pain,
and now she was experiencing it night and day. Pain was a shock to her each time she woke to it, where I am always pleasantly surprised when I have little pain! I long ago learned that it didn’t help me to talk about it much unless I couldn’t move. She focused only on her pain (and it is hard if you are not used to it) and was in much less pain that I am many days. In a classic case of glass half full / glass half empty, I saw a woman who has been blessed with 85 years of almost no pain, and now she had great pain as she worked rehab to pull herself back into shape after surgery. I thought about whether I would trade that for a life filled with a great deal of pain from a back injury when I was young. I thought so. . .
She was with us six months, working to get herself back to living alone. It was mostly hell with some fun interludes. In the end, this is what I learned from working this slogan daily:
- Observing someone who is always criticizing, always blaming woke me to how blaming others must feel in one’s body. Maybe I used to do that — I can hardly see who I was at 20 — but it is not like me now and so it is a startling thing. It is a terribly unhappy feeling. This revelation allowed me to develop compassion for her.
- I had the opportunity to drop the storyline of mother/daughter and feel during meditation what it is to want to blame another for everything, and how much hate there is behind that blame. I also saw clearly how much she hated me, and did so dispassionately on many occasions, with a degree of curiosity. I began to trace it to the woman who let her down, her mother, a woman she put on a pedestal. It is hard to hate a saint, a victim, a quiet person — which is what everyone thinks of my grandmother. So you bottle it up and fling it at one who reminds you of her.
- Holding grudges. Being around her every day (our office/studio was in our home) I heard the constant litany of who done her wrong. Because I often knew both sides of the stories, I began to understand that she never forgives, anyone, never forgetting even the littlest thing that was uncomfortable. She held onto millions of sad memories! It is no wonder she still holds me responsible for things I have apologized for, things that were said by me in my twenties. For me they are behind me, and I can apologize easily today about them and also know that that was then, and I have done my mea culpas. What is it like to never forgive?, I wondered. I realized it means you are always uncomfortable with the ones who wronged you, and that includes everyone, pretty much, so there is a lot of discomfort. Hard to go through a life with friends and relatives scot-free of disagreements. And there is an unconscious protection and loss of power too, knowing they can hurt you again. It leads to always protecting territories. WOW, that is my mother in a nutshell, never trusting anyone, and that protection leads to all the other craziness.
- I began to be open-hearted and undefensive a good deal of the time with her. Not all. I am human and lost my temper with her or defended and stiffened around her. But I stopped resisting her true self and managed to feel the love I had for her and the sadness I had for her situation and mind-set. She will never change — she could, but she has no interest in changing. I’m a lousy liar to loved ones, and so I could never pull off that passive pretense that “nothing bothered me.” However, nothing changed, and everything changed, for me. She went through all the same antics, though the day finally came when she moved back into her home. She was strong enough to create a life for herself again. From an open-hearted place I could reflect on whether I was able to be centered and open and vulnerable and be there for her in a compassionate way, or if I needed to exit because I was not in a right-minded place. I could chose. I could often simply BE in the midst of her yah-yah-yahing incessantly about how everything is wrong, everything is their fault, I am a horrible person, and everyone is doing this or that to her. I could, often, feel the love I had for the woman who did a decent job of giving me a good start in life even with all her faults.
I am not even close to feeling completion with this one slogan. It offers a lifetime of lessons, because there is a world of crazy humans. This gives you a way into understanding what is underneath blaming, what is underneath negative actions, what causes resistance and defensiveness, and allows compassion and openheartedness to arise. There is a comfort in making sense of crazy and neurotic. When Ani Pema speaks of “dropping the storyline” I don’t hear that you should forget-about-it and be a victim. Again, if someone hits you, press charges. Then do this work. Get underneath whatever the emotions are that led to the abuse and anger and discomfort. Feel your hurt feelings without defensiveness, the pure hurt, the fear and sorrow while sitting on the zafu in a safe place.
Next week, part three. Yup, not through with this slogan yet!
In this weekly commentary on the lojong, I am not open to the feed becoming
a debate for people to nitpick Buddhism or my interpretations of Buddhist concepts.
(There are lots of places for debates.) I am more interested in hearing about
YOUR life or how the lojong affected you or your practice awakening in some manner.
For more info about why, go here.