Samskara: Round and Round and Round We Go


You can’t cure the mind with the mind.

In other words, thinking is useless.

Okay, it’s not useless.  You need it to bake bread, till the earth, work at the corporation.

But here I am, back investigating the nature of the world ala Buddhism.

So…you can’t think your way out of a paper bag.  Or a pattern of bad relationships.  Or an inability to tolerate ticking clocks (yes, of course that one is me!).

I am enraptured by thinking about samskara, knowing it won’t do any good.  But still, I have to find some way to spend my time.

Seriously, we’re all in the business of repeating–in relationships, in work, in decisions.  Somehow, we make the same mistakes again and again.  Somehow, we keep walking down the same street.  The utter powerlessness and frustration, the inability to change at will, the way the flaws in our own characters persist and persist.

When I stop fighting it, it’s just samskara.   The Jungian complex.  The human condition.  The very thing that puts money in therapists pockets.

I like to image it like wood-burning kits you get when you’re a kid.  A metaphor:  etching lines into the wood, making patterns, labyrinths.  You can’t erase them.  Life burns them into your brain–what they call neural pathways–and they become your fate as much as anything else.  The first relationships, the first losses, the way we say, “Never again,” and yet when relationships and losses come, they are eerily similar, always.

Why, you might ask, would anyone be enjoying thinking about such things?  Maybe because I’m starting to see that there is only surrender, and surrender is such a relief.  All my life, I keep trying to wrestle my samskara to the earth with will and force, with the hatred of the repetition, and now I’ve just let go and it’s suddenly okay.  I’ll relive it or I won’t.  I don’t have to know how it’s going to turn out.  I can just wait and see, and trust that in the moment, I will know.

Of course, there must be effort, at times.  There must be an attempt at something.  But if I wait until I know, then perhaps that will be right effort.

There may be such a thing as right effort, instead of effort flung around at everything, diligently working every moment, trying, trying to get it right, make it right, prove some thing that no one wants you to prove anyhow.

This is my brain on meditation.

This is my remembering Don, and his last two phone calls to me, and the feel of his hand, swollen, as he lay in his hospital bed.  This is my gratitude for no samskara with Don, for the newness of knowing him, for how honest we both were.

The terrible letting go of loss, the necessity, the continuing to love.

The letting go of who we once were, not knowing who we will be.  The enough of that, the relief, the moment rising up and filling everything.

Good-bye Don, again and again.  May you be free from all samskara, well-loved and loving.  May you be free.  May you be welcoming, as I am, the unknown into your heart, curious, if nothing else, at how it might change your fate.

Suffering Is Optional?!&*%#@


What about my poor partner, for whom kvetching is an art form?

No, seriously, this saying has always DRIVEN ME OUT OF MY MIND!  Like, okay, say I’m sad.  I’m just supposed to presto-change-o kill that emotion?  I mean, outside of alcohol, drugs, chocolate, lots of sex, shopping, etc, how is someone SUPPOSED TO DO THAT?

I have a lifetime full of attitudes that may, perhaps, at times, mildly, gently, occasionally need adjustment.  My attitude toward this saying can be summed up in the delightful sentence, “Can you New Age lightweights go get some real grief?”

But in my obsession with Buddhism and yoga, I have been reading The Wisdom of Yoga by Stephen Cope (because even though yoga teacher training means I’m reading about 10 other books, I just have to go off on what interests or informs me).  And it turns out that the full saying is this:

“Pain is a given, but suffering is optional.”

Ah-hah!  I wasn’t so off in talking about real grief!  Because the thing is, it’s really, really, really important to draw the distinction between the first and second halves of that sentence.  Pain is a given.  Meaning, it is inescapable.  We die.  We lose people we love.  We sometimes treat each other horribly.  There are natural disasters, wars, epidemics.  Fear, sadness, sorrow, anger, horror…these are a part of life.  You can’t avoid them.  They are not optional.

Then what is suffering?  According to Cope, who is liberally quoting the Buddha, Patanjali and Jung among others, suffering is the constant re-enactment of our own life patterns.  He says that this, really, is karma.  These patterns.  They are laid down in childhood, they are laid down by repetition, they are grooves in the brain.  We fall into them like ruts in a dirt road.  But they are not inescapable.  Of course, here’s the thing: They are not exactly easy to escape.  It’s not easy to find the way to freedom.  It’s just very, very possible.

The Hindu religion and Buddhism were and are very concerned with the nature of suffering or dukkha.  The sages in India studied the mind in order to learn about human suffering.  The Buddha himself, after entering samvega (the full realization of suffering and meaninglessness), wanted to eradicate suffering.

Now, I’m a beginning meditator (even though I’ve been at it off and on since 1987), but not at all a beginning seeker.  And what I know is this–your patterns don’t whoosh, disappear.  They remain, but not so deeply grooved, if you find a way to freedom.  You have more choice.  You are not held by your history to the constant dukkha of repetition.

There’s something else, though.  As you grow into an ability to hold your own patterns, to know them as you and not you simultaneously, as you grieve for the pain at the heart of them, you become sad in a permanent way.  It’s a mature sadness, that is held within freedom.  It’s compassion and understanding, because you have gone into the dark and come out alive.  It’s a recognition of the world of causes and conditions, the world in which war and poverty and pain exist.

I know that grief, fully lived out, teaches us our humanity.  I have yet to read, in Eastern religions, about the power of grief (or intimacy, for that matter, which is also a path).  But I also know that, as one of my meditation teachers said so eloquently, that there are many paths to the moon.  We all look up, we see it, but we take different routes to get closer.

The best thing about meditation and the full practice of yoga is that they are practices.  I think it’s probably best to be in a sangha, a community, to deepen and practice, but it’s just really great that you can practice alone and get freer.  In other words, you DON’T NEED A F*&(ING THERAPIST!

This is a great relief to me.

And, I’m going to meditate again right now.  Because this morning I was super edgy with my partner.  I’d had another one of those moments of seeing her, hearing her, completely separate from my own experience and fear; and, once again, the world shifted.  I realized that I don’t know squat and I’m madly constructing reality all the time and I got her wrong, which is not something I like to see or admit.  Even though she’s more loving than I even knew, even though I felt an incredible opening, a sense of compassion, yesterday, seeing her.  Truth is, this morning, I was just pissed off.  I mean, who is she to make me change how I see the whole world?

I have confessed this to her already.  One might suppose that I would be grateful to her for popping me out of a dukkha rut, but I found it incredibly disorienting, to tell you the truth.  I didn’t know where or who I was without my familiar way of seeing.

Need I mention that I live for these moments?  Popped out of dukkha, admitting I’m crazy, which pops me into closeness as long as my partner doesn’t judge at all.  Which she hasn’t been doing.

I get to be happy for a little bit in my dukkha, unenlightened life.

Onward.

I mean, what else is there to say?

If I Do Yoga Am I Hindu?


Because let’s face it, yoga is a Hindu tradition.  A fact I’ve been in denial about for, well, an embarrassing amount of time.

Of course, the denial helped with the simple fact that all I really know about Hinduism is that it is, or was, the major religion of India (until forced Muslim conversion), and that it related strongly to the Brahmins.  I also had learned somewhere that the Brahmins are the highest level of hierarchy in the Indian caste system (a commonly known fact here in Boston where we refer to rich old money people as Boston Brahmins).  Since I am absolutely anti-authority and fairly anti-hierarchy not to mention a member of 3 minority groups and completely identified with the underdog and counterculture movements…and since I fell in love with yoga from my first experience of the practice, well, suffice it to say that all human denial has a purpose.  I just didn’t want to examine the roots of yoga too deeply.

Now, of course, I’m in yoga teacher training, so whoooooooossshhhh, there goes the denial.  Not that the training addresses the social inequities in India or the poverty or how religion played a part in social hierarchy.  It doesn’t.  But being me, and having been fully bit by the yogic bug, and therefore wanting to know everything, I’ve started to read outside the training and to really investigate Eastern religions.

That this fits nicely into the self-study of Buddhism I started last year seems bizarrely uncoincidental, but it is, nevertheless, an adventure, because I have no idea where what I’m studying will take me.

I have learned that Indian religions and religious history is a tangle.  People kept revising the religion and inventing new branches.  Because of this, the crossovers between the yogic school of Hinduism and Buddhism are immediately noticeable, not to mention that the Buddha was, after all, raised in a Hindu society with Hindu beliefs.  But get this, from Wikipedia:

Hinduism does not have a “unified system of belief encoded in declaration of faith or a creed“,[50] but is rather an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena originating and based on the Vedic traditions.

The characteristic of comprehensive tolerance to differences in belief, and Hinduism’s openness, makes it difficult to define as a religion according to traditional Western conceptions. To its adherents, Hinduism is the traditional way of life, and because of the wide range of traditions and ideas incorporated within or covered by it, arriving at a comprehensive definition of the term is problematic.

Apparently there are Vedic, or Brahmanic traditions and anti-Vedic traditions (yoga being one of these), and I just have way too much to learn to say anything else about this.  Except that any religion that can’t define itself can’t be all bad, so studying yoga is okay with me.

Of course, I won’t become a Hindu or a Buddhist.  I mean, I couldn’t even join a Unitarian Church when that was my practice.  Blame my freak of a cultish family.  I am emphatically not a joiner.  I am, for example, an Independent because I don’t like the political parties in this country.  Of course, that’s just sane.

Anyhow, more to come on yoga and being or not-being a Hindu, Buddhist, yogi or whatever.

I am on a mission of understanding.  I always kind of wanted a degree in comparative religions and this is probably as close as I’ll come.  I don’t need the degree.  I just want to learn stuff.  As always.