What Fassbinder film is it?
The one-armed man goes into the flower shop and says
What flower expresses
days go by
and they just keep going by endlessly
pulling you into the future
days go by
endlessly pulling you
into the future?
And the florist says: “White Lily.”
It’s difficult to express how the Dharma has shifted my relationship to everything I encounter. I want to take a moment to make an attempt at taking stock, because it’s really become the salient feature of my practice at the moment and I want to wrestle with it here. Mostly to see if I can take the measure of it, stake out some kind of map of the territory.
In the beginning I was kind of interested in the Dharma, you know, looking at it from the outside and thinking it was pretty cool. There was meditation, which seemed like a good thing, and there was this exotic flavor to everything that seemed like it might make me kind of special if I dressed myself up in it, it might be a way to stand out- not so that others would see me as special so much as I would see me as special. It might make me feel better- I could be spiritual and exotic, which would kind of prop up my always faltering ego. And you know, it might help with my crazy and my depression and my rageyness.
And I drifted along like that for a long time.
Then, for whatever reason, I got more serious. I think it’s because the pain I was experiencing in the world and in my head and heart just became more than I could bear and I thought I could get some relief there, kind of fix my mind a little bit. And then, due to sheer blind luck or the workings of karma or the benevolence of my teacher, the Sharmapa came to our tiny center when we were meeting in a conference room on a golf course, and gave a weekend teaching. I went, and at the end of the teaching, I took refuge, formally becoming a Buddhist.
For me, the experience was sudden and unexpected, but happy. I really did not understand the significance of what I’d done, or the significance of the manner in which it happened. I thought very much at the time that it was simply something I’d decided to do, to go attend this teaching, and once there, when refuge was offered, it seemed like a good idea to go, to do it, and here was this teacher from Tibet who was supposed to be the real deal, so why not?
Of course, from here the whole thing looks completely different to me. I’m so much more overwhelmed by my teacher’s benevolence and kindness in coming all that way and in scooping me up out of the ocean of samsara, bringing me into the Dharma in such a powerful way, in such a complete and perfect way. It feels very personal, but I know that it’s the opposite of personal. He wasn’t looking for me, not in that way. I was just one of the limitless beings he was intent on helping. And through some merit and good karma of my own, I managed to put myself in his way at the right moment. And I managed to take the leap- no one made me do that.
At least, I think I managed that on my own. I’m actually not sure about that.
And then I almost immediately went into the most difficult years of my life. I quit going to the center, I never really established a practice, and I fell (I thought) away from the path. I still read a lot of Dharma and studied and contemplated, but I didn’t practice and didn’t attend teachings. I was, at least in my own mind, alone. And these were the years of my daughter’s drug addiction and getting arrested and in and out of jails and rehabs and also the years of immersion in the meatiest years of my job, working SWAT and detectives in a very toxic environment. I look back on those years and it is as if everything was in flames the whole time, although I know that’s not actually how it was. It was actually just how it is now, which is just how it has always been. Everything is happening all the time, constantly. What determines our reality has more to do with how we see than it does with what we’re looking at. And at that time, I was seeing things through the eyes of a hell being. I was constantly under assault, under dire threats. My daughter was destroying everything in her path like the very embodiment of Lord Shiva, and our safe little life was in flames and at work people were trying to kill me and also there were bad guys trying to kill me and it was very fixed somehow. The suffering endured.
And then, somehow, almost ten years later, I got serious. I started practicing, went back to the center, and started attending retreats every chance I got. I dove in, hard, fast, completely.
And it took.
And now it’s been about three years. I found my teacher, and then lost him(although this loss has really been an immeasurable gain for me- a true teaching about what death is and how it did not diminish what he is in any way). I got a whole raft of teachers through him that keep me going now. I still seek out teachings wherever I can, and do as much retreat as possible. I practice with joy and as much diligence as I’m capable of. My whole world looks different to me- again, not because suddenly there’s no more pain, no more bad things, no more old age, sickness, and death- not that at all, but how I see and experience things has irretrievably shifted. And that makes my reality different from what it was. And also, I think that actually there are somewhat fewer bad things and somewhat more beautiful and good things, because I’m causing less harm now. I’m creating the causes and conditions for positive things- it’s not just a matter of a change in perspective.
And right now I feel like I’m moving into a little bit of a more mature phase of development. I’m losing a bit of the heat and passion that I got swept up in in the first couple of years of serious practice. I was like a teenager in love- very sincere, very devoted, but kind of over the top, too. A little too hungry for my teachers in a way that still was fueled by ego clinging and neediness, a little overeager, a little bit convinced of my own specialness as a Dharma student. Beginner’s error, and not at all a problem, but I see those traits fading now as I get down to the actual business of this path.
I see now that it’s not possible to leave the path, that whatever I do is the path. I can do it well or poorly, that’s it. And the choice is entirely mine. If I leave the dirty dishes in the sink, they will stay there for all time until I do them. I can have all kinds of games in which I relate to those dirty dishes- ignore them, drape a beautiful cloth over them, wall up the entire kitchen, move house, wait for my wife or my boss or the lady in line at the grocery store to do them- the possibilities are endless. But really, I simply have to get to it and do the washing up.
And that’s where the dishwasher finds himself today. Washing the dishes, right where he belongs.
May you be happy, may you be at peace, may you be safe and cared for, and may you be of benefit to others.