Whew! Long time between posts about this book, eh? There’s been a lot going on, what with becoming a granddad and heading off to Hong Kong, having a group of wonderful folks studying the Precepts for Taking Refuge and all!
I've also noticed that there's been not one comment on this month's Daily Practice of karuna-bhavana. I hope at least some of you are joining me in this practice this month! What's up?
Last we left off, we were making our way through Ajahn Amaro’s offering: “The Body of Truth.” As a forest-dwelling monastic, he speaks of “the body of the forest” teaching us. We may wonder what this has to say to us who live in the ‘concrete jungles’ or even just suburbia or the rural countryside. He says “there’s a profound physicality involved in living in a wild environment” and that is true indeed! Yet, living in Brooklyn, the sheer physicality of getting to the Laundromat, the post office and back home in one afternoon was pretty physically demanding!
“The forest,” he writes, “itself is recognized as our body, even the great earth itself,” and I would hope that no matter where we live, we come to recognize that! It’s not so much where we live, but how we live where we are that allows us to see the truth in that statement. The water than flows out of the faucets in our kitchens comes from rivers, mountain snow melt and deep wells. We drink it and it becomes this body here, reading these words. No separation.
Finally, the uncertainty of forest life is not really different from the uncertainty of any life, and we had best, as Ajahn says, “let go, recognizing that that uncertainty is part of the intrinsic nature of all things.” A practice I sometimes offer is “One-Way Practice.” Whenever you go to do something, even simply getting up from your desk to go to the rest room, take a ‘one-way ticket.’ After all, you’ve got absolutely no guarantee that you’ll be coming back to your desk! And yes, Cathy, life is that uncertain!
In the next section, “The Body of Truth and The Body of Fear,” Ajahn Amaro makes the important case that our routine identification with emotional states is a leading cause of duhkha. In the following section, “Embodying the Mind: The Case of Fear,” the practice he is advocating is pretty much what I suggest to those caught in strong emotional storms: drop out of the cognitive aspect of the experience and really turn to what it feels like in the body. Where is the sensation? What are its qualities? In effect, what we are doing is investigating the mental formations as they exist in the body. It can be rather difficult to ‘just see’ emotional states, but the energy of mindfulness can more easily be cultivated to contain the pre-cognitive state of feeling (vedana).
Of course, this requires the persistent, diligent practice of mindfulness so that we ‘build a bigger container,’ or else even the feelings – if they are intense – will seem to overwhelm us. I like that he uses the phrase I first heard from Tara Brach: “radical acceptance.” Such a mental stance strikes directly at the ‘picking and choosing’ that keeps us from true intimacy with life as it is.