A Dharma Glimpse by Philip
I have been listening to a track by Jon Hopkins, an English musician and producer of electronic and piano driven music, called ‘Sit around the Fire’ recently. I love it the track has human connectivity; it was recommended by one templemate to another, who then played it to me in his car on a trip over to the Sugar Loaf café in West Malvern. One of my favourite places in Malvern which now has a multitude of memories connected to it. This was one such memory.
The track is based around a talk, or talks, by Ram Dass, an American spiritual leader according to Wikipedia. He has a calming, memorising voice to me. One part which struck me, and I’ve been reflecting on, is his suggestion to quiet your mind and open your heart. How do you quiet the mind? He suggests you meditate. How do you open your heart? He suggests you love that which you can love, such as a tree, a person or an animal, and keep expanding it until you reach the source behind all of it. I start to be able to quieten my mind. Not always, but sometimes. Really opening my heart is trickier, but I’m working on it. I wonder if there’s also a need to let go……..
I’ll tell you a short story. I was out walking on the beautifully named, and pretty visually pleasing, Half Moon Bay in Heysham up here in the north-west recently. There’s a strangely beautiful contrast for me between the brutalist human architecture of Heysham nuclear power station at the end of the bay (from the direction I come from anyway) and the natural architecture of the bay; it’s lush greenery, sinuous coastline, multitude of different shaped, sized and shaded pebbles on the beach, and the flat, serene (at least on this day!), slightly murky, but nevertheless mesmerising, water. It hit me; I am causing myself unnecessary suffering by clinging on to things. I have been thinking of something specific recently in terms of clinging, but this truth hit me like a bolt from the blue so that, for a brief moment, I could see and feel it with total clarity. It felt like a real dharma glimpse of which I don’t have many, if any! There is already much pain there in this case, and I could see how I’m clinging on to something that has gone, or perhaps was never really there, is adding more pain. Attachment and impermanence suddenly came alive rather than merely words and concepts my ears hear, my brain processes, but which haven’t really gone down into the murky depths of my being.
Later on that day I was reminded of a saying Dayamay passed on to me a year or two back; “I never let go of anything that hasn’t got my claw marks all over it” (apparently attributed to David Foster Wallace, an American author, according to the internet – almost unintended alliteration there!). Maybe it’s the human condition to cling on. Cling on for dear life at different times and for different parts of us maybe all the time. Maybe it’s our survival instinct as much as our ego, greed and stupidity. Maybe they’ll all inter-related. Maybe, for many of us, we’re simply petrified to sit with our minds, open our hearts, and let go knowing impermanence and suffering are inevitable. Doing those things, I think, requires immense courage, effort and, ultimately, compassion. And wisdom to know we’ll never do them perfectly, slipping back into old ways and habits time and time again. Thank goodness Amitabha Buddha accepts me just as I am and that I can take refuge at any time to help me quieten my mind, open my heart and let go. At least bit by painstaking, but beautiful, bit.
Namo Amida Bu.