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Dealing with afflictions and illness

Dealing with afflictions and illness

Part of a series of teachings given during the Manjushri Winter Retreat from December 2008 to March 2009 at Sravasti Abbey.

  • Dealing with attachments
  • Feelings of anger during meditation sessions
  • The mind and physical illness

Manjushri Retreat 13: Q&A (download)

Audience: I’ve had a very hard week up to today. Sort of the clouds lifted, I don’t quite know why. The community meeting really threw me. Because I had been in the hall, and then went back in hall; so that day was just, I don’t know, the energy all changed; and then I couldn’t, I couldn’t make it over the wave or something and back in there. There was a lot of grumbling in my mind. And then I got very, very lost in attachment this week, just having to pull myself out over and over and over. It was like glue. It was just like glue. It was like the minute I would think about, “I will just get myself out of that.” And then I would have a few minutes of clarity, and then I would think, “Okay, now I’m going to send Manjushri light to … zoop!” I’m like right back. Sending it to those people and then the whole story starts and it was just like, “Oh, my gosh!” So today I started thinking, “Okay, I’m not going to think about Portland any more. I’m going to think about Cleveland, Ohio; Mumbai, India; Minot, North Dakota.” Those are the three cities where I don’t know anybody. In this life I don’t know them. And then I started imagining that I was that attached to some of them in other lives and I kind of lightened up somehow. But it’s just been a struggle. It’s just been fall in and pull yourself back out; and then anger on the other end of the attachment was like ….

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Angry at who?

Audience: Everybody.

VTC: At the same people you’re attached to?

Audience: No, here, anger for everybody here, because ….

VTC: Oh, because you want to be with the people there.

Audience: Yes.

VTC: Because they’re better than us.

Audience: Right, right, yes, of course. [laughter] And then of course they’re not. And then of course they are. And then of course they’re not. So it’s just that kind of mind, it was just about four or five days of [it]. But, I just stuck with it, just go in [the hall], do Manjushri. Okay, you can’t stand Manjushri now [laughter], so do Blue Medicine Buddha, do Tara. I started doing a protector practice, Palden Lhamo, that Geshe-la taught. The last few days that I did Palden Lhamo to start out with really lifted my mind. So I just kept kind of searching, what would lift and help me because I knew I could get out. It was like, “Okay, here we are again, slugging it out.”

VTC: What’s so special about Portland? Do any of you guys see anything special about Portland?

Audience: It rains a lot.

VTC: Yes. Does your mind go to Portland? Are there exceptionally wonderful people in Portland?

Audience: [shaking heads, “No.”]

Audience: See, they are all wrong! [laughter] You can’t ask these people.

Audience: I got ripped off in Portland.

VTC: Did you?

Audience: K used to be there, it’s the only thing I needed to know about it.

Audience: See, they’re wrong. But now I mean it’s just stuff. [laughter]

VTC: But it’s good that you hang in there and you just stick it out and the mind goes up and the mind goes down, and you learn to work with it.

Audience: Yes. What else can you do?

VTC: Yes. I mean the main thing is that you’re not believing that it’s true.

Audience: Right.

VTC: Yes? And you have this disbelief.

Audience: Yes. Much more firm, it’s much more held in, “Okay, this is not sane. This is not sane thinking.”

Audience: I encountered similar experiences, but a little different, because I was transitioning out. Like I feel like emotionally it was a smooth transition, but mentally it wasn’t a smooth transition to me. The community meeting really felt disruptive to the continuation of my retreat somehow. I’m not sure why because I actually enjoyed the community meeting.

VTC: [laughter] You enjoyed it and it was disruptive.

Audience: [laughter] On Sunday it was kind of a different day and the energy that we had those four weeks before, it just never really came back. And I bet I was attached to what the energy of that group of retreatants was, and when that group of retreatants changed I couldn’t deal with it. It was actually the session on Wednesday that I just couldn’t sit still any longer and I actually got up and left. And I regret it, but I felt like I would have just been sitting there thinking about the IG stuff and how different the session is compared to the sessions of the last week.

VTC: No, it’s good you sit there anyway.

Audience: Yes.

Meditating through anger and body pain

VTC: Yes? And then you look at your own mind, “Why am I thinking about the IG stuff? And why am I comparing this to other things? And I’m not in the hall now, so how can I talk about the group of people who are in the hall being different, because I’m there morning and evening with the same group of people who are always in there morning and evening?” [laughter] Just another episode of berzerky mind. Yes? And we all go through it, don’t we? “I can’t sit here one second longer!” Oh, I remember one session, when I lived in Missouri, being so furious, I was so mad. It was like, “I can’t sit here one second longer. I’m so mad.” [laughter] Oh, there were a few of those. So some I sat there, one second longer, and two seconds longer, and finished the session. And I remember one time I left. But the all the other times I just sat there, knowing like, “What in the world am I so mad at?” Because what I found is incredible: is I can get very angry in the meditation session, and then the minute the session is over, the anger’s gone. Completely like this, gone. And so this happens enough so that then when you have the anger in the session, then you’re going, “What’s going on here? Because the moment this is over—I’m not going to be thinking about this anymore.”

Audience: It’s the same with body pain.

Audience: Oh, yes.

VTC: Oh, yes.

Audience: I can’t stand it, it hurts so much, and then the clock starts moving closer, closer to nine and the gong’s going to ring, and I feel fine. It’s like, “Huh?! Interesting.” [laughter]

Using Dharma to heal mind and body

VTC: So how was your week?

Audience: Oh! It’s been fruitful. Today I just did a lot of crying. I’ve been listening to your teaching about the bucket in the well. [The analogy is that samsaric beings are like a bucket in a well. Going up & down in samsara endlessly and with lots of effort!] And I really feel like I’m the bucket that’s banging up and against the wall and on the way down. I think what has become very clear to me today is how hard I have been on myself and how disconnected I have been from my body most of my life, that I don’t even know. I mean if it wasn’t for D, and T, and K, I wouldn’t know how to take care of myself. I didn’t have a clue. And so by their experience, what they’ve learned how to take care of themselves when they’ve been ill, that I have some people that have some wisdom that they can say, “Well, have you thought about what’s going on right now, think about it this way.” I have no understanding of how to take care of this body. [She has been quite ill for some weeks FYI.] And I visualize myself, the body stands over there, and S just has this dialog with herself on, “What’s going on, what’s wrong with it and why it’s not working.” And so I think about, you know, “Why are you so hard on other people? What your expectations of other people are?” How I think some people are wimpy and I think that some people don’t hold their share. I mean I have all this judgment going on because I have the same feelings about myself. I’m lying up there, all I can think about is all the things that I should be doing.

And my mind doesn’t understand that this is really important that I take care of myself, because right now I’m really, really sick. And all I do is just berate myself for being sick. And what came today was how much cruelty and how much lack of compassion I’ve had for most of my life. Luckily for me my body has been a healthy one, if I had been a sick person, with the kind of mind I’ve had in relationship to my body, I don’t know what I would’ve done. So I haven’t had this kind of experience very often, for me to sit with my own self-criticism and my own lack of compassion for my own situation.

So today has been a really, a very, very powerful fruitful day, because the sickness has just moved someplace else. It’s like it’s not really gotten any better, but it’s changed. So I just then have to deal with it and cultivate patience, and giving-and-taking mediation, and realize this is samsara, S. If you can’t have compassion for yourself in this when will you have it? You’re getting on and you’re 53 and this is just a rehearsal for things that are going to happen more and more frequently. So you’ve got to learn how to take care of yourself and really be easy. So I’ve been having a lot of, sort of “Ahas” on how I have not been doing that, my whole life. And at 53, luckily I am having an opportunity to maybe get some skills. Yes, and the mindfulness of the body practice has been really kind of visceral. The bronchi [laughter] and then the fingers are all congested, and all contracted, and like the snot up here was all packed behind my eyes. [laughter] And what’s the difference between snot and phlegm, let’s see, it was phlegm down there, snot up here. [laughter] It’s been really powerful, a powerful week of purification practice. But the bucket in the well has definitely been a turning point of the process.

Audience: S, as you’re talking I was half listening to you and then the other half of me is just kind of looking at you and I am amazed, I swear you look five years younger. Your face is so relaxed. I don’t know, just your face looks so much fresher now than I’ve ever seen.

Audience: It’s softer.

Audience: It’s sort of like all the qualities of Sergeant Joyous Effort that never benefited me, have been up for discussion this week. [laughter]. And she’s going to go to a new recruitment session. But I have to say that I have felt very supported and very cared for this week. I know that people have been saying prayers, and of course the people have been taking care of me and taking care of the Abbey. I really feel that there’s no other place that I would’ve had the opportunity and the permission to work on what I need to do in a Dharma way, than this space right now. It’s a wonderful container to work on this. This is a big one for me. Anyway, thank you for asking.

Transitioning out of the meditation hall

Audience: So I’ve been transitioning out of retreat and it’s actually going very well. Some sessions in the hall and that was fine. I didn’t really have any issue, having sort of the change of people [or] anything like that. But I kind of realized what you said, is that it’s not going to be the same coming out of retreat. It’s different than being in retreat; and it’s just what it is. But I really feel that and when you said that, I thought that was kind of a negative. Not because of the way you said it, but because my mind was thinking of it in a negative way, as though that’s not as good. But I realize that going in retreat, and since I’ve been doing my work by myself, working over at Gotami house and just kind of on my own, so I had time to just kind of do as I please. I guess I would say in my mind, not having to be overly occupied in one thing; and I just realized, it really is just different. And it’s not better or worse [being in or out of retreat], and there are still just as many opportunities for me to change my mind and grow to be a better person. And, almost more opportunities, as long as you can stay aware of it and keep in mind that. But I mean, I have a lot of lists that are starting too, things that need to be done, which isn’t a problem. And so I just decided I’m just going to have to change my energy and the way in which I use the energy from retreat. Not to be changed and used in a different way. I’m not sure yet how. I can see my mind is more, it’s not really bothering me, just like: take it as a sign that now you should generate compassion. Whenever I noticed it in my mind, then I just come, “Oh, cool, very compassionate with all this energy.” And even if it’s just so much that it’s just saying the words or something for it’s not like you’re always going to feel it down in the bottom of your heart, but just turning my mind and saying the words in the same [way as] like Shantideva’s dedication. Just things like that. I don’t know. It seems to be quite nice.

VTC: Okay, then we’ll dedicate.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.