What matters in life is simple. Are you free and loving? Are you bringing your gifts to the world that so badly needs them?
To recap: This is how Jack Kornfield opens his book, Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are. Kornfield is a Buddhist teacher and meditator from the US, and this week I’m writing a post each day relating to the content of the book. I’m calling them Meditations though they’re not necessarily about meditation or Buddhism per se. They’re about that opening statement.
Today, Kornfield’s opinion on what meditation leaves untouched.
Kornfield has an unusual background. He practised as a Buddhist monk in Asia for five years as a young man, when he says he was looking for “initiations”. The trials he describes which the monks were required to practice are fantastical, and similar in tone to the extremes practised by the monks of the early Christian world of 300-500AD and discussed so memorably in William Dalrymple’s, From the Holy Mountain that I blogged about previously.
After five years, Kornfield realised he didn’t want to spend his whole life as a celibate monk. “Marriage, relationships and living in the world were still important to me, and so I told my teacher that I wanted to return to the West.”
So he returned, and after a period of “great bliss and joy”, discovered to his horror that “a lot of the neurotic patterns of my life were waiting back here, like old, comfortable clothes”.
There I was again, fighting with my girlfriend, worrying about money.
He realised the enormous benefits he had gained from his training in the Thai and Burmese monasteries, including the benefits of “very deep meditation”, hadn’t touched “major areas of difficulty in my life, such as loneliness, intimate relationships, work, childhood wounds and patterns of fear”.
He went on to train as a psychotherapist back in the US, and presumably addressed the issues using those means combined with what he’d learnt earlier.
It’s an important statement he makes here, and I want to give my view on it.
No matter what we say about it, no matter how far we run, we come into being through others, through our interactions with others. The question, “Are you free and loving?” is really asking this: “Are your relations with others free and loving?” We are free and loving to the extent our relations with others are free and loving. To say it another way, we are our relations, and nothing else.
There is nothing other than our relations we could be.
Think about it for a moment and the implications are dazzling. The first question that likely occurs is: how do I restore, how do I tend, my relations with others?
One answer: by getting complete on what’s incomplete between ourselves and another. The following story is about a recent incident in which I completed something with a person.
Two months ago, I was having a conversation with someone and he mentioned a man we both knew whom I’ll call P.
I had known P for about four years. When he mentioned P, I made a face and dismissed the subject. The person questioned me about my reaction and asked me what it was about. And I started to tell him my opinions of P. “I don’t trust him, I think he’s slimy, he’s dishonest, I don’t like him …” and so on. Fortunately, the person I was with didn’t let me get away with this. “Why don’t you call him and get complete?” he asked.
“Umm, OK” I said, reluctant, “I’ll do it”.
Afterwards, I had a wee think, remembered a conversation I had had with P four years ago when he’d said something about me that I took to be very nasty, pretended to myself for a bit that that wasn’t “it”, and then picked up the phone and called him.
Wow! In two minutes, the whole thing was sorted. I told him I’d been making him wrong for four years because of this thing he’d said, I apologised for not communicating with him earlier and then I told him the thing. He listened, apologised for what he’d said, acknowledged the impact of the statement on me and thanked me for communicating with him. He told me I was awesome, I told him he was generous, and bam, that was it! Now when I see him there’s nothing there. It’s all clear and beautiful; I can hear what he’s saying and see the loving person he is.
Tomorrow: another Meditation on Kornfield’s book …
Image: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Hulton/Getty, courtesy Time magazine