Of human bondage and the chocolate chip of life

GeorgiaOKeefe_Red and Yellow Cliffs 1940

You can apply the following thought to any aspect of life where one part is seen as a necessary, to-be-gotten-through obligation and the other part, the release or freedom from the obligation.

While he’s talking about the contrast between meditation (the obligation) and the rest of life (the release), I can easily apply it to a current situation in my life.

Several times a week, I’m doing some work for a client which is challenging and tedious. Each time, in the hours before going to the client’s, I’m thinking about having to go, wishing I didn’t have to, wanting it to be over. Then, when it’s over, I feel like I’ve won the lottery for a few hours.

I know this is a very common experience and nothing remarkable, and that you could also say there’s nothing wrong with it, indeed, that the experience of release is one you might even consider “worth” the discomfort that went beforehand.

All the same, I’d like to learn to handle it differently. And as Trungpa suggests, the situation is unnecessary.

“Another challenging aspect of a group retreat is mealtimes … [which]  are often seen as a moment of release, a moment of freedom – which is unnecessary … there can be a quality of meals as time off, a gap, a vacation. You are eating and drinking – no doubt having a relatively pleasant time – and you regard it as completely outside of what you are doing in the meditation hall. There’s a dichotomy, a shockingly big contrast, which is unnecessary.  If you cultivate such an approach during the mealtimes or during personal time – thinking that this is your free time, your time to release energy – then obviously your sitting practice is going to feel like imprisonment. You are creating your own jail.

You might feel that the meditation hall is where serious practice takes place, and when you get out the door, everything’s free, back to normality or something like that … By doing that, you might develop a negative reaction toward the meditation hall, considering it a jail, while the other places, away from practice, come to represent freedom and having a good time.

The suggestion here is that we could even out the whole thing and have a good time all over the place. This is not so much a jail, and that is not so much a vacation, freedom, a holiday. Everything should be evened out. That is the basic approach: if you sit, if you stand, if you eat, if you walk – whatever you do is all part of the same good old world. You are carrying your world with you in any case. You cannot cut your world into different slices and put them into different pigeonholes.

We don’t have to be so poverty-stricken about our life. We don’t have to try to get a little chocolate chip from just one part of our life. All the rest will be sour, but here I can take a dip in pleasure! If your body is hot and you dip your finger in ice water, it feels good. In actual fact, it’s painful at the same time, not completely pleasurable. If you really know the meaning of pleasure in the total sense, this dip in pleasure is a further punishment and an unnecessary trick that we play on ourselves.”

~ from Mindfulness in Action by Chögyam Trungpa

Image: Red and Yellow Cliffs, 1940, by Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986); in July, the Tate Modern in London will host a major retrospective of O’Keeffe’s work.

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