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Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
- Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne
This beautiful poem by Rumi popped into my head when I was reflecting on today’s home retreat material, which is about noticing the stories we tell ourselves. This past week I’ve been quite immediately and almost viscerally aware of the effect of the stories (or what is called papañca, mental proliferation) I’m repeating to myself. Last week I was struggling with quite a bit of: “I don’t want this to be happening”, “I’m supposed to be doing x, y, and z” - there are places I won’t now get to visit, a solitary retreat I may not be able to go on, a birthday celebration that never quite happened…Minor grievances in the scheme of things but all of these thoughts caused an inner tension. However, when I finally managed to drop the stories during a sun-drenched walk around my local park on Saturday, surrounded by greenness and growth, I realised that actually, I had everything I could possibly need and that although there is uncertainty, fear and physical separation, there is still beauty - there is cherry blossom! - and connection. Thinking those thoughts changes my world for the better; it spills out and wants to respond to the suffering I see others undergoing.
I feel most fortunate that I’ve been given lots of reminders to reflect on the Dharma this past while, opportunities to focus on the reality of how things are rather than my interpretations and disappointed expectations. I very much enjoyed Vajragupta’s Q+A on Sunday during which he explained his current thinking on the worldly winds - afterwards I felt I was left with a few more gems to cherish for this week. Just one to mention: a quote Vajragupta had heard said by another Order member, Manjusvara: “no expectations, only possibilities”, which had the ring of truth to it, and chimed with my experience in the park the previous day.
Listen to the Q+A with Vajragupta on Sailing the World Winds
Vajragupta uses this phrase, “slamming the brakes on papañca” - which he acknowledged on Sunday is perhaps not the phrase he would use these days! But essentially, how do we work with these stories when they arise? Last night Candradasa, Kusaladevi and I took part in a Dharma Toolkit Daily podcast with Abhayavajra, an artist who is living at Vajrasana retreat centre in Suffolk, UK. Abhayavajra had many beautiful and wise things to say about the relationship between the Dharma and art - of how when one makes a change in one corner of a painting it changes the whole - putting me in touch again with a sense of the potentially endless creativity of our minds, the possibilities that are there when we let go of expectations that things will be one way or another.
In his book Vajragupta talks about mindfulness being the doorway out of the worldly winds of pleasure and pain but you could also say that beauty is a doorway out too (and isn’t mindfulness a form of beauty in any case?). Beauty doesn’t deny either pleasure or pain, but includes both. Abhayavajra talked about the healing aspect of art and how, for the great artist Claude Monet, his response to the terrible suffering that happened during world war one was to paint beautiful water lilies. So for me, rather than staying “empty and frightened” as Rumi describes it, with stories that cause contraction and disconnection, I’d like to invite more beauty into my life from whatever unexpected quarter it may come - and “let the beauty we love be what we do”.
It would be great to hear how you are working with the stories that might be arising for you, so do feel free to share any thoughts or tips below!
Read Vajragupta’s daily reflection focusing on the stories we tell and listen to some audio from Subhuti on understanding the worldly winds
Download the practice diary to aid with your own reflections
Listen to the Dharma Toolkit Daily here (episode with Abhayavajra to be released soon!)