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19 March 2007 @ 10:53 pm
Paying attention  
When I woke up this morning, my thoughts were all askew as usual. I asked myself: Where are you? (In bed.) In what position? (Lying down.) What do you feel against your skin? (Sheets, covers, Greg’s arm and leg.) How does your body feel? (OK – no pain anywhere. Fatigue deep inside, but not unpleasant; warm, slightly vibrating, generally comfortable.) What supports you now? (The air, the atmosphere – I’m able to breathe. The sun is shining, the Earth is apparently rotating as it should. Gravity is still operating. The bed is supporting me, the floor is supporting the bed – nails, screws, bolts, beams of metal and wood. The climate control is working in the house. The structure is still wonderful – the windows, the walls, the floors, the roof. My heart is pumping and my blood is circulating. Nutrients from the meal I ate last night are still working their way through my body, in my gut, in my blood, feeding the cells. All the systems of my body are working as far as I can tell. I am thinking, feeling, and breathing. Sweet Greg, my friends and family, my job, my colleagues and the students I work with – all these people, all these things support me and I find I could spend hours answering the question, What supports me now? Depending on what scope I apply to the concept of now.)

For about 45 minutes to an hour, my mind drifted off into thought networks and dreams, but a few times I regained an awareness of my immediate situation and asked the questions again each time: Where are you? In what position? What do you feel against your skin? How does your body feel? What supports you now? I got more efficient at checking in this way so that recognizing the answers took just a few seconds. When I got out of bed and started gearing up for another day – the bathing, the dressing – I continued to do these intermittent mental reviews of my current reality. By the time I was preparing breakfast, it occurred to me that I understood why Buddhist teachers are always reminding us to pay attention, to be mindful. Two reasons are clear for me.

First, it’s very uplifting to realize how much supports me even as I do nothing more than sit in my kitchen. My body works, the ways of the ordinary physical world as I understand it are still in effect (gravity, oxygen, light, heat), and people somewhere, at some time, were kind enough to grow to and harvest the cotton, farm the sheep and shear the wool that eventually became the fibers in the clothes that are keeping my body warm and comfortable now, and that kindness extends through every act of technology and transport that made the clothes available to me, and all other artifacts in my surroundings, for that matter.

(I remember making similar remarks to a friend once, who found my positive spin on the interconnectedness of people and resources quaint. For her, the cotton growers, sheep farmers and everyone else involved with the cultivation, manufacture, and transport of commodities to consumers were merely doing their jobs, and nothing more. Today I would reply to that comment by asking how anyone can know if the purveyors of the products I enjoy were or were not being kind in the performance of their jobs. Does one have to feel kind to be kind, and how could I know how any one of them felt anyway? My interpretation of their acts is based on my gratitude for the products I enjoy because of their efforts.)

The second advantage to paying attention is that it demonstrates the truth of impermanence in a more compelling and immediate way than any discussion or reading can convey. Impermanence is another one of those concepts that Buddhist teachers remind us of every chance they get, it seems, and I’ve wondered about that since the basic idea is so easy to understand: Nothing gold can stay.  Everything changes – so what?

Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche directs attention to the most puzzling aspect of most people’s understanding of impermanence:

"The question is not whether or not the person, personality or ego is a changing, composite train of events conditioned by many complex factors. Any rational analysis shows us that this is the case. The question is why then do we behave emotionally as if it were lasting, single, and independent. Thus, when looking for the self [Rinpoche’s remarks are made here within a discussion of the Buddhist doctrine of ‘not-self’], it is very important to remember it is an emotional response that one is examining" (emphasis my own).

        -- from Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness, p. 11

So this is one of the most interesting points for me about paying attention, namely that it seems to foster my capacity to grasp the concept of impermanence at an emotional level which settles in more deeply than understanding that rests at a strictly intellectual level. In short, paying attention engenders gratitude, deep joy, and a trenchant awareness of the reality of the self from a Buddhist perspective.

pbramante on March 29th, 2007 03:17 am (UTC)
Re: I found your journal!!
We'll probably be arriving in the morning on Saturday, March 31 and leaving on Easter morning. We have Ben's contact info and he has ours, so hopefully we'll be able to stay in communication that way.

Maybe you could send me an email message at paula.bramante@mindspring.com so I can have your email address and exchange other contact information with you.
(Anonymous) on March 30th, 2007 11:38 pm (UTC)
Re: I found your journal!!
yes ma'am. Glad to. Greg does have it BTW - although - I have NOT yet contacted his cousin Donnie about the missing genealogical info. I am seekeing. swiley@socorromentalhealth.org
Eric claims we will soon have internet at home, but I want to be sure he has installed vigourous anti-viral protection beofore I venture there. So - Yes- I will be in touch! Oh - duh. Well, I'll get your address in my contact list and send this there too. SW