Lojong Practice Journal: Abandon any hope of fruition
The 59 slogans through a social justice lens
There are two ways of understanding Dharma: the meaning or the sense. To understand the meaning one can read, hear and study Dharma until we grasp it intellectually. But to understand the sense is to practice and apply the teachings until we have a lived experience of them.
This happened for me with the Lojong slogan: Abandon any hope of fruition.
The meaning of it, intellectually, is that we should give up shooting for a goal on the path. As Chögyam Trungpa said, the path is the goal. We do not practice to an end. There is not some magic point at which we will be done practising. When we choose this route, it is a life-long commitment — a many life-long commitment if rebirth is a concept that makes sense to you.
Intellectually, I understood this quite early on as my root teacher, Ani Pema Chödrön, emphasises this in almost all her books and talks. It’s something Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel points to a lot as well. As Elizabeth says, the world is not a fixable place. And when she says fixable she doesn’t mean fixed as in not broken but fixed as in static and unchanging.
Despite my intellectual understanding of this, I still used practice as a way to avoid the messiness of life. I would meditate to feel better and stop once I did. That is to say, I thought of meditation as a way to relax, rather than what it is: training in being present.
Being present isn’t always comfortable. In fact, being present can be downright painful — especially when we are resistant to it.
When something was up for me — when my situation was groundless, and I was struggling — I turned to meditation as an escape. This approach to meditation is in no way uncommon. It’s the reason why so many people think they’re bad at meditating. The misconception is that it’s about getting rid of negative aspects of ourselves, clearing the mind of thoughts, and learning how to relax.
But relaxation is just a side-effect of meditation.
The purpose of meditation is to develop awareness of and steadfastness with our experience of being human. It’s a practice for being present, regardless of how we feel. Meditation is a method for training ourselves to feel how we feel as we are feeling it and be aware of what we are thinking as we think it.
For years I trained in the opposite. I trained in running away from how I felt and trying to get rid of thoughts I didn’t like—and this was before I came to Buddhism. This was just my way of being in the world because I didn’t have any other supports when it came to mental illness.
I had been diagnosed with panic disorder when I was seventeen, which went untreated until I was twenty-three. I had coping mechanisms, certainly, but they were either temporary, unhealthy or both. Eventually everything came to a head when I had a mental breakdown after not sleeping and barely eating for four days. My family took me to the ER where I was given anti-anxiety medication and told to seek professional help. Through the support of my mum, I was able to connect with a psychologist, and through her, I found Ani Pema and began meditating.
But for a long time I was using meditation just as I used my previous coping mechanisms—to skim the painful aspects of life. I saw meditation as yet another way for me to ‘do away’ with my neuroses. I wanted to only feel sane and content and happy and not have to feel anxious or angry or sad or anything else I labelled as bad. I was effectively seeking some sort of resolution to being human, which is an impossible task.
After years of therapy though, and years of listening to and studying the Dharma, I had an excellent foundation in place. So when my life fell apart, utterly, I was unknowingly prepared. I say unknowingly because I still sought external solutions for a few weeks. As the situation went from bad to worse, I kept reaching out to friends and family, scrambling for ground. I’d call people and break down on the phone, freaking out as I tried to find some way to get rid of how I was feeling.
I remember very clearly the day when my intellectual understanding shifted, and I began to understand the sense of what it meant to abandon all hope of fruition—to let go of the idea that I could bring my experience to a stand-still where I didn’t feel pain or suffering.
I had alienated myself from most of my social circle in the UK, where I was living at the time. My pain was too much for people to bear and my friends were backing off, making themselves unavailable. I had other friends, many miles away, in my hometown of Calgary, with whom I couldn’t connect to in the way I wanted. And all I really wanted was a hug. That was it. Just a hug.
I remember standing in the dining room of the house where I lived in London. I was aware that there were millions of people around me and no one I could turn to, when the thought came into my head: Show up for yourself.
I wanted a hug, and as lame and cheesy as it sounds, I wrapped my arms around myself, squeezing at the shoulders, pulling my ribs in tight. I fell to the floor and curled up into a ball, squeezing myself tighter and tighter.
I remember it like watching a movie but also being in it at the same time. I could see the part of me that was in so much pain and the whole storyline that went along with it. And I saw the part of me that loved me and wanted me to see that I was worthy of that love. It was like feeling the love I have felt friends — dear, close friends — but for myself.
I held on and let myself cry. I let myself be heartbroken and angry and alone and afraid and disappointed and grief stricken. And I kept reminding myself that all those feelings were okay to have. They were normal. They were human. I let myself feel what I was feeling without trying to push it away or make it better or find a solution.
Eventually I pulled myself up off the floor, took myself to my meditation bench, and sat. Waves of anxiety washed over me. I felt the release of adrenalin and cortisol — the fizz in my stomach as digestion shut down, an icy hot coolness in my veins, and noticed my racing thoughts. I let them race by, not clinging to any of them or getting stuck on the storylines. I was too numb to. Too tired and worn down. It was easy to follow the simple instruction I’d heard so many times before and just label each one ‘thinking’ as it passed by.
The emotional and mental pain was still there, but the resistance to it was gone. My suffering stopped being some big bad scary thing I had to purge and was just what was going on at that moment — as temporary as anything happening in any other moment. I did not need to change it or fix it or get rid of it. I did not need to label it bad or chase the storyline. I could bear with it, and indeed, this was exactly what I’d been training in by meditating, however irregularly.
It’s not easy to do, abandoning hope of fruition. That is the single time I’ve truly done it in my life. But I know it’s possible, and I know, when we can live by this slogan, by the sense of it and not merely the meaning, it’s incredibly powerful. It’s always available to us, at any given moment, to relate to suffering differently. It was one of the most transformative experiences of my life, and it’s what gives me faith in the Dharma.
Originally published on Medium.
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