Letting go of thoughts as we watch them rise and fall in meditation, we become familiar with the space beyond our discursiveness
akyong Mipham Rinpoche is the head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and Shambhala International, a network of meditation and retreat centers throughout the world. The Shambhala vision is that everyone has a fundamental and inherited goodness and intelligence. Shambhala also views meditation as a way to bring these qualities to our daily lives, subsequently radiating them to our friends, family, community and society.
I was very happy when I heard the Sakyong was going to speak at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. With little time to spare, I jumped inside my car and rushed down the street to the highway where, to my surprise, there were thousands of others who also needed to use the highway. I didn’t see that coming. The traffic was stopped. I arrived but with no spare time to find good seats.
Since seating was unassigned, you needed to arrive early to get the best places. Of course all the best places near the front were already taken. I found OK seats but they were close to the back, so I just waited there. The Sakyong entered by the side and everyone stood up in respect. He was introduced by the host and than slowly began to speak. I could only hear a muffled mumble from the speakers. Noticing there were some issues with the sound, the Sakyong asked the audience if they were able to hear well, the crowd murmured a collective “no” but there was nothing anyone could do. The sound was terrible and there was nothing anyone could do.
To me the precious words of the Sakyong could only be heard for a split moment and almost instantly turned into a drone powered by the reverberation of the sky high granite cathedral halls surrounding us. The reverberations from one word melded with the following one creating a constant hum. Soon my mind was distant and I traveled to different realms. I thought of thousands of years of cathedral sounds and how many souls must have heard these same reverberations and what went through their minds.
The medieval mosaics inside of the Cathedral made me travel back in time. I thought to myself, “The church wanted the sounds to be like that so disciples would not understand the teachings or they would mistake the echo for a divine voice of bliss. And fear.” My mind continued to chatter. When I noticed how far I’d gone, I came back to the words and tried to stay present and focused, to just begin everything again. It was pretty useless. I felt I was just pretending to be listening and engaging with the Sakyong. But there was this vibe of being unauthentic.
As we approach the end of the evening the microphone was opened for Q&A’s. I decided to move forward near the Sakyong so I could hear the questions. As I approach him everything became crystal clear and I noticed the contrast from the place I was before. Not only can I see him but I can hear every word. I realized that all that haze and buzzing was only an illusion and clarity was there all along, it was all happening in my head.
It was time for the last question. A small woman said: “I sometimes feel like being good to others and it feels natural and genuine, but other times I feel like I’m just pretending because I don’t really feel it inside. Isn’t that kind of fake?” The Sakyong replied, “Yes.” and some laughs erupted from the audience. He continued, “It’s OK. Sometimes we see it, sometimes we don’t but it’s OK to pretend because it is a good beginning. In meditation it is the same; sometimes we feel very present and sometimes we don’t but we just keep coming back to the breath.”
I realized that what just occurred was the same exact situation she was having a problem with and isn’t that just what happens to everybody all the time? Sometimes we see but sometimes we don’t. But we want to always be authentic in our actions. If we just wait or continue to pay attention, we see that what we’ve been looking for was there all along or just a little bit to the side.
I was mesmerized by this coincidence. The almost two hours I sat there in the Cathedral without hearing a word became the most valuable teaching to me. It was like all I didn’t hear for two hours was delivered in the last minute. Adversity can be used as a catalyst to help us see what we couldn’t before.
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