When hiking on an established narrow trail on a cliff face, there may be an encounter with an obstacle. An immense tree, a major landslide, or a downed bridge over a crevasse too broad to cross. In these situations we might look for a way around and not seeing one, give up and go home.We might let someone know in hopes that they will clear or repair the obstacle. If we have hiked the trail before and really enjoy it we also might offer our assistance in removing the obstacle.
In another situation there might be a smaller tree or brambles that has fallen across the trail, whose branches and leaves obscure the trail but it is visible through the branches so that we might be able to find a way through. Or there may be a slide that is obscuring the path but can be crossed or a small but deep crack that looks just narrow enough to leap across.
In a third situation, there may be overgrown shrubs or spiderwebs, or small creeks running across the trail that we can more easily move aside or walk through.
If we have been on the trail before our approach to these obstacles, obscurations or veils, might be different. We may be aware of a side path around the obstacle, or confidently work through the obscurations, and the veils may be seen immediately for what they are and brushed aside without thinking. If we are new to the trail we will probably turn around at the obstacles and might even never come back to the trail, or experience doubt about the existence of the trail if the obscuration is too dense or confusing, or when seeing the brambles on the trail or the spiders or even the small creeks, think that even though the trail seems clear ahead, frustration or concern about what other clutter might be encountered is just not worth the effort.
These situations could be seen as similes for practicing on the path of the paramitas or any path that points to the unfolding of awareness of true nature.
Someone tells us about the practices and we can see that the person has a sense of ease or joy about them that we would like to experience. When we ask how they got that sense, they invite us to the practice or give us some books to read or show us a link to a podcast. Or we might just google it ourselves. Like reading about the great vistas of the aforementioned trail we read or hear about the potential results of the practice so we go for it.
Approaching the practice we may become aware of what seem like insurmountable obstacles: depression, addiction, a torrent of thoughts, a life filled with things to do and just no time to be still for the practice. But like the promise of that vista on the trail, something has been awakened in us by our friend’s way of being, an inspirational quote or a deep stirring in our inner being that feels like it may lead to less suffering and greater ease. So maybe instead of giving it up and coming up with all sorts of reasons for not continuing, we seek that friend out again, or look for a place to practice with others. We might begin to seek assistance in removing the obstacles.
Once the commitment to practice has been made and there is a sense of devotion to the guidance, we may encounter obstructions. At this juncture, though, there has already been at least an awareness of some alternatives to the habitual way of being and our devotion and commitment lead us to look carefully at the obscurations to see a way through. In the practice, these obscurations usually manifest as fixed, inflexible concepts about the way things are: The beliefs that thoughts are real, that some things are permanent, that each being is an island separate unto themselves, that there is something to achieve or somewhere to get to that is better than just this. So in a similar way to seeing through and removing the obscurations on the hiking trail, the practice evolves into seeing what the obscurations of thought and feelings are made of and working with them in a way that loosens their grip on us so that we can continue on the path.
The veils like spider webs and trickles of water are the most subtle of layers that hide the way of true understanding. So insubstantial and even beautiful that we may even experience them as the final summit. These are the ideas that lead to believing that we are complete. The blissful experiences that feel endless but that stir longing and attachment when they pass away. The idea that there is only one way to practice or that one practice is superior to another. Any thought or feeling that exclaims, “I have it and you don’t.” These are the poisonous spider in the web, the slippery moss in the creek that sends us sliding, or the talus that falls away underfoot tumbling us down the mountainside.
After many hikes on many trails there is the realization that the joy and ease that comes with hiking, is not the vistas, which come and go, or the accomplishment of scaling a step switchback, or the lush green glades around a cascading waterfall. The joy and ease comes with the trail in each moment. This step then this step. This sense experience then this sense experience. Every experience of every part of the trail in the moment that it is experienced is the true nature of the trail. Each trail, unique in its expression but identical in its essence: the joy and ease of just being on the hike.
As we dedicate more time and devote more of our thoughts, and expressions to the practice of awareness, the obstacles, obscurations and veils seem to become inseparable from the joy and ease. We begin to, not just see through them, but see them as what they are. Over time and through practice we might begin to see them as the very things that keep us on the path and lead us to the true nature of being. The obstacles that make it clear that there is suffering and that there is something other than suffering. The obscurations that encourage curiosity about the nature of things. And the veils that keep us alert to subtle and habitual thoughts and feelings of separateness that prevent us from realizing the true nature of all beingness.
Working with patience, set some time aside to reflect on the obstacles, obscurations or veils to your experience of patience. There is a practice that is usually done in the form of a dyad with another person but is very effective journaling too. When an obstacle, obscuration or veil becomes apparent, settle into the experience of that. Then ask the question “What is right about…?” For example. If anger arises as one, write the question “What is right about anger?” Without too much thinking, write whatever comes to mind. When that thought is expressed, write the questions again: “What is right about anger?” Then write, keeping it as spontaneous as possible. Continue this journaling for at least 10 minutes. No answer is more correct than another. Whatever arises after the questions, write it down and continue asking. Explore this with other things that are in the way of patience. After at least ten minutes of journaling. Put your pen down and sit for a bit. Asking “what’s here?” I also recommend that you then rip out the journal writing without reading it and tossing or burning it. . Feel free to reach out with questions.
With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all being
Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome.
We practice on ZOOM:
- Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time
- Mondays and Wednesdays: 4:30 PM Pacific Time
ZOOM Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789
Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to email@example.com
If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”