Building a good vessel

These days my practice is the study of vessels: mine, yours, ours. I like the image of a ship. How can I make my vessel sea-worthy, strong enough to hold me on course when storms come and I grow faint of heart, yet roomy enough for me to grow and to let others in? 

In my yoga sutra study group, we’ve been contemplating the three pillars of practice. The first is called tapas, literally the fire that burns through resistance. It is the practice of showing up, of having the patience or discipline to stick it out. The second, svadyaya, is the practice of study: the study of texts and teachings, the study of our biases and fears and clingings and strengths; it is also the practice of studying the nature of the mind itself and our interconnection. The third pillar, isvara pranidan, is devotion to a higher ideal, the practice of surrendering the illusion that we can control the world around us. It is the cultivation of faith in a deeper wisdom, free from the fearful self-conscious mind.

When I make the commitment to showing up for practice—or to be of service to others even when I don’t feel like it—I am building the walls of my ship; I develop strength in my mind and body. I also develop faith. I can trust myself, and when I trust myself I have less fear. I know that I can meet whatever storms might arise.

Cultivating curiosity creates a spacious and buoyant mind. And when I am less fearful, I can actively value true learning without having a stake in what I will find. I can make acommitment to becoming less ignorant of the consequences of my choices and of my interdependence with others. When I show up and really look, I begin to see the biases in myself that I might not have noticed before or might not have had the strength to see. I see the defensive and reactive habits that cause me and others harm. And I can also see beyond my negative self-talk to my own goodness. Not the good-enough- ness that I look for in others’ approval, but true unchanging goodness. What in Buddhism is called our inner golden buddha. Pure abiding love. We all are made of it.

And when I have strength of body and mind and curiosity without fear, I can relax into that space. I don’t have to work so hard to figure out what my next move is. Actually, I can beguided by the deep love within me. That becomes my rudder. My vessel is sturdy and buoyant and can carry me through both storm and calm. I don’t have to blow into the sails of my ship to move forward: the wind will do that. I don’t have to hold its huge hull in my little arms: the ocean will do that. And I don’t need google maps to tell me how to get to the other shore. My heart will do that.

 

Giving up hope

My cat Mookie came home this week. He’d been away for three and a half months on an adventure I can know almost nothing about.

Our search had gone through different stages of hope that gave way to fear as the time stretched. When finally we got the lead that took us to him, I found myself dreading the fear and heart break of another fruitless search.

 

I had already been through the intense beginnings of grief. I grieved because in many ways it was less painful than the excruciating work of nurturing hope in the midst of not-knowing.  My grief let me rest in the experience of love and loss that felt vividly awake. I wasn’t sure that he was gone forever, but I had to let go my clinging. Sometimes I felt like I was betraying my friend, like I was giving up. But actually I hadn’t really given up looking, I had given up hoping.

 

The trap of hope is the fear that what I hope for won’t be realized. When I gave up hoping, I also gave up the fear of feeling deeply the loss of my friend. And in letting myself feel that loss, I opened to the experience of deep love that went beyond the desire to control the outcome. My experience of Mookie was not lost. I may not have had him in his body, but I will always have him in my heart.

 

When we found Mookie, it was shocking, it was tender, it still is. I can feel the voice of fear arising. What if I hadn’t got the call? How was he living out there alone for those months? What if I lose him again?

 

So again I practice letting go of the hope that I will know, that it will all work out a certain way. I practice resting in the vivid space of loving right now, and scratch his belly while I have him.