Reflecting on some stuff that bubbled around during Zen Brain retreat. Being in the presence of four very skillful teachers was powerful enough but to experience their interactions with each other was deeply moving. Each teacher was animated clearly enjoyed sharing every nuance of his understanding of the dharma. At the end of each talk, there would be this burst of joyful congratulations from the other speakers. I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a group of contemplatives would embody such open-heartedness. I mentioned to Roshi that they seemed more like a group of kids on a ball field rejoicing when one of them hit a home run than competent academics. In fact, that was one of the questions put to Richie Davidson towards the end of the retreat: how does being a Buddhist practitioner affect his ability to work in the highly competitive environment of academia? Davidson admitted that the practice of taking joy in the accomplishments of colleagues’ successes was a rare thing but one he hoped was cultivating, at the very least, in his own research group.
Sitting here, I see and feel the sunshine pouring into my office and watching the huge flakes of snow swirl across the view of the street below. I’m remembering the teachers who sat with me through really difficult times in my education and the ones who still sit with me when I need their support and love. Perhaps it’s a signal of my practice budding that I can relish the joy of the Zen Brainiacs and let it guide me to remember the support I too have received.
Yet, in that moment at the retreat, there was also sorrow that arose from grasping and rejection. “What support didn’t happen for me?” While admiring their closeness and unstinting support of each other, I also felt a deep sorrow for my own experiences in highly competitive environments. I don’t play that competitive or preferential game well, if at all. Who knows how it has kept things from happening in my career.
These echoes linger in my mind and seep sometimes into my heart. It’s what Davidson calls “affective stickiness” – interpreting something as negative and becoming identified “with” it. The delusion of self-identification leads me to see it as “this is my loss” rather than “this is a loss.” And it prevents me from orienting to the next perception, next feeling that arises.
Roshi’s response to my observation was that their sympathetic joy bubbles up from a ground of love they have for each other. I can see that. Now all I have to do is get some cognitive Crazy Glue that reinforces the positive version of affective stickiness.
Thank you for practicing,