the practice of stuckness

Tomorrow is the Harvest Moon.  It’s also known as the Fruit Moon which prompts the question: what have been the fruits of our practice?  What will we gather together with the intention that it nourish us through the cold, dark nights ahead?  If the state of my life at this point is any indication of my stewardship of my spiritual ground, I’d say winter holds promise of a meager diet.  Where did the time go?  What happened to the plantings of six months ago?

Not only has the wild heat of the Summer been unforgiving of the vegetable and flower gardens, this inner heat of dissatisfaction has left me parched in my practice.  It could be a good thing, I suppose: an opportunity to see the places where my character fractures and edges where my ego curls up and withers.  The fact that I don’t like it is irrelevant because once the whole ball of self-reflection and intense scrutiny gets rolling, there’s not much that will stop it.  And the universe helps it along too.

You remember Sprout who pounced his way into our home, leaving a trail of mashed houseplants and mangled Beanie Babies.  He’s now a year old and thriving.

Meet his doppelgänger, Mystery formerly known as No Name.

I came home one Friday evening to find Sprout unusually needy of attention.  His security blanket, Frank, had been away for a few a days and I reframed his utilitarian affections for me as an opportunity to bond.  Apparently, the practice of equanimity was bearing fruit, transforming the typical bitterness I feel about feline fickleness.  And then I wondered if I was having a spiritual emergency when I saw two Sprouts at my feet, asking to be picked up.  It took a moment, a fascinating moment during which I physically felt my brain trying to make the two one, forcing my eyes to reset to a previous configuration.  One not two.

Sadly, though not for No Name, truth always vanquishes delusion.  And now we are left with a mystery, not just about the cat but the manner in which she got into the house and took up residence.  But reside she will, and preside over the reconfiguration of four cats, two litter boxes, and a deferment of my long-desired rescue dog.  The practice of letting go is getting a workout too.

On the bookish front, I’m blessed with two amazing books.  The Existential Buddhist, Seth Segall’s Encountering Buddhism: Western Psychology and Buddhist Teachings is a tour de force of 9 essays bringing together the Dharma and Western perspectives of mental health.  I had it set for review in October but Frank has absconded with it which reminds me to deepen my practice of generosity and also lock away my new purchases.  The second is by Practice of Zen blogger, Ben Howard: Entering Zen, a collection of Ben’s writings that are always a delight and a deep teaching.  The few chapters I’ve read remind me that there is power in a practice that is softly open and that some things crumble and collapse despite being well-placed and useful at the time of planting.  The third book is a bit of a curiosity called The Heart Attack Sutra by Karl Brunnhölzl.  I have no memory of purchasing this; like Mystery, it seemed to just show up – about the time I was considering cancelling my echo cardiogram and stress echo test because my practice of remembering my mortality doesn’t include fuzzy pictures of a pulsing heart.  (Actually, seeing my heart beat in real-time has to be one of the most profound moments of deep meditation I have ever experienced!)

So.  Yes.  Practice has been a struggle over the last months.  And yet, and yet I know this is precisely the form and purpose of practice: to sit with this discomfort of things out of rhythm and without rhyme.  Dukkha at its most seductive tells us to move away from this stuckness, insists there are more important things to do, critical time that cannot be wasted.  And that is the precise moment to turn into the vast emptiness of practice.

9 thoughts on “the practice of stuckness

  1. yeah, had a tough summer myself, maybe it’s the season, or the water, or maybe it’s just what it takes to wake us up! Lucky you a new kitty! I am still waiting for one to wander up to my door. I can always think of a thousand excuses not to go to the shelter and get one, like the impromptu road trip we’re on right now!

  2. I love how “mystery” just shows up when we’re not looking! – as cats, or in other forms… Seems like a lot of us are in a place of “struggle” this year…

    Here’s a little gift for you in your “struggle” with practice. I just read it this morning. It’s called: The Fruits of Practice, by Danna Faulds… Bows to you…

    “Despite fervent pleas for ease
    and safety, there are many days
    when reality doesn’t quite line up
    with what I’d choose.
    Breakdown. Letting go.
    Surrendering even the illusion
    of control. Breathing into the
    unknown – sometimes that is what life holds.

    Practice hasn’t brought an end
    to pain. I still increase my
    suffering like a fish caught on
    a line. My struggles only draw
    the hook in deeper. But being
    in reality is its own reward.
    It’s the perfect paradox; the
    courage to stand and breathe
    when everything in me wants
    to flee is as great a gift as the
    freedom to seek retreat.

    No, practice hasn’t brought
    an end to pain but it has honed
    my willingness to experience
    the moment and sometimes see
    perfection unfolding in ways
    I wasn’t big enough to plan,
    much less predict.

    Practice isn’t about achieving
    a goal. It’s not a means to pole-
    vault over suffering. Practice
    is my way of looking life in
    the face and saying yes to all
    its disparate gifts. Practice
    keeps me awake when I would
    sleep, and reminds me it’s
    the journey, unfolding in this
    very moment, it’s the journey
    that reveals the truth, and
    not the destination…”

  3. I love reading of other people’s struggles & challenges with their practice — not because I wish you to have them! No, no, but because it helps me realize that MY issues w/ practice don’t mean I’m failing somehow!

    An idea re ‘the mysterious things & beings’ — I wonder if, when something appears out of nowhere, if we are not somehow intersecting with other versions of our own lives. You know the ones: where everything IS perfect …… haha

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