Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What Does Your Experience Tell You?

One day, over 2500 years ago, The Buddha sitting atop Vulture Peak in India, held up a single flower before a vast assembly of his followers. All were silent except for Mahakasyapa who broke into a smile.

The Buddha responded, "I have the all pervading True Dharma, Incomparable Nirvana, exquisite teaching of formless form. It does not rely on letters and is transmitted outside scriptures. I now hand it to Mahakasyapa."

It is written that this was the first face-to-face transmission of the Way from teacher to student. All subsequent transmissions of the Dharma from teacher to student have unfolded in a similar fashion - beyond words and letters; i.e., not depending on language or conceptual understanding.

If that which is being transmitted cannot be verbally expressed - what can it possibly be?

Ernie has suffered from anxiety as far back as he can remember. His stepfather is the only father he has ever known: a guy that he can never please. For the last 30 years all Ernie has ever heard is what a disappoint he is to this man. No matter what he does, it is never good enough - there is always some flaw his stepfather can find to keep Ernie anxious and on guard.

Ernie thought he would get away from the pain this relationship entailed by enlisting in the Marines and going off to fight in Iraq. He told me that at least there he was able to discharge years and years of pent up rage on the battlefield.

When I first met him he was residing on a locked unit of a psych ward for expressing suicidal ideation. He is only 35 years old.

We were working with Ernie to enable him to experience what it would mean to be present with all his anxiety and fear AND move in a valued life direction. It was a notion so foreign to him that each time we worked with him in this way he would shake his head in despair.

At one point, I asked him what he was feeling. He said he just felt miserable. I suggested that he completely become this miserable feeling. I suggested that we both just sit together in the room where we were and wholeheartedly become the misery that each of us could muster - completely without reserve. I asked him to embrace the prajna of this situation.

About one minute into this effort, he suddenly burst out laughing. When I asked him what he was noticing in the moment he replied, "This is ridiculous!" Of itself the fruit is born. He realized that his misery was totally of his own making - that it was his choice. When he clearly saw this with his own prajna eye - he woke up.

The Buddha held up a single flower and Mahakasyapa smiled.

What does your experience tell you?

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