Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Sunday, 9 November 2014

True Colours: Finding Buddha Nature Through Coffee and Cats

A while back, I was having coffee in the Church of Robin's. Mr. DD and I had bumped into a friend and her husband, people we hadn't seen in quite some time. I had worked with Ursy for years in an arts centre; Ed, her husband, had been in the studio on a regular basis, helping Ursy make her massive sheets of paper, assisting with the construction of her art pieces and maintaining the equipment needed for Ursy to work. The four of us were having a good catch-up. I was waiting for the start of yoga teacher training and was babbling about my yoga practice and how excited I was to be entering the programme.  Ursy asked me how long I had been practising yoga and meditation. When I told her, proudly, that it had been decades, she looked at me and deadpanned, "Well! I would have expected you to be a much better person by now."

We laughed so hard we thought we'd be asked to leave. With that one sentence, Ursy pierced through my ego, right to the heart of the matter.  She knew nothing about yoga or much about meditation, but she knew me, knew when I needed to be encouraged and when I needed to be reined in.  She also was perceptive on a much larger scale; Ursy knew what I was just beginning to suspect: our practice does not make us "better," if only because there is no need of that. We are fine the way we are; what we need is to become more of ourselves, in all our messy glory.

Learning to be and to accept ourselves is not an easy process. I mess up every single day. I jump in with opinions when it is best to remain silent, speak too quickly, hurt people unintentionally, take actions which later make me cringe. It's hard to find a balance between observing these behaviours and chastising myself for having acted in ways that are, well, exquisitely human. When I shift to observing what I do "right," I run the risk of smugness, arrogance and rationalization of bad behaviours as "just being myself."

If we work on accepting events, behaviours and conditions as neither good nor bad, but simply as that which happens, we may be able to find what Heather, my meditation teacher, calls "equilibrium." Finding equilibrium allows us to develop clear view, a point where we can engage fully in our lives, while accepting that we are humans who screw things up and get them right. Practising balance can lead us to simplicity and a sense of ease. If this moment is not quite to our liking, we can learn to enjoy it as it is. Perhaps (most certainly) the next moment will bring something else.

And guess what, Ursy? Now that I have passed through teacher training, and despite the fact that I make an effort to maintain a regular practice, I am not a better person.  I still mess up, still speak too quickly or too soon.  I am often thoughtless, but I'm more mindful about doing so. Finding equilibrium, our true Buddha Nature, is no easy task. I shift from aversion to attachment and back again from moment to moment. What has changed is that the compassion I work on extending to others is spilling over a bit to myself.  Instead of chastising myself for days over some minor mishap, I work on observing my behaviours.  I make an effort to allow those actions which seem to be closer to my true nature to shine through all the layers I pile on to hide my Self.  Layering never works; as Ursy pointed out so clearly in the coffee shop, shielding ourselves behind ego or anger or compassionate acts (if practised for recognition or anything other than the act itself) doesn't protect us. Someone or something will always pierce to the heart of the matter.  Practising balance will help us do this for ourselves.

It can be difficult to find someone to guide you in this practice.  I've had many teachers over the years and they have all provided valuable lessons, but, the creature I would most like to emulate is Mick, my very old, often miserable cat. Although he has been with us for 16 years, Mickey retains some of his wild street nature from his early life.  Age has mellowed him, but he is still prone to demanding a cuddle then slashing or biting you without provocation. Over the years, we have learned to be keen observers of Mick's true nature.  Mick's behaviour is nothing personal; it is simply the way he is and we love him for it. (We do remind him that very few humans would have put up with him for as long as we have.) Because of this, we nicknamed him "Buddha," because whatever Mickey is, he is always true to himself. I find this ability inspiring, although I work on avoiding the slashing out or biting aspect of his nature.  Here he is, guarding the current knitting and spinning projects:

"Yes, I am sitting on the kitchen table. What's your point?"

I've observed Mick and his Buddha Nature as he learned to trust us after we brought him in from the streets.  I've nursed him through mishaps which occurred in our early days when he sneaked out of the house and returned to roaming the streets.  I've worried as he went through what was nearly a fatal illness, an illness through which he suffered great pain and distress and which he bore stoically, as cats do. I've been grateful for the time when he put aside his aggressive tendencies to sit with me for hours, days and months as I dealt with my own illness (which I didn't accept as stoically as he seemed to accept his own).  I laughed when he returned to being a thoroughly miserable beast when I was well again. I know that I will lose him one day, just as I have and will lose all the friends and gurus who have guided me in finding myself. That, too, is our true nature. It is enough.


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