October 08, 2010

Joy of Struggle (MDIV 555)

We have moved on from Buddhist Psychology by Brazier to A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield, which has a much more narrative and flowing style. This post makes reference to several earlier posts from this blog.

Journal for October 7, 2010

The meditation at the end of Chapter 2: Stopping the War in Jack Kornfield’s book A Path With Heart is probably the most daunting meditation I have ever heard.

“Continue to sit quietly. Then cast your attention over all the battles that still exist in your life. Sense them inside yourself. … Be aware of all that you have fought within yourself, of how long you have perpetuated the conflict.

“Gently, with openness, allow each of these experiences to be present. …Let it be present just as it is. Let go of the battle. Breathe quietly and let yourself be at rest.”

The last instruction isn’t so daunting, really. It’s fairly simple, if not easy. The trouble is just getting there. If I need to learn all my battles, all my struggles, I’m going to be sitting there for a very, very, very long time. Maybe that’s no different than anyone else, but see, I sort of like the struggle.

Kornfield talks about all the negative aspects of the “war within,” the ways we struggle with and repress powerful emotions. He also talks about the violence we do to each other and the way our modern society perpetuates struggling and striving. He describes our struggling as ways of getting things we want, pushing away things we don’t want, and hiding behind delusions of how we think the world ought to be. Struggle is an outcome of our attachment, aversion, and delusion.

What he doesn’t talk about is when we are attached to the struggle itself. What he doesn’t seem to recognize is the joy of struggle. I know. It’s neurotic. It’s mildly self-destructive. It’s certainly a hindrance to renunciation and awakening. And I’ve found when I try to escape it, I just end of struggling against my struggling. I once wrote:

“When stubborn rises up, I feel very little desire to be right, but simply a desire to be stubborn, to hold fast, to push and be pushed. I view it in the same way a sportsman may view a worthy opponent or a connoisseur a very good bottle of wine.

“This is, perhaps, a mistake - more than a mistake, a perverse irony of my nature, for I have often also written of the suffering of obstinacy. That I sometimes feel that I am being stubborn not out of spite, but rather in spite of myself and my own higher reasoning. Yet I make a virtue out of what is sometimes a flaw in character. Why? Because I’m damned good at it. This, then, is also pride, and pride is ego. In order to believe that ‘I’ am ‘good’ at something, there must first be an ‘I’ to be good, or bad, or any other adjective.

“…I have no desire for it [self] to be right, no desire to be vindicated in this mockery of a belief. In the end, what I desire [non-self] and what I cling to [self] are completely separate from and often in contradiction of one another. It’s the great irony of suffering. It’s wanting the person you are arguing with to be right, but more, to be able to prove they are right in a way that somehow pries open our minds and cuts the strings of our attachment. We are all seeking that ‘Eureka!’ moment, on the cushion or anywhere else. Some of us are waiting for the bell to ring, while others of us are demanding it like a slap in the face. I’ll settle for nothing less - nothing less than being completely and utterly wrong.

“That is what stubborn is.”

Being stubborn brings with it all sorts of opportunities for struggling. It’s part of a contentious nature I’ve never been able to escape. My Google Chat status reads “Willing to argue at the drop of a hat.” I like combative sports. I fenced (yes, with a sword) for five years. “I wanted to feel like I was doing the best I could, even if I was losing. I loved the challenge of fencing someone who was just a little bit better than I was. I loved how damned hard it was.” Now I’m learning kung fu. I would be lying to myself if I said I just wanted the exercise. Almost every dream I have is about struggle.

When my Grandmother died, I wrote: “Time heals. Time untangles the knots. Tears tie them tighter. Tears I fight and in the struggle tie the tangles tighter. Should I stop fighting? I don’t know. Not in my nature to stop fighting. Not in my nature to be who I am.”

Maybe it’s in my nature to be who I am not?

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