Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Real Comfort

Last night on Open Air we had what I found to be a fascinating discussion that, heavily paraphrased, went a little something like this:
B. I know I should practice, but when I come home from work I’m tired. I just want comfort.
C. What does “comfort” mean?
B. Watching television (which I don’t own because of this), reading novels (good ones!), eating…
C. So comfort means going unconscious?
B. Yeah. And, it doesn’t really take care of me; I know that. I wake up the next morning feeling bad. Waking up in the morning to a clean kitchen takes care of me. Waking up to a sink filled with two or three nights of dirty dishes doesn’t take care of me.

Who can’t relate to that? I’m tired. I’ve been doing stuff I really didn’t want to do all day. I don’t want to do any more hard stuff. I just want to relax, do nothing, eat something that tastes good but doesn’t require a bunch of preparation, and zone out.

Nothing wrong with any of that, is there? There’s no reason not to follow that program every evening of one’s life, except for that little detail of “it doesn’t take care of me and I wake up feeling bad in the morning.”

Last week in a conversation, one of the monks and I were marveling that so many people desperately cling to lives they devote all their resources to escaping. A person who cannot come to the Monastery because of a perceived deprivation in the monastic lifestyle pursues endless distractions (and suffers the resulting beatings by self-hate), based on an inability to tolerate the life they could not possibly give up!

So, there’s B going to work each day, doing work that is unfulfilling to the point that the rest of her time must be spent “recovering from” the results of the hours she has endured. She can’t attend to herself because all her ability to attend has been used up in surviving the workday.

I loved this exchange with B, as I love all interactions with Sangha, because it’s so very clear what’s going on when we get to see how someone else is falling for the lies and cons of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate! With B we get to explore one of the BIG LIES conditioning uses to keep people in service to it. Here’s the belief: “I need to go unconscious, turn my life over to conditioning to make it through the day. My work is not what I want to be doing; I just need to survive it so I can get to something for me.”

Of course there are too many lies in that for one little blog, but the biggest of the big, the one we all fall for, stumble over, and suffer with is: there’s a “me” this is all being done for.

I grew up hearing one of those jokes that ended with the person who was believing they would “get their reward in heaven” learning that it would be “a bale of hay, you jackass.” Kind of captures the relationship a lot of humans have with karmic conditioning. That reward is always out there somewhere. Just slog along through another day you don’t enjoy, this is leading to something…sometime…somewhere. The despair begins to set in when it dawns that the trudging is unrelenting and the reward nowhere in sight.

Blessedly, the answer is so simple—and even easy! (Plus we hear it repeated really often.) The answer: Make this moment the reward. Life is love. Not some of life, some moments of life, some times when things are going well. All of life is love, unconditional love. Spend each day in love. Give the one person whose worth you know intimately—you—the life that person deserves. Don’t entertain conversations in your head that disparage the person you have the golden opportunity to love unconditionally, an experience of unconditional love that will transform your life.

Is there a “how” in all this? You bet!
1) Remind yourself how you want to treat the human being left in your keeping.
2) Write that down.
3) Phrase those as sentences you can easily remember and repeat. Example: I’m glad we’re doing this together. Great job. You did that really well. You know, I really like you. Record this and listen to it often.)
4) Put the kind of effort into this relationship you would put into a relationship with someone you really like!
5) Make this relationship your top priority.
6) Always choose loving your person over the demands and dictates of karmic conditioning. Never, ever lose sight of this one—it’s critical.
7) Protect, honor and celebrate your person.
8) Approach a day with yourself with the same enthusiasm and excitement you would have for a party or a vacation.
9) Practice relaxing together. Learn to have fun in everything you do.
This is, after all, your life!

Sound hokey? Only to egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate. And, it doesn’t actually sound hokey to conditioning; it sounds like something that will put it out of work—and out of the house, too! Real comfort consists of being embraced in the unconditional love that animates all. Each of us gets to bring that comfort to one person—the “me” who has been promised so much and worked so hard in hopes of receiving. Now is the perfect time to fulfill those promises, and you are the perfect person to make that happen.

In gassho,


  1. Even though I don't know much about gardening, I go at it with gusto. It's a charity garden to benefit the Africa Project.
    I planted 36 chard starters which have all but browned to death. Hmmmm...
    I built a barrel compost tumbler to enrich the garden and it seems to be not cooking the mix, leaving just a heavy clump of sod instead of a rich brown gold. Hmmmm...

    Am I a failure? Do I have the willingness to love the one who wants to give his best shot to everything in his day? Yes, a thousand times yes!

    So off I go to the nursery man who donated all the seedlings. He was so happy to help, to gently enlighten me with correct fertilizer mixing technique (the chicken manure was maybe too enthusiastically applied to the soil) and gave me a box of compost enzymes to kick start the barrel tumbler.

    Hey kids, learning to love my self has never been so much fun. Especially when I have Sangha to keep reminding me that it's not what I do in the garden of life, but how I do it.

    Gassho to all and to all a big smile

  2. A big YES and THANK YOU, Cheri. All of your blogs have been great and this one is especially inspiring, coming at a critical point for me. And thank you to B, who had the courage to talk about this on the radio show -- a real gift to Sangha.

    I have a wonderful life I don't need to escape from but have been in the habit of going unconscious through food and books in the evening -- as my "reward" for working all day. I don't want this anymore. I don't want a new life. I don't want to escape the one I have. I want to show up and be present and take care of the one I'm here to take care of.

    Thanks for, once again, showing us how to do that. And Deep Gassho to you and B.

    P.S. I'm picking up my copy of the Dhammapada at a local bookstore today on my way to work.

  3. I love these blog posts, thank you so much!

  4. Thank you so much Cheri.
    I've been feeling my way around the dark room for the last few days, coming to for milliseconds - then off again into some story!
    For the first time I clearly saw how I reject my tense, grouchy identity and remembered that finding the willingness to accept what is unacceptable to me was the key. So I had the theory...
    And then Life drops your blog my way. Perfect.
    Deep Gassho.

  5. 6) Always choose loving your person over the demands and dictates of karmic conditioning. Never, ever lose sight of this one—it’s critical.

    I don't know if you read your comments, but if you do, would you explain No. 6 to me, please. I don't understand "karmic conditioning."


  6. Oops. Thanks to Google I see you are a very busy person. I can find the answer to that with things you have already written.

  7. Beautiful, life-enhancing post. Thank you.