Monk(ey) Business Part 9: Going Through
I was a sensitive kid growing up and was teased a lot. Over time this somehow became normalized as I received it from both classmates and so called friends. I longed to just be accepted for who I was and left alone. The teasing started around first grade and continued on throughout middle and high school. It was brutal, and it took me years to be able to admit to myself how much it actually hurt. On many occasions I have wished that I could just go back and comfort that young boy who struggled for approval and validation. I wish I could tell him that he didn’t have to base his self-worth on the harsh words and judgment of others. I wish I could tell him that the emotional wall he erected to protect himself from the pain would only serve to further cut him off from his own inner well-being.
I can vividly remember the day I had had enough, and the emotional wall I had been slowly building became much more solidified. I was at recess playing with a few classmates, one of them started in on me, and as my anger grew I felt a familiar and nagging constriction. It often came down to two choices, let my anger out and get into a physical altercation, or suppress my anger and take on the harsh words and shame of not defending myself. I did not know or have access to a third or fourth option. No one taught me that there were other ways I could deal, and that I did not need to drive the blame into myself and suppress my feelings to make it through. On that day I was confronted with this dilemma yet again, and something died as I pushed my own worth and value aside once more. It was the last straw, and I unconsciously fortified a firm yet invisible wall between me and my world of feelings and emotions. Unfortunately this wall remained up and only became thicker as it followed me into much of my early adult life.
My Buddhist life was also not immune to the emotional conditioning of my youth, and was often peppered with periods of searching for validation and acceptance. Hearing from Tsoknyi Rinpoche that it was necessary to look at, be with, and to heal my emotional wounding in order to progress along the Buddhist path was like nectar for my heart. This was especially powerful coming from a lineage holder within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, as my overzealousness had led me to generally mistrust alternative voices of wisdom outside of traditional Buddhist circles. Through example, humor, and a nuanced understanding of the lack of emotional health that exists within the developed world, Tsoknyi Rinpoche provided a new perspective, as well as practices for working with the destructive habits and emotional wounding from my early childhood. This was not entirely easy to accept at first, as I had a pretty traditional take on the Buddhist path and I felt that whatever was appropriate for Tibetans was appropriate for Westerners. In many ways this is true, and the path does not need to drastically deviate, but just as Buddhism has adapted to new cultures and countries throughout Asia, we are very much in the throws of understanding and struggling with how to approach Buddhism in the West.
Inspired as I arrived back at my retreat cabin from almost two months of teachings with both Tsoknyi Rinpoche and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. I planned to immediately enter a strict one hundred day solitary retreat and to really work with and reflect on all the teachings I had received. While I was in North Carolina I had a chance to talk with Lama Zopa and to offer him my practice. It made him very happy. I also asked his permission to pursue some studies in the Nyingma tradition. He was okay with it, and more or less just wanted to see me continue to practice and develop as a Buddhist practitioner. Having finished some of the previous practice commitments Lama Zopa had recommended, I was able to dive deeper into meditation on the Gelukpa Lam Rim (graduated stages of the path), as well as explore the practices I received from Tsoknyi Rinpoche.
Meeting and being with my emotional trauma was very hard in the beginning. I had also developed a pretty intense Lung (wind energy) disorder, and Tsoknyi Rinpoche had advised practices to work with it. I applied what I could, but as a serial spiritual bypasser, I mostly wanted a taste of the higher practices he taught on Dzogpachenpo. The teachings and practices of Dzogchen are deceptively simple. In Tibet practitioners would spend years on the preliminary practices before even hearing about these kinds of teachings. In the West we often seek out and salivate after the highest and easiest ways to enlightenment, while ignoring what we may actually need at present. In one way enlightenment is easy if we have previous familiarity and realization. In other ways, undoing and seeing through the habits and conditioning that we have been swimming in since beginning-less time is a daunting task. All of the methods and paths of the Buddhadharma are really here to serve the vast needs and complexities of beings. I have found that if we fall into the trap of one thing being the only, or best way, then we unfortunately cut ourselves off from the benefits of a more wholistic path. As my teachers have emphasized again and again, we need both wings of method and wisdom. Within these two wings there are countless gateways of practice, serving to wake us up to our own innate Buddhahood. At the end it is not like we have to look elsewhere for treasure. The treasure of freedom and awakening from all suffering is deep within us. A boundless store of love and compassion is our birthright. Having a more complete path of learning, understanding, and practice can only help us to unearth our inner treasure more expediently.
Sitting in my retreat cabin once again, I couldn't help but reflect on this, as well as the powerful energy and environment I experienced while in Crestone, Colorado. Having never lived in Tibet, it’s mountains felt like the closest I could get in this life. I had such great conditions at Land of Calm Abiding, but it was too isolating for me at times, and I longed to be around more community and closer to Tsoknyi Rinpoche. His teachings and way of being reached me in such a deep way. Upon seeing him it was like recognizing an old friend, and I knew he would be one of my root teachers. As I sat down for my first session of three month retreat, I felt so fortunate to have both Lama Zopa and Tsoknyi Rinpoche in my life.