Monday, March 12, 2007

The Clinging Mind

Here's something in the "no accidents" department: yesterday afternoon I was reading the articles about freedom by Ajahn Buddhadasa and Santikaro in the current issue of Inquiring Mind, reminding myself that true freedom is not what we so glibly talk about in our society, nor what our President seeks to promote in other parts of the world by making war. It's not about lacking nothing in the way of material confort, nor about the "freedom" to do whatever I want. True freedom, as the dharma teaches it, is the mind's freedom from both clinging and aversion. It's about separating the mind from "me" and what is "mine", and recognizing the delusion of being attached to material well-being.

Okay, there's the wisdom. I read it. I get it. So it seems. Then I drive over to our late-afternoon sangha (once a month, as I think I have mentioned before, Than Geoff comes up from the Metta Forest Monastery for a teaching session, and we meet in the afternoon rather than the morning) and park my new Toyota Prius outside our friend Eva's house. I arrive early purposely, knowing how crowded it's getting these days when Than Geoff comes, and find a seat. The bell announcing the start of the meditation hour sounds at precisely five o'clock... and by three minutes past I'm in a state of total panic. I'm convinced I forgot to take the key out of the car and lock it...

Now there's a silent hour ahead of me--not to mention a second hour of dharma talk--and my car is out there on the street, unlocked, with the key in place, ripe for the plucking by anyone who happens to walk past. I distinctly remember opening the windows on this hot day. Did I forget to close them, compounding the vulnerability...?

Breathe... bring the attention to the breath...

So I'm sitting here trying to meditate and by now my mind is in high gear. Not everyone knows how to start a Prius, even with the electronic key in hand. It's not an ignition key, and there's nowhere to insert it. And those who know about this idiosyncracy are already Prius owners, right? Noble people, conscious of the environment--surely not the kind of people who would steal a car. Even if I had left the car with the windows open and the key inside, no fellow Prius owner would act in so dastardly a fashion.

Uh-oh, forgot to breathe... I hear Than Geoff's injunction: bring the attention back to the breath...

Besides, there's not that much foot traffic on this street. How many people would be walking past to notice that my Prius was unlocked? Was this a likely area for car thieves? No. And even if someone did manage to steal the car, I'm insured, right? But... do insurance companies pay up, even in cases where it's demonstrably the owner's fault for having left the key in the car and the windows open?

It's a physical sensation now. I'm actually sweating with anxiety. My body is overheated with sheer panic. And the mind continues to race... Should I get up? Pick my way through the serried ranks of sitters, risk disturbing them, to check up on my car...? Maybe wait until the meditation hour is over, then slip out before the dharma talk starts? Would that be rude? Would I look foolish?


And then of course it dawns on me that this is precisely what I was reading about just a short time ago. What I'm actually experiencing, here and now, is a real-life demonstration of my own lack of freedom, my desperate clinging to a material possession because I think it's "mine" and I'm terrified that someone will take it from me. My car! My Prius! My new Prius! My ecologically-friendly machine, the very symbol of my advanced consciousness and my social responsibility! Time to get a grip on my hungry ghost! A car? What's a car? Just a heap of metal, really. Not me. Not mine...

Breathe... breathe...

Absurd, no? So what I now need to do, here in my sit, is to learn to let it go. Not mine. Just a thing. And wach the clinging mind refuse to stop chewing on it, like an untrained puppy.

Breathe... But what if...? Breathe.

I can report here that I did in fact get through the hour. The worst of the agony began to subside after the first twenty minutes or so. The anxiety died down a bit later. By the end of the sit I had managed to let it slip my mind and fully focus on the breath--aside from those moments when the mind took time out to congratulate itself for being so focused and attentive.

And then of course at the end of the sit, when movement was permitted once again, I reached down to pat my pocket and discovered that the car key had been there safely all along.

What a gift! Having read those two articles in Inquiring Mind, I had been alerted that very afternoon to the mind's inclination to cling--whether to pleasure or aversion--and here I was given a magnificently dramatized opportunity to watch it in action. I can't say that it was a particularly comfortable experience, but it was certainly a great teaching, and one that I won't very soon forget.


dp said...

Wow, Peter, if it was me I would have just gone out to check on the car and then come back :)

Wasn't it Thoreau that wrote about how we come to be owned by our possessions?

PK said...

Unless I had changed clothes I would have gently, and quietly, put my hands down by my pockets to check for the key. Otherwise not wasted most of my precious time worrying about that key, or gotten up like dp said and gone and checked the car. Oh, and dp, thanks for the heads up on Thoreau, I want to look that up. Have a nice evening Peter:).

Laurie said...

I had a similar, though not as fully realized, experience at Spirit Rock retreat center last Saturday. I hadn't turned off my cell phone before the first 45 minute sit started. What to do? If I turned it off, it would make that horrible, electronic noise. If I waited, it might possibly (but not likely) ring. If I got up I might bother the very quiet room. Silly to even own a cell phone which rarely rings; a cell phone which I resisted buying for many a year, being the last of my friends to own one; now captive of modern technology, i.e., not free.

With determination NOT to be held hostage to a cell thing "ruining" my meditation, I quietly went outside and turned it off.

I had none of your perseverance, Peter, and the warrior which kept you sitting out the meditation and learning from it. Comfort reigned once I took action was taken. Can one learn spirituality from comfort?

bboycks said...

Peter --
I'd be worried too!
Even more so, if I'd borrowed my Son's gas eating ol' Ferrari!
PS -- have an admission to make .. Woke up last Fri & Sat morns about 4AM to turn on TV and see if anything had happen in the So. hemisphere with Lord Bush

"James" said...

Great post. I enjoyed your thought process as I've been there many times. I often like to say the gatha, "Breathing in I am present, breathing in I am home" when I find myself wandering in my mind.

I especially like this, --aside from those moments when the mind took time out to congratulate itself for being so focused and attentive.

I have to giggle (or just smile when at sangha) at times like this.

Funny mind.