Acknowledging Insights

The following is a talk, the third in a series, given while people were sitting in formal meditation during the New Year Retreat at Throssel, 2022.

The audio of this talk can be found on the Throssel Hole Abbey website.

The Uses of Sorrow
(in my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

Mary Oliver

We love; human love is essentially conditioned love, due to our functioning as we do within the world of subject and object, the everyday world of duality, Samsara. Our attachments are subject to change, as is everything. There is sorrow. There is love lost, and there is transformation. Attachment and detachment flow together throughout our entire lives.

Over time, we gain an appreciation of existence as a gift, (this too is a gift). And out of gratitude, we give gifts. We receive gifts, the gift of friendship for example, where exchanges can easily become a subtle ‘currency’ which we keep tally of – if we must! Too bad, our relationship with money is so linked to ‘paying for’ something.  ‘One good turn deserves another’, ‘pay my way’, ‘mustn’t impose’, ‘pull my weight’, ‘be indebted to’… Guilt and shame follow.

“In my sleep I dreamed this poem…” Interesting, even in sleep teaching comes to us. Insights, which remain long enough to remember, and in this case, to be written down. As a way of letting them go, people sometimes write such insights down and offer them on their altar. Writing helps us move on past that which is so tempting to hang onto.

It is not unusual for people to have a deep insight into the way things are at a relatively early stage in their practice, and that can left foot/destabilize them. And those individuals sometimes recount (as adults) an expansive, ‘without edges’ level of appreciation; they perceive the ‘whole’ with themselves not apart from the whole. They may feel themselves to be not separate from chimney pots, or clouds! What they remember is less to do with discreet ‘insights’ or ‘understandings’.

One reason for this, (and there has to be a complex understanding around children’s perceptions) is the fact that children are usually less conditioned by their experience, compared to older people who have had more time to accumulate experience. Younger people will be more likely to encounter the world with fewer filters between themselves and the objects they encounter, that is, less colouration between a sense (eye) and its object ‘out there’. Less of a distinction between inside them and outside of them.

Coming back to the here and now: having been on retreat, doing lots of meditation, stilling the senses and having entered into the process of ‘undoing/letting go’, the senses become less grasping. Which means one’s mind encounters the world differently. Less ‘going out’ and more allowing sight, sounds, smells etc, to come in. Allow your eyes to see for you, your ears to hear for you.

Having a flash of insight into the way things are (sometimes referred to as ‘self-teaching’) occurs spontaneously when we are less  preoccupied with our busy internal world and external world. Here for example is an insight which came to me in the early days of my monastic training – ‘we don’t train in order to be enlightenment, training IS enlightenment’. Such realizations are not the ‘whole truth’, or better put: ‘a complete turning around’. More a snapshot; an insight into the way things are; a clarification or reinforcement of the words of a Scripture. In my case, I remember clearly everything about that moment of clarity/insight – but I don’t carry it around in my head, repeating it. Obviously.

Remember from the explanation of the Skandhas, the 5th one is Consciousness: the eye, the object it encounters and that which is conscious, these make up our experience. Interpose a ‘filter’ between eye and object – a view, opinion, or as I’ve put it frequently ‘a label’ then on a certain level our view is ‘coloured’. In fact, our entire experience is coloured, we are conditioned beings. Our perceptions will always be coloured, and knowing that is the case can bring about humility ‘I could be wrong’, or ‘I could be right.

Here in the recording below is an example of somebody who had a vision, one of several, and was encouraged, by me, to write  it down with a view to letting it go. Brenda speaks from the heart, with humility.

Let Flow the Golden Tide – Brenda Birchenough

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