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Continua of Practice: From Referencing to Abiding

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Teacher: Rodney Smith
Date: 2016-02-16
Venue: Seattle Insight Meditation Center



In my youth when our family went to church, I was always bored with the minister’s sermon. His words seemed remote and distant from my life and sounded like he was referencing something that was inaccessible and could not be questioned. I felt I was being asked to believe and keep still. Perhaps my reaction to that feeling was the lure the Dharma held for me years later. Here was a teaching that demanded questions, a teaching that could not be based upon what others had said, and a teaching that was directly relevant to my life. Given that the Dharma rests upon our understanding and not the Buddha’s wisdom, a Dharma life is not a passive one. We have to be careful not to always apply previous knowledge to current situations, but rather to let the new reveal itself as the new. A purely intellectual life keeps us shallow in our understanding.

Many of us know how to mentally listen, but not how to integrate that listening into a realized understanding. The continuum this week is from referencing to abiding, and it is that process of integrating the realization of what is seen that is essential to our spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is not a cognitive affair, it is not amassing a thorough intellectual understanding of Buddhism. We may start our Dharma practice with an intellectual overview but will likely tire since thought is not spiritually relevant. The sincere seeker is looking to be totally drawn into the Dharma, so the Dharma penetrates the cells of his/her body. To be thoroughly integrated requires that we put our Dharma understanding into action.

After we have intellectually grasped the Dharma the next phase is to sit sufficiently still so the truth can enter our cells. This process requires bypassing the mind and seeing directly. Insights and wisdom arise from seeing with awareness rather than seeing through memory. Usually insights take time to filter through our system to the appropriated depth necessary for realization. During this filtering down process we usually reference the truth in relationship to situations that unfold. An example might be, “I know things change, maybe I should be less attached to my new car.” During this intermediate stage we need to encourage the insights forward into action even if the actions seem difficult and counter intuitive. For example most of us have some realization that we are more than what we believe about ourselves, but how many of us live that realization? Most of us refuse to extend our boundaries beyond what we have always been. Wise action is putting into motion the truths we have discovered and living that understanding anew.

This is not easy because our emotional resistance to changing from a psychosocial frame of reference into a wisdom frame of reference is considerable. The patterns are deep and well grooved. Frequently we notice we do not emotionally feel like changing our physical direction toward a deeper truth. The reason is our emotions have tremendous power over our actions, and our emotions have not been exposed to the light of awareness and the wisdom it contains. We harbor our emotions as verifying statements of our history (I feel this way because of my father’s abuse) and are reluctant to expose the pain to awareness and reexamine the emotion in light of the present. Why reexamine our reaction when our anger feels justifiable? For instance we may secretly believe we are unworthy and whenever we meet someone of more stature, we shrink. At the same time we may have had a deep realization of the absolute equality of all beings, but when that truth is in confrontation with our emotional history, the history wins out. This is when we are called to wise action. We stay our course, squaring our bodies and looking the person in the eyes because that is the way a person of equality relates, and equality is the truth.

There are many occasions throughout the day when we need to push through our emotional reluctance and square our bodies to the truth.  We know for instance when we are not really showing up for someone or present to an activity.  Do we act on that knowing or let it slide into the next unconscious moment? This becomes more of a necessity as we begin to realize the truth of our emptiness. Emotional confusion obstructs emptiness and thereby blocks the participating joy and full hearted wonder of being what we are. Herein lies the counter-influence of this continuum. We may choose to stay within the emotional bondage of our past, working endlessly towards its resolution because this is the territory we understand, and it seems more secure than the open wonder of our being. But for those few who move forth with the truth eventually release their emotional ambivalence and learn to abide in amazement. Abiding has no reference outside of the truth and therefore effortlessly lives in accordance with it.


Reflect upon the areas of your life where your actions are embedded in an old view of yourself and where your intentions remain arrested within a view of separation and fear. For example, you may have inward feelings of unworthiness and at the same time have some understanding of the unreality of these old assumptions. Your identification with those old thoughts may keep you paralyzed in self-doubt and unable to embody in action a new perception of self-acceptance. Wise action is moving in accordance with the truth of who you are, not waiting for the old feelings to subside. The old pattern must be brought into wise action for the complete resolution of the old pain. Write down 4 or 5 actions you could take to counter the assumptions of self-doubt. Now set those actions in motion. Do not wait for your emotions to tell you the timing is right or the old thoughts to let go of their mental grasp. They never will. New feelings and thoughts about yourself will arise after a number of attempts to align yourself to what is true.


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