Deserts and the Eight Worldly Dharmas


Hello all ! It’s been forever since I stopped by, so I thought I’d say hello.  Blogger Slacker, indeed!  Truthfully, I’ve been out living my life instead of blogging about it.  As part of those life adventures, I spent some time in the southwest, rambling around in the desert.   This picture was taken while hiking in the canyons of southern Utah, one of the most gorgeous places on the planet.

I was thinking about the desert and my Utah trip this morning.  I love the southwest.  LOVE IT.   And as I proceed across the landscape of my life, with grief from recent deaths, lots of shifts in many areas and a renewed sense of intention about some things, I was thinking about how the desert represents that journey for me.

Sometimes I look into the depths of my life and it feels like the desert:  Wide open, sort of dry in places, yet full of Light that knows how to get into the tiniest of cracks of the surface, into the deepest places inside of me, those places where there are just no words.  Only stillness, a deep stillness inside of me.  The desert is like that place… still, so still.  Not silent necessarily, but still.  It teems with life at night, when it’s easier and safer to be out, out of the harsh sun that gives life but can also take it away.  In the desert, the most common ways to die are from dehydration or drowning, hence this sign.  Paradox, paradox.  The desert is full of life, full of mysterious canyons and deep drop-offs, ancient dwellings full of art painted or chiseled into the stone walls centuries ago, the artists long gone, yet their creative spirit remains.  It’s also full of potential death if you are not prepared and observant, aware of your surroundings and willing to take care of the basics.

I think that’s part of why I crave the desert~~there’s nowhere (now here?) to go, nowhere to be, other than right here, right now.  The basics matter.  So when all else fails, sometimes it’s really important to remember the basics.  Like, water and food and shelter.  Like, fire burns and when it rains the earth gets wet.  Like, my safety is my responsibility.  Like, it’s important to know current and predicted conditions, because something happening miles away can sweep me off my feet in a second, a flash flood of emotion or information or experience, just as surely as a sudden storm in the sky.  My journey truly is my responsibility.

This is one of those interesting times, the kind when it all sort of flows and time bends softly and warmly around the looking-glass, the kind that feels somehow touched by the Divine yet is sort of emotionally exhausting in that same way.   I was thinking about all of that this morning, which led me to think of Rumi, one of my favorite poets.

I’ve been thinking of Rumi a lot lately actually, and also about the Buddhist sense of the 8 Worldly Dharmas.   For the uninitiated, the 8 Worldly Dharmas are: praise and blame; pleasure  and pain; fame and disgrace; gain and loss.  Buddhism basically says that these become our attachments and aversions in life– we want the ones we enjoy or make us feel good.  Therefore we constantly seek  something outside of ourselves to hold onto, trying to do what it takes to feel good.  Conversely, we try to avoid the things we think will feel “bad.”  This creates a cycle in which we are forever caught in the wheel of life, trying to have pleasure, praise, fame and gain.  At the same time, we frantically try to avoid the things we perceive as painful, and so the cycle continues with us trying to seek an ever-elusive happiness that cannot be found outside of us.

Our whole culture, as well as our whole economy,  is based on the search for these things that we believe will bring us lasting pleasure.    We are led to believe that if we have the newest shiny whizbang or the right car or the right mate or the right beer or the right whatever, then–Finally! you can be happy.  And as humans we fall for that, over and over and over again.  But then that changes too, and the new whizbang goes out of style, the spiffy new phone becomes a dinosaur in a few months, you wake up with a lump in your breast,  the kids go to school or the person you love dies or the job you thought would be so good falls apart. And then, there we are, back into what is viewed as the opposite, the “bad” feelings, the aversions and the pain.

This happens to all of us at some point, and there are so many choices.   But one of the choices is to look in the mirror and ask some hard questions, like… So now what?  Who am I without my  stuff, my comforts, my stories, my attachments, my distractions, my toys, my “isms,” my work, my need for control?  Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, said,

“As humans we are always running after something— some pleasure, some reward, some way to avoid pain.  But here’s the real $64, 000 question–when all of that is over, how much have you ever really connected with yourself in your whole life?”

All of this led me to again ponder this Rumi poem…

Why Cling

Why cling to one life
Till it is soiled and ragged?

The sun dies and dies
Squandering a hundred lives
every instant

God has decreed a life for you
And will give you
another and another and another and another….

So today, I am thinking of many things, watching it all sort of spin by, lazy on its axis, watching it pass through in the most interesting of ways…I ponder the $64, 000 question and think of worldly dharmas of pleasure and pain, attachments and aversions and all of the many ways in which they disguise themselves.  I love Rumi’s take on the clinging, somehow understanding that it is in the letting go, it’s the fall into the soft spots of the heart and soul that bring us to new life.   It’s not just about who you are, but who you are becoming, and if you are OK with that.  And, like the child crying “do it again!” to a fun silly grown up trick, the sun will rise tomorrow and we get to choose all over again.  And how cool is that?  Always another chance to accompany the changes in life.

So today, I am pondering the desert and this garden party of philosophers and poets, and I thank them for their contributions to my life and soul.  And I offer thanks for all the changes and chances to do it again.    I hope this finds all of you happy and at peace.

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