Inclining Toward Freedom, Even Through Imperfections

Larry Yang

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Awakin FeatureIf we focus only on awakening, we miss most of the spiritual practice. I’m much more interested in how we practice with not awakening, with not being enlightened, because, frankly, those states of being are more present in my life than not.

Lately, as I strive to promote diversity and anti-racism both inside and outside of dharma communities, I’m finding new depths of disappointment and disillusionment at the limitations of my own capacities, at the imperfections of our communities, and at the harm occurring in our larger culture. We don’t live in an enlightened world—have you noticed? As a dharma teacher, I was trained to teach the insights and kindnesses that I have felt. However, these days I feel propelled to teach from where I am—to be real and authentic in the moment, in the midst of places where I do not have answers, and from the limitations of my own flaws. [...]

We must dig deep into our practice in order to navigate the extremes of despair and disillusionment. We must listen to what is underneath it all, to where freedom is calling from, by asking: Can I open to this? Can I turn toward this? Or in the inadequate language with which we must communicate, can I love this too? Can we incline toward the despair and imperfections of this life with the same diligence we give other objects of mindfulness? Can we practice presence when life feels impossible?

It may seem counterintuitive, but when we practice awareness and offer kindness to the uncooked, imperfect aspects of our lives, we actually strengthen our mindfulness. We don’t need to attach to either awakening or non-awakening; neither is anything more than an experience to hold with tender awareness.

Awakening and not awakening are two sides of the same coin. They are the same experience. We can’t experience awakening without experiencing not awakening. We can’t experience insight without becoming intimately familiar with our conditioned patterns. [...]

Thus, even in my imperfections, even in my failures, I can still incline my heart toward freedom. This is how I see the paths of awakening and non-awakening interweaving. This is freedom in the midst of suffering. This is resilience despite the forces of violence and oppression. We can create beautiful lives right where the world is not yet awake.

Each time we practice awareness and kindness, we transform not only our personal world but the world itself. We begin to be able to hold the unholdable, to connect the broken heart and the raging mind. We look for the precious wisdom embedded within that bitter rage, and as soon as we begin to look, we are no longer consumed by the rage itself. We turn toward the direct experience of despair and weave it into care, love, and, dare we say, freedom. This is the magnitude of our spiritual practice. It asks us to include all the contradictions and paradoxes of awakening and not awakening and everything in between. It is the in-between—the range from extreme to subtle, the spectrum connecting opposing forces—that constitutes the totality of our lives, our practice, and our freedom.

From full article here. Larry Yang is a Spirit Rock teacher and is a core teacher at the East Bay Meditation Center (Oakland) and Insight Community of the Desert (Palm Springs); his book is Awakening Together.

Seed questions for reflection: What does inclining your heart toward freedom in the midst of suffering mean to you? Can you share a personal story of a time you were able to experience insight by becoming intimately familiar with your conditioned patterns? What helps you treat awakening and non-awakening as two sides of the same coin?

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5 Previous Reflections:

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    On Jun 10, 2020 Sepli wrote:
    Thank you for sharing, Larry. I think the word imperfection is a good place to begin, and the location of imperfection that leads to disillusionment. Sometimes, it means making a slight adjustment in where our attentions are focused. For example, I spend almost zero percent of my attention on social media, with the exception of sites such as this where the focus is positively directed. It means eliminating watching and reading over and over again the same news cycles that are designed to trigger such reactions as you have. I like to remind myself of the Buddha's facial expression where he sees all but is bothered by nothing because he understands something deeper. There are only a few places I like to focus my attention: reading books that I choose for the content they provide that stimulates consciousness I wish to replicate. Daily walks in nature, even if in the evening around the block under the open sky because nature is the only place where "imperfection" dissolves ... [View Full Comment] Thank you for sharing, Larry. I think the word imperfection is a good place to begin, and the location of imperfection that leads to disillusionment. Sometimes, it means making a slight adjustment in where our attentions are focused. For example, I spend almost zero percent of my attention on social media, with the exception of sites such as this where the focus is positively directed. It means eliminating watching and reading over and over again the same news cycles that are designed to trigger such reactions as you have. I like to remind myself of the Buddha's facial expression where he sees all but is bothered by nothing because he understands something deeper.

    There are only a few places I like to focus my attention: reading books that I choose for the content they provide that stimulates consciousness I wish to replicate. Daily walks in nature, even if in the evening around the block under the open sky because nature is the only place where "imperfection" dissolves since nature holds no imperfection. A study of nature and the writing of nature haiku will train the mind to follow and focus on those perfect areas of the natural world we depend upon so much for sanity in a world whereour disconnect from nature creates the opposite too often.

    Namaste[Hide Full Comment]

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    On Jun 9, 2020 Lois Doig wrote:
    The first and last paragraph spoke directly to my heart.

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    On Jun 9, 2020 Bibi wrote:
    Yes, yes and yes to Larry Yang's profound sharing.

    I have found that the dark, unawakened forces know how to leave when they are seen, heard, owned up to.

    Without conscious invitation, and often with surprising speed...the light,breeze of that which is true, good beautiful knows how to flow in to fill that old weary, broken space that fear used to live in.

    Be of good hope- the light is rising in many hearts all over our planet in partmade possible by retreating fromCovidand facing the grievouswound that George Floyd laid bare by not being able to breathe for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

    Take care, be safe, stay well-
    Bibi

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    On Jun 7, 2020 David Doane wrote:
    Inclining your heart toward freedom means to me to act with integrity. It's not doing out of obligation, it's not doing to impress, it's not manipulation or bargaining, it's action true to your real self. A conditioned pattern I lived in is expecting the other to be upset by me -- it's an old conditioning and learning. Paying attention to that in me resulted in awareness and insight which helped me lessen the conditioning and gain freedom from it. What helps me treat awakening and nonawakening as two sides of the same coin is knowing there are two sides to every coin. (Often three sides, ie, his side, her side, and the truth.) There is no up without down, no in without out, no closeness without individuality, no death without birth, no yin without yang, no awakening without nonawakening. There must be contrast for there to be noticing of differences and defining of experiences. Knowing what something is helps in knowing what it is not, and vice versa.

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    On Jun 5, 2020 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    The two words thatstand out from Larry Yang's passage are Freedom and Imperfactions. We all want to be free from suffering, from our limitations created by conditioning of our mind. It is a a journey, a process of making invisiblevisible, a process of moving from non-awakening to awakening. As the author states: " We can't experience awakening without experiencingnot awakening." We cannot see inner light without seeing inner darkness. There is an ancient Vedic prayer which says " Lead from unreal to real, from darkness to light, from mortality to immortality." We all know that every culture, every society, every family conditions our mind. If we are not awareof the conditioned patterns of mind, we operate on automatic pilot. So the first step is to be aware of habitual conditioned patterns of aware mind. In orderto be freefrom such habitual patterns I need to remain awakeand move towards light.Is it easy? Of course not. There are times when my conditioned mi... [View Full Comment] The two words thatstand out from Larry Yang's passage are Freedom and Imperfactions. We all want to be free from suffering, from our limitations created by conditioning of our mind. It is a a journey, a process of making invisiblevisible, a process of moving from non-awakening to awakening. As the author states: " We can't experience awakening without experiencingnot awakening." We cannot see inner light without seeing inner darkness. There is an ancient Vedic prayer which says " Lead from unreal to real, from darkness to light, from mortality to immortality."
    We all know that every culture, every society, every family conditions our mind. If we are not awareof the conditioned patterns of mind, we operate on automatic pilot. So the first step is to be aware of habitual conditioned patterns of aware mind. In orderto be freefrom such habitual patterns I need to remain awakeand move towards light.Is it easy? Of course not. There are times when my conditioned mind judges others of different race, culture, and religion. The light of mindful awareness helps me to see my own dark shadow, my unawakened mind, and it facilitates my journey towards light.
    Awakening and non-awakening are two sides of the coin of mind and heart. Practicingmindful awareness of my non-awakening helps me to shift from non-wakening or darkness to awakening or light.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave'[Hide Full Comment]

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