Gil Fronsdal returns with guidance on how we might apply our practice during difficult times.
Our first reaction to difficult times is to seek out a temporary relief. What would happen, however, if we focus our attention on letting go of the suffering instead?
No Surprise (Opening) – In his many years of Buddhist practice, Gil has learned not to be surprised by difficult times. While difficult times are not to be expected, hardship is a natural part of life.
Buddhist practice is designed to prepare ourselves to meet these hard times directly. Not to become a victim or complacent with suffering we experience.
Holy Sites of Buddhism (3:11) – Gil retells the story of Buddhist monks in training. These trainees, who had spent much time becoming comfortable in their monastery were given an opportunity for a pilgrimage to the holy sites of Buddhism.
Instead of the sacred places they expected, the students were taken to nursing homes and hospices where they met with those close to death and sat vigil over the dead. There they encountered individuals who embodied peace greater than any in the group had ever seen.
When the students returned from this unlikely pilgrimage, they were delivered an incredibly impactful message:
“You have now encountered the holy sites of Buddhism. The practice that you do here is to come to terms with them, and discover how in sickness, old age, and death that you can find a profound peace, you can find liberation.”
Mind the Moment (7:06) – To practice in difficult times is to have the holy sites of Buddhism visit you, you don’t come to them. Mindfulness practice helps us to see what our most common responses to these difficult challenges are. These problems range from being late to the bus stop to dealing with mortality.
“If we don’t see how we tend to react, then it is going to be there influencing us unconsciously or subconsciously. Shaping or coloring how we see our challenge and ourselves in it. If we just believe our reactive judgments, it is going to create a very different approach to working through a difficulty.”
Mindfulness practice allows us to step back and see these reactions. This awareness allows us to relate to our responses and gives us the opportunity to discover wiser ways of responding.
Relief or Release? (12:01) – One teaching of Buddhist wisdom is that there is an important distinction between relief and release. We often seek temporary relief and a full release of our attachment to the difficulty and the pain it causes.
There are two sides to experiencing these difficult times. On the one hand, it is unfortunate to have difficulties, but they also serve as mirrors that serve to show us where spiritual work needs to be done.
“If you can get whatever you want, you won’t look deeply at desire; you won’t question it. If you can avoid all the things you don’t want, you might not look deeply at the movement of aversion. If you don’t get what you want, your desire stands out in highlight. If you get what you don’t want, your aversion and fear stand out in highlight.”
Unexpected Lessons (17:21) – Gil explains the process of how secluded retreats are designed to create a safe environment to practice in. However, from time to time things go wrong. What he has seen time and time again, students at the retreat remark how these instances act as a mirror to their strengths and weaknesses.
(22:31) – When we are honest with ourselves, we see things that are profound and can be liberating. No one genuinely wishes for so many of these hardships and moments of suffering from falling on themselves or one another. However, we must recognize the revelatory and galvanizing power that they possess.
“As a Buddhist teacher, I would do a disservice to practitioners of this path if I did not point out that these difficulties provide unparalleled opportunity; to be able to turn the mirror around and really look deeply at our deepest values, desires, clinging, and beliefs.”
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