The shining darkness
As winter's quiet darkness grows around us it speaks of a special kind of fecundity. With the woodland creatures' withdrawal it appears that everything is saying, 'It's time to leave the world of activity and go into the heart.' Our life is rhythmic: as our breath comes in and out, so we have times of more and times of less engagement. This approaching Winter Retreat feels deeply in tune; we seem to be moving in step with the leafless rustling of the branches outside.
Within the monasteries our lives tend to be a flow between interaction with others, and times of solitude and introspection. And in this flow it seems essential, if not inevitable, that each informs the other: that these are not modes of being in opposition but aspects of cultivation that inform and enrich one another. When we dwell in the quiet of meditation the quality with which we have engaged with things is bound to be reflected in the way we attend to our meditation. If our heart has been cramped and constricted in our interactions with others, if this is how we are habitually relating to things, then what arises in our meditation is likely to be received in the same way.
This gives practice great possibilities. In the experience of meditation, through the blessing of calm and focus, we can see our deepest patterns. We can gain insight into how we hold meditation, ourselves, and all we hold as other than ourselves. And through the power of meditation take out some of the efects that our hearts carry, the bruising and tightness. In the same way, in the day-to-dayness of our lives, through the cultivation of kindness and friendliness, we can transform what we meet there, and these qualities will then be natural when we turn inwards for meditation. The apparent separation between 'inside' and 'outside', and the tension between engagement and solitude, these can fall away. We can transform the world; either by attending to its arising at the heart or through our response to what seems to be outside ourselves.
When the heart is cultivated, brightened, attended to with care, it yields rich wonders. This realm of meditation that we share, this realm of the intuitive - the citta - where things are experienced as resonance, is worthy of the time we dedicate to its cultivation. As we can experience, when we go into the heart's darkness daring to feel all that separates us - the anger, the grief, and the fear - something wondrous is discovered. Not only does the beauty of awareness, of presence, shine forth but the very darkness itself is transformed. What is fear like when it is opened to? Doesn't the very fact of our not knowing what may happen, reveal a spaciousness in which the vast possibilities of life open up? We can trust into our anger with awareness and receive the things we need to hear - maybe our resentment was rooted in our not taking care of ourselves. All that arises in our awareness can be the ground for us to see the Noble Truths, and to understand what separates us from our intrinsic freedom - and each other. Our very commitment to waking-up, and the ability we have cultivated in meditation to hold steady with the flux of things, is transformative. And when we peel away all that obscures our hearts, do we not touch the pure and bestowing heart - the heart that 'wants to give you everything.'