Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Work of the Heart

In the most recent issue of Shambhala Sun, Norman Fischer, in a piece called "Applied Dharma", talks about using Buddhist principles in mediation, the law and health care.  When writing about mediation, Fischer says, "One of ... the  key concepts is the notion that no conflict is about what it seems to be about.  Impasses over money or property are really about deeper concerns that usually do not surface.  Any solution that does not address these deeper concerns won't really hold."

When I read this I was reminded how I have learned this in my own life.  As I started to look a little more deeply at what was going on, I could often see that what I was citing on the surface as the problem, was only a thin skin covering a deeper, more painful issue of the "little self" or ego.  And if I looked carefully enough I could see a common thread joining the things that bothered me.  The relationship between neighbours that took all the parking spaces on the street, my daughter not helping around the house and my mother needing me to run just one more errand for her.  

I could see it wasn't about the specific issues; because if a neighbour I liked, took my parking space I didn't feel irritated.  If my friend the Buddhist monk asked me to run another errand for her, I didn't feel chagrined.  Logic was telling me that something else was going on.  I needed to look more deeply.  What about these situations drove me a little crazy?  Why couldn't I just take them in my stride, say no big deal and carry on.  The common thread which I unravelled was that I (my little self), felt unconsidered.  When I saw this dangling thread I knew it was attached to a very old piece of karma.  It pushed a button so deep and tender that I could feel the lifetimes of angst behind it.

We all have different buttons and threads, we are a veritable wardrobe of tender wounds and karmic baggage.  I remember my teacher saying if the feelings you are experiencing seem out of proportion to the event, chances are that it's karmic.  So when Fischer says, it's not about the money or the property, there are several levels to explore, both the deeper feelings that we keep covered up and our own "issues" that keep coming up to greet us until we work on them.

And that is what I learned from watching myself, seeing the pain I felt and the pain I could cause for others if I was not careful.  I needed to ante up and look more deeply at what was going on and deal with that issue or it would come back again and again.  So it is never about the parking place, or the money or the property.  Are we willing to look?  Are we willing to do the hard work that needs to be done?  To hang out with the irrational, with our anger, our suffering until it calms and settles and we can figure out what is the good thing to do.  Any solution that doesn't come from that place is merely a band aid, a home handy man's repair job.  In time it will simply fail to do the job.   It is the deeper exploration of "what is really going on here"  that will help us do the work of the heart.


  1. Absolutely lovely!

    I resonate so deeply with your experiences, as they are my experiences as well... Currently I am experiencing irritation with all those things that you mention that demand something of "me" - the "me" I *think* I am - my time, my attention, my presence... I call it the "mundance" - the dance of the mundane - the requirements of daily living that tend to breed irritations. :) Those irritations become my story. And my "story" *about" those little irriations keeps me dancing on the surface with aggravations. It appears however, that the "mundance" is here to stay, so what I'm discovering is I need to learn to dance deeper - to go beyond the surface issues and dance deep with life.

    Thank you for this wonderful offering that helps me to see that...


  2. Ah you speak the true Dharma. Where else is our work but down here in the trenches of everyday life, not in imagining a bliss filled Nirvana! This is true training and the work of our lives. It is difficult but rewarding. Yes I love that the "mundance"! is here to stay! Sometimes it seems so confusing. But when we keep on keeping on, we see more light and things grow and shift. Each of us find out what we really need to learn. So glad to be on the path together with you!

    a bow to you,