Openness. What do we really mean by being open or openness. Is it something that is ok for a particular type of experience and not for another, for example how does fight or flight work here. Or, do we need to take care as it mighjt leave ourselves and others vulnerable. We may choose to take flight and turn away, leaving us unwilling or (to our mind) unable to face whatever difficulty we see before us. To close off in this way can be very understandable of course. The world does present us with many unsightly formations and displays. When I say the world of course what I’m getting at is the mind that constructs the world we see. We can’t just wish things away so that we don’t have to confront them. It can also take different forms like memory and projection.
What are the effects of closing off and can we be to open to what is shown to us. Also what tools do we have to be open.
The key appears to be the basic teaching of not holding on and not pushing away. How do we penetrate this statement. So if holding on is fight and pushing away is flight what is the position best suited to go deeper into our lives and intuitively awaken to our true nature. Our true nature is not to be found in the opposites. When life confronts us in the many ways that can be challenging it can be difficult to open up, to open ourselves to the many faceted responses available.
We can often, for example, react by falling into old comfortable habits that trundle along well worn rutted tracks. These can give the impression of safety, but then soon starts to crumble. If our tendency is to be one of the three monkeys with hand over eyes, mouth or ears, that is the position we will adopt. We can close off even before we have seen clearly what it is that confronts us.
Something is triggered a response comes forth and before we know it we are spiralling downwards. This position is exacerbated by our knowledge that we are now in a place we recognize and despite all the signs to the contrary we settle. We have been here many times before. We don’t like it there and it is painful but what is the option. To be open at this point seems the worse option because it is the unknown. There are no obvious sign posts with which we can orientate ourselves. When we are walking or driving somewhere new we are at our most attentive trying to find our bearings, if it is a known route we do everyday we are more relaxed and safe and maybe see less, and are less aware. There are holes in any analogy, but I hope you take my point. If the spiritual life is a choice we will find ourselves bouncing between two points and never really finding any peace. It is exhausting.
As we carry on our meditation practice and come to know that place in the heart that is at peace, our life off the cushion or bench starts to find some equilibrium. It is no different to living from the heart. The heart that is love, compassion and wisdom. The heart that is open to all it encounters.
The contentment that doesn’t need to hold or push , is embraced and slowly and gently expressed. For example when someone comes to us and asks our advice or help what is the best place to be. Well it becomes apparent that it is the one I‘ve just described. If we can express not holding and pushing, a way forward appears.
To get out of the way and be open to the suffering of others and allow them to find their own way forward is a gift to the world.
To show the potential of another position can be very helpful.
So openness here is to accept where someone else is and not push to a place which makes us comfortable. What I mean by that is someone else’s fear or anxiety can drive us to move it all around so that we feel ok rather than helping the other see their fear more clearly. i.e. I’m hurting because of what you are doing, let’s make it better for me. In other words by doing nothing we do everything.
Now this is not to say that the process of becoming open isn’t full of bittersweet moments. To lose something or someone from our lives can be difficult to accept, of course it can, there is a grieving process, it can be hard to accept. So letting go isn’t necessarily a simple case of there it goes. It can be a wrench. Also it goes on for quite a time, getting refined. As it has less of an impact we get lighter and spread that in the world around us.
But what is going on here. The bittersweet is the perceived loss and acceptance of loss. We didn’t want it or ask for it yet our pain continues beyond this when we can’t accept its going. Through deep letting go, a part of ourselves, the old me can transform. As this happens it can be very confusing and we might still muddle up the old me with the emerging me.
Early in my monkhood, there was a period when a few monks were leaving, seniors and novices. I was puzzled why I didn’t miss anyone or regret their going, that is beyond the obvious lack of their presence. I felt no great sense of loss. In turn this feeling or lack of it can lead to a sense of guilt or selfishness. I asked about this in Spiritual Direction one morning, and the answer came back, ‘Don’t make clouds in a clear sky’. In other words if it isn’t there don’t create it to assuage your sense or feelings of inadequacy. Just keep going.
Do we have to define ourselves through relationship, whether through people or any other thing in the world that is around us. Are we looking for a wholeness which we don’t feel we can find any other way. It appears we can have this relationship if we are open to the notion that we don’t need to be attached to it. We can be close and full of warmth but also let it breathe. The grief of loss appears because something of ourselves died also due to our attachment. We then realise that we may be seeing the relationship mostly from our end.
There does come a time when this starts to dissolve. Without acceptance of loss we grasp on and haul it back. It means too much to us to lose, when push comes to shove.. But from all we have realised through training this doesn’t sound right. We have to be open to losing everything.
What are we missing. We need to engage with an openness that is accepting that there may be more than we can see at the moment.
When we are prepared to be courageous and let it through we can experience the bitter taste of loss but yet we also know of the sweetness of transformation. We feel loss, a sense of loss, of missing something dear to us.
Feelings are the reaper of karma. Yet feelings come and go, when we don’t cling to a feeling we have a chance of releasing it.
What is left afterwards you may ask, well we have a deeper sense of knowing that this is just how everything is, silent, empty and full. Nothing missing.
The not holding and not pushing away is that place which is not defined but palpably exists, the place of truly letting go, of openness.