Here we go
Oh, Damn. Michael reiterated the scariest teaching he ever gave, last night.
Take the biggest obscuration you have, he said, and pile the Dharma on it. Lay into it. Don't piddle away your time and energy with side-issues and marginal concerns. If your big issue is anger, don't muck around trying to fix your mild case of greed. Take on the big thing. It's harder, but it's also where your real motivation will be.
This terrified me, the first time he taught it, several years ago. I knew what my big thing was, and I didn't want to touch it.
So the week after that, I asked him about it, and he repeated it, but added -- "if you can."
He started to say more, but I said "No. No. Stop there. That's what I wanted to hear!"
People laughed, including Michael. I'm sure he went on to say whatever he was going to say, but I had my permission to leave the big thing alone.
But of course, Dharma doesn't work that way. You can't avoid a teaching, once it's planted in your mind: it keeps growing and interfering and generally making a nuisance of itself, until attending to it is finally easier than avoiding it.
So willy nilly I started practicing with the big thing, which was a tangle of lust, wanting to transgress bounds, pornography, and having crushes on people (or "falling in love with people," if that terminology sounds more adult.)
And the practice didn't amount to much -- I would have said I wasn't even making a dent in the whole thing -- until I was taking a class from Sarah. I was building up a crush on her, of course -- and suddenly I saw it. I saw it as suffering. I don't even know whether to call this perception conceptual. It was a physical sensation. A constriction of the heart and mind, a narrowing. And a very clear, concrete picture of what I was doing. What I was really doing was building a wall around myself. I was walling off every other possible relationship with Sarah, by imposing this fantasy of one which a) I couldn't have, and b) if I could have had, would have ruined my other intimate relationships, and c) took all my loving-kindness and channeled it into an unattainable future. I was carefully constructing the very isolation I was supposedly trying to break out of. It felt physically horrible.
Of course, I cast it now as a story with a critical turning-point. The reality is much more complex than that. But the story is basically true. Once I learned to see it, to feel it, as suffering, my relationship with it changed. I no longer wanted to get free of it in order to be good person or to please anybody else or to live up to some ideal. I just wanted out. When you're stifling you want air. It was like that.
But now, of course, there's the next big thing. This work thing, holding work at arm's length, procrastinating, throwing my energies into what's peripheral rather than central in my work. It's nothing new. It's the thing that had me mastering Latin when I should have been writing my dissertation. It has me tinkering endlessly with ways of reporting metrics on my earlier projects when I should be working on my present one. It's the thing, for that matter, which has me blogging right now.
Here we go.