The Deep Habit of Forgetfulness

From Thich Nhat Hanh, “Touching the Earth, Intimate Conversations with Buddha,” page 27:

Lord Buddha, I recognize my deep habit energy of forgetfulness. I often allow my mind to think about the past, so that I drown in sorrow and regret. This has caused me to lose so many opportunities to be in touch with the wonderful things of life present only in this moment. I know there are many of us whose past has become our prison. Our time is spent complaining or regretting what we have lost. This robs us of the opportunity to be in touch with the refreshing, beautiful, and wonderful things that could nourish and transform us in the present moment. We are not able to be in touch with the blue sky, the white clouds, the green willow, the yellow flowers, the sound of the wind in the pine trees, the sound of the running brook, the sound of the singing birds, and the sound of the laughing children in the early morning sunlight. We are also not able to be in touch with the wonderful things in our own selves.”

“The deep habit of forgetfulness”

Sometimes mindfulness is translated as remembering. Do I remember the deeper meaning of life as I go through the day? Do I remember to observe myself when my greed, anger and ignorance are playing themselves out? Am I aware enough to transform them? This transformation happens is in the small moments of our daily life. There is no other place we can enact our enlightenment. This requires a tremendous attention and intention to observe myself throughout the day. Lately, I have been practicing stopping at least three times a day, to meditate, to notice my feelings and to reconnect with “enoughness.” When I allow this practice to happen in the rush of my busy life, I’m amazed at the satisfaction in life I can find for myself. I am using the visualization of the center knob in the Wheel of Life and Death. The Center knob is greed, anger and ignorance in a continuous circle. When one of these arise, all three are present. And if and when we grab onto them, we turn the whole wheel from the center hub. When is my hand on that knob?

“I drown in sorrow and regret.”

Our personality structure is unique and made from many conditions as we are growing up. One of these is our ethnicity and culture. Did our culture and our family dwell on the negative or the positive, each with the corresponding denial. A negative personality can’t see the positive beauty of life shining through. The positive personality often denies or is out of touch with suffering. Knowing yourself, you can begin to find practices that help balance you so that you can bring awareness and wisdom to the total picture.

Has our past become a prison?

I find that zazen and in particular longer zazen retreats, helps me to digest my past. Honest self-reflection helps me to be at peace with my past. Part of spirituality is digesting the conditions of our childhoods and past, so we are not held by them or in some cases tortured by them. Sometimes this is called a purification process or a clearing process. We are open to be a vehicle for the Buddha-dharma. We are freer to find our role as adults and to be free enough to serve others.

Because I have always been a “half empty” person, I have been using the mantra, “Half full. Half full!” I am now trying to see my life and current conditions as half full. This allows my mind to be full of gratitude, which really allows me to be less self-involved and more open to things as they are.

In addition, I have been using a sympathetic joy phrase, which again helps me not to dwell on suffering and my evaluations of dissatisfaction, and helps me place my mind on goodness. The phrase I have been using is: “May this success and happiness continue and grow. “ Even when, in my judgment, the situation is difficult or “bad”, I try to find the success and happiness in the same situation and pray that it continues and grows. It’s a very different prayer, kind of upside-down.

Be in touch with the refreshing, beautiful and wonderful things that could nourish and transform us in the present moment.

One of the reasons Thich Nhat Hanh is so deep with such a beautiful practice is that his practice was born out of the very deep suffering of the Viet Nam War. He really is a person whose horrible memories and suffering of the past could have drown him. Instead, he exemplifies a practice that is open to beauty and nourishment. He does not deny suffering, but is an example of overcoming it. He works ceaselessly to teach us all how to do the same. I am learning to place my mind on true nourishment – the sweet nectar of the dharma that is always at hand. With this true nourishment, I can face my suffering and other’s suffering with a measure of equanimity and sincere compassion. We must allow ourselves opportunities to become refreshed by the dharma and that is Buddha’s promise to us, that suffering, though not denied, can be transformed.