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Pandemic Pleasures, Samsaric Sufferings

By Ven Drolma Ann Kane

Monkey family at Tushita Meditation Center, India

Bring it on!  When the second wave of the virus hit in India we went through another series of lockdowns.  How would we survive?  So many people are struggling in so many ways.  Here at Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamkot it is no different.  But like Lama Zopa says, “Problems are like ice cream.”  We had to transform these challenges.  But how?  

For me the main challenges I face each day in lockdown are loneliness and engagement.  How do I struggle to stay focused on others, but also, on the flip side, how to balance healthy recreation?  With an empty retreat centre, there is very little interaction daily and certainly no students to serve in person.  What to do?  Practicing 24/7 can result in squeezing which becames an obstacle.  The only answer becomes adjust, reinvent, and stretch.

Research on loneliness taught me that it is a physiological response to being separated from others who are, through a developmental lens, necessary for my survival.  That is, I feel physical discomfort when I haven’t been close to others for a long time.  Part of what I learned is that I can resist that urge to be with others and develop a tolerance to that physical discomfort.  Like those who eat a tiny bit of poison each day to overcome the effects if they are dosed in a larger amount.  Associated with the physical discomfort of loneliness is the strong belief in my inability to tolerate it for even one second longer.  What does bringing an understanding of the illusory nature of that thought do?  Poof, self-liberated.  

And then, what about all this extra time I have for practice?  Wow! What an opportunity.  Now I can do months of retreat, millions of ngondro, stacks of reading, and hours of online classes.  I can become the super nun of practice.  Why not?  Well, there is such a thing as putting too much pressure on myself.  When I have too many expectations that are beyond my actual capacity, then I get lung and I get tired.  When I get tired, I get stuck.  This is the obstacle of too much practice which indicates a need for more relaxation.  To quote Lama Tsongkhapa from his Middle Length Lam Rim section on joyous effort, “The power of suspension is to rest when your body and mind are worn out due to your joyous effort.  As soon as you have recovered, you start again.” And from the same text, “…you should undertake joyous effort until your body and mind become light like a piece of cotton carried by the wind.”  

The pandemic has taught me to be more aware of my capacity and stretch my limitations. The lessons learned are still being learned of course.   That has been the true blessing.

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