Through the Dark Night

Bluebell2-08Revering the jewel of the Buddha,
our greatest treasure and resource,
unequalled in this universe, immeasurable,
the supreme, excellent protection
that benefits gods and humans –
By the power of the Buddha, may you be safe,
may all dangers be prevented,
and all your sorrows pass away.

Revering the jewel of the Dhamma,
our greatest treasure and resource,
unequalled in this universe, immeasurable,
the supreme, excellent protection
which calms all fevered states of mind –
By the power of the Dhamma, may you be safe,
may all dangers be prevented,
and all your fears pass away.

Revering the jewel of the Sangha,
our greatest treasure and resource,
unequalled in this universe, immeasurable,
the supreme, excellent protection,
those worthy of respect, gifts and hospitality –
By the power of the Sangha, may you be safe,
may all dangers be prevented,
and all your sickness pass away.

Ratana Sutta

Years ago, during a dark night of the heart, I asked an elder Cistercian monk how to penetrate the darkness, how to sustain faith in one’s ability to keep going on the Path. He replied in his thick Irish accent, “When yah get really close to the sun, it burrrns.”

I listened and reflected deeply on his words. He meant for me to trust; to keep searching for light in the unfathomable depths, the interior darkness; and to persevere even though I felt unequal to the task.

We are prone to discouragement and easily underestimate our innate goodness and fortitude. We bear shame or believe that we are not good enough.  But our strength and courage are not diminished thereby. They come to life as we burn through the layers of our conditioning with a generosity of heart that is both forgiving and fierce.

That burning opens us to the truth of change; and to a vastness of being beyond our frailty. It is indestructible. It is deathless. It allows us to be with the inferno of our day to day struggles, doubts, bouts of grief, fear, anxiety, shame, and so much more.

Our instinct is to run from this fire. Instead, we must keep turning towards it, balancing it with steadfast and dsicerning attention that can purify the dust of lifetimes while replenishing our strength and illuminating our minds in the process.  Whatever the thinking mind presents, we notice where it takes the heart. . . and when it isn’t good, we turn down the volume and discover the emptiness of all thought waves.

We have watched and listened to these mental waves. Like the breath of the ocean, they crash ashore – rising, falling, rising, falling; sometimes dangerous, shocking, or overwhelming; sometimes smooth, pleasurable, and calming.  Constantly changing, impermanent, fearful or beautiful, we have helplessly succumbed to their power. But at last, we see them with a new awareness that disarms the angst and turmoil of the mind, giving way to the voice of compassion, integrity and reconciliation.

As spiritual beings on a human journey, we discover this by opening to the spaciousness within us. Feeling our own struggle and pain – and that of others – with incisive insight, we enter into a process of waking up that is conciliatory and restorative rather than judgmental or destructive.

What is love?”
“The total absence of fear,” said the Master.
“What do we fear?”
“Love,” said the Master.

Awareness is the field of love and forgiveness, the Buddha’s map to freedom from fear and suffering.  With a peaceful presence of mind, we direct attention to the heart’s native goodness. Grounded in contemplation of the body, we see the karmic repercussions of negative mind states and how to escape from them skillfully before they cause harm to ourselves or anyone else.

In this work, we will not be perfect from the ‘get go’. At times, the journey will feel too much – but we know the impermanence, suffering (dukkha) and emptiness that are universal, and that ours is the journey of all beings. Like a mountain climber, we gather the right equipment and gradually gain altitude to be able to breathe at the top.

On the path of awakening, we are emptying out delusion. First we have to awaken to all the dross within us and clear it out – moment by moment, breath by breath, day by day. At times we take one step forwards and two steps back – but we keep going. We have to learn to breathe, walk, speak and interact with a pure mind. Literally, we have to be re-trained from a to z, to let go of blind ways of seeing, thinking and knowing the contents of our lives and our minds – the ideas, opinions, and our attachments to all that we cling to. Our whole life is broken down into its components and reformatted  – it is a veritable reformation.

Whatever misfortunes arise in life, through the darkest night, we learn to bow to the magnanimous face of Great Compassion. We bring forth from within – as diamonds from coal – the riches of a loving fearlessness.

Without dukkha, how would we grow free? Wherever we go, the Path is full of challenges. Dukkha is everywhere in different forms – because ultimately, its origin is within us. And it is there to be understood, and to teach us.

In the midst of the storm, at the thunder’s roll and the crashing of rain, just stop for a moment, listen within you and feel the full force of your breath pulsing in the darkness. That timeless rhythm of its tides is the ocean of life and the quiet of eternity. Therein also, we glimpse it – the faintest glow of the heart’s peace.

© Ayyā Medhānandī 2017