If the Ancient Barbarian Could Do It, So Can You—Letter to a Student
By Ken Kessel JDPSN
Thanks for your letter. Your strong intention to practice is marked with despair at the persistent habits that reflect and cause discomfort. Intentional practice makes anchor points, so that you have an experience of persistent effort. You have an anchor that reflects this, even if at times it feels like the rope has detached from the anchor. Even at the end of your rope, you still have the rope. So find something to connect it to. Having an anchor point in the midst of despair is one core element of practice.
Bodhidharma speaks of bearing the unbearable. Now you know what he’s talking about. If the ancient barbarian could do it, so can you. One suggestion—don’t increase formal practice beyond what your daily routine allows in order to fix this. That has several errors.
First, the idea that there’s something to fix.
Second, the belief that doing something at one point in time will fix something that either already happened or hasn’t happened yet. Sometimes that may be possible, but that doesn’t dispel demons. Rather, gain strength by practicing ordinary things. Find simple everyday tasks and make them your practice as well. That cultivates a mind habit of continuous practice. At the moment of attentive engagement, there is nothing to fight. There is not a thing to hold on to and not a thing to push away. Just be with what you’re doing. If you take that mind into other moments, they become that way too. When you see that your demons are originally your own true self, their power becomes your power. Don’t be deceived by power; it’s only swallowing juice, when you drink it. Refrain from looking for truth. Just see. Then your mind, my mind and Buddha’s mind are the same. If you feel like your own worst enemy, consider that that’s also what makes you your own best teacher.