Another Kind Of Vacation


This week Dhagpo is closed for one of our twice-yearly vacation times. People head off to various corners of France and sometimes elsewhere to visit family or the ocean or spend some time in meditation retreat. I technically took my vacation time in April to visit my family in the States and it often happens that I take off at unusual times of year, so generally during vacation periods I stay at Dhagpo and keep doing what I normally do, while enjoying the general calm of the center.

But back in January, I made a choice that changes the landscape of these previously mellow weeks. I got involved in a study group connected with the Bodhi Path Centers, and we make a point meeting during Dhagpo’s off moments, in order to benefit from that same calm I usually experience on my own.

Eleven of us are camped out in the living room of the Lama House, poring over a transcript of one of Jigme Rinpoche’s teachings on meditation and working out what is its essential meaning and the subtle connections he makes between practice, daily life, and the traditional teachings that explain how to go about these two.

It’s masterful, really, how precise his teachings are while using simple language and often seeming to wander through a stream of stories and philosophical notions at random. When we sit down to pull out the main ideas and reference points, it reveals a very intentionally structured, detailed guide for progressing on the path.

Through the process, I am learning both the teaching itself, bit by tiny bit, but also, how to study and understand the teaching. It is a double lesson, and a precious one. It also underlines for me the importance of study on all levels, and particularly a solid background in the traditional texts, in order to be able to receive and apply instructions on how to practice.

My favorite nugget of wisdom for today is a clarification between two terms I have struggled to distinguish for aaages. The first is the Tibetan word sheshin, most frequently called awareness, and the second is drenpa, which is typically translated as mindfulness. Both have to do with being present, but in English any distinction we could make is very subjective and contextual. There is no agreed upon precise difference between these two.

But in Tibetan there is, and this shows the limits of translating the teachings. In any case, we have to learn the meaning, for the words as we understand them conventionally are practically useless in regards to Buddhist philosophy, other than as a reminder of the subject at hand. So, the aha moment for today:

Sheshin, what we call awareness, refers to the ability to be present to what arises in the mind. Drenpa, mindfulness, means being able to recall the teachings in this space of awareness. It’s the difference between just sitting around like a vegetable, watching the thoughts zip through our mind, and remembering how we are meant to observe and examine our mind in this state.

Anyway, this is my new understanding. But as always, let me remind you to check with your certified local lama, since I’m just a bum on a cushion with a transcript, trying to make sense of all this.

The other that comes to mind is just gratitude that my days can be useful. I’m still human and I still need vacation, but it’s cool to imagine a time when all my activities will be directly productive, as though someday, instead of just taking vacation at another time, maybe I won’t need time off at all. Haha, good thing I have my family to “force” vacation time on me because I kind of doubt that development is coming soon…

2 thoughts on “Another Kind Of Vacation

  1. Jourdie, for me here is an example of awareness and mindfulness. This past weekend we went for a hike. It was really beautiful, lots of shrubs, trees and a pleasant stream. Many of the plants I know by name which is nice. There was a woman walking with her family behind us and Alan shared with her some of the white sage he picked. Oh she said where is that? She had just walked by maybe 50 bushes of white sage and even seeing the branches of it, wondered where he had found it. Alan pointed it out right next to her. To me there is so much around us which we do not see because we do not know it. Once aware of it, we know it. Glimpsing awareness is slow and nice, comes in bits. I believe you cultivate it and gain knowledge to know it better. Mindfulness is more like practice. It’s being present. Learning to pay attention. Both are similar. WIth mindfulness, like awareness, I think of so many things going on at once, and focusing or tuning the mind to be present in our ability to act in each realization of the mind in life as it happens. We can only do this with what we are aware of and how our mind works which is the practice of meditation. It can be mindfulness. Usually, I think of mindfulness of what we are aware of. First we become aware of it and then mindful to develop strength and practice. Maybe for others it is the opposite. For me, the cultivation of the mind can be hard because my mind is always still getting distracted in each moment. I have to focus it in mindfulness to act with purpose. Awareness is a tool. I am aware I am distracted, now be mindful and act. I need to get things done. Anyway a note from my end, not necessarily to publish, just to you. Nice to study in reflections with such a nice group. Enjoying a little rain here today.

    • Aww thanks for sharing your reflections (and btw, now that my blog recognized you, it shares your comments automatically). For me, your story highlights how important study is in training the mind. If we don’t take the time to learn about the phenomena around us, how can we ever hope to recognize them, right? So interesting.

      All my love to you and the fam, and glad to hear it’s raining!

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