Community Drop In Group 5/5/20
I want to start with the Cinderella story. The basic gist of this well known story is:
Cinderella, after an early sweet childhood, finds herself at the mercy of a cruel step mother and step sisters. Even so, she does the work they ask of her without complaint. Eventually through the help of a fairy godmother, she makes her way out of this situation back to happiness.
One thing that is really interesting about this story is that this is one of the most common archetypal stories in the world, and by some estimates, it is the most common. Versions of the story appear back in ancient times all the way to present Disney, and in cultures across the world. The name and details vary widely, but the basic gist of that young woman in an oppressive situation who finds her way to joy and happiness is amazingly common, and in all of these stories, she is an embodiment of kindness and balance throughout her journey.
This last bit has given her somewhat of a bad name in modern times. The Cinderella figure can
be reduced to a sort of saccharin sweet do-gooder who needs rescuing by others— but the true
Cinderella archetype is actually quite powerful, and it is an image that obviously resonates
deeply in the human mind considering how far spread through both time and space this story
I love how Koshin Paley Ellison describes this:
"The interesting thing about the Cinderella story is that while there are many versions of it, there aren’t any in which Cinderella complains. She keeps on meeting with obstacles, and she’s sad about it, and she doesn’t complain about it. Her stepfamily throws lentils in the ashes and tells her she can go if she picks up every single individual lentil in time, and she gets down and dirty and does just that. ...
There is something about her attitude that I find really helpful. She enters the situation fully. It’s a totally sad situation, so she allows herself to be totally sad about it, but she also just does the next thing she needs to do, never knowing for sure how it’s all going to work out.
Most important, Cinderella doesn’t go and start a war with her family. You can imagine Cinderella doing that, right, and who would blame her? In feelings of fear, insecurity, hurt, we sometimes lash out. The thing is, we’ve been doing that really well for thousands of years. No one needs to practice how to turn the hurtful people in our lives into enemies.
The challenge is to do something new instead. How can we be like Cinderella? How do we embrace not knowing, especially in the moments where it feels completely shitty, where we might be on our knees, picking lentils out of the ashes?"
There is a real strength and beauty in this because ultimately what is being pointed to is a way of being with a wise mind and strong heart with what is hard in life in a way that opens something up instead of making things worse.
As Ellison says, we can always make things worse. We know how to do that. How do we make things better instead?
All of this brings me to a teaching from Ajahn Sucitto, a British Buddhist monk in the Thai Forest Tradition, who I have been listening to and reading from a lot lately. He is very helpful, and one teaching he offers is on the important basic attitudes of meditation and how learning to open to these attitudes in our formal practices helps us bring them more skillfully into the whole of our lives. The three are:
Goodwill, Empathy and Letting go
When my girls were young, we read a bunch of stories, including myth stories from all over the world. In this way, we met many versions of the Cinderella story, all of which had a substantially different feel than the old Disney animation that so many of us associate with the name Cinderella. These were strong women for whom the power of goodwill, empathy and letting go rang true.
What happens when we trust and lean into the direction of these attitudes?
Situations are what they are— can you feel the difference between meeting a situation, no matter what it is, with the qualities of goodwill, empathy and letting go versus ill will, non- understanding and clinging?
Sucitto says the place we are most likely to skip over is bringing these attitudes to ourselves. Until we know what it means to meet our own self without ill will, and instead with empathy and letting go, then its hard to meet anyone or situation in the world without it being colored by that lens of ill will.
What does internal ill will look like? It looks like all those insidious things we say to ourselves such as “What’s wrong with me!” “Why can’t I do better?” “I’m such a failure.” “Why doesn’t anyone like me?” On and on in an endless variety...
Recognizing when this kind of internal ill will is arising gives us the opportunity to re-orient in a more useful way. Our formal meditation practice gives us a strong place to learn this re-orientation.
“In general, the basic attitude that works best in meditation is to let go of how things should be, and address how things [are]. Addressing what arises through an attention based on good-will, empathy and letting go helps to lead the mind from a good position, and that in itself can ease the mind out of a hindrance. When we really find value in goodwill and letting go, then there’s much less room for hindrances to breed. Regard the mind as a treasure to be guarded, valued and polished: with this attitude one gets to live with the most reliable source of well-being.”
The kindness of Cinderella has definitely gotten a bad rap in our culture. What’s your own sense of the Cinderella metaphor, and does it have some negativity? Here’s what I wonder— to what degree does a fight with the goodwill and empathy manifested in the story actually relate to the degree of fight with goodwill and empathy we carry towards ourselves? The two are definitely related for me.
For this week I invite you to explore your own relationship with an internally directed goodwill, empathy and letting go. What happens when you invite these qualities in with care and attention, even into the difficult? How does this affect what you bring outwardly to the world?
Meditation encompasses a range of skillful means to clear out misguided aims and unskilful responses. What all these skillful means have in common is that they train us to attend to body and mind with clarity, care and respect. Action based on clarity, care and respect is the most reliable way to relate to any living thing, and training in that has to begin with ourselves.
-Sensei Koshin Palley Ellison, “Commit-to-Sit: A 90-Day Commitment to Practice” NY Zen
Center for Contemplative Care
-Ajahn Sucitto from “Meditation, A Way of Awakening”