I’m currently in the midst of a whole stream of book launches, following the publication of Uncontrived Mindfulness on 31st March this year. The most recent was Glasgow, where I was introduced by a friend I met in my first year as a practicing Buddhist. We lived and worked together in a Buddhist community and ‘right livelihood’ business when I was 24 and she was 22. She introduced me as a ‘friend for life’ – a bit like a book for life – but a living, breathing and sharing version! I was very touched; a friend for life is such a gift and having someone in my life who has known me for almost two thirds of it and shared the whole of our dharma lives, is a precious thing.
One of the many benefits of such a friendship is knowing another human being really well and also being known really well in return. In the ten minutes she spoke introducing me on zoom she shared a recollection of me, which she linked to the subject nature of my book.
Thirty-five years ago, we shared a house in London, practicing a Buddhist life with others. At the bottom of our small garden ran a train line heading towards Liverpool Street Station, one of the major transport hubs of east London. A train rumbled, screeched, or clanked past our house on average every three minutes. Each time my bedroom, which overlooked the garden, vibrated! My friend remembered me saying to her that I could tell the state of my mind by how I reacted to the trains – whether there was frustration or annoyance at being disturbed by the ‘noise’ or was there a simpler registering of what was happening as part of the landscape of the moment.
What she was pointing out was that all those years ago I was already ‘watching my mind’ and was curious about what I found out. Working with the mind in this way seemed almost to come naturally as a way of practice, and it is this strand in particular that I’ve followed through my practice within the Triratna Buddhist Community and emphasised through deep learning with Sayadaw U Tejaniya. Even though I had only been practicing for a matter of months and knew very little about the Dharma, my friend’s recollection (which I don’t recall at all!) showed a pattern linking that moment and many others over the years which resulted in my being there in Glasgow to launch my book.
Sangharakshita wrote about patterns – in life and in practice – and he related this to the quality of sampajanna. Usually, we take sampajanna to be about continuity of purpose, where we check in with to see if what we are doing is in line with our overall spiritual direction. A bit like checking a compass to make sure we’re still heading in the direction we want to go.
Sangharakshita suggested that if we were to look back over our lives, and particularly our time as practitioners, we would see this ‘continuity of purpose ‘playing itself out. He says “it might seem uncannily as though your life has a direction of its own, independent of your conscious volition… as if there was a goal implicit in everything you did, with the goal gradually becoming clearer over time”
Once, in conversation with Sangharakshita, he asked me if I saw a connection between the figure I visualised in my meditation practice, and satipatthana mindfulness practice. Immediately I said I did. He seemed unsurprised. Yes, he said, we each have a doorway or gateway to Awakening, and whatever practices we do are expressions of that aspiration. Be it the gateway of ‘beauty’ or ‘wisdom’, or – in my case – ‘truth’, it doesn’t really matter; they are all different paths to the same spiritual goal.
Another way of looking at this is as a life’s myth within us which is just waiting to unfold. Perhaps there is something in us needing even just slightly favourable conditions to enable it to grow and strengthen. And when we look back at our lives this trend can be discernible, even manifesting within us children, expressed through our interests, or the superheroes we loved. It is what has made us who we are. The psychologist James Hillman called this patterning a ‘master current’ running through our lives. A thread of meaning, of value, or of love – we’ll have our own ‘flavour’ to this current running through us.
I sometimes lead a meditation connecting with the master current of what is deepest and most creative within us. The current is not static and can ebb and flow through different time frames and inner landscapes. Sometimes it’s a small stream that occasionally dries up or even disappears though it’s never completely dormant. At other times, the current of goodness, or truth or awareness swells to a vast river pulsing and alive. It carries our intention to practice.
Can you look back on your life and discern the current of it? Or have a sense of being oriented to a particular quality? – the gateway you’re continually stepping through that will take you to Awakening.
Here’s a link to the Master current meditation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ox5x6J7tZMc