*This is for anyone going through dark night or difficulties in life or practice
When I first discovered Buddhism I found the first noble truth to be pessimistic. Later of course I understood it in full. When I was 10 years old I was detained for shoplifting. I thought my Dad would disown me. He embraced me and said “Son I’ll always love you no matter what you do… but you’re also grounded until further notice” lol. I remember that moment so clearly. The smell of marlboro reds, his green eyes. His kindness.
As a teenager I was so angry at him. So full of rage. He had drug problems and over the next several years I watched his slow decay. I was angry that he couldn’t be there for me. I was angry at myself for not being able to tell him that. When I was 18 I did my first 10-day Vipassana retreat and a year later did a 90-day retreat in Thailand. During our last phone call he told me how proud he was of me for finding something I loved and was committed to. How lucky was I that the last words I ever said to him were I love you.
Just a few weeks later my father fell into a coma his lungs collapsed from a lifetime of smoking and a decade of meth. He was almost entirely brain dead from asphyxiation, but had minor activity remaining in the brain stem, enough to keep his body alive. The night we got the news my Grandmother was sitting on a couch and my mother, aunt and I were kneeling on the floor around her. Crying she patted our heads and she put her hands in prayer and all she could say was “we have to be strong…” In that moment I saw how powerless and helpless we were. In times like that all you can do is kneel.
He took his last breath, the blood drained from his face and I understood the meaning of the word dukkha. My doubts about the Buddha’s first truth were cleared. All my hopes and dreams that my father would get better one day, along with the boy who held to them… died with him. In the years that followed my family suffered financial hardships, we nearly lost our home to foreclosure. I had no idea what to do with my life anymore.
Only very recently have I gained some success and stability. For 7 years after he passed everything I touched failed. I flunked out of college, couldn’t hold down a job for longer than a year and a half. Got a new girlfriend every year or two. No one was there to teach me how to become a man so I sought that fatherly figure in spiritual teachers and bosses ultimately to be sorely disappointed.
There were times when I had no one. No one believed in me anymore. Even my best friend had abandoned me. I quit my job with special needs children in my early 20’s to be a rideshare driver at night because I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I ate a lot of fried sweet potatoes because I was broke from being too lazy to drive as much as I should have lol. I had nothing not even myself to rely on.
On those hopeless nights I still crossed my legs, straightened my back and meditated. I still read and sat day after day and even though every area of my life had fallen apart… I still had this dharma. One day after so many long years of being lost, all those retreats, the thousands of hours I sat, the teachers I lived with and left, all my wandering and seeking… it was all worth it when Presence and non-duality dawned and I was forever changed.
I realized then just as I know now that no sit is wasted. No hour spent reading is worthless. No moment of seeking is in vain. I’m still no enlightened man, but compared to what I used to be… this path killed so much unwholesomeness that was in me. I’m always amazed to see so many awakened people be so functional— doctors, lawyers, bankers, programmers. I could barely tie my shoes until just a couple years ago.
Labels: Ryan Burton