Phillip Moffitt

A Vital Part of Aliveness

A Vital Part of Aliveness

"One of the beautiful things about the early twilight at this time of year, as it fades into the dark of the long nights, is that you can just surrender yourself to it. Allow the twilight to remind you that it is a time of consideration and renewal. Know full well that in this world the darkness and the light are one. There is no new dawn without the night; their seeming separateness disguises a unity that reflects the unity of life, an unfathomable dance of opposites. This paradox is the very essence of what it is to be alive—joy and pain, sickness and health, light and dark, wonder and fear."

~ Phillip Moffitt

To Be Fully Alive

Double-crested Cormorants traveling over Lake Champlain, July 6, 2014

Excerpt from "The Pursuit of Happiness" by Phillip Moffitt:

Herein lies the paradox common to mystical teachings in most spiritual traditions: In order to be fully alive, you also have to die. When you cling to the past or future, believing you are holding onto something precious, you are denying what is sacred about life. Your life, with its unique pains and joys, can only be reconciled in your surrender to the truth of your experiences as they arise one moment after another, never fixed, always moving. A beautiful sunrise, a baby's smile, a broken heart, cancer, the loss of love; open fully to the experiences of your life in all their mysterious manifestations. Meet each of these moments with compassion, loving-kindness, and your very best response. Then let loose of each in turn, for however beguiling in their beauty or their horror, they are truly only life dancing."

Read the entire essay...

Only One View

Biblios by Guy Laramée

"Because of your unique history, you have evolved a series of stories that you repeatedly return to throughout your life. These stories determine how you see yourself and how you interpret what is happening to you. You may well be overidentified with your stories and not see that they represent only one view of your circumstances. Your stories can limit what you believe to be your choices and define what happens to you in your day. They may not have even come from you but may have been suggested by someone else. You may not even recognize them as stories; to you they may seem like worries or just the way you are."

~ Phillip Moffit, from "The Fallacy of Story-Making," Emotional Chaos to Clarity, Chapter 7

Different from the Real Experience

Germaine Koh, Knitwork, 1992, Unravelled used garments reknit into growing object. View of process at Galerie B-312, February 2012. Photo: Gordon Hicks

"Observe other people as they’re acting out their interpretation of an experience or telling you about something that happened in their life. You can tell the difference between what actually happened to them and how they’re interpreting it. Their interpretation isn’t wrong, necessarily—it’s just different from the real experience."

~ Phillip Moffitt, from Emotional Chaos to Clarity

Every Moment

Coming Ashore, Evening, oil on canvas, Warren Sheppard

'Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;
You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.
Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.
At the moment which is not of action or inaction
You can receive this: "on whatever sphere of being
The mind of a man may be intent
At the time of death"—that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)
Which shall fructify in the lives of others:
And do not think of the fruit of action.
Fare forward.
                      O voyagers, O seamen,
You who came to port, and you whose bodies
Will suffer the trial and judgment of the sea,
Or whatever event, this is your real destination.'
So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
On the field of battle.
                                  Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers.

~ T.S. Eliot, from "The Dry Salvages," the third poem of his Four Quartets

Commentary by Phillip Moffitt from Dancing with Life:

Eliot is saying that there is only this moment in your life, and each moment is a death and a rebirth. You only exist as a string of moments and you are new and different in each moment. It is only when you are present in a moment that you are capable of affecting your life or another's. You fail to notice this truth because life is constantly changing and because of the power of memory and association.

When Eliot cautions not to think of the fruit of your actions, he is echoing the Buddha's teaching of nonattachment. To be nonattached is "to care" and "to not care" simultaneously, which can only be realized as an insight, not as a concept. Through meditation and practice of the Twelve Insights [of the four noble truths which is the theme of his book] in daily life, you slowly come to understand this paradoxical wisdom, which is the way to dance with life.

Three Kinds of Craving

From Dancing with Life by Phillip Moffitt:

dancingwithlifeThe Pali word for craving is tanha, which means “thirst.” The Buddha identified three distinct kinds of tanha that you repeatedly experience; they are often unnoticed, because they arise and then are quickly preempted by yet another and then another.

First if your craving for the six kinds of sense desires, or kama tanha: craving for certain food tastes or for pleasing sounds or for silence; craving for sexual, affectionate, or comforting touch or simple physical comfort in your body; craving for attractive, pleasant, comforting, inspiring sights as well as for pleasant, refreshing smells; and finally, craving for thoughts that are confirming, useful, stimulating, and reassuring to you. Just think of how many different sense desires you have in any given moment!

The second type of craving is the desire for existence and for becoming what you are not. In Pali this is called bhava tanha. You may want to be wealthy, or more athletic, or sexually desirable, or a better musician. The craving to “become” can be wholesome—to be a good parent or a better friend to others, or to be more generous, healthier, or more disciplined—yet still cause suffering…

The third type of tanha arises when you are disillusioned with something in your life and want to get rid of it or want it to cease with such intensity that you crave nonexistence. This state of mind is called vibhava tanha. For instance, you may be so overwhelmed by chronic back pain or a difficult emotion that you are flooded with aversion to life itself. Or you have such antipathy toward your physical appearance, aging, or disease that life seems unbearable. In each of these instances, your nervous system is overcome by the energy generated by the craving, and it seems as if your whole being is rejecting existence. Vibhava tanha is annihilation. If you have ever felt suicidal, even briefly, then you have had flashes of vibhava tanha in the extreme. In its milder manifestations, vibhava tanha is part of everyday life. For example, you can feel so humiliated when you make a big mistake in front of others that for a brief moment your mind is filled with this craving.

The Ego's Fear of Humiliation

From Dancing with Life by Phillip Moffitt:

dancingwithlife When you collapse into suffering, it is because your ego sees suffering as a personal failure and feels humiliated. This sense of failure is based on the ego's mistaken idea that winning in life means no suffering. Your ego may well be under the delusion that the opposite of suffering is happiness. When your ego believes this, then every moment of suffering is felt as a personal defeat, insult, indignity, or proof of your inadequacy or of life being unfair. This is subjective suffering, self-centered and neurotic.

Your subjective dukkha is your ego suffering from its own ideas about how things are supposed to be. When things go wrong, your ego may feel humiliated even though you may not consciously realize it. Such suffering is your ego's narcissistic and mistaken, self-centered reaction to life's challenges. The ego collapses, becomes depressed, or grieves for itself. Or it becomes resentful and refuses to participate, or helpless and frozen with dread. Or the ego contracts into anger and lashes out. In its delusion the ego is unwilling to voluntarily carry the darkness of life. When suffering is penetrated by mindfulness and compassion, the ego dies a thousand deaths and yet ends up healthier for it. Your ego isn't bad, nor are you a bad person because you have an ego. The ego is a result of causes and conditions and, in my view, is necessary for a healthy, whole life. I tell students don't leave home without it, but don't let it drive the vehicle on your spiritual journey.

The idea of being willing to bear your suffering like a carriage carrying a heavy load is a hopeful, comforting image. But if the opposite of your suffering isn't happiness, then what is it? Nonsuffering is having a relaxed, composed mind that is fully present with whatever is occurring in the moment. And it is the capacity to be in relationship to whatever is arising such that you're able to respond from your deepest intentions. And it is a feeling of relatedness in your life that is free from aversion to suffering.