Guest Blog by Matthew Branstetter:
This January I had the great privilege of being a guest at Tashi Kyil Monastic Institute outside of Dehradun, India. I have been interested in Buddhist teaching and practice for a couple of decades. However, outside of books by Chogyam Trungpa and the Dalai Lama and a few personal encounters, I had had little contact with the Tibetans. My experience at Tashi Kyil was a deeply moving lesson in sincerity and hospitality. This was not a place where strange and exotic yogic practices were undertaken. Their teachings and practices were simple and profound. They were centered in the heart. They were based on two principles: loving-kindness and non-attachment. It was interesting how these work together. From one perspective they may seem mutually exclusive. However, as I would experience firsthand, the presence of guests provides a precious opportunity to bring these two values into a kind of seamless expression.
The best way I could explain the feeling of meeting and staying with these monks is to say that I had gone to India to meet some dear old friends or family members with whom I had shared many common experiences. We had suffered and laughed together and now after some years we were experiencing a kind of re-union. The only difference was (at least in this life!) we had never met. Regardless of this seemingly irrelevant fact, the intense way in which we were sharing in one another’s presence seemed absolutely natural. Non-attachment, as understood by the Tibetans, has nothing to do with some vacuous expression or vacant look in the eye. It does not mean withdrawing or giving less of oneself to people. On the contrary, it means meeting and sharing and getting a real feeling for those common characteristics that reside at the core of every human being. Non-attachment is the practice of recognizing this deep core human quality and affinity, not just in a few human beings who are in our vicinity or ‘on our side’ but in every human person. It is befriending this core humanity in a way that does not reject the personal and specific but sees in the very details of the personal and specific the collective stories we share in common because our basic human equipment, our basic drives and reactive mechanisms are held fundamentally in common. Compassion is possible because, though our particular story is unique to us, the fundamental way we assimilate, suffer and celebrate this story is universal. We can only suffer the way the shared human heart suffers. We can only experience joy the way the shared human heart experiences joy. We have a common emotional hardware system. We can incline ourselves towards recognizing and resonating with this in others. The Tibetans call this process ‘bodhi-chitta’- the awakening of the heart/mind.
When I reflect on this wisdom in the context of Centered’s mission, it becomes clear that being centered is being at home in this common heart. It is learning to touch it, to be passively and playfully aware of it, to recognize it shining in the eyes of others. To find our own center is to find a common center. This center neither rejects nor exclusively identifies with personal details. It is a center that is older than our personal narratives. It contains them, nurtures them and reveals their universal themes. Our personal lives both evoke and express these underlying universal structures and themes.
The same holds true for the methods taught at Centered. Tai Chi, Yoga, Dance and Meditation have been kept alive and passed down from one generation to another, from one person to another precisely because they orient themselves to common characteristics of the human body and human life. They are ways of developing and celebrating our common Life and giving this Life personal expression. Our bodies are a continuation of an ancient story that we share in common. And they are part of a much older story that everything shares in common. Our personal stories can never truly be embraced, held and known if they are isolated from the more ancient, more expansive stories that give rise to them. Non-attachment allows us the necessary space from the personal details of our life to appreciate the sacred, shared, dynamic context in which they arise.