There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about what dharma is and how it can be applied to the modern world.
New concepts like secular Buddhism, meta-dharma and pragmatic dharma have been at the forefront of this. Original Buddhism actually taught some fixed ideas about what is true, for example that mind precedes all experience, that don’t really make sense with our modern understanding of science and the world, so these are a response to this.
My experience is different to these new concepts. It is more direct than this – it is being sincerely present with what is there for us in each moment. In some ways it is the most profoundly simple thing and yet it is incredibly difficult to bring into reality.
When people say things like ‘you are already awake’ or ‘ just be present with what is here’, that negates the huge challenge of what it takes to actually just be fully present in this moment with everything that you feel and believe, without pushing things away or rejecting parts of yours or other people’s experience. It’s painful and takes a huge reintegration process of all the personal and collective parts of ourselves that we dislike. Reality can be a really strange, scary and painful place to be fully present in.
Unless you have gone digging through the entirety of your experience, then there are parts of yourself that you are rejecting. This doesn’t mean that you’re not being present at all – it’s obviously a sliding scale of how present we can be in any given moment – but it does mean that you should stop telling other people to ‘just be present’.
Once you let go of this idea too, you can bring the resistance and struggle into the fold too. That is part of your experience that can be embodied also. And the part of you that wants that part to go away. Also part of your experience.
This doesn’t come naturally. We naturally close off to parts ourselves that we dislike or that others have rejected. It takes work and effort to be able to open ourselves to feeling what is really there. We do this by opening our hearts to embody a sense of compassionate presence for what we are really experiencing in this moment – it takes a lot of trauma processing.
This is a million times easier to do if someone is actively encouraging us to do this and accepting and welcoming these news parts of ourselves. When someone is holding this space for us, it can feel just like a pleasant relief that we are allowed to be ourselves.
The reward to doing this work is experiencing an immediate presence with what feels most true to you in this moment – the only place that truth can exist.
Here is how this understanding fits in with other versions of Dharma, recognising that this model too is fluid and we will be moving between the different modes in different moments.