The Dharma of the sliced thumb

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It was Thursday evening. I was still recovering from a heavy cold. It had lodged itself in my chest, and although my head was clear and my voice returned I had developed a cough which a friend euphemistically called ‘productive’…

I was tired from the virus, and from a busy, long weekend in which we hosted twenty something people for our annual Bodhi gathering: four days of practice, teaching, ceremony and digging cars out of the snowy car park.

I was sorting through the day’s post when I saw my new bank card. I signed the back, and following the instructions reached for the scissors to cut the old one up. The first cut went well – clean through the card. The second cut went less well – I sliced in to my thumb.

It was a new experience. I’d never cut into my own thumb with scissors before.

It’s healing nicely now.

When I showed off the wound on Saturday, after leading our Buddhist practice session, Alex asked me how it happened.

“I was cutting my old debit card and I was tired”, I said.

“Why would you do that if you were tired?” he asked.

Good question.

I think the answer is the reason that gets us into trouble most often: because I thought I was something other than I was.

I thought I was more awake than I was, and I suffered the consequences. When we think that we are better, or worse than we are we act in ways that are likely to have unforeseen, negative, consequences.

It’s this same thought that traps us in guilt as well. After the mistake we still keep trying to pretend we’re not the sort of person who would have done that, and yet we did do it.

Being a person is hard sometimes. We are not always the person that we want to be. We are more frail, or tired, or less skilled than we would like (or sometimes we are more capable than feels comfortable). It is in the gap between how we see ourselves and how we actually are that all sorts of difficulties appear.

A great deal of therapy and spiritual practice is about closing this gap, and coming to terms with what it means to be human.

Sometimes we are loving, kind creative and produce wonderful things. Sometimes we cut into our thumbs.

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