What is Support?

It’s been a fruitful and active fall. In particular, Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Ajaan Geoff, abbot of Metta Forest Monastery) visited, and the community was gifted with four days of his teachings. I mention this because it was one of the most significant weekends of my life.

I have spent a small bit of time with a variety of monks, listened to Dhamma talks and read teachings by various monastics. All of it has created a deeper focus, meaning, and purpose in my life. Yet, there was something profoundly moving in Ajaan Geoff’s personal style of communication, energy, and presence for me. I felt completely supported on my path. So much so, that to be honest, I felt vindicated. It felt like I was shedding a lifetime of guilt and insecurity regarding my choices to create the life style that I have. I almost wanted to weigh myself on a scale thinking that I must have lost at least five pounds of guilt. It wasn’t just an emotional release. Physically, my body released a lot of inflammation as well.

As I settled into a lighter awareness, I wondered: What is support? Encarta Dictionary defines support in part as: to keep something or somebody stable; to give active help and encouragement; to be present and give encouragement or to give assistance or comfort. Ok, I certainly felt encouraged, assisted, and even comforted. But, how does that relate to my experience when I wasn’t consciously seeking support and what does that mean to me?

Due for Repairs
Image by Pieterjan Grobler

I think the easiest place to start is with what genuine support is not. True support doesn’t trigger grasping for more; does not form an attachment to the (perceived) source of support; is free of judgment and blame; and not couched in an effort to comfort through obligation, expectation, or a desire to be seen as caring and giving. It’s not personal. If the result isn’t centered in an expansion of my own awareness and an ability to ease my suffering, then it (whatever “it” is) is not supportive. More likely, what is being offered as support is embedded in an attempt to calm fears, doubts, and anxieties as a means to avoid the root pain – either mine or another’s.

Often, we lack confidence in our ability to make skillful choices. We may have already made a choice intuitively or unconsciously, so we begin a process of bringing the choice we’ve made to our conscious awareness. Sometimes, we gather information and seek opinions with the hope that we will make an appropriate decision. If we really haven’t decided, then research can be simply that. However, when the choice has been made and we lack confidence, then what we’re really hoping for is validation. Validation may feel supportive, but I do not think it is the same. Validation is an attempt to stabilize our fears, doubts, and anxieties. Support encourages letting go and moving on.

Ultimately, I think that sincere support includes an expansion of our ability to accept that our choices have a cause and effect (aka, karma). For me, this can create a lack of confidence and trust in my ability to execute my intentions. It takes a tremendous amount of diligence, effort, energy, and even strength to keep our awareness diverted from the reality of our existence. The reality that: we may or may not ever realize the impact or influence of a choice, we are already living the effect of choices we make every moment of every day, and a denial of this reality is a cause of suffering.

Why do I feel supported by Ajaan Geoff’s teachings? Because I experience deep healing. I am able to let go and allow myself to gently expand the perspective of my life. I am more accepting of my karma by taking ownership of the abundance, grace, and joy of where I am at now. I can push the door open to reach beyond mere pain and suffering. I glimpse the possibility of freedom by acknowledging the wholesome and skillful in the choices that I have made instead of fearing the opposite. I allow myself to feel supported without over-personalizing it. For that I am grateful. Thank you Thanissaro Bhikkhu!


© 2012 Sallie Odenthal

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