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The Handshake

When I worked as a counselor at the Royal Avenue Program, a brief mental health crisis program; each Thursday evening I announced that the ACT Group (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) would be meeting in the common room in fifteen minutes, and nervously and with anticipation went there with the hope of touching or initiating healing in one wounded human. On a half dozen occasions I believe that this happened, most often it did not.

Now after my experience in India and Nepal, and my time with very wise Buddhist monks, I realize that it is not in the words, that if you have to look outside of yourself for healing, it is not likely to happen; rather when healing did take place it was some connection between my true nature and that of another, or a group connection that was responsible for whatever was revealed.

And what was revealed was that none of us are lacking in anything-this knowledge is simply lost. And what is this "not lacking," this fullness of being other than our true nature. There is nothing more that can be revealed, nothing that will simply make it all better, as a matter of fact, even with a blinding flash of enlightenment, the circumstances of our lives will be just the same, the only difference we will see it all as phenomena and empty, impermanent. Empty meaning that all is dependent on circumstances, on Cause and Effect for what it appears to be, including you, me, all beings, Nirvana, and our problems. There is nothing independent, not even the Creator. Can the Creator be independent of it's creation?

All things being dependent and empty are impermanent. This includes your problems. They are temporary.

And how does any of this help when it seems that your life is falling apart, or that there never has been a sense of together in that life, when you are anxious and afraid? This was always what the ACT group was about. A teaching, words, a teaching of tools that help you get through the periods when you have forgotten that you are complete, including an untouchable True Nature, that which the Buddhists call your "Buddha Nature."

So often I quoted a paragraph from the "Anxiety and Phobia Workbook": "Instead, it means stepping back and learning how to better observe your anxious thoughts, images, and feelings instead of becoming embroiled and entangled in them. This is a relatively new approach to anxiety; stepping back and learning how to 'be with' your difficult thoughts, feelings, and sensations, rather that struggling against them."

I often had a sense of just how profound this statement was, at times looking into the face of another realizing how deeply this statement of hope had touched that person who so desperately needed help, who felt that hope hanging in the air like a sweet scent. And yet, I could never quite finish it off, never quite explain just what "be with" that feeling meant. I knew it was important.

Then in Kathmandu, I met a monk named Tsoknyi Rinpoche. At first he seemed so ordinary, with glasses too thick. But I quickly realized what a vital energy, more than words flowed through him without interruption. And he was funny, with a genuine grasp of the American character. He got us. He indicated a problem that we might have demonstrating by shaking his left hand violently like it was vibrating. "This is your problem," he said, "it might be anxiety, fear or sadness. But your ego tries to suppress it," demonstrating by taking his right hand and forcefully pushing the left under his leg, where it would not stay. He said his approach for "being with this feeling" he called "The Handshake Method." "Not a German handshake," he said grabbing the vibrating hand in a vise grip, "this does not work, but rather in an Indian lady's handshake, soothing, comforting as if saying 'you've been through this before, you know what it is like, you know all is temporary, and will pass, you can feel this even if uncomfortable.' And then it's like Ah, I'm a little better now. I'm okay. Being with the feeling." The sweet scent was so tangible. One taste.

We know that life is impermanent, that we are going to die, yet can we embrace each moment, even the most difficult with the precious sense of the aliveness of this experience. This one taste.

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