Since 1992, Catherine Ingram has led Dharma Dialogues, public events of inquiry into the nature of awareness and the possibility of living in awakened intelligence. She is the president of Living Dharma, an educational non-profit organization dedicated to inquiry and service with offices in Portland, OR, and Los Angeles, CA. Catherine also leads numerous silent retreats each year and is coming to Cape Cod this June
She is the author of several books, including Passionate Presence: Experiencing the Seven Qualities of Awakened Awareness (Penguin Putnam, 2003). Catherine has published approximately 100 articles and served on the editorial staffs of New Age Journal, East West Journal, Yoga Journal.
Cape Healing Arts publisher Beth Draper interviewed Catherine via email recently. Here’s an excerpt from the Q&A:
CHA: What do you love the most about being a human being?
CI: I would have to say it is love itself, although love is also what has most broken my heart. Still, better to have loved… and all that. I find as I grow older that it truly doesn’t matter what stuff one has, what one has accomplished, who knows your name, where you have traveled. It really is, as the great ones always said, all about the quality of the love you share with your loved ones. And if one is lucky and is willing to take chances with one’s heart, that is, to let it break as needed, the circle of those one loves widens enormously. This is really the main treasure of life, as far as I can tell.
CHA: When your heart breaks, how do you mend it?
CI: My heart never seems to actually get mended. It keeps breaking wider open and holding more of the sorrows, but, coincidentally, it is also open to more joy and tenderness. Of course, that is how things work. I often say that it there a spectrum of feelings and that the more one is willing to feel on one end, the sorrow, let’s say, the more one is able to feel on the other end, the joy. It is perhaps safe to close off and try not to feel too much suffering, but it is not a rich way to live. It cuts off all the passion and beauty as well.
CHA: In a society that barely acknowledges grief and grieving – in fact, often squelches it – how do you allow yourself to experience deep sorrow?
CI: I live among the broken-hearted. They allow it.
CHA: Of the seven qualities of awakened awareness that you discuss in your book, which one is the trickiest for you to remember? Why?
CI: There are several that I seem to skip over or remember last on the list—discernment, embodiment, genuineness. The ones I seem to remember most are silence, tenderness, wonder, and delight. Maybe because those are the most fun.
CHA: In your book, you describe discernment as a clarity of perception. The ability to clearly see “what is” instead of “what or how we would like things to be.” How do you reconcile “passion, focus and intensity” with your excellent advice to “have a light relationship with your preferences?”
CI: It is a sense that things are blowing very quickly through one’s soul, if you will. Feelings, emotions, passion, pain—all profoundly felt and released as quickly as possible. It is the experience of life in present awareness, without resistance but also without clutching to a particular form or experience. Naturally, we have preferences. It is all a matter of how much we suffer when we don’t get what we want or when something or someone that we wanted leaves us. It is good to imagine one’s awareness as an open sky through which all passes and to “kiss the joy as it flies” as Blake said.
CHA: I see that your passion and focus lies with this process of being in present awareness.
CI: Yes, it is another way of saying that one lives in reality – for in actuality, the present is the only time in which we exist, which is what makes it feel so much more alive than the trance-like dreams of past and future taking place in imagination.
CHA: How do you allow feelings of anger and jealousy to blow through you? Many of us were taught that these are “negative” feelings, especially when we feel them in regard to people we love.
CI: We have to learn to admit that negative feelings are a common experience, no matter how good we are trying to be or what spiritual practices we have engaged in. Jealousy, anger, annoyance, irritation, pettiness – they all visit with unfortunate regularity. But the trick is not to take them personally or to be shocked by them. And then they have no power over you.
The thought of jealousy that arises and fades in a few moments is not a problem. The jealous thought that is denied and suppressed or is twisted into some kind of justification due to one’s own discomfort with it can often turn into unkind words and actions directed at the object of one’s jealousy. In these ways, the refusal to admit to negative thoughts can create all kinds of problems, as we so often see in spiritual leaders and masters who insinuate or even say that they are enlightened but whose behavior belies petty and desperate motivations involving sex, money or power. I prefer to hang out with what Alan Watts called “divine rascals.” Those who know both their divinity and their rascality.
CHA: Fabulous! What would you like to share most – right now – with our readers?
CI: The thing I most seem to emphasize in Dharma Dialogues – and would say to your readers – is to not postpone living your life. There is a subtle way that we have of waiting for something to come or waiting to get rid of something we have (even in the case of extra body weight, for instance) and thinking that our real life will begin then. Your real life is happening now, and there is no guarantee for any of us how long that life will be. As we let ourselves live more fully in present awareness, it is as though we are experiencing life at last. We are no longer waiting. CHA, Spring 2006