The Carencia

In the tragic spectacle of Spanish bullfighting, the carencia is the place in the ring where the bull feels the most safe, the most powerful. It is different for every bull and the matador tries to keep the bull from finding this, his 'place of power' because it is where the bull is the most dangerous, the most unpredictable. If the bull finds his carencia, it is there he will become the most formidable adversary to the matador. And although the bull will almost always, sadly die in the bullring, it is in his carencia that he has a chance to turn the tables on his antagonist.

I learned of the carencia while listening to a dharma talk or lecture by the renowned Buddhist meditation master, Jack Kornfield. It's an interesting metaphor to contemplate, this disturbing spectacle of a beautiful and noble animal choosing the place of his last stand - from the place he finds is his most powerful, his personal place of wholeness, his place of profound and complete presence. That a great meditation teacher used this imagery as a teaching on 'compassion' transcends the obvious. Mr. Kornfield was trying to teach us that we all have our own carencia, and that we too can feel safe and gather our strength around us - in the full view and imminent threat of the matador. We too can find our place of wholeness - our 'place of power.'

As a Taurus Sun Sign in the Zodiac, I can relate to the 'last stand' mentality and the propensity to dig in one's heels for the good fight (or so I've thought). Breaking the ingrained cycles of repetitive, self-destructive behaviors is tricky work. It's often - almost always - not so clear-cut. If anything, it's a practice at 'teasing apart' the sticky threads of triggers, behaviors, and our identification with them - and our conflating them with behaviors that we feel are perfectly 'normal' and justifiable - even reasonable. Ha! So that's what Mr. Kornfield was talking about! He knows very well that we must be grounded in presence or grounded by a practice that sets the foundation for healthy responses to adversity.

I am a slob. I still struggle with maintaining a daily yoga asana practice - even after more than a decade. My hopes were to use this 'moving meditation' and breathing practice as a interim step to a consistent, sitting meditation practice - and I'm still struggling. I still seem as far from a daily sitting meditation practice as I've ever been. It makes me sad. And then I remember it: compassion. While I may not yet have the practice routine that I would like, I do have opportunities to practice with great teachers, spend contemplative time in nature, sit with my breath on an occasional basis, listen to great masters like Mr. Kornfield give great Dharma talks, travel to powerful sacred places and temples, float in sensory deprivation / isolation tanks, etc. I am lucky. I am grateful. And from these feelings arises the compassion for myself that I don't need to beat myself up over the fact that I don't have a brilliant and profound meditation practice. I do often practice simple presence. And from there things will grow and take their own course, in their own time.

I now think of Siddhartha, sitting under the famous bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya - when he attained enlightenment and became the Buddha - as his being fully present in his own carencia. Free of all fear and feeling completely safe. That simple and profound presence must have made him feel 'all powerful' indeed. And if we could begin the journey necessary to even begin to understand that state of being - to experience it for even a moment - we too might feel safe and powerful.


  1. Peter Thomson November 26, 2013 at 4:17 am

    Zen has an interesting take on wanting to meditate “in order to” get to something or achieve something (such as feeling free and powerful). I’m no master but the koan that helps me to meditate while washing my dishes is “Before enlightenment, carrying water and chopping wood. After enlightenment, carrying water and chopping wood.”

  2. DharmaBuilt November 26, 2013 at 6:36 am

    Yep, totally get that I am my ‘own worst enemy’ in this. Mettā or loving kindness meditation (IMS / Vipassana) has helped me the most – the practice of compassion – even in the midst of our stumbling – ESPECIALLY in the midst of our stumbling. Jack Kornfield’s brilliance is in his ability to offer a myriad of ‘solutions’ or lessons – based upon his 40 or 50 years of study in the various traditions.

    I now try to practice and hold what I call ‘Big Compassion’ – my own twist on ‘Big Mind’ (Zen-ish) and Mettā. I recently heard someone say that “You must have profound respect for and experience with tradition in order to authentically innovate.” Love that. Love the Koan practice as well.

    Thanks Peter.


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