From a published talk by Ajahn Sumedho, “Taking Refuge”:
…When you see the experiences you have from the position of refuge in Buddha, however, then every experience, everything that happens to you, is enlightening you; everything is Dhamma.
Seeing the Dhamma, you take refuge in Dhamma, in truth, in the way things are. Even if it is painful or humiliating, good or bad, right or wrong, you see it as it is; you see it in terms of Dhamma. So then experiences are no longer something to resent or be frightened of, because you recognize that life is like that: being born, being conscious, the human kamma that you have, the state you are in from the time of birth to the time of the death of this body. Anything can happen! Instead of being frightened by it all you can have a sense of being willing to see, willing to learn from the experiences of life. And a lot of the learning comes from pain, doesn’t it?
When we meet experience with an alert and “awakened” (Buddha) mind, everything becomes an interesting teacher. Whether there’s loveliness enough to burst our heart or pain enough to take our breath away, we can meet life with complete openness, embracing what is. This is one way of taking refuge in the Dhamma.
In fact, a small percentage of our time is spent at the extremes of experience, so the ongoing challenge is to stay fully engaged with the mundane happenings of every day: getting dressed and undressed, walking places, carrying things, talking with people, preparing meals, etc. We are often inclined to see this ordinary experience as waiting time or daydreaming time. But if we are following things along as they happen, with an open mind and heart, then when something attention-grabbing happens, we are ready to meet it with equanimity.
In the traditional Pali chant for taking refuge in the Dhamma, there are five adjectival descriptions of the Dhamma. The first one is sandiṭṭhiko which means “directly visible”. This tells us that the Dhamma is not a concept, not a philosophy, not something we can grasp intellectually. It’s a direct knowing, not necessarily through the eyes. Sometimes in the Pali canon it’s called “knowing with the body”. We can meet our experience “full frontal”, not turning away and not projecting or ignoring anything. As soon as we start analyzing and calling up associations, we have lost the directness of the knowing.
The only way to really know experience is to keep letting it go – know it (as much as possible), let it go, know it, let it go, know it, let it go…
When we hold onto things, make them into superstructures of vast meaning and significance, we miss our direct experience NOW. It may seem anti-intuitive, but taking refuge in the Dhamma is a process of simplifying rather than proliferating.