Saturday, June 21, 2014

In the Hope of Clearing Up a Misconception


One of the most difficult pieces of practice to get is that we are not one, single, monolithic “self” called “I.” It seems so obvious that I am me and I always am and always have been me. And even though I behave in contradictory ways, hold incompatible opinions, and can cycle through a whole range of conflicting emotions in a day—or in a situation—I remain convinced there’s no inconsistency that threatens my “I” solidity. Sure, over the years I’ve changed when it comes to darned near everything in my life: I don’t look the same way, feel the same way, believe the same things, want the same things from decade to decade, but I’m still me, for goodness sake!

Ego-identity is successful at keeping people in that belief because we’re trained not to look too closely at what we’ve been taught to believe. If it seems true and everyone says it’s true, well, that’s good enough.

In awareness practice that’s not nearly good enough. In fact, in awareness practice there’s no such thing as “good enough.” In awareness practice we notice, we look, we see, we scrutinize, we examine. Everything. We do this because we are in the process of waking up from the somnambulant state egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate has reduced us to. We are finding our way out of the “world of opposites,” the dualistic faux reality that makes an illusion of a self that is separate from Life appear real.

One of the first steps along the path of reclaiming the authenticity we were required to abandon as we moved from innocence to “productive member of society” is to recognize the various aspects of the personality that we gave up in our effort to “fit in and survive.” We re-connect with that little child who was told “you can’t be that way, feel that way, act that way” and was punished and rejected, even though there was absolutely nothing wrong with the being, the feeling, or the behavior.  (Attend a There Is Nothing Wrong with You retreat for an “in depth” on this process.)

As we see that young person’s innocence and hurt, two things (can) happen. 1) We realize what happened to that child had nothing to do with the child, and 2) we want to give that child a different life experience.

At this point things can get a bit dicey for a very powerful spiritual “reason.” Almost everyone that hasn’t done a lot of awareness practice believes they are that mistreated child and spends most of their life acting out the ego-identity reaction to what happened to the child. Here's a made-up example: My father was an alcoholic; he would get drunk and hit my mother. I can remember being in a crib or playpen, watching it happen, terrified, not crying because I knew if I cried he’d hit me. Fast forward to me in my forties. I’ve been telling this story for as long as I can remember. That’s what happened to me and I am angry and bitter because my father was a drunk and my mother didn’t protect me.

But, actually, that’s not how it happened. The little child watching is still abandoned there, and “I,” the ego-identity survivor of the situation, tell the child’s story as if it’s mine. (Please stop and take that in; it is life-changing when we see that process.)

So, in awareness practice we learn to move out of the whole egocentric, karmically conditioned, self-hating scene and move into the conscious, compassionate awareness that can embrace the child. (Another way to say this is that we are, once again, the innocence the child never left.)

That’s a simple and straightforward process, except for one thing: the ego-identity that’s been “making a living” off of that story doesn’t want to give it up. “I” gets to be angry. I’ve been victimized! The people who should have cared for me didn’t, and my life is a mess because of them!

If I, the person who practices awareness, am to free the child and heal the trauma, I need to disidentify from that very compelling story and take responsibility for doing what needs to be done. I need to “be the grownup.” I need to let go that ego-identity, move into unconditional love, and care for the innocence embodied as a child.

The good news is that it is an utterly joyful way to live.

Now, a couple of things to consider: First, that “child” (the innocence of authenticity) is perfectly fine. She (in this case) doesn’t need anything, not even unconditional love, but I (the human being waking up and ending suffering) gets to “become” unconditional love and acceptance in order to embrace her. She’s not going to be angry or resentful or blaming—that’s the ego-identity doing that. She doesn’t need to be “made up to” and doesn’t hold a grudge. Here’s the best part: The child doesn’t even know the story of “all the awful things that happened to me.” None of it happened to her—it was just a good story for ego to tell to get support and protection for acting out its victim, blaming, hateful agenda. The innocence the child embodied is now expressed through a grown up living in conscious, compassionate awareness, practicing waking up and ending suffering.

So, the child doesn’t need to “be in the world and be accepted for who she is.” She doesn’t need to go to work or have relationships or be seen or heard. She needs to be embraced in unconditional love and acceptance, and the person who can do that is the disidentified, centered, unconditionally loving human incarnation I still think of as “me.” Is it me? No, it’s unconditional love and acceptance. It’s just being expressed through this form.

Lucky “me,” having a front row seat as all this wisdom, love, and compassion unfolds.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Time to Drop It?


Initially, most egocentric, karmically conditioned, self-hating humans experience egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate as “just me.” Those attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, behaviors, and the voices yammering away in my head are “just who I am.” Because we’re heavily conditioned to believe we think for ourselves and make our own decisions, it can take a fair amount of time to realize we’re utterly controlled by an ego survival system we’re programmed to assume is free-thinking, autonomously acting “me.” 

Those of us who have, blessedly, made our away to awareness practice have had a chance to step back (disidentify) and recognize the brainwashing program we were trained with through at least one lifetime. With more practice we can recognize what is conditioning from socialization by family, education, and culture, and what is likely a karmic orientation playing itself out as an over-arching process.

Herein lies the danger.

In the first situation (“it’s just who I am”), we give all of our attention to egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate because we don’t know anything else is possible. In the second case (I’ve seen the brainwashing system for what it is), we give all our attention to egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate even though we know something else is possible.

Here’s how we can make a different, conscious, choice should we choose to.

We can basically be in one of two states: identified (with egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate), or disidentified (stepped back from ego-identity into awareness.)

If you are:
~~listening to a conversation in your head
~~trying to figure something out
~~feeling bad
~~attempting to “see where you are”
~~being right
~~making others wrong
~~trying to get what you want
~~attempting to conceal something
~~wanting it to be different than it is
~~avoiding something,
you are identified with egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate.

If you are:
~~aware and paying attention,
you are likely not identified with egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate.

If you have been practicing long enough to be aware that the focus of attention has gone to any of the processes in the first list, you are ready to drop that and redirect attention to what you choose as your focus in thisherenow. No hesitating, no noodling, no wondering, no second-guessing, no better ideas—just drop it! There is nothing more for you to learn from karmic conditioning.

It can be very helpful to choose ahead of time what you want to redirect the focus of attention to when you disidentify. In the absence of a focus, habit will sweep us back into having attention on egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate. So here’s a suggestion: Make it something larger than “you.” Let your focus be on something ego-identity will have a hard time hijacking. Unconditional love, peace, compassion, generosity, gratitude—all good choices. And for all the extra time you’ll have when ego-I isn’t dragging you into conversations of self-hating gloom and doom or behaviors of distraction, find something in service to others that lights you up.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

“Why My Life Doesn’t Work”

During a recent Open Air show we had a discussion about content and process that I’ve returned to with some regularity. Yes, we speak often about content and process, but the specifics of this particular conversation I’ve found helpful to explore.

The suggestion was that, with minor variations in phrasing, each of us has spent a good deal (probably most) of our life force in a story of “I want X, I’m not getting X, that’s why my life doesn’t work, that’s why I’m unhappy.”

The content may be something as apparently insignificant as forgetting to buy milk for my morning coffee or something bigger such as gaining several unwanted pounds or bigger yet, a fear of not having enough money to pay my bills or something huge like the breakup of an important relationship, losing a job, or having a life-threatening illness.

The content, though compelling in the moment, is essentially irrelevant, while the process, a constant state of mild to severe suffering in a story of “something wrong, not enough,” is the consistent point.   “This is what I want (right now), I’m not getting it, I’m unhappy (right now) because I’m not getting what I want and that’s why my life isn’t working.” The content is temporary, but the conclusion-- “my life isn’t working”--though rarely in conscious awareness, becomes permanent and global.

We’re conditioned to see the current content as riveting, and we’re trained to unquestioningly believe the current story we’re hearing.  Thus, we fail to notice that our state of dissatisfaction is a perpetual undercurrent. We don’t recognize this “bottom line” because our attention is constantly drawn to temporary content rather than the underlying process.

An example: I’m unhappy in my job. I obsess about staying or going.  Finally I decide to go. I find a new job but before long I don’t like it. I start hearing how this one is no better than the old one and maybe I should have just stayed with that one.  I’ve gone through this whole drama for nothing.

Initially I may have had a clear awareness of a situation: I really am unhappy in this job. But rather than stay with a spirit of inquiry that will explore what’s going on with me—in and out of the content of the job—conditioned mind becomes obsessive with thoughts about “the problem,” rapid-fire thoughts that conclude in a mental state of fear, anxiety, and urgency. The result is an action that feeds and perpetuates the process of dissatisfaction.

In that conversation on Open Air, we speculated that each of us, going back over our lives, could see this process of dissatisfaction being played out with content after content. My teacher in first grade picked on me and I wasn’t good at sports and I wasn’t as popular as my best friend and my clothes weren’t right and my grades were never good enough and my parents wouldn’t buy me a car and I didn’t get into the school I wanted and my partner was too ____ and there was not enough ____ and I couldn’t afford ____.  And now…?


Friday, August 23, 2013

Process Mapping

Way back in 2006 I was asked about “Process Mapping” and agreed to write up some directions for the process. That being a long time ago and the requests for a “how to” continuing, it seems a good time to go over the directions again.

Here goes:
1.    Get the largest piece of paper you can manage and/or commit one wall in your domicile to the project.
2.    Get supplies based on your desire to be creative. At a minimum you will need some post-its, a pen, and probably some tape for when the post-it glue gives out. Beyond these basics you may choose to have colored pens, different color or size post-its, highlighters—all is possible.
3.    You can begin anywhere, with a big issue like changing jobs or leaving a relationship, or something as seemingly minor as resistance to dishwashing.
4.    Tune in to where you are with the issue. (Let’s go with dishwashing.) Perhaps you walk into the kitchen, see the pile of dishes, and feel your stomach clench, your heart fall, and your energy collapse. Map that. Take each of those reactions (walk into kitchen, see the dishes, stomach clenches, heart falls, energy collapses) and put each on a post-it. Just a brief jotting to remind you of the reaction. You might decide to do behaviors in one color, thoughts in another, and feelings in yet another, or you might just go with basic yellow post-its and a blue ink pen!
5.    Since the reactions described above are a sequence, you will want to place them sequentially on your piece of paper or wall. The next time you have the encounter with the sink full of dirty dishes, you might watch the previously described sequence, and then notice the voices that come in to tell you what all this means and who/what you are for having this issue. You jot those down, each on its own post-it, and put them on your map.
6.    As you’re getting clearer with your dish issue, you will begin to notice things like a fleeting inspiration to go clean up the kitchen. Very likely you will soon notice the voice that talks you out of acting on that inspiration. Put those on post-its and get them on the map.
7.    The next thing you might see is the part of you who really wants a clean kitchen. Put that person on the map and begin to look for the sensations, emotions, and thoughts associated with that part of you.
8.    Keep going in this way until every nuance of your relationship with kitchens, dishes, and cleaning is somewhere on your map. There will be lots of voices, all kinds of emotions, beliefs, memories, resolutions, and beatings.

In the beginning, each life issue seems to require its own map. Soon, because this is process mapping, you will begin to see patterns. As the book title suggests, How You Do Anything Is How You Do Everything. Yes, in fact, the same voices, beliefs, assumptions, and projections show up in my housekeeping, relationships with people, money, work, and in how I drive! Yep, I’m “me” all over the place. 

The benefits of process mapping are many and big. Writing down what is going on gets it out of the head and gives a much-needed distance from what lives in the darkness of a conditioned mind, never seeing the light of day. To know what’s going on, we have to pay attention. We have to watch the thoughts and emotions and behaviors to see what they are. This can greatly increase our present moment awareness and help us to step back and disidentify from our conditioned orientation to life. Instead of going through life in intimate relationship with the voices of conditioning, looking to them for guidance, believing their assessment of us, others, and life in general, we now are able to watch them from a place of conscious, compassionate awareness as they do what they do. As we watch, as we see through the process, the power conditioning has over us begins to fall away.

In gassho,