Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lattes and bliss washes

This is such a great question from Max. I want to address it because getting to the bottom of this issue has such broad application.

“I have a question: The first time I heard you talk about the center of the tongue, I went right there and experienced the 'bliss wash' you said I would, right then! Since that first time, I've never quite found my way back to that experience. It kind of reminds me of my first latte - how amazing it was! I still enjoy lattes today, but you could say there is also a ho-hum quality to the experience, too. Do you think that's inevitable? Or is the ho-hum quality a result of holding an expectation for bliss, maybe? Or just a matter of not being full there?”

Egocentric karmic conditioning is able to do much of what it does to cause our suffering because it has convinced us, in our conditioned habit of listening to it and believing what it says, that it is bigger and stronger than we are. Jen told me about a favorite “truism” in her family: “If you get a reputation as an early riser you can sleep until noon every day.” There you have it!

As soon as a person is convinced that, as a human incarnation, they are weaker than, inferior to, the voice of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate in the head, the stage has been set and the suffering can continue unopposed. It is critical that we prove to ourselves that that story of our inferiority is a lie.

I often suggest to people, as disidentification practices, writing lists of what they are grateful for or simply saying or writing “thank you” repeatedly. Just about as often the person comes to me with a report that “it doesn’t work.” “I tried it, but nothing happened,” is the explanation. “How long did you try it?” I ask. The look of confused disorientation on the face of the bamboozled aspirant tells the whole story. The answer to that “how long?” question would be either, “not long” or “not long enough.”

When something is new (as with the latte), being present for the experience is fairly automatic. Everybody wants to be there, egocentric karmic conditioning included. Of course the motivation for the attendance covers a range; life is there as life unfolds because unfolding life seems to be what life most enjoys; the human incarnation is there because being in the front row as life unfolds is the most fun and exciting place to be; and egocentric karmic conditioning wants to be there because 1) there might be mischief to cause and/or 2) this may open up possibilities for future mischief.

I think “been there, done that” became such a big part of popular culture because it perfectly captures what karmic conditioning has in mind for us. First time through, fun and exciting. Second time though, been there done that. Third time and after—boring. And there is nothing egocentric karmic conditioning fears as it fears “boring.” “Boring” means there is nothing reflecting ego, nothing making an illusion of a self separate from life appear to be real.

So, we are trained that once something becomes familiar or known we no longer need to pay it any attention. Why be present to an experience you’ve already had? What you want is something new…right? Wrong. Unless what you want is the something “new” of a tired, old conversation in conditioned mind about whatever it has convinced you that you should focus on instead of being present for what is actually happening where you are in the moment you are in.

People who love great music know that constantly having something new is not the experience they’re going for. They may enjoy a new rendition of a much loved piece or appreciate hearing new musicians play their favorite selections, but they cherish those favorites and they certainly don’t wish not to be there for the experience. (Truth be told, I suppose few people would choose not to be present for the experience they’re having. It’s an unconscious process that people get hoodwinked into going along with.)

So, yes, I think we can say it’s “…a matter of not being full there.” Our attention can be hijacked and hauled off by conditioning because we fall for the story—implied though rarely stated—that we don’t really need to be here for this, we know how it’s going to go. Of course we don’t know how it’s going to go, but the fact that that truth is brought home to us over and over again does little to interfere with our willingness to believe the voices when they lead us to believe we do!

What, then, is the way around this? In the inimitable words of Michael Jackson, “don’t stop till you get enough!” You stay with it until you eventually wear down ego’s ability to resist. And, here’s the great part about that—it won’t take nearly as long as those voices would have you believe it will take. In fact, as soon as you resolve to stay with it until you triumph, you’ve arrived. Egocentric karmic conditioning simply buckles when confronted with the strength of your commitment. Best of all—you only have to go through that face-down once to prove to yourself, and conditioning, that you are the boss.

Ah, the lattes there are to savor; the bliss washes to relish!



  1. That's really very helpful, thank you. One thing I have recently noticed is that when I experience a very special moment, I tend not to fully appreciate it as such, until much later. Then, there are lots of opportunities for EKC to berate me about my lack of attention/missed chance etc. The fact that I am now even noticing these wonderful moments is crucial, however and this is inspiring me to continue to watch and be present. I have a sneaking suspicion that every moment is a very special moment! :-)

  2. I was more than a little concerned about my ability to keep up with a post grad course in bio-physics. The professor, born and raised in hill country of Tennessee, could turn on the hillbilly accent to make a point. He noticed more than one puzzled student, broke his chalk in two, and twanged: "Listen up! Ain't no use doin' somethin' if you cain't have fun. And ain't nothin' to doin' THIS 'cept goin' n' doin' it..."

    Seems like stepping up meet voices from EKC is just doing it. No stories, no excuse, just loving compassionate awareness.


  3. Cheri, thank you for this! There are many fun things to work with here, but I especially appreciate this idea:

    "People who love great music know that constantly having something new is not the experience they’re going for."

    I held that in mind as I drank my home-made latte this morning :)

    And I'm still working with finding my way back to the center of the tongue.

  4. Dear Cheri,

    Thank you for this post.

    I was particularly struck with your observation concerning the role of personal convictions (or a person being convinced) and our capacity to experience authentic practice-enlightenment. Holding convictions about our own "inferiority" can be a kind of "reverse" conceit or pride. You wrote:

    "As soon as a person is convinced that, as a human incarnation, they are weaker than, inferior to, the voice of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate in the head, the stage has been set and the suffering can continue unopposed. It is critical that we prove to ourselves that that story of our inferiority is a lie."

    Yes. Allowing ourselves to be convinced of our inferiority (and thus, our inability) undermines our capacity for true (Great) determination. If we are convinced of our inferiority, our "intention" to actualize practice-enlightenment cannot be genuine; how could we truly intend to realize it if we are convinced we cannot? Such convictions actually amount to an intention NOT to realize authentic practice-enlightenment. This, I think, is one of the points Dogen makes clear in Shinjin-gakudo. For instance, he says:

    The Buddha’s truth is such that if we intend not to practice the truth we cannot attain it, and if we intend not to learn [the truth] it becomes more and more distant. Zen Master Daie of Nangaku said, “Practice-and-experience is not nonexistent, but it must not be tainted.” If we do not learn the Buddha’s truth, we are bound to fall into the states of non-Buddhists, icchantikas, and so on. Therefore former buddhas and later buddhas all unfailingly practice the Buddha’s truth.
    Shobogenzo, Shinjin-gakudo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

    Great determination could hardly be expected to be aroused by someone convinced of their own inferiority. This, it seems, would be as futile for practice-enlightenment as being (conceitedly) convinced that we are already "perfect" as we are and do need not to do anything at all. As Dogen points out further along in the same fascicle:

    Zen Master Daichi of Hyakujo says, “If a person attaches to the understanding that, being originally pure and originally liberated, we are naturally buddha and naturally one with the Way of Zen, [that person] belongs among the non-Buddhists of naturalism.”
    Shobogenzo, Shinjin-gakudo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

    Thanks again.

    Ted Biringer

  5. One of my favorite recurring experiences in meditation practice is when it just seems like my mind won't settle down and the voices start in with "Well this isn't working. Something is wrong. You aren't feeling well enough to focus. You should just get up and try later!"

    I've found that if I reply "Thats nice, but I'm going to sit here until I no longer want to get up." things suddenly clear right up. EKC wants me to believe that there is some experience I am aiming for, and that I am not having it. As soon as I resolve to sit just to sit, I'm not longer having the conversation.

  6. I love the part about only needing to go through the face-down once.