Since our discussion about overcoming the conditioned belief that egocentric karmic conditioning is stronger or more powerful than our ability to remain committed, I’ve been looking at similar scam people are often conned into falling for. It’s a variation on the con known as “the numbers game.”
In this variant the person is made to believe that nothing less than 100% success, 100% of the time is worthwhile. The way it works is something like this: You decide you are going to make a change, usually a change in behavior that will benefit you. Let’s say you decide to stop eating sugar. (Keep in mind this process is most commonly applied to endeavors such as meditation practice, exercise, healthy eating, getting enough sleep, not using intoxicants or drugs, as well as habits such as punctuality, swearing, or procrastinating. In short, anything that will give more life to you and less of life to egocentric karmic conditioning.)
You make your plan (if you’re like most folks, failing to see who/what is making this plan), marshal your forces, and begin with resolve and conviction. You know that eating sugar is not good for you, makes you feel bad, compromises your immune system, is associated with all sorts of health issues, and it is way past time for you to end this toxic relationship!
I suspect that if we could be hooked up to the right machinery we would be able to watch the resolve begin to diminish as soon as the program starts. The current store of sugar isn’t even out of your body before egocentric karmic conditioning begins its campaign of sabotage. “This is going to be too hard.” “You’re not going to be able to do it.” “You’ve tried this before, you’ve always failed, and you’ll fail this time.” The anxiety grows and a little more life force is drained off to fuel the voices.
You make it through a day! The voices start up. “Pasta digests as sugar.” “Drinking coffee is the same as eating sugar.” Perhaps you defend yourself. “But I didn’t have any candy!” “I didn’t have any soda.” The voice snorts derisively. “So what? There’s sugar in everything. You’re never going to make it.”
The story goes from past failure to projected future failure, all narrated by the Anti-Coach: You can’t. It’ll never work. You won’t be able to.
Before long a person just gets worn down. All that excited, empowered resolve is siphoned off to feed the stories of defeat. It doesn’t matter what you actually managed to accomplish—you didn’t meet conditioning’s standards perfectly, 100% of the time, so none of your efforts count.
What is a poor human to do?
For starters we can play our own version of the numbers game. But before we can begin our game we need to really GET it that there is no finish line for conditioned humans. Life is a moment-by-moment proposition. The Alcoholics Anonymous motto of “one day at a time” is truly courageous and optimistic. To keep a commitment not to give in to the temptation of an established habit/addiction is huge! We hear that one year for a human is the equivalent of seven for a dog. In that same way, one day of not succumbing to the demoralizing, designed-to-defeat harangues of karmic conditioning is equal to one month of non-harangue time—at least one month! Maybe one year. Maybe one lifetime.
Once this is understood we can use the understanding to our advantage. As soon as we truly grasp the magnitude of what we’re up against our score-keeping will change dramatically. For instance, on the calendar you keep with you always (no person sincerely attempting to wake up and end suffering will ever be without one), you will track your successes (yes, only what you deem a success, since we have no interest in what egocentric karmic conditioning would identify as your failures) in a whole new way. You will check in every fifteen minutes to see how your new relationship with sugar is proceeding and you will write your successes in your calendar in big, bright letters.
As we can all predict, the voices will scream bloody murder, a sure sign you’re on the right track. “You can’t do that!” “That’s insane!” “You’ll never get anything else done.” “You won’t be able to remember.” “That’s impossible.”
Isn’t it interesting that there’s always enough time and energy to obsess about sugar, to get sugar, to eat sugar, to be beaten up for eating sugar, to feel bad about eating sugar, to plead and bargain and be miserable, but there isn’t enough time or energy for bringing conscious, compassionate awareness to the human suffering in the grip of that addiction? Seems suspicious to me.
Will you have to do this keeping track thing forever? No. But you may choose to. Once you realize what a great support for being with yourself in conscious compassionate awareness writing your successes in your calendar is, there’s no telling what pockets of suffering you might want to apply it to.
The Buddha often encouraged us to use little moment-by-moment daily life choices and decisions to turn toward freedom and away from suffering. In this way, he said, we can become good in thought, word, and deed, one tiny act at a time—like filling a bucket with water one drop at a time.
So, imagine… your body is empty… an empty vessel ready to be filled… and you are going to fill it with goodness, kindness, presence, attention, awareness, compassion, acceptance, love, caring, generosity, gratitude, and all other good things… one drop at a time. Each time there is a thought, word, or action that comes from anything we might place under a heading such as “Loving Kindness,” another drop goes in the vessel. Doesn’t matter how large or small the act, even a smile, a thank you, or a flicker of conscious noticing counts. Drop, drop, drop… Isn’t that wonderful? It goes very well with, “stop, drop, and breathe,” doesn’t it? Yes, every conscious breath counts as well! How long will it take for you to realize you are filled with goodness?
Oh, do you suspect you will hear voices shrieking their protest? You bet. So what? The Buddha wasn’t talking about emptying the bucket. And, besides, this is our numbers game and we make the rules. What we say counts, counts. And for us only goodness counts.