Saturday, October 30, 2010

"I can't do this!"

See if this is at all familiar. There is something in your life that you are really unhappy with. Could be anything. Could be a job, a relationship, where you live, your weight or level of fitness, finances…whatever. And you’ve been trying to be okay with this whatever-it-is for a really long time.

I’m not talking about the habitual daily ploy of “I don’t like” that conditioned mind is using all the time to maintain dissatisfaction and the illusion of separateness. I’m referring to a cyclic process of descending to a place of “I can’t do this,” followed by a “pep talk” from conditioned mind that convinces you that, “Yes, you can because you have to. You have responsibilities, bills, people to care for. Besides you can’t just quit your life! That would be crazy. You’ll starve. You’ll die a street person with a shopping cart full of junk parked next to you in the gutter where you’ve fallen.”

After that little pep talk, you, as the old song says, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” You use the tools of practice, reassuring yourself that you can do it, you just need to work harder. “Supportive” voices tell you that if you were really doing spiritual practice you wouldn’t be having this problem, and you bravely soldier on toward the next round of, “I just can’t do this.”

A monk recently sent me this:

“There is an old saying, often attributed to Mark Twain (like so many others!), 'To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.' This is the essence of projection. We take our conditioned understanding of the world and we project it onto every experience we have. In this way, no matter what is going on in our life, we have an experience that perpetuates the patterns of thought we have been conditioned to. If we are conditioned to be angry, the whole world is an opportunity to be angry. If we have been conditioned to be victims, the whole world is trying to victimize us.

The truth of the matter is that not very much of any significance happens to the vast majority of us. We wake up, we eat, we pass waste, we sleep. In between we do some things that allow us to keep the process going. We are, after all, islands of curiously persistent chemistry. Like all other life forms, we are spectacularly well suited to our way of going about this. In addition, we have the wonderful knack of being aware of the process. On its own, the experience of going about our lives is one of joy and contentment.

Ego, however, wants none of this. Ego wants to be a star. Ego takes the essentially meaningless events of life and projects onto them a conditioned drama in which we are the center of attention. In short, Ego makes up a life, and convinces us we are living it.

Consider: You are the star of one show, a supporting character in several more, and an extra in 6.7 billion others. The overwhelming majority of the time that you make an appearance in any life, you are little more than a canvas on which another ego paints a bit of story. This is an indisputable fact of life.

Ask yourself: what does it serve to have a problem with that?”

A very good question, indeed, the answer to which can take us in at least a couple of interesting directions. One possibility is to eliminate the drama ego imposes on our lives through its endless melodramatic projections of misery and despair. This approach would look something like, “Well, this seems to be what I keep choosing in my life so I’m just going to accept my choice, admit this is what I truly want, and enjoy the consequences of the decision. I continue to choose that food, that person, that story, that job, that activity and, therefore, I will acknowledge that is what I want more than I want an alternative and that will be that.” Or, you could decide that rather than allowing “your,” or someone else’s ego, to paint a story on the canvas that you’ve assumed is your life, you will start listening to the deeper wisdom, the gentle longing, the sweet tug toward what your heart wishes for, a possibility that continues to appear to you in all its clarity right before the first voice tells you, with that edge of panic, “You can’t do that! You have to do what you’ve always done. You have to keep doing what makes you unhappy, that’s the responsible thing to do.”


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It Is Time to Feel Good

This is encouragement to sign up for the new email class, “It’s Time to Feel Good.” It is time to feel good. It’s long past time to feel good for most folks, and the only thing standing between a life of suffering that is not wanted and a life of freedom and well-being that is wanted is the resistance of conditioned mind as it tries to maintain its control over a human’s life. “You don’t have time.” “It’s too much money.” “You can’t afford it.” “You won’t do the work anyway.” Look to see if, without that conversation, you would want to have some additional, powerful support for yourself going through the holiday season and into a new year.

I’ve introduced this new work of “what you practice is what you have” with something akin to mild trepidation and a whole lot of excitement. This is as close to “it” (as in “this is it”) as I’ve managed to articulate. It has been received by our Sangha pretty much as I had anticipated; when at center people are eager and enthusiastic, and when identified with egocentric karmic conditioning/self hate, there’s the standard resistance. This we can work with. We all do, all the time.

What I was really curious about is how this new approach would be received by the larger community of practitioners who use our perspective in combination with other approaches. I knew I wouldn’t have to wait long, as most of the people I meet at events, workshops and retreats participate in all kinds of other practices—the curse of so many options!

The response so far is very good. At a recent workshop a participant expressed amazement at the depth of her response to the work. This is someone who has done a lot of practice—and a lot of practices—and figured she’d done just about everything and knew how it all worked. She found herself stunned that so simple an act—being coached, mentored, inspired, reminded, and encouraged in her own voice—could produce such a profound experience of compassionate acceptance within her for her.

I could never understand why so many people are programmed to “hate the sound of my own voice.” Now I get it. With that programming, people are unlikely ever to be open to hearing compassionate words from the one person truly capable of loving them unconditionally.

Just as I did with the work of There Is Nothing Wrong With You when it was first introduced, I want to guide folks through this practice here at the beginning. Over the years we will all become familiar with how it works, but in the beginning karmic conditioning can throw up roadblocks and confusing directions likely to impede progress unless those efforts to sabotage are thwarted. I am devoted to thwarting sabotage!

It’s time to feel good, folks. Let’s.

In gassho,

Monday, October 4, 2010

Only Don’t Know


In a conversation I had with a friend, he said, “I’m trying to figure out your mood; what your energy is doing.” (That’s California-speak for, “How you doin’?”)
Me: “Why not see what your energy is doing instead of projecting onto me?” (We have that kind of relationship.)
He: “Good idea. Here’s a better one: How about if I don’t “figure out” what either mood is? Why should I allow conditioned mind to frame and label everything, then get me to believe I know what’s going on?”
Me: “Great question!”

What followed was a lively, rather profound exploration of the relationship between what is in the moment and the multi-layered process of interpretation used by conditioned mind to set up the suffering world of “I/me/mine.”

From awareness practice we know, intellectually at least, that labels are not things. To help us see how we confuse words and concepts with the thing itself, Alan Watts offered that great image of a hungry person walking into a restaurant and eating the menu. When asked, “How are you feeling?” most people will answer with a word or words that they believe express a state of sensations/emotions. If the person says they feel anxious or depressed or afraid, we don’t actually know much of anything about what they feel. We’re meant to project our own experience of a state we call by the same label and everyone can go on pretending we know what we’re talking about. (Not hard to understand why people so often feel misunderstood.)

This habit of looking to conditioned mind to tell us about the moment we’re arising into is, of course, the source of suffering. If one is not here, right here, eyes wide open, nothing else going on as the moment arises, one has no way of realizing that all those interpretations an egocentric karmically conditioned mind are putting forth are not true. One tiny flicker of assumption, based on a word that suggests a concept designed to create an illusion, and the hapless human is light-years off into an imaginary world of made-up nonsense that will result in nothing but suffering.

Karmic conditioning is ceaselessly seeking to reinforce its own imaginary reality. In each moment it projects and the unconscious human believes. We’ve all heard those examples of the hungry person driving down the street only seeing restaurants, or the person with a near empty gas tank seeing nothing that isn’t a gas station, or the very clear, “when a pickpocket sees a saint he sees only his pockets.” What’s less obvious is that a person who is karmically predisposed to fear sees every situation as dangerous, a victim always feels mistreated, the entitled expect to be first in line, and the arrogant assume the best is their God-given right. Each of us assumes that our assumptions are reality and that what conditioned mind is presenting is accurate. But of course neither is true.

Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn was famous for using, “Only don’t know” to point people toward his “don’t know Zen.” Not knowing, knowing that we don’t know, knowing there’s nothing to know and there is no one to know it is a very helpful understanding, But just as important as the “don’t know” in this good advice is the “only.” Only. Solely and exclusively. Nothing else. Just that. Everywhere, all the time, “don’t know.” Do not think you know and do not try to know. With that focus it gets harder and harder for egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate to build and maintain a world of suffering for us. Instead of just going along with the same tired old program, we can ask, moment-by-moment, “Is that so?” “How do you know that?” “Who says so?” “What if that’s not true?” “What else is possible here?”

In gassho,