Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Duality and the Power of Participation

Yesterday I received an email that contained this: "The word "participatory" comes close to defining the highest good in African society. It is the core meaning of the word ubuntu and is enshrined in the Xhosa proverb, ‘A person is a person through persons.’ Ubuntu affirms the organic wholeness of humanity: that one realizes one's full potential only through other people. Life together is the quintessence of an African understanding of what it means to be human.”

Later I had a conversation with a psychiatrist who will interview me about depression on her radio show tomorrow, May 26. She said she had read The Depression Book and is eager to talk about the use of exercise in moving through and beyond depression, something she said was certainly not part of her medical training. I asked her if she’d read There Is Nothing Wrong With You. She said she read it several years ago, and we spoke a bit about the relationship between self-hatred and depression. My comment was, “How could anyone go through life listening to constant criticism and abuse without being depressed?” She told me that when she asks patients questions of that nature the response is invariably along the lines of “Look at how I am. How could I not hate myself?”

The juxtaposition of ubuntu with the isolation of self-hatred and depression caused me to reflect again on the critical necessity of recognizing the illusory nature of a self that is separate from life. Until we get it, grasp it in that life changing oh-I-see-and-the-seeing-has-opened-my-eyes-forever way, it is not possible to move out of a primary I-truly-believe-this-is-who-I-am relationship with egocentric karmic conditioning. And, without seeing though the illusion of a separate self, it is not possible to step free of self-hate or to experience ubuntu.

The great news for us humans is that the door conditioning has labeled exit is really the entrance and the entrance is really the exit. Depression is a perfect example. I am depressed. I have no strength or energy for anything. The voices that talk to me alternate between reporting how awful I feel and beating me up for being a person who feels so awful. I feel awful and clearly it’s my fault. This can continue unabated for a very long time because nothing interferes with that loop. The conversation robs me of energy; the lack of energy supports the conversation in that the conversation matches perfectly the sensations in my body—or lack thereof! It all makes perfect sense.

However, if I get up and start moving, the sensations in my body change. Now I’m getting different information. The voices of self-hate will attempt to push me back into my chair, predicting yet another failure, reminding me of past failures, etc., but the sensations in the body are no longer supporting that conversation. If I keep moving, the sensations will continue to change. After a time, the sensations in the body are so altered that only a great deal of effort on the part of the voices can siphon off the energy released through the exercise and return me to a state of depression.

How do I keep that from happening? Ubuntu. Participation. All of the misery-producing experiences of a human being happen in isolation—isolation from everything except the voices of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate that have made their way inside a human’s head.

This world of karmic conditioning is often called “the world of opposites.” Usually that term is meant to refer to the fact that conditioned mind is maintained through duality—hot/cold, yes/no, us/them, right/wrong, etc. I like to use it to indicate that just about everything karmic conditioning comes up with is the opposite of what is so, that what we’ve been taught to believe is the opposite of what is true. This even applies to the notion of duality itself. Hot and cold are not opposites; they are two ends of a continuum, two sides of a coin that do not exist without one another.

Once we understand what’s actually happening, we can free ourselves! All we need is to understand the principle, and what has stopped us will free us. There is a little trick here, which is why it’s so important to grasp the principle: Only from center can we see this and accept the solution.

So, the application goes like this: I’m told I have no energy, cannot move, cannot do what I need to do. That belief keeps me in an immobile state, which reinforces and perpetuates the belief. From center I find the willingness to get up and move. I go in the direction opposite to that belief, feel better, have more energy, and can do what I need to do. From center I replace the voices of self-hatred with voices of compassionate support. From center I can see that staying in isolation and not participating keeps me vulnerable to voices that prey on me when I am alone with them. So I go against the voices, reach out, get involved, participate with others who are practicing waking up and ending suffering.

The moral of the story: Explore the opposite of what you’re being told. Keep in mind that in the world of karmic conditioning, the exits are marked entrance and the entrances are marked exit. Once you understand this trick, you can out-fox conditioning. You can go where you’re being told you cannot go and do what you’re being told you cannot do, sprinting past the gateless gate. And you’re free.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Smitten with Directing the Attention

I know, I know, I’m a veritable broken record (do we have an image to replace that one now that there’s at least one generation with no knowledge whatsoever of a record?), on the subject of directing the attention. Having facilitated workshops on “What You Practice Is What You Have” for the past year or so (not to mention “the quality of your life is determined by the focus of your attention” before that), and now working on this follow-up to There’s Nothing Wrong with You, which is also titled “What You Practice Is What You Have,” I find myself utterly besotted (in the best possible sense) with the practice of directing the attention.

There is everything to recommend it and nothing against it!

1) It’s practical. When you need to stay attentive to something or someone--at work, in a challenging conversation--you can do it.
2) It’s entertaining. You can make up all sorts of little games for yourself such as turning your attention to particular colors or objects and using them as reminders to turn your attention to the breath, to yourself with a kind word, etc. (Some of you may be recognizing Practice Everywhere about now.)
3) It’s relaxing. With your attention going where you choose rather than habitually to the stressful conversations of conditioned mind, stress and tension no longer have access to you.
4) It’s efficient. When it’s time to meditate formally, you are way ahead of the game by having practiced being present all day long!
5) It’s fun. Life is fun. Conditioned mind and the voices of self-hate are not fun. When you give your attention to life, your fun quotient goes way up.
6) It’s kind. When you are not lost in an unconscious relationship with the negativity of egocentric karmic conditioning, you become a pleasure to be around. You are a gift to the world.
7) It’s simple. Anyone with sufficient capacity and willingness can do it. “Now, I will turn my attention to…” No complex rules, no standards—easy.
8) It brings immediate gratification. Each moment you are HERE/NOW is a moment of wellbeing. Practice directing your attention ten times today and you have ten experiences of wellbeing. Tomorrow twenty, then thirty, then much of your day, then most of your day…
9) It’s a guilt-free pleasure. You can be enjoying this little awareness game all the time and no one will ever know what you’re doing. They will just enjoy you more because you’re more pleasant to be around.

I feel quite confident there are more good reasons for the practice of consciously directing the attention than are occurring to me just now. Perhaps if you know of additional benefits you will send them along? When you send them, I will turn my attention to them, enjoy them, and have the joy of another moment or so of wellbeing. Oh, and I will feel grateful to you for them…another moment of wellbeing! If financial institutions operated this way, we’d all be rich as Midas—but truth be told, I much prefer being rich in the joy of wellbeing.

In gassho,

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Restful Nature of Awareness Practice

In the night I woke with a profound, obvious, and very helpful realization: awareness practice is the most restful thing we can do.

I’ve been traveling a lot the past several weeks, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and approached getting home with great excitement and enthusiasm. This is the perfect time to be where I live: perfect temperatures, weather, colors, sounds, and perhaps happiest for me right now, no biting bugs.* This great excitement of coming home translates into a lot of energy, which is a big piece of the awareness in the night.

With all that energy, I began immediately to tackle the business of life: sort through and open the stacks of mail, clean out the inbox, empty and store the suitcases, do the laundry…in short, “catch up” with regular life. What I hadn’t seen until my 1:00 a.m. epiphany is the unacknowledged message that while I’ve been away doing what I was doing somewhere else, I’ve gotten behind at home, and once home I need to scurry to get caught up to the point that it seems I’ve never been gone.

I’ve known about this scam for years, seeing it pulled on lots of other people! I would encourage retreatants to take time off when returning from a long retreat, allowing themselves a rest after doing the hard work of letting go karma. This was proposed in opposition to conditioning’s perspective that “you’ve been on retreat vacationing and now you need to pay the price.” At the very least, I would remind departing practitioners not to get caught up in the mail. Mail--postal, e-, or voice--is conditioning’s way of tracking us down wherever we are and luring us into the distractions of society.

I know this! What fooled me completely was the combination of all those “right” feelings. I was taking care of business, loving being where I am, enjoying doing what I’m doing, being responsible—a good citizen in every way. Surely there cannot be any harm in that.

And, the answer is no there isn’t any harm in any of it. But on a very deep, subtle level there is disappointment in my failure to keep my commitment to my heart.

Truth is, I don’t want to give any of that excitement, energy, and enthusiasm to anything other than what takes care of my heart, which is practice. Is taking care of the things that support my life other than practice? No. But when there is all that energy built up from doing practice, which is what I’ve been doing for these many weeks in the form of leading workshops and retreats, I want to give that energy to deepening the intimacy of my relationship with life, not dissipate it in chores or even in what I’ve been conditioned to think of as rest.

After that energy has been given over to fueling more present, focused meditations, when being here/now has been the recipient of the excitement and enthusiasm, after silence and solitude have a chance to replace the noise of human busyness, then, and only then, will I turn attention to the activities of daily life. And, what I know from experience is that rather than the energy I returned home with being dissipated in doing “stuff,” I will return to daily life rested, rejuvenated, inspired, and ready to participate fully in whatever life has next in store for me. That’s what practice gives to me. But only when I give myself to it.

*On the last leg of this journey I did apply one of the practice tools I’m most fond of to great effect. Clearly the insect population at the last retreat had been left to their own company too long. The welcoming celebration for my arrival was truly impressive. In a matter of moments, just about every part of my body—they are not slowed at all by clothing—was covered with red, swelling, itching welts. I decided that each time I was aware of one of those welts itching, I would use it as a reminder to turn my attention to the life experience I choose to have. Blessedly it works and the result was lots of reminders and lots of good practice!


Monday, May 3, 2010

Only 100% will do

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.”

Sound familiar?

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.

In gassho,