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,


  1. I drank green tea instead of coffee this morning. Yay! The voice said that it didn't matter what I drank. How can one drink matter? So this addresses that voice very well. And I say, that one cup of green tea equaled my freedom this morning.

  2. Every morning I light a candle. Then a stick of incense. And then a hip, hip, hooray. Willing to sit, again. And again. Yes, we can. Yes, we are capable.We can do this.

    Ours is not a caravan of despair.

  3. Hi ---

    I've noticed that there is a personality in me that wants the sugary treat. She is very young, and I think is equating it with having control over her life. Or attention.

    Whatever it is -- she wants it with a vengeance. It is her solution. So when I say "no" to sugar, she feels very deprived, almost hysterically so. In the past, I've been able to bargain with her to our mutual satisfaction (no white sugar but maple sugar ok, etc.) -- and sometimes we live happily together for years. But this past month, it seems she has become very demanding. Like right now. So I will try to bring love and compassion to her. But I think she is stuck on thinking sugar is the solution. I think she will always think that.

    And what I end up telling her is that health is important in this family (of personalities) and so we aren't having sugar because we are being healthy. HA HA. I wonder where I got that idea...

    Thank you.

  4. Delightful blog! It made me laugh out loud as I recognized all those lines from conditioning about my commitment to let go of sugar!

    Ego's obsession with sugar and Awareness' attention to sugar can look amazingly similar but are worlds apart in feel and tone. I'm reminded again, it's not what, it's how.

    This moment of remembering counts as another drop in the bucket...


  5. Sunday at the Monastery is a part of my sparkly new Personal Practice Plan. My practice up to this point has been solo and self directed. Now thinking about sitting on the cushion in a group goes like; "Yeah you've been sitting in your comfy chair meditating for two years, you think you can sit for 30 minutes? Ha, Ha!" "Your cushion is like new." "Hey you don't even sit straight in your comfy chair!" You put this in your plan a couple weeks ago, don't you think it would have been a good idea to switch to the cushion then." "You're probably going to fall off the cushion 10 minutes into Sunday at the Monastery and make a fool of us." "Just don't hit your head and knock yourself out." See you Sunday at the Monastery, I'll be the one wearing a helmet.

  6. My *favorite* piece of this post is this: "no person sincerely attempting to wake up and end suffering will ever be without [a calendar]". For a long time I've had a little 30-day retreat notebook, an add-list/gratitude notebook, a notebook for workshops, etc., etc. Yesterday I went out and bought a big academic-year Moleskine - that I will "keep with me always" :) SO FUN. Thanks for that encouragement!

  7. Thank you for this post. Score keeping is much more fun with this perspective and it is a relief. I feel so grateful to have this visual in the face of fear of failure looming for conditioning to use against me. Counting the drops each 15 minutes and in the daily evening review fills me with gratitude. Training wheels and training wheels in an effort to become upright.