Monday, June 28, 2010

Aphorisms and Truisms Self-Hate Can Use

Reading the Practice Everywhere tweet “Better to be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubts,“ caused me to reflect on how many of those kinds of insidious messages most of us have been given. From standards such as “children should be seen and not heard” to vague information that what you’re feeling and the amount you’re feeling is wrong/bad, we have managed to take in an impressive amount of “negative intelligence” under the guise of truisms or words to live by.

A few more that occur to me:

A fool and his money are quickly parted.
A friend in need is a friend indeed.
Better to be safe than sorry.
All good things must come to an end.
All's well that ends well.

I’ve tried to see how we get information such as “those feelings” are “anxiety” and anxiety is a bad thing. I can’t recall hearing anything specific but somehow the message gets transmitted loud and clear. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if we had been encouraged with something like, “Oh, those are sensations; they’re how human beings feel life. They don’t mean anything in particular. You have to pay close attention because they change with every situation and you don’t want to miss any messages from life.”

A variation on the value of truisms I wish someone had given me is along the lines of, “maybe yes, maybe no” from the story of the old fellow whose only horse runs off. The neighbors say, “What a terrible thing to have happen to you.” He responds, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” The animal returns in a few days bringing a small herd of wild horses with it.
“Isn’t that wonderful,” say the neighbors. “Maybe yes, maybe no.” His only son goes out to break the horses, is thrown and his leg is broken, rendering him incapable of helping with the work. “Isn’t that terrible,” say the neighbors. “Maybe yes, maybe no.” The army comes by looking for able-bodied men to fight the most current war. “Isn’t that…” You get the picture. Bottom line point is that we simply do not know. Ever. Anything.

How about this: As you recognize the vaguely unsupportive to downright self-hating “truths” that torment you when you’re not attending closely, post them to this blog, and we will create a great list of “conventional wisdom” that is not wise at all under a heading of Lies to Ignore.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Problem with Believing We Know

To the illusion of separation, to the “I,” the world of duality is assumed to be all there is. In a dualistic reality of right/wrong, good/bad, suffering/liberation, I must strive to be the right, good, liberated person. Anyone who is paying attention knows the futility of engaging in this struggle.

Two concepts that students of Buddhism learn early on are that desire/wanting is to be overcome and non-attachment is what we’re working toward. We learn this, accept it, know it, and believe it—which is part of the problem. Dualism raises its head in the world of spirituality when we try to overcome attachment and desire while amassing the right information and beliefs. (I am showing great restraint here because pretty much every word I’m writing “should” be in quotation marks.)

The difficulty is that “overcoming” and “amassing” require an “I” to do them. The “I” must divide life up into thises and thats in order to determine what is a good thing and what is a bad thing, and the whole world of suffering is created and the illusion of a self separate from life is maintained.

There is nothing to overcome and nothing to amass, nothing to believe and nothing to know, nothing to resist or avoid. And, most important of all, there is no one to do any of that. (If you heard a voice in you head say something along the lines of, “Oh, yeah, I know that,” that’s the “I” I’m talking about!)

Life is quite relaxing when we stay with attention/awareness, here/now, and let life do its part—everything else! But when egocentric karmic conditioning gets hold of the teachings, the dharma, it can try to turn them against us, causing not only suffering but much confusion.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

There’s a Goat on the Porch

Quietly eating my lunch, I look up to discover a goat on the porch. We stare at each other for a moment, me trying to take in this very unusual event, she doing whatever processing she’s doing. I observe that she’s very short and quite wide, with lovely horns and a very gimpy right front leg. Oh, swell. Not only do I have a goat on my porch, I have a pregnant, three-legged goat on my porch. This was not in my plan for the day!

Fortunately there’s a dog yard, large and secure, that I can put her in while I attempt to find her people. Leading that goat to the pen quickly put me in mind of those “herding eels” or “nailing jello to a tree” images. No sooner had I closed the gate behind her than she commenced in earnest her efforts to get out. She climbed, she crawled, she butted, she bellowed; at one point she launched her little round self over a loose part of the wire, doing a decidedly inelegant belly flop outside the fence.

As I’m chasing her around, trying to corner her long enough to get a handhold on her horns I tell her, “I’m just trying to help you. You may not be aware of the fact, but I happen to know mountain lions roam these hills. A fat little goat would be a tasty treat for a mountain lion.” My reasoning falls on deaf ears; all she wants is out. She has no idea where she’s going when she gets out, she just wants out.

I can see my own life in that; I can see a lot of people’s lives in that overwhelming desire to “do it my way.” I often refer to it as a “devotion to bad decisions,” but I think its proper name is karma.

If there’s no larger perspective, all that’s available to us is egocentric karmic conditioning’s perspective. What dominates our experience is all that “no, no, I don’t want that, I want that…” energy coursing through the body.

Years ago I heard someone say that the curse of intelligent people is their need to have their own experience. Smart folks are not going to take someone else’s word for anything. We want to find out everything for ourselves, prove it to ourselves, make up our own mind, and make our own decisions. But going to egocentric karmic conditioning to have our own experience is not producing what we think it’s producing. (This in no way contradicts the Zen admonition to not believe what the teacher says but rather to find out for yourself. That’s encouragement to go to conscious compassionate awareness for information, not a karmically conditioned “authority.”) I recently heard a young woman, aged twenty years or so, say to her friend, “I’m so glad I’ve past that age of just believing everything.” Oh, my dear, I thought, if you only knew where that belief has landed you!

People often say to me, “I have trouble with authority figures.” “Yes,” I respond, “the authority figure you’re used to accepting inside has trouble with what it perceives as external authority figures.” I’m suggesting that the internal authority figure is the one a person “should” have trouble with. It is the source of information that results in about 99% of the suffering in people’s lives.

“Doing it my way” can often masquerade as independent freethinking, an expression of who I really am. But when I watch that little goat, hell-bent on following the information she’s getting, regardless of circumstances, irrespective of her own best interest, I recognize all of us when we are operating out of unconscious urges and unexamined desires.

The whole thing was a marvelous projection exercise.

It causes me to appreciate once again the Buddhist approach to karma and the Buddha’s admonition to work out our own salvation diligently. Our lives really are up to us. We get to do things our own way, live out bad decision after worse decision, choose experience after suffering experience until we’re ready to give up the ego’s “better ideas” and give our lives back to life to live. It’s a very good deal.

Epilogue: Forty-eight hours later she seems to have forgotten she ever lived anywhere else and has settled into a quiet routine of tree-trimming and snoozing, undisturbed by anything except her duties as guard-goat, alerting all to the arrival of unfamiliar noises. I am striving to emulate her let-go-the-past-be-here-now orientation to life.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Real Comfort

Last night on Open Air we had what I found to be a fascinating discussion that, heavily paraphrased, went a little something like this:
B. I know I should practice, but when I come home from work I’m tired. I just want comfort.
C. What does “comfort” mean?
B. Watching television (which I don’t own because of this), reading novels (good ones!), eating…
C. So comfort means going unconscious?
B. Yeah. And, it doesn’t really take care of me; I know that. I wake up the next morning feeling bad. Waking up in the morning to a clean kitchen takes care of me. Waking up to a sink filled with two or three nights of dirty dishes doesn’t take care of me.

Who can’t relate to that? I’m tired. I’ve been doing stuff I really didn’t want to do all day. I don’t want to do any more hard stuff. I just want to relax, do nothing, eat something that tastes good but doesn’t require a bunch of preparation, and zone out.

Nothing wrong with any of that, is there? There’s no reason not to follow that program every evening of one’s life, except for that little detail of “it doesn’t take care of me and I wake up feeling bad in the morning.”

Last week in a conversation, one of the monks and I were marveling that so many people desperately cling to lives they devote all their resources to escaping. A person who cannot come to the Monastery because of a perceived deprivation in the monastic lifestyle pursues endless distractions (and suffers the resulting beatings by self-hate), based on an inability to tolerate the life they could not possibly give up!

So, there’s B going to work each day, doing work that is unfulfilling to the point that the rest of her time must be spent “recovering from” the results of the hours she has endured. She can’t attend to herself because all her ability to attend has been used up in surviving the workday.

I loved this exchange with B, as I love all interactions with Sangha, because it’s so very clear what’s going on when we get to see how someone else is falling for the lies and cons of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate! With B we get to explore one of the BIG LIES conditioning uses to keep people in service to it. Here’s the belief: “I need to go unconscious, turn my life over to conditioning to make it through the day. My work is not what I want to be doing; I just need to survive it so I can get to something for me.”

Of course there are too many lies in that for one little blog, but the biggest of the big, the one we all fall for, stumble over, and suffer with is: there’s a “me” this is all being done for.

I grew up hearing one of those jokes that ended with the person who was believing they would “get their reward in heaven” learning that it would be “a bale of hay, you jackass.” Kind of captures the relationship a lot of humans have with karmic conditioning. That reward is always out there somewhere. Just slog along through another day you don’t enjoy, this is leading to something…sometime…somewhere. The despair begins to set in when it dawns that the trudging is unrelenting and the reward nowhere in sight.

Blessedly, the answer is so simple—and even easy! (Plus we hear it repeated really often.) The answer: Make this moment the reward. Life is love. Not some of life, some moments of life, some times when things are going well. All of life is love, unconditional love. Spend each day in love. Give the one person whose worth you know intimately—you—the life that person deserves. Don’t entertain conversations in your head that disparage the person you have the golden opportunity to love unconditionally, an experience of unconditional love that will transform your life.

Is there a “how” in all this? You bet!
1) Remind yourself how you want to treat the human being left in your keeping.
2) Write that down.
3) Phrase those as sentences you can easily remember and repeat. Example: I’m glad we’re doing this together. Great job. You did that really well. You know, I really like you. Record this and listen to it often.)
4) Put the kind of effort into this relationship you would put into a relationship with someone you really like!
5) Make this relationship your top priority.
6) Always choose loving your person over the demands and dictates of karmic conditioning. Never, ever lose sight of this one—it’s critical.
7) Protect, honor and celebrate your person.
8) Approach a day with yourself with the same enthusiasm and excitement you would have for a party or a vacation.
9) Practice relaxing together. Learn to have fun in everything you do.
This is, after all, your life!

Sound hokey? Only to egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate. And, it doesn’t actually sound hokey to conditioning; it sounds like something that will put it out of work—and out of the house, too! Real comfort consists of being embraced in the unconditional love that animates all. Each of us gets to bring that comfort to one person—the “me” who has been promised so much and worked so hard in hopes of receiving. Now is the perfect time to fulfill those promises, and you are the perfect person to make that happen.

In gassho,

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Having That Which Animates You as Your Most Intimate Relationship

A while back I suggested what I called the "ingredients for a satisfying life."
They are:
1) Dedicate your life to something you consider worthy.
2) Celebrate your contributions.
3) Have That Which Animates you as your most intimate relationship.
4) Know how to give your attention to what you choose.
5) Keep your word to yourself .

I spoke about the first two and promptly forgot to return attention to the following three. Fortunately, life, in its infinite wisdom and compassion, never lets us lose sight of anything really important to us. (Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate has learned to mimic this trait by dedicating itself to attempting never to let us lose sight of anything that is really important to it!)

I realize what I’m going to say next could sound iffy, but, you know, if I let that stop me I would have said very little over the past years—perhaps not a bad thing. Nonetheless, I have and I will continue to, so here goes.

It’s not that I choose illness. As with most people who prefer having more that they want to do than will ever get done, have endless interests and pursuits, love feeling energetic and active, I avoid sickness assiduously. But when it comes, I confess I have learned to enjoy and appreciate it. Being sick is a bit like going on a vacation with practice.

Several days ago I developed symptoms of either a cold or severe allergies. Over the years I’ve realized that going to bed at the first sign of illness really works for me. I don’t pass around whatever I have, and I can usually get through colds and flu sorts of things in about three days. If I fight it, it fights back and I get the standard ten days or two weeks, which just seems like too much of a good thing!

This one went straight to the chest, and before long I was having trouble breathing. Not dangerous-trouble-breathing, just take-a-breath-and-collapse-into-racking-coughs trouble breathing. Under normal circumstances this could be annoying, but since I was already on my mini-vacation with practice, it was fascinating. (The real blessing in these mini-vacations is that there’s nothing else to do but pay attention.)

I began to watch for the exact millisecond when the cough got triggered. I found if I went slowly enough I could get past all the danger points and take full breaths without choking or coughing. This, of course, brought me to a place of great joy: It was impossible to do anything other than attend to the breath for each complete cycle. A moment’s lapse would be followed by collapse-into-choking-and-coughing. How perfect is that?

Since it was not possible to be concerned about anything, complain about anything, or even attend to anything other than each millisecond of the breath, there was nothing to interfere, even at the subtlest levels, with right here/right now. Breathing fully with absolute attention makes stress impossible. There’s no room for egocentric karmic conditioning to get a toe in…not even with that “incessant nattering” it likes to offer as “innocuous noticing.”

And the best part of all is that the spaciousness—created by the lack of intrusion by an illusion of a self separate from life—can be filled with awareness of That Which Animates. There’s nothing interfering, nothing blocking the wisdom, love, and compassion that we recognize as our authentic nature when we stop doing anything else.

Then I lost my voice. Bliss!