Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Really Tricky Place in Awareness Practice

I had a conversation recently with someone who didn’t get the real point of doing the Huber Cure. He thought the Cure had only to do with eliminating illness, and I realized I have not been clear that the benefits of the Cure are twofold. (The Cure is an approach to illness that has a person go to bed at the first sign of symptoms and stay in bed until all symptoms have passed. For those unfamiliar with the subject, there is a blog named The Huber Cure, December 2011.)

Benefit #1: It’s a kind way to be with the body and jumpstart the healing process. It is not popular. It’s astonishingly effective, and it is not popular.

Benefit #2: The Cure is one of our best opportunities to see the battle ego wages for attention, revealing how ego works to take us out of the present, out of what’s actually happening, what’s good for us, and what supports us in order to drag us into its world of should/have to/gotta DO.

The fellow I was talking with didn’t recognize watching that process unfold for the opportunity something like being sick is. To him being sick was just a matter of “I can be in charge of how I feel and how to take care of myself. I don’t want to go to bed and do nothing when I feel like I have enough energy to do something.” He saw it as just content. He saw it through the lens of the conversation in his head.  

He couldn’t see being sick as an awareness practice issue. But it is. It is an awareness practice opportunity par excellence. It is the equivalent of one of Gandhi’s “experiments in truth.” It is a chance for us to use something “low stakes” to get good at something that will end suffering. When we say “end suffering” that can seem very big. And, it is. But we can hone our skills at ending suffering in small daily situations—if we choose to.

Here’s another low stakes example: I’m deeply attached to drinking coffee in the morning. Not just generic coffee, “my” coffee, the way I like it, when I like it, where I like it, and, yes, out of the cup I like! So what? It’s not a big deal. Why not? It’s what I like, I can afford it, it’s not hurting anyone, it’s a completely harmless enjoyment.

All that is true. It’s not a big deal unless I want to wake up and end suffering.

If waking up and ending suffering is what I want to do, that “harmless enjoyment” is a perfect opportunity to see the incessant pull of ego toward the fulfillment of karma.

By paying close attention I get to see that ego—an illusion of a “self,” a “me” that is separate from Life and that solidified its takeover of “me” around puberty—is invested in that coffee being consumed because that’s how ego controls me.

Ego, an illusion masquerading as “me,” sets up my life with all these things that supposedly “I want” such that I fail to notice that when I’m HERE, present, with Life, I don’t really care about them. What does desperately care about them is ego, not because ego actually wants them but because they are an expression of ego’s power over me, proof that I will want what it tells me to want.

This is subtle stuff. No doubt about that.

There I am, going along practicing awareness, and I’ve realized from a stepped back, disidentified perspective that I’m not what you would call casual about that first cup. I see that if I don’t have it, and on time, I get grumpy. Heck, I get downright mean. So I decide I want to see what happens to me if I don’t drink that coffee I like so much. I say, “I’m going to take a break from coffee for a while. I’ve become attached to it, dependent on it, and I don’t like that. Maybe I’m addicted. Wonder if I’ll get one of those withdrawal headaches….”

After entertaining a few thoughts about not drinking coffee, ego starts agitating, questioning, arguing for, making cases against… and I get convinced that I (real person, me) authentically wants to drink that coffee. “You don’t need to stop. That’s silly. You love coffee. There’s nothing wrong with it. Why do you want to deprive yourself of something you love for no reason?”

When I treat that conversation in my head the way I normally do, as if it’s “just me thinking,” my response is something like, “I just want to see what happens.” BUT when I don’t make coffee, make tea instead, and the voices scream, “No! I hate tea. I want coffee!” if I’m not paying attention I’ll think that’s “just me” pitching a fit. Identified with ego, I believe that’s me ranting and raving and carrying on. If I have not moved into an observer role I think it’s me complaining and kvetching, victimized and despairing.

And this is the really tricky place in awareness practice. If I don’t have it in the front of my conscious awareness that I, the authentic human being, the one who wants to awaken and end suffering, is the one choosing this experiment, then I’ll believe those voices are me, I’ll toss the tea, brew the coffee, and never hear ego breathe its sigh of relief.

While it’s true that this is a subtle place in practice, what’s going on is not subtle at all. Ego/I is pulling out all the stops. It’s screaming, whining, moaning, arguing (think a 3-year-old being told “no more candy” or a teenager being told they can’t go to that whatever with their friends).

I have a sad, horrible image for this particular juncture: a great fat worm on a fishhook. It’s writhing hideously, wiggling, twisting, bucking, doing everything it can to get off that hook. That is exactly what ego is doing in its efforts to get its way. And, if I’m identified with ego, I feel just like that worm. I hate it. It feels awful.

All the sensations in the body are hysterical. It feels like my nerve endings are going to crawl out through my skin. I’m flailing around. I’m in agony! I WANT THAT COFFEE! I WANT THAT CIGARETTE. I WANT THAT CHOCOLATE. I WANT THAT SUGAR. I WANT THAT DRINK.

We’re talking detox here. But the difference between a program where the addiction is removed from you until the physical craving (that worm on the hook) calms down, we are the addict, addicted to identification with ego. And the detox facility? The conscious compassionate awareness that is assisting a human being to end suffering.

The pull to giving up and going with what ego wants is nearly irresistible. That’s why almost nobody makes it past an ego addiction that ego is determined to maintain.

However, if I can stay in the position of observer, stay in awareness, be the witness to the process, I am going to come out on the other side as a much more awake human being. Not only will I have a different relationship with that specific content—I can now drink coffee or not drink coffee and the choice truly is mine (as long as I’m paying attention and not falling again for an ego con!)—I have a completely different relationship with the process of ego addiction (again, as long as I’m paying attention and not falling for an ego con).

This takes a lot of resolve, a lot of interest in freedom, a lot of willingness to save a suffering person. What’s involved here is choosing this “workshop,” choosing to face down a low stakes ego addiction when I don’t have to. (Can I not use my favorite pen? Can I take a different route to work? Can I enjoy doing a task I usually hate? Can I use being late as an opportunity to slow down and be polite in traffic? Add you own….) We’re not waiting until the doctor says, “If you don’t stop that you’re going to be dead in six months” to go against feeding our addiction to ego. We’re doing it on our own terms because we choose to.

You catch a cold and it flattens you. You want to stop eating sugar. You want to meditate for a few minutes every day. You want to stop yelling at the kids or going crazy in traffic. You want to get fit. You want to be able to sit through a meeting and pay attention to what’s being said. You want to make and keep a commitment to yourself for something that will be good for you.

We must choose freedom from ego’s tyranny when we don’t have to.

Unless we see through this process, unless we get it that the voice talking in the head, the voice of ego, is NOT “me,” we are doomed to live for “it” and not for ourselves.

It’s true that for a lot of people there will be a periodic spark of clarity, the realization that “there’s something I could do to get out of this.” But when identified with ego, it’s going to be a brutalizing process, on a large scale in big life circumstances or on a small scale in everyday life. Either way, brutal is brutal, and once we know we don’t have to be made miserable by a “force” that has nothing to do with us, we tend to be more committed to tossing the parasite out.

As I get to the place in practice where I know moving into an observer position is always possible, I recognize that movement as something I can choose. Now it’s a whole different situation because I’m required to remember. I have practice and Sangha and supports in place so I’m going to remember a lot sooner, and I’m going to up my chances of moving into an observer position so I can watch what ego is doing. Yes, I may get identified with ego as I’m watching it, but then I remember I can disidentify and step back, can become the witness, and as I watch what ego is doing—and how I’m in relationship to it—the whole process becomes clearer and clearer.

What I see from the perspective of observer is the three distinct points of view: 1) the human being, 2) egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate, and 3) the Unconditional Love that animates the human being. I can see how ego moves in and “takes over” the human being. (Think Body Snatchers, or how a crowd can be whipped into a violent frenzy by hateful speech.) When the human being is taken over, the human body becomes the “vehicle” for ego to act out its attention-snatching antics. Seeing that moves me into what we might call “an identity with Unconditional Love” that makes me want to save/protect the human being.

As we continue to observe, we have a growing sense that “this human” is moving from “taken over by ego” to “one with Center,” and it’s that movement from “reinforcing karma” to “ending karma” that a human being is engaged in. With awareness practice we are making that process conscious.

In Gasshō


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