“[N]either time nor place affects the fact that we are common experiencing human beings.” – Hamilton-Blyth, Sue. Early Buddhism: A New Approach: The I of the Beholder (p. 61).
The understanding is cross-cultural and perennial that we don’t live anywhere else but in or as our present experiencing; and that we can at least live well, if not flourish, by minimising our dissociation from present experiencing.
It comes as a surprise to some that what ‘present’ means can be debated; but I’ll leave it imprecise, for now. What’s not so contentious is the importance of sensory experience for flourishing; and, as you have seen, Buddhist culture includes “mental content” as a sensory dimension.
In the following, I refer these sensory dimensions collectively, sometimes as ‘experience,’ and sometimes as ‘experiencing’, and sometimes as ‘lifeworld.’ They represent the range of ‘happenings’ occurring in any moment or situation. Before I give a kind of model – that is, before I detail the ‘seven’ – to aid tracking the happenings of this open and yet precise sphere of Being, I want to give a picture of the power of such models, vis-a-vis death and deathlessness.
This contextualization will briefly introduce:
– the importance of personal experience in the context of Early Buddhist liberation;
– the concept of ‘lifeworld’;
– one’s individual world-within-the-world (loka);
– the nature of sensory life;
– the implicit order in one’s lifeworld (the presence of a greater responsive order, implicit in the ‘All’ of experiencing);
– mindfulness in the context of this non-conceptual aspect of reality, and its the open-ended flow;
– and, the power of Early Buddhism’s invitation to experience ‘space’
That should be enough of an introduction to what you are experiencing right now!
The Importance of Starting from a Non-Manifold Perspective
So, why did I consider this intro necessary, if the various dimensions of sense are here now and verifiable? Because usually we look without a context which would help us see the new. Have you heard about that great experiment about the gorilla on the basketball court (which I would say was an experiment in mindlessness, or mindless ‘relevanting)? It was carried out at Harvard University. (That’s not meant to be harsh, but descriptive of how we are much of the time.)
The experiments asked their subjects to watch a short video (see it here) in which six people pass basketballs around. The subjects were asked to keep a track of the number of passes made by certain of the people in the video. During the ball-passing, a gorilla walked into the middle of the action, faced the camera and beat his chest, then left. Half the people who watched the video, counting the passes, and did not see the gorilla!
Of course, that wouldn’t happen to you and I, would it? Or would it? What are we missing that is right here in front of our noses which we are missing moment to moment? The unbroken flow of experience might be the gorilla in our personal world. The intuitive, holistic dimension of experience is as invisible to the untrained person as that gorilla was to those subjects. What if what is relevant to us is limiting of life-opportunities? Would we know it?
Normally, we experience our various senses as broken up into separate ‘channels.’ However, it’s possible to experience them differently – as undivided; and as a result of such an experience, how we relate to the ‘world’ around is transformed. We realise that the ‘objective world’ and our senses inter-relate in such an inextricable way that we can’t actually tease out where our senses end and the world begins. This is the territory of the insight into interdependence of an everything in everything (ev-eving) kind.
The Nikāya Buddha emphasised that we need to know our sensory experience (including mind-states, remember); because, any sense that there is an objective ‘world’ to be experienced is directly dependent on our six (as he taught them) sensory processes.
The primary focus of Nikāya Buddha’s training was on immediacy, on how each of us perceives our personal world now; because to live wisely, we must know our experiencing as it actually is. His point was that what his teaching had to be tested by each of us, in the laboratory of this very body:
“Practitioners, do you not speak that which is known by yourselves, seen by yourselves, found by yourselves?”
“It is well, Practitioners! You have been instructed by me in this timeless teaching which can be seen here and now and which invites your testing; which leads to the goal [of inner freedom]; and can be understood individually by the intelligent.” – Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta (MN 38)
That’s the first point.
I watched a DVD called “Happy” recently, given to Joyce and I by one beloved to us, and it was very good. One of the things that stood out for me was how achievable happiness is. A happier life can be cultivated. The science is in:
1) if you want to be happy more regularly, more deeply, find a way into the flow of your life. Doing something that you can become absorbed in brings this kinds of satisfaction. Recently someone told me that they used to paint, but now they do jigsaw puzzled – it gave them the flow they were looking for. The Nikāya Buddha’s, “Not indulging, not suppressing” is exactly the place of flow.
2) Gratitude, or thankfulness. This can be for the smallest things, or for the big things in your life. Making it a daily practice to name several things for which you are grateful, and taking the time to savour where you feel that gratitude in your body, this cultivates happiness.
3) Mindfulness has shown that people can increase their presence. Being present, freshly, supports optimism.
4) Engage in community. In the DVD, they particularly showed a group of hundred-plus oldies in Japan, who live together and are so happy for it. This one, too, is related to altruism.
5) ‘Altruism’ (OED) is “devotion to the welfare of others, regard for others, as a principle of action; opposed to egoism or selfishness.” People who regularly help others are happier for it. Awakening compassion is one thing, but actualising it is important, too. We can’t all be like the man in the DVD working for the dying in Calcutta, but opportunities for altruism present themselves every day, many times a day. Just asking somebody if you can make them a cup of tea. ‘Putting yourself out’ for others, matters.
We could add:
I. learn to be familiar with negative feelings. This means learning how not fall into, or not be identified with negativity, or reactivity in general;
II. be playful. Indeed, being playful is healthy. (That’s one thing that I enjoy about the Dalai Lama is how playful he is);
III. actively practice relaxation methods (for instance, Herbert Benson’s relaxation technique;
IV. Explore steps in forgiveness, or releasing grudges. Hating someone is the absolutely best way to be unhappy.
V. And, of course, take care of diet and exercise.
One thing that struck me was how every culture in the world has an understanding about happiness. The bushmen of the Kalahari, those old Japanese folk, you and I – all around the world – despite the cynical nay-sayers, we know that being happy is good. (Note, if you are familiar Thomas Lewis’ long-ago essay about the tragedy of the Ik, it turns out that they, too, know what happiness is!)
Last night I spent a few hours with friends, in conversation, and along with the wisdom, the deep respect for each other, and the tenderness for each other’s welfare, one of the most memorable parts of the evening for me was the uproarious laughter.
It’s important to not chase happiness, of course. Overly-earnest about happiness doesn’t work. And, be glad of small steps, I’d say. A happy person isn’t one who’s happy all the time – it’s someone in whom happiness arises regularly; or, at best, in whom happiness is an underlying tone.
My only problem, with the DVD, was with how definitive they were about the states of happiness achievable without a deeply contemplative life; that is, without the insight work which is normally called ‘spiritual.’ Most situational happiness – happiness dependent on outer circumstances – can be rocked by a change in those circumstances. This is why the Nikāya Buddha spoke of liberation of the mind as being the ‘highest happiness.’ It’s unshakable.
Nevertheless, the ways of behaving portrayed in the DVD (which include most of my suggestions above) are really smart – contemplation, or no contemplation. So, like most things, look for balance in all this. (By the way, here is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TEFD talk on flow.) May you all have lots of ‘flow’ in your life in 2016, whatever your situation.
Sitting alone, resting alone, walking alone,
Untiring and alone,
Whoever has tamed oneself
Will find delight in the forest.
– Dhammapada, verse 305. Translated Gil Fronsdal
In the forest, at a rock concert, on a beach, in a prison, in a hospital bed, or in a royal court. This is a serious problem. Why aren’t we making it national policy to teach citizens to be alone in their own minds?
I woke up today a little muddy, and it took me a little while to get warmed to the day. The first thing that I did was invoke R.A.I.N. After the recognition, I accepted that I was muddy. And then I committed to being present anyhow. This freshened my attention at least. I naturally investigated what was happening in myself, and what I found was a feeling of being alone. This investigation quickly dropped below the surface and I noticed that I was with ‘a second.’ That is, that I was muttering to myself as though I was my own company. Sadutiyavihāri, means ‘dwelling with a second.’ That’s a way of avoiding feeling lonely which exacerbates loneliness.
I remember how moved I was when young, by a phrase Krishnamurti used: to be utterly psychologically alone. ‘Alone,’ etymologically, means ‘all one.’ A sense of unity, with no companion. I can’t remember where K. said that, but here’s a passage by him on the topic:
We are never alone; we are surrounded by people and by our own thoughts. Even when the people are distant, we see things through the screen of our thoughts. There is no moment, or it is very rare, when thought is not. We do not know what it is to be alone, to be free of all association, of all continuity, of all word and image. We are lonely, but we do not know what it is to be alone. The ache of loneliness fills our hearts, and the mind covers it with fear. Loneliness, that deep isolation, is the dark shadow of our life. We do everything we can to run away from it, we plunge down every avenue of escape we know, but it pursues us and we are never without it. Isolation is the way of our life; we rarely fuse with another, for in ourselves we are broken, torn and unhealed. In ourselves we are not whole complete, and the fusion with another is possible only when there is integration within. We are afraid of solitude, for it opens the door to our insufficiency, the poverty of our own being; but it is solitude that heals the deepening wound of loneliness. To walk alone, unimpeded by thought, by the trail of our desires, is to go beyond the reaches of the mind. It is the mind that isolates, separates and cuts off communion. The mind cannot be made whole; it cannot make itself complete, for that very effort is a process of isolation, it is part of the loneliness that nothing can cover. The mind is the product of the many, and what is put together can never be alone. Aloneness is not the result of thought. Only when thought is utterly still is there the flight of the alone to the alone.
– Jiddu Krishnamurit, Commentaries On Living, Series II Chapter 20
We don’t dwell alone. We not only habitually seek outer company, but when ‘alone’ we fill our minds with ‘a second self’ and people our inner world with others, constantly.
In the Nikāyas, there’s a phrase: “saddhā dutiyā purisassa hoti”; which means that there is faith in ‘a second self.’ An inner companion made from desire. There’s a shorter expression, too: Sadutiyo, which is (literally) “with a second.” Elsewhere the reference is to taṇhā-dutiyā, which is both “connected with thirst (craving),” and “having thirst (craving) as one’s companion.” This is the root of all the sub-personality suffering. This is the work of saṅkhāra – fashioning tendencies.
In Shakespeare’s Richard II, in the fallen king’s soliloquy in Pembroke Prison, we have a good example of this, and a great expression, too, of the conflict-dukkha involved. I take the beginning and the ending of the passage:
Like Richard II:
I have been studying how I may compare
This prison where I live unto the world:
And for because the world is populous
And here is not a creature but myself,
I cannot do it; yet I’ll hammer it out.
My brain I’ll prove the female to my soul,
My soul the father; and these two beget
A generation of still-breeding thoughts,
And these same thoughts people this little world,
In humours* like the people of this world, [* dispositions]
For no thought is contented. The better sort,
As thoughts of things divine, are intermix’d
With scruples and do set the word itself
Against the word….
Thus play I in one person many people,
And none contented: sometimes am I king;
Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar,
And so I am: then crushing penury
Persuades me I was better when a king;
Then am I king’d again: and by and by
Think that I am unking’d by Bolingbroke,
And straight am nothing: but whate’er I be,
Nor I nor any man that but man is
With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased
With being nothing.
We so rarely let our minds be still, silent, un-locatable and alone, because we are afraid to become nothing. However, the nothing we become is no more than the nothing we have always been, so it’s not so bad. And, it doesn’t take sitting on a cushion, in meditation to appreciate the still mind. With training, we can do it frequently while in activities throughout the day.
Remembering the conversation between the Nikāya Buddha and Sakka, here’s how that Buddha describes a person who unhooks from the mental habit of peopling his or her inner world, in the Migajāla Sutta (Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation.) It starts “Now, there are forms cognizable via the eye…”
“There are sounds cognizable via the ear… aromas cognizable via the nose… flavors cognizable via the tongue… tactile sensations cognizable via the body… ideas cognizable via the intellect — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing — and a monk does not relish them, welcome them, or remain fastened to them. As he doesn’t relish them, welcome them, or remain fastened to them, delight ceases. There being no delight, he is not impassioned. Being not impassioned, he is not fettered. A monk disjoined from the fetter of delight is said to be a person living alone.
“A person living in this way — even if he lives near a village, associating with monks & nuns, with male & female lay followers, with kings & royal ministers, with sectarians & their disciples — is still said to be living alone. A person living alone is said to be a monk. Why is that? Because the craving that was his companion has been abandoned by him. Thus he is said to be a person living alone.”
Thoughts don’t only people this world, they make it a little world. Mindfulness expands our world to infinity. This is what the Nikāya Buddha means in another passage, from the Bhaddekaratta Sutta. (MN131). This version is translated from the Pali by Thich Nhat Hanh:
We must be diligent today.
To wait till tomorrow is too late.
Death comes unexpectedly.
How can we bargain with it?
The sage calls a person who
dwells in mindfulness
night and day
‘the one who knows
the better way to live alone.’
– From Our Appointment with Life: Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone.
Post-script: After writing this, I read a poem by Gary Snyder, pertinent to the theme of being truly present at all times, and of the expected scariness of such a naked state of mind:
The Earth’s Wild Places
Your eyes, your mouth and hands,
the public highways.
Hands, like truck stops,
semis rumbling in the corners.
Eyes like the bank clerk’s window
I love all the parts of your body
friends hug your suburbs
farmlands are given a nod
but I know the path to your wilderness.
It’s not that I like it best,
but we’re almost always
alone there, and it’s scary
but also calm.
– Snyder, Gary This Present Moment: New Poems
“Bhikkhus, suppose there is a guest house. People come from the east, west, north, and south and lodge there; [all classes of people] come and lodge there. So too, bhikkhus, various feelings arise in this body: pleasant feeling arises, painful feeling arises, neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling arises; carnal pleasant feeling arises; carnal painful feeling arises; carnal neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling arises; spiritual pleasant feeling arises; spiritual painful feeling arises; spiritual neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling arises.”
– From The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikāya (Teachings of the Buddha). Translated Bhikkhu Bodhi. [My amendment.]
Kent has formal mindfulness training, which makes his inquiry a very creative process. Formal training gives him enhanced ability to track his experience, to empathetically sense his body, feeling-tones, and attitudes; and, to be able to think of these in terms of their dynamics. He’s learning how he is organised by his past, and discovering how new ways of behaving, speaking and thinking can emerge. Today he discovers a new way of being.
Let’s say that this session happens months after the session where he was ‘slightly depressed.’ Over time he’s become familiar with the sadness, which was under the depressed feeling. On this occasion he finds himself feeling into it, and not identifying with it. He has a distinct strong sense of being a guest house for his sad feelings. By that he means, not only that they are allowed to come and go in him, but, that he will be a kind host for his mind-states.
I will intersperse my commentary in square brackets, with reminders (in bold) of the dynamics which the Nikāya Buddha pointed out to Sakka. You can skip the commentary and read the dialogue straight through, of course; and come back to read the comments later, if you like.
Another way to approach understanding this process is to consider R.A.I.N. The teachers trained by Jack Kornfield, a U.S. Buddhist Insight Meditation teacher, teach a mindfulness process called R.A.I.N – Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation, and Non-Indentification. (Here’s an article by Kornfield about that. http://www.jackkornfield.com/articles/dharmaandpolitics.php) R.A.I.N. makes the mindfulness process easy to spot; and I mention it so that you can keep an eye out for those processes in the following dialogue – either when I invite a part of R.A.I.N, or they happen in Kent’s process spontaneously.
Kent: I feel it in middle.
Christopher: You mean like here? (I place my hand on the upper part of my lower abdomen.)
Kent: Yes. (Silence, while he feels in there.) It’s the feeling like when I was a child, and the little girl next door stopped playing with me. I never saw her again.
Christopher: He’s feeling…?
Kent: (Waits for the feeling to get clear.) Abandoned.
Christopher: He’s feeling abandoned.
Kent: (More silence). I’m letting him know it’s okay to have that.
Christopher: Right. You’re just being with him.
[There have been a number of occasions when we explored this pattern more emotionally, and much understanding has emerged from this. Today he is more subtle with it. Being organised by childhood patterns is an example of erroneous concepts (vittaka), because they are out-dated patterns fashioning behaviour now.]
(A long silence, though he looks like he’s got more energy, as though something new is there.)
Christopher: And, what’s next?
Kent: It’s funny. It’s like a feeling of what’s missing.
Christopher: Oh, lovely! What’s that like?
Kent: What missing is someone wanting him.
Christopher: Feeling wanted.
Kent: He doesn’t want to be alone. Being alone is really scary. If someone wants him, he doesn’t feel alone.
[Here we spent some time receiving the feelings and beliefs of the ‘child’ pattern. Uppermost were the feelings of abandonment, and of having no value. This, again, is an example of an erroneous concept; that is, that Kent’s well-being is dependent on how a childhood pattern (an ‘inner child’) versions him. Most people are victims of this concept.
Then his inquiry shifted to a more existential level; that is, the belief was that if he had ‘someone else’ – or even just had a longing for someone else – that would make him feel like he is a separate someone ‘in here.’ (Self-bias and dualistic perception.) Again, staying with his changes with kind, curious acceptance meant that the longing was able to move in him, and to change.
Notice that we can cling to the experience of having a longing, for what such a desire can do for us. It can feel pleasant, that we are longing. This way, the longing plays a role in keeping ego structures in place. During inquiry, such longings can play the part of fending off the feeling of dying, which comes with one’s ego structures dissolving.
Then, in Kent’s session, a shift happened that was dramatic.]
To be continued…
Those who thoroughly engage
in mindfulness of the body,
who don’t practice what shouldn’t be done,
and regularly practice what should be done,
conscious and clearly comprehending,
their toxic impulses fade away.
– Dhammapada, Verse 293. Translated Christopher J. Ash
I practised inviting space continuously during my stay in hospital for the removal of my cancer, last year. When I returned home, a friend asked me how I practised mindfulness during my stay. I listed all kinds of upaya (skilful means), which I’ve learnt over decades. After talking with my friend, I reflected to myself that all of them awakened space. I had used every means possible to be in loving, spacious awareness.
Most of the time, mindfulness of the body was in union with resting in voidness. Each supported the other. To be conscious of what I was experiencing – whether it was needles entering my skin, sending love and gratitude to my condemned prostate (for its years of functioning), being wheeled on the gurney, receiving the anæsthetic gas, waking up in the recovery room, swallowing pills, making painful trips to the toilet with my catheter, or receiving the care of the attentive nurses – to be conscious and clearly comprehend the quality of my attitude, to dwell in a positive heart: all I needed to do was be present without any desire. It was space aware of space. It felt, most of the time, like a blessing, to be so present, and clear that I was present. And so peaceful. There was nothing for me to do, but to be there.
Until I wrote that – clear that I was present – I haven’t thought of the combination (mindful and clearly comprehending, satānaṃ sampajānānaṃ) as meaning quite that; but it feels right. That is, one can be mindful of, and clearly comprehend, your experiencing, your pasture: the body, the feeling-tones (pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral), the states of mind or attitudes, and the dynamics of your whole felt world (loka). Comprehension can be, for example, about your being in the situation, and what there is to learn about the functioning of your mind in the situation, and so on. This is the field of your responsibility.
And, sometimes – and this is, for me, the most precious experience – sometimes you are just present, and you comprehend presence for the miracle it is. That is, mindful in the sense of awake without effort or purpose; and, intimate with wakefulness itself. You are completely resting in a pure, total, warm presence whose light leaves nothing in life out. Conscious and clearly comprehending from inside the conscious awareness. It’s like drinking this nectar with Brahma.
“Many of us have difficulty seeing ourselves as a radiant and vital embodiment of beauty, capable of wonderful sensations, fine qualities, and inspiring thoughts.” – Tarthang Tulku, Joy of Being
Indeed. I was mindful as I was driving down to Sydney this morning, to facilitate a weekend workshop, and I asked myself, “What am I not accepting, these days? Am I holding anything away?”
There is a way of asking, so that this is not an intellectual question. Ask such a question, open-endedly, and then experience yourself living in the body from the inside out. Funny thing to say, isn’t it? I wouldn’t have to say it, if my culture didn’t have the habit of knowing the body through its image, a body welded to its representations. I interpret the Mindfulness Sutta – where it says, “a contemplative dwells contemplating the body in the body” – as meaning: know it intimately, know it non-conceptually.
So, we can learn to invite the whole of life, known and unknown, to show up in the gap after the question. This way language needn’t be stuck in the subject-object structures. It becomes a living interaction, rather than a repeating of old meanings.Language-ing can stay fresh, when its origin (the body) is included in its use. This naturally takes practice, and some shadow work:
“The senses are responsive, able to generate exquisitely beautiful feelings, but to receive their blessings, it is necessary to open pathways now constricted by confusion and stress and clogged by repressed anger and self-hatred.” – Tarthang Tulku, Joy of Being
So, there I am sweeping those beautiful curves of the highway descent near Linen, and I ask my question. And in response, my body dissolves into light. The driving is steady, and I have a whole-body answer to my question. Simultaneously present for driving and steadfast for the inquiry, i hear the whisper: ‘This radiance.’
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” – Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love.
I’ve been enjoying seeing (bodily witnessing) the waking up process, in the mornings. It’s so interesting to see the ‘waking time loka’ kick in. This morning was delightful. I saw the first moment, when I conceive of ‘morning.’ I said, “That’s just a concept; that’s not the morning.” And, immediately, I saw that experiencing was already being shaped – in a micro-second – by the unexamined concept ‘morning’ and all that it carried. I was conceptualising morning, and about to proceed from it! It was an invitation to become a by-stander to myself, to become an object, instead of an integral current in the flow of the day.
I wasn’t buying it though. I found my attention was naturally still within my body, and I was experiencing morning from in there (here). From knowing body from inside the body (as it says in the Mindfulness Sutta). There was a tiny moment of bewilderment. So, I tracked my breath, and noticed that shining energy. Next time this happens, I hope to catch more of that ‘bewildered’ moment. From this new experience of morning, I felt free to appreciate my existenz. It felt right to rise (even though I’ve had big five days, previously.) Focusing was working, here, to give me a feel of the whole. Focusing is a process of checking in with your loka.
I, the person of such-and-such a name, such and such a clan (see Bhara Sutta), I could have allowed the concept of ‘morning,’ and all it carried for me, to condition me. If I had done so (I’ve seen this before), my personality would come in (em-bodying), and presenting itself as the one experiencing the morning. “No way! I see you Mara! I wee you Wily One!” What a trickster!
Of course, that’s the mythic language which I have trained in – the Mara myth. It’s helpful for having a sense of humour to the situation. I could have done that differently. What I was practising, when I said, “That’s just a concept,” was something that I learned from Stanley Block’s book ‘Come to Your Senses. That approach is effective, too. When the mind is giving you some trouble, you invoke his few simple steps, including one that says, “Those are only thoughts.” I had that in mind, but I combined it with what I was teaching in Blue Gum Sangha last night, about ‘concepts.’
And, because of the practice that I’d been doing during the night, after I said, “That’s only a concept,” my attention found itself open to ‘being there.’ back in my unsupported body. Unsupported? Yes, because we have become used to using the support of concepts to carry us in all our situations throughout the day. That’s why the bewilderment arose. It’s a moment when the ego-system is saying, “Hang on. You can’t do this without me. You’ll die. Your opportunity to hold onto something is passing by, now.”
“Hilarious – the pranks that old Mara gets up to,” is my way of taking in the good (Rick Hanson). In this case, the good is the freedom of not taking up the burden of clinging to the five sentient processes. There is a person who is not measurable. That is, the five processes do not limit me, as the personality believes, and wants.
This ‘personality’ running the body – instead of the perfect intelligence that comes with a body – this is just habitual functioning, and I am writing this to encourage us – me, too – to love our mindfulness (in whatever way you can) continuously, because it works. It works to find what flourishing is (the goal of the secular movement), and it works to free oneself of clinging to the five sentient processes (the NIkaya Buddha’s ‘goal.’)
Then, I was able to be there experiencing the morning, from inside the morning. (Escaping morning as a social construction, by the way.) From one point of view I am the morning. I’m certainly not outside it. Experiencing it from outside it is just how the bystander-self works. Yet, what else are you, but an integral flow within the flow of this much bigger life process? Tell me, where are you experiencing your life from? From this big life process, which can be called, ‘the day,’ ‘the morning,’ ‘the night’? In the ‘first watch,’ ‘the second watch,’ ‘the third’… we’re it! We enter it through the totality of our being here. (Tipping my hat to Jerzy Kosinski’s Chauncy Gardener).
The later Buddhist traditions developed the version of the ‘loka,’ which they called ”mandala.’ With their development of the ‘awakened mandala’ concept they helped us appreciate a new way of being in the world, from inside the experience of ‘awake-in-the-world.’ Another way of saying that is from the centre of the mandala, the ‘Buddha’ position, which is the Now. Deep bows to all my lineages – spiritual, cultural, social and biological. I am so grateful, right now.
“From beginningless time we have had a valid awareness, or consciousness, of “I.” This “I,” or self, naturally and innately wants happiness and does not want suffering, and this desire is valid—it is true and reasonable.” – The Dalai Lama, How to Practice.
Many do not realize that
We here must die,
For those who realize this,
– Verse 6, Dhammapada, translated by Gil Fronsdal
I got angry with someone today. If you asked me what that was about, I’d have trouble reconstructing it. It’s always about feeling offended for the ‘me.’ It’s about resisting the actuality of the situation. The other has acted in a ignorant manner, perhaps. (Sometimes – and this is always embarrassing, for me – sometimes I have misperceived the situation entirely. But, for the purpose of this post, let’s assume they other really has been out of line.)
And, as a result of their ignorance, what do I, in my unmindful mode, do to myself? I pitch myself into a struggle with them, resisting the reality of their condition, and their actions of body, speech and mind. I may also struggle against the intensity of my feelings.
When I fall into anger, I’m kind of saying: “This shouldn’t be happening to me.” Or, “This is not fair.” Or, “I’ll die, if I don‘t react,” or some unproven assertion. Truth is, it is happening – it is happening, in all its suchness, and my anger is only adding a second arrow to the one that the other shot into me. Worse, on that occasion today, I was identified with something that is only peripheral to who I actually am – that is, a self-image. And, strength is truer to who I actually am, than the habitual anger is. In strength, I don’t leave home.
I’m not saying that if you need to tell someone that their behaviour is unacceptable, or something stronger, that you shouldn’t do that. We can sanely check another’s harmful behaviour strongly, even powerfully. However, I am talking about the loss of awareness that comes with anger. In my years of training with Diamond Essence, Australia, I learned to distinguish between strength and anger. I am strength, but in that moment, I was mistakenly identifying my strength with anger. This takes some practice of mindfulness to see that there’s a difference.
In this case I was able to quickly disengage from my narrow projections about that person, and to come home. It happens so quickly, but once I see the anger, I try first of all, to bring my attention to my breath. And, if I can, I say “Hello” to the anger. This effects a first step in disengaging from the part of me that is angry, and to feel warmth and strength in my belly. I’ve found it best to do what Thich Nhat Hanh suggested, if possible: To take care of my anger first of all, to hold it in my (inner) arms (or even literal arms, if that helps); and to speak to the other person later, after I’ve come into the present and can hold my wounded part.
I’ve also found that to remind myself that I or the other could die at any moment, really does take the wind out of my sails. I’ve been very angry, and upon remembering my A Year to Live practice, I’ve found myself smiling to the other, in fellow-feeling. (I need to stress, though, that I’m still working with my angry habits. I don’t mean to present myself as a paragon, here.)
This language (of transforming anger) worries a lot of people, because they are understandably fearful of being a ‘doormat’ However, here’s what I’ve found: When a strength is needed to meet the situation, the fire comes, straight away. And, I don’t have to deny that the other has been out of line; don’t have to deny my right to defend. The fire, the energy needed to defend, is already there, in the belly – and suppression of it is unhealthy, let alone being an unreal response. And, if mindful of it, I can speak or act, from there, much more powerfully than if I am quaking in anger.
What happens, if I am not mindful is that it gets channeled by my personality’s stories, becoming a blinder and less efficient energy. That is, I’ve found is that my anger is false strength. It has very little actual relationship in it, very little real interaction. It is motivated by, and maintains, a constructed version of my self. If I want to deal with the reality of the other’s harm-making, I am best equipped to do that if I’m in the reality of Now, not in my stories about what should be (based on my unconscious stories of what was in childhood.)
I don’t call interacting with the other person via my self-image ‘interaction,’ at all. It’s dissociation, actually. I’m being run by my inner TV. (An image that Gendlin used, long ago, in another context. Eric Berne used to talk about scripts, too, and that works, here). The soapie is presenting a script in which my ego, with its deficiencies, is the central character in the interaction. No room for inquiring, or even relating with sane strength toward the other; and no seeing that the other is struggling with something, therefore no compassion on my part. Many are the occasions, on which I have channelled the fire into a mindful, belly strength, and spoken truthfully from there; and, always had a better outcome than if I had spoken from anger.
This is why I like Ahinda Palihawadana and Ross Carter’s translation, of the verse quoted at the head of this post. He translates:
Others do not realize
“We here are struggling.”
Those who realize this – for them
Are quarrels therefore quelled.
– Verse 6, Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha, translated by Ross Carter and Ahinda Palihawadana .
Personally, I think Gil Fronsdal’s is the more accurate translation, but I love the point that this one makes: If there’s an argument, the other person might not realize that you and they are both in a struggle, each with yourself.