“I now see the emotional habits that one has as vipaka-kamma (result of kamma). If I accept whatever emotions come up, let them be in consciousness and then let them out, they will be liberated from their prison. I find this a skilful way of looking at it. Even after years of moral conduct and strict practice, it’s surprising what emotions still come into consciousness. But in terms of practice, whatever comes, you don’t make any problems out of it, you just recognise the opportunity to liberate this wretched creature, or this emotion, from its prison.” Emotional Habits, by Ajahn Sumedho
I am unsure whether one can ever deal with all the potentially reactive places within oneself. But I do believe that it is theoretically possible. Life will throw things at you; that is a given. What I am talking about are those knee-jerk reactions coming up from the depths of our subconscious.
I like this article because it is all about being skillful. If looking at a situation is not helpful, find a different perspective. There is no need to cling to a perspective that is destructive to anyone.
“[W]hatever comes, you don’t make any problems out of it, you just recognize the opportunity to liberate this wretched creature, or this emotion, from its prison.” This is the essence of drama-free living. Stuff will come up. So?
“Attempts at eliminating the mind’s main defilements — greed, hate and delusion — must fail as long as these defilements find refuge and support in the uncontrolled dim regions of the mind; as long as the close and complex tissue of those half-articulate thoughts and emotions forms the basic texture of mind into which just a few golden strands of noble and lucid thought are woven. But how are we to deal with that unwieldy, tangled mass? Usually we try to ignore it and to rely on the counteracting energies of our surface mind. But the only safe remedy is to face it — with mindfulness.” The Power of Mindfulness: An Inquiry into the Scope of Bare Attention and the Principal Sources of its Strength by Nyanaponika Thera
Facing the unpleasant is the only way to go. Let me give a recent example.
The other day, we got something in the mail from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Barry is on Disability, so I take anything they send us seriously.
I open it and the paper says that $661 has been applied to the amount owed them and now the amount owed them is $4994. I did not recall being overpaid by them. It would insinuate that they just pay us willy-nilly and only occasionally set their books right. I am depressed, but decide to go to the credit union to get them a money order. If they made an error, they will probably figure it out eventually and we will be repaid.
I drive to the credit union. I take a closer look before going in. Yup, the address is right. Wait. Who is DK? (I am using his initials.) The SSA needs to know that he does not live at our address. So I go there to resolve the issue. Of course, they weren’t open. How do I let them know? They sent an envelope for payment. I put their correspondence in that envelope, corrected (letting them know that the address is mine, not DK’s).
What if I had just said to myself, “Oh, I’m too overwhelmed to deal with this right now. I’ll just put it aside,”? I would have worried what it said. And we would probably start getting DK’s SSA mail regularly. DK’s credit might get ruined because of the assumption that he was receiving the mail and he was choosing to do nothing.
Things are not necessarily totally resolved. After all, why does the SSA think DK lives at our address that we’ve lived at for over a decade? But I’ve handled the responsibility as best I can, expeditiously and drama-free.
“Just before a new neural assembly forms, there’s a space of fertile emptiness, where structure
hasn’t yet congealed….So abiding increasingly in that fertile, generative space, in which neural assemblies take form, is a central process along the path of awakening. I think the people who are really far along in the practice are increasingly abiding in that territory. Thought is occurring, but they’re living more in that space of fertile freedom.” Mind Changing Brain Changing Mind
by Rick Hanson, The Dharma and Neuroscience
This sounds like the “fertile void” of all possibilities. Or it may be another way of conveying living in the right brain, not chasing after verbosity for a solid sense of self-existence. I think this is what “living in the silence” means.
Mettā Sutta verse 2, translation by Andrew Olendzki
“Content with little, easily maintained,
I like this description because it conveys a lack of intensity, a person getting things done with clarity and simplicity. If you don’t need much, you don’t have as much stuff to maintain. You can just be.
Women used to call this “puttering around the house.” There was a sense that this was okay. It implied slowly organizing things, gathering things and figuring out what to do with them. Most workplaces today would fire someone for puttering, even though puttering might give an employee the organizing and peace that the organization needs most.
Instead, workplaces reward appearing occupied, often even as the worker accomplishes little or spend their time online looking at porn. I love the bumper sticker that says, “Look busy. Jesus is coming.” It’s not about getting anything real done, just looking busy.
Many years ago, when I worked in retail, I knew a lady that got a lot done but was as slow as molasses. Watching her work made me fidgety. I wondered how she got anything done, but, at the end of the shift, she was always finished. When I observed more closely, I saw that she wasted no movement. She was careful and deliberate in everything. I also knew many others working in the same place that seemed very busy but got little done. I gained a lot of respect for her, but still could not observe her without getting antsy. Looks can be highly deceiving.
“[Brahmans] would talk about the human life being like a chariot. Consciousness was the driver. There was a charioteer, and that was your inner essential soul. The Buddha said, no, there is not that one driver, there’s only a chariot, made of different parts. We put it together. We think there’s a charioteer, but that doesn’t really serve us. In fact, it becomes destructive; it causes pain.” Wheels of Fire: The Buddha’s Radical Teaching on Process, By Kate Lila Wheeler, March 27, 2013, Insight Journal
One of the things I love about Buddhism is how it deconstructs everything. It breaks apart everything into its constituent pieces and looks at the pieces in terms of wholesome and unwholesome bits. It views even consciousness itself as arising and vanishing continuously, not as a continuing stream.
What that means is that we are continually creating every moment of our lives. This is radical personal responsibility. The narrative? We are making it all up as we go along. All of it. That continuing sense of self is a mind construct. Nothing more. To me, that seems honest.
Imagine being able to turn your attention to or from anything you wish. That’s a result of meditation. One learns how to turn off the unending mental diarrhea, which is called papanca. Papanca can mean “conceptual proliferation” (among other things, all being negative). What is the Buddhist solution? The Buddhist solution to all things negative is the same: abandon it. Don’t invest one more moment of energy or effort into something that has proven to be unwholesome. Make up something new and better.
“Kata karaṇīya: a person who has done what had to be done.”
Attributes of an Arahant, At Buddhistteachings.org
This definition is in the past tense. I haven’t been able to find a present-tense equivalent. I haven’t learned the difference between an arahant and a bodhisattva. The bodhisattva lives for the benefit of everyone else and sticks around for the enlightenment of all. That much I know.
With that said, if you are living for the ultimate benefit of others, wouldn’t a bodhisattva simply be doing “what had to be done”?
I love the idea of simply “doing what has to be done.” It is a drama-free expression of universal responsibility. In the business world, the term for it is “initiative.” My bosses love me because I simply do what needs to be done. When I understand management’s priorities, I can carry them out with no fanfare. I do one thing, then the next, etc. Omigosh, it’s lunchtime. Come back from lunch and continue until I run out of a resource: computer crashes, out of paper, no staples, time is gone, that kind of thing. I get a lot done because I keep busy with something productive. I am old enough to not be addicted to (or even truly care about) facebook.
Another aspect of what I like about “doing what needs to be done” is simply the independence of it. The person looks, sees what is to do, and does it. Period. No checking with authorities first, just taking responsibility. Only control-freak managers want to be consulted first. Most managers are more than happy to have an employee that does things without a direct order first. Most managers long for workers that don’t require constant supervision.
It’s like Nike says, “Just do it.”
“We are so prepared to surrender, to give up our own power. We have no idea how powerful we are. No sense of it. We’re endowed with an incredible mind, incredible potential, incredible strength, incredible determination. And we’re ready to give it up. There’s no other animal on the face of the earth that seems so willing to give up. Other animals will scuffle until they take care of the barrier or they’re crushed in the attempt.
“It’s that kind of determination that we need to settle the most difficult things we carry around with us. It’s no small thing, the things that we deal with–our demons, our barriers, our hesitancies, our fears, and our anger. Nobody is going to do it for us; nobody is capable of doing it for us. We must, of necessity, accomplish the barriers ourselves. When you really push “I can’t let go” to the edge and you finally do let go, the next time becomes that much easier. Each barrier you encounter is that much easier to deal with.” Can Do, Will Do, Done, Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori Roshi, True Dharma Eye, Case 143, Touzi’s Clarification of the Ancestor’s Intention
I know that I have given my power away to various people at various times. I have regretted it every single time. No exceptions. It is always easier to give away one’s power than to take responsibility for one’s life. Emotional regression is an ever-present temptation.
This quote reminds me of exceptionally creative and determined dogs and cats that perform astounding feats to get to their treats, go outside, or whatever their goal may be. And then there are ninja squirrels that get to the food in the birdfeeder. I, sadly, have not always exhibited such determination. I am always asking myself, “Is this worth it?” I don’t get many yesses.
“It is the daily little negligence in thoughts, words and deeds going on for many years of our life (and as the Buddha teaches, for many existences), that is chiefly responsible for the untidiness and confusion we find in our minds. This negligence creates the trouble and allows it to continue. Thus the old Buddhist teachers have said: ‘Negligence produces a lot of dirt. As in a house, so in the mind, only a very little dirt collects in a day or two, but if it goes on for many years, it will grow into a vast heap of refuse.’ The dark, untidy corners of the mind are the hideouts of our most dangerous enemies. From there they attack us unawares, and much too often succeed in defeating us. That twilight world peopled by frustrated desires and suppressed resentments, by vacillations, whims, and many other shadowy figures, forms a background from which upsurging passions — greed and lust, hatred and anger — may derive powerful support. Besides, the obscure and obscuring nature of that twilight region is the very element and mother-soil of the third and strongest of the three roots of evil (akusala mula), ignorance or delusion.”
The Power of Mindfulness: An Inquiry into the Scope of Bare Attention and the Principal Sources of its Strength by Nyanaponika Thera
I can attest to the truth of this. When I was going to school, working, and taking care of Barry, there were many things that I simply could not handle or deal with all at once with everything else. Then school ended, along with the accompanying work/studies, and now I am left only with Barry. The stress level declined and suddenly all sorts of unresolved issues rose to the surface.
One thing this article does not address is how the “vast heap of refuse” is like a beach ball in a swimming pool: remove the obstacles floating at the surface of the pool and it will surface, demanding to be dealt with now. When I started having physical symptoms, it didn’t totally “attack me unawares.” I was more like, “Oh crap. I guess I have to deal with this stuff now. Ugh.” To some degree, at least for me, it was predictable.
Another aspect the article does not address (probably due to monastic discipline) is how this mental lack of discipline manifests physically as outer disorder. Being a monk or nun does not allow for the squalor of emotional overwhelm that can envelop me at times.
My only real strategy has been to have less stuff to begin with. I see it as pointless to organize things I am unsure I want to keep. When I “organize,” mostly I purge. I can put things in their place, but why bother if I don’t see myself ever needing it again? When I want a fresh start, that will mean making space for something new, not containerizing things I won’t be taking with me to Virginia. What this means in practical terms is that I can see visually very clearly what needs to be dealt with. As my house empties out gradually, every unkempt corner screams out at me for attention. I’m glad I have the time and energy to deal with things now. I never realized before what a luxury that is.
“Internal conflict also inevitably follows from the thought that “I am the thinker” because when you define yourself, you limit yourself (SN 22:36).” From Insight Journal, September 29, 2012 full moon, The Arrows of Thinking
I have found this to be very true. It doesn’t matter what the label is: Christian, Buddhist, Michigander, married, white, female, etc. Taking on any label makes change harder than necessary. And, in this world, change is often not optional. The business and social worlds seem to be on an “adapt-or-die” trajectory.
I graduated high school in 1985. Madonna was a major musical figure. One of the things I found fascinating about her was her continuous reinvention of herself. She did not take on other people’s limits as her own. Coming from a small town, I sometimes envy that level of flexibility. Growing up, everyone thought they knew your business. I graduated high school with some of the same people I went to kindergarten with. Trying on different personae simply came off as phony. When I started going to LCC, it was wonderful to be surrounded by folks that had never heard of me. Anonymity can be a very good thing. I got to date outside of my inbred small town. Yea.
I am starting to see life as a series of transitions. Each transition is an opportunity to reevaluate what fits who I am now and to give away things that are still usable but are not part of my identity any longer.
Part of why I am leaning towards the Buddhist end of things is simply the doctrine of impermanence. The me of today bears little, if any, resemblance to the me of a decade ago. I see learning, growth, maturing, change, whatever you choose to call it, as normal, even desirable. It seems like most commitments are simply declarations of non-growth. “From this moment forward, I promise not to grow beyond the emotional, spiritual, or educational level of those in authority in this institution.” That’s how it feels to me. I saw myself regress as a Christian. I compromised my intellectual integrity to remain “true” to the faith. Taking on others’ limitations as my own so I can “belong” has produced sad and painful results.
What am I? Do I need to know? I am no longer even convinced that there is an essential “I” that remains unchanged over time. The idea of a soul or spirit is just that: an idea. How much of my emotional, spiritual, and intellectual independence am I willing to sacrifice for someone else’s idea? None.
“And it is important to remember that when we are not activated, our natural resting state is characterized by the Five C”s: Conscious, Calm, Contented, Caring, and Creative.” Rick Hanson, Mind Changing Brain Changing Mind, Insight Journal, Summer 2009
What activates us? Opportunities and threats, particularly threats due to evolution. Another aspect of the natural resting state is equanimity, one of my favorite concepts.
I don’t get triggered as often as I used to, but when I do, oh boy. I believe the reason the triggering is more painful than in the past is that I am going much deeper to extremely buried personal issues and collective consciousness issues. I believe the superficial stuff is individual; the deeper you go, the more archetypal and universally human the issues you run into.
The shame issue still gets triggered sometimes and I am always surprised at how deep it runs. It makes me think prior lives could be at work. I have a hard time believing that all the issues I deal with are purely leftovers from my specific childhood.
The mental default is the Five Cs. Why don’t we experience them as normal? First, there is parental training that oftentimes needs to be overcome. Second, there are religious emotional control methods that have worked spectacularly well over the millennia. Third, there is an entire advertising industry build upon the foundation of making us unhappy with what we already have. It is impossible to exert emotional control over someone with the Five Cs.