Category Archives: Wise View

We like our facts rock solid, but how solid is rock?

Last week we looked at the wisdom of taking what we hear or hold dear with a grain of salt and looking for the kernel of truth in ideas we abhor. One of the phrases in the Buddha’s Karaniya Metta Sutta encourages us, among other things, not to hold to fixed views.

Are there no absolute truths then? There may be, I don’t know! But what I’m learning in my own experience is how joyful it is to be less attached to knowing everything. It doesn’t make me any less curious about the world, but the nature of my curiosity has shifted away from the desire to acquire knowledge to store up as a possession that I must then tend and defend as part of who I believe myself to be. Instead I have been practicing cultivating a spacious compassionate field of awareness, and to receive whatever information flows through it with friendliness — neither accepting it nor rejecting it. I can look at it with interest, follow the threads of it, and see how with other information of all kinds it weaves complex patterns that are more visible when they are held in spacious awareness so I can look at all sides. It’s all life revealing itself in wondrous ways! And there’s often a dharma lesson in there somewhere.

Without cultivating spaciousness I can’t look at all sides of anything because I am holding on so tightly that it becomes an entangled knot. I remember many years ago I was on a beach after a storm and there was a huge clump of tangled kelp, and I thought ‘that’s how the mind is without meditation: unapproachable, tight, dark, many aspects completely hidden.’ I could see how daunting it must be to consider meditating. But really, how wonderful to have the capacity within ourselves to soften and lighten the tight knotted loads we are carrying!

rock-solid.jpgThis holding lightly may feel a bit unnerving at first. We like our facts rock solid. So okay, let’s look at rocks for a moment. I met a rock up close and personal some years back: I fell on a granite outcropping while hiking in the Sierra. My temporarily bruised and bloodied face retains the memory of that surface. Rock is hard. That’s the truth from my own embodied experience. But is it the whole truth? Is it solid in the way we want our truths to be?

Just now I challenged myself to not take my own word for it. With a little research, I found lots of interesting facts about granite, including how on the accepted hardness scale, it’s harder than steel but I’m lucky I didn’t fall on an outcropping of diamond! Now that’s hard.

How hard is it? When I looked for the elements found in rock, oxygen was first on the list at 46%. How ‘rock solid’ is that? I also found a reminder that all matter, no matter how hard, is made up of atoms and molecules. Only one percent of the volume of an atom is mass, the rest is empty space. Then why does matter seem so solid? Apparently, the negatively charged electron clouds of the atoms repel each other if they get too close together, resulting in our perception of solidity.

Of course, given my preference to cultivate spaciousness, I attached quickly to that fact as confirmation of the rightness of what I am sharing. 😉 But it does seem that ‘rock solid’ isn’t quite so solid after all.

Speaking of hard surfaces, when we first try skating most of us cling to the side of the rink, afraid of falling. But it’s only when we let go and practice that we learn the joys of the experience. The whole point of skating is to stop clinging to the edge and engage in the activity itself. Could that also be the point of this earthly life? Who knows? But it can become a habit to keep clinging to the side, afraid to venture forth, telling ourselves all kinds of reasons why we’re not ready or the world’s not ready for us. If we can see those things we are telling ourselves with more compassion and clarity, we might recognize that while there may be some truth there, it is not the whole truth.

Can we stop clinging to the barrier we think is supporting us and float more freely and joyfully? Can we dance with all the patterns that are in a continuous ever-changing flow?

Maybe this is not a moment in your life when you want to be challenged. Maybe you want to be comforted. Me too! For me, what I am sharing is comforting, even though it may seem to be shaking the foundations of our long-held beliefs. Consider the possibility that if we are in such desperate need of comforting, the foundations we have been relying on may not be as supportive and comforting as we thought.

This is not to label anything we believe ‘false’ — just perhaps incomplete and in need of being held more spaciously so that we can see all of it. Our practice is to explore how we are in relationship to everything that arises in our experience — in fear or in friendliness? In that spirit, our inquiry may reveal some inconsistencies that we can consider, but it will probably also reveal some beauty that we hadn’t seen before. Things that we may have been doing by rote or tradition may suddenly take on a new vibrancy.

There may also be a sense of relief, because if there are long-ignored inconsistencies, they were present in our minds, and it took a lot of energy to suppress them. What if we could be free of the nagging feeling of being at odds with something we hold dear? What if we could relax and use that energy more productively by actually looking at what we believe in a more compassionate and spacious way? Can we live in relationship to ourselves and others with moment to moment awareness and deepening compassion?

What have you been telling yourself lately?

We all have phrases we tell ourselves to put things into perspective. ‘This too shall pass’, for example. These words realign us with our understanding of the world and how things are.

Pause for a moment to think of one or more phrases that you tell yourself when you are in a funk. Maybe your inner Doris Day rises up and sings ‘Que sera, sera’ as mine does. Whatever inner advice come up, just notice.

If something came up for you, remember it, because we will do a little exercise to assure that this inner advice is helpful, effective and wise. But first, a little background.

We’ve been exploring over the past weeks the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. We’ve set wise intention, examined whether we are using wise effort, practiced wise concentration with which we have cultivated wise mindfulness — the ability to be present in the moment and hold what arises with compassion. (If you missed any of those, go to the bottom of the page and click on the left-side link to the previous post.

After meditation practice, we find that during our daily life, we can cultivate mindfulness as we do our chores, have conversations, go for walks, etc.. Thoughts freely come and go, but our practice of mindfulness — just feeling the earth under our feet as we walk, for example — keeps us present. And that sense of presence makes us more receptive to insights that may arise. These aha! moments are our own inner wisdom’s way of giving us guidance and perspective, helping us cultivate Wise View in our daily lives.

So how do you know if an aha! moment is revealing wisdom?

Here are some clues.

An insight is wise if it:

  • arises out of the practice of gently listening in to your own inherent wisdom.
  • makes you feel more connected to all beings and all of life, instead of isolated and in need of shoring up your identity, proving your worth.
  • helps you see the suffering you are creating through some habitual pattern of thought and behavior.
  • helps you soften your tight hold on what you love and your tight fist against what you hate.
  • helps you understand the nature of impermanence and how railing against it causes suffering.
  • helps you have compassion for someone beyond your immediate circle of friends and family.
  • takes you beyond resignation into an open embrace of this moment just the way it is.
  • makes you less reactive (as in knee-jerk) and more responsive (engaged in a wholesome way).
  • allows you to see that you are not your story.
  • puts things into perspective so that you see that one painful thing isn’t the only thing that is going on in this moment.
  • keeps you from comparing your insides to other people’s outsides.
  • inspires ethical behavior not because you might not get away with some action but because you feel connected and compassionate for all life.
  • makes you realize that you can be open and inquisitive about life, rather than being acquisitive, amassing information to shore up your sense of a self ‘in the know’.

I could go on, but you get the idea. At the very core of the Buddha’s teachings are three deep understandings: That there is no separate self; That everything is impermanent; That not accepting the truth of these first two causes suffering because we want things to stay as they are and grasp for and cling to things, relationships and experiences to build up our sense of being a (very special) isolated being.

If your aha! moments have given you such insights, then that’s your wise inner voice, your inherent awakened nature finally being given a chance to be heard. You cultivated the space, time and willingness to listen in. Congratulations!

Insights are often very simple, but just what we need to remember. They often come out of moments of difficulty when you are following a familiar pattern, but your increasing mindfulness lets you see it afresh. ‘Aha! Here I am aggravated at a stoplight, when really it’s just a reminder to pause and be present.’

Where I used to live, I had to drive by a hospital on the way to and from home. I couldn’t believe how many crazy drivers there were! Then I realized that on that stretch of road a higher percentage of drivers were dealing with a crisis, a dying loved one, a lack of sleep because of the birth of their new baby, or the receipt of the worst news of their lives. Suddenly my heart opened and I felt great compassion for everyone on the road.

It wasn’t too big a leap to extend that compassion to other roads and out on the freeway. There is a saying that everyone is carrying a great burden we know nothing about. If we live with that understanding, our harsh judgments and irritations fall away. We may wish they wouldn’t drive a two ton lethal machine when they are not fully present and able to do so, but we take it more as a reminder to ourselves not to do so, rather than blaming them for their temporary mindlessness. That’s compassion.

viewWalks in nature in silence — at a speed that allows us to really look, smell, feel and notice all that is present in the moment — is one of the most likely ways to come into Wise View. If we are finding it hard to deal with change, nature reminds us that all life is ever-changing, and yet the cycles continue on and on. Can we allow for the release of whatever in our lives needs letting go with the ease of a tree whose leaves drift off in the autumn wind?

All of our practice is really a way to quiet down enough to allow our inherent wisdom to be heard. We can hear wise words from others and appreciate the thought, but it’s only when we come to an insight in our own experience that we really wake up. I have heard countless dharma talks and read many wise books over the past decades, and they have been interesting and helpful in keeping me practicing. But moments of personal insight transform me and mark me indelibly.

So we practice with dedication and patience, not waiting so much as being open to the possibility of aha! moments arising out of the most mundane experiences.

One caveat: Of course, there are people who are delusional, whose ‘insights’ are not wise at all. How do we distinguish between them? A delusional insight will be harsh and demanding, will want some action right now and won’t take no for an answer. This is not inner wisdom but the supercharged fear-based pattern of destructive thought. We all have these needy fearful aspects, but if a person is so out of balance that some inner voice feels like a vengeful god talking, and the person feels they must do what they are told, then, that is a call for immediate help from a medical professional.

But for most of us, these inner aspects are simply annoying patterns of thought that sap us of joy, upset our sense of equanimity, cause us to be harsh in our judgments, quick to anger, restless, sluggish, anxious, self-doubting and depressed. This is the mind bouncing off the walls of causes and conditions of life without the help of a meditative practice. And this is exactly why we practice! Because our mind without meditation is like the worst party we ever attended. And we keep expecting someone more interesting to arrive and change the music, the lighting, the food and the conversation.

But we actually ARE the change we’ve been waiting for! Dedicating to a regular practice of meditation, even if for only ten minutes a day and a class once a week, can turn that inner party around very quickly. And one person being fully present can change the energy of any real gathering — even a family dynamic or a workplace dynamic that feels very locked in — just by being present and compassionate. If you are practicing meditation regularly, and you are awakening to the wisdom within, then don’t under-estimate your own power to radiate presence into a situation, and cause a softening, warming effect. Watch out for the temptation to be ‘powerful’ in the limited sense of having power ‘over’ someone. This is a loving power that is contagious when it arises. 

Wise View is usually not arrived at all of a piece. Instead it arises in incremental insights that come from dedicated practice, and the willingness to compassionately question the veracity of the ongoing thoughts that we have taken for truth for so long.

So look at that phrase you tell yourself to make you feel better and see if it is offering wisdom. If not, quiet down, be present and let your inner wisdom — that quiet, patient, loving voice — offer you its precious treasure.

Read more that I’ve taught over the years on Wise View:

https://stephanienoble.com/2009/01/14/eightfold-path-right-view/

https://stephanienoble.com/2011/02/04/eightfold-path-spacious-view/

https://stephanienoble.com/2013/09/08/wise-view-seeing-what-blinds-us-to-seeing-what-is/

https://stephanienoble.com/2015/02/01/what-does-wise-view-do-for-you/

https://stephanienoble.com/2015/02/08/how-to-find-wise-view/

https://stephanienoble.com/2012/09/23/the-buddhas-four-foundations-of-mindfulness-an-introduction/

 

How to Find Wise View

Continuing with the aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path called Wise View, we have established that it has value but how do we find it?


Wise View is not something we can track down. Instead we make ourselves available to it. We walk the path where Wise View is known to inhabit and trust that we will encounter it. The harder we seek it, the shyer it seems.


So why bother walking the path? If we aren’t on the path we can be sure we will never encounter Wise View. So we walk the Buddha’s Eightfold Path with our intention to be present and compassionate, and with effort that is easeful, natural and balanced. On the path we practice mindfulness, strengthening our ability to be present and compassionate, and we do concentration practices that help us to maintain mindfulness. We tread the path with mindfulness in our words, our actions and our livelihood.


None of this guarantees we will encounter Wise View, yet we stay on the path because it is pleasing in and of itself. We find that even when we encounter difficulty, we are better able to meet it without falling apart, better able to see what is necessary in the moment, and we have a more balanced perspective on things. In fact, in those moments of greatest difficulty Wise View often hovers very near, lending us strength, even if we don’t see it.


We are not hunters seeking Wise View. We carry no firearms to kill it or cages to capture it, so we know that any encounter will be fleeting. Some of us may believe Wise View is folklore, as unlikely to exist as the Loch Ness monster, Big Foot, a unicorn or a dragon. This assumption makes Wise View difficult to recognize when it appears.


If we are treading the path, finding joy in the moment and deepening our capacity for compassion for ourselves and all beings, even those who may have seemed undeserving; then we are cultivating the very environment in which Wise View lives. And perhaps it is alive and well within us, but we imagined it would look different, or didn’t believe it existed at all.


To create a conducive and inviting habitat for Wise View, take walks in nature in silence, sit with nature and honor it as your teacher. Go on longer retreats where silence is celebrated and the sangha supports you in your development of of all aspects of the Eightfold Path. Delve back into the First Foundation of Mindfulness to consider the nature of the body, of death, of the ephemeral quality of life, this energetic commingling and unfolding, this pattern of processes and systems, that we interpret as solid for purposes of having sufficient traction to develop volition and evolve consciousness. Look to the insights, the dhammas of the Buddha, especially the Five Aggregates that helps us see that we are not this body, this set of preferences, these thoughts and emotions; that we are not our volition, our will or our consciousness.

When we spend time considering all of this, we are definitely in the territory of Wise View. Don’t get too excited, but a sighting is increasingly likely.

What does Wise View do for you?

In our review of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path we come to Wise View.


You might fairly ask, ‘What is this ‘wise’ view and what makes it wise? Am I expected to be lock-step in line with some prefabricated view of things?’


Not at all. Wise View arises out of our own experience when we practice being present and compassionate as we go about our lives. The insight that arises quite naturally is just what we need at the time and is framed in just the way that really speaks to us, because it draws from the pantry of our own life experiences.


Of course, we can have a moment of recognition and clarity while reading or listening to a teacher or a poet. Their words may spark awareness and allow us to more ably identify the nature of the wisdom that is already within us, waiting to be noticed. But in a matter of minutes, hours or days we will most likely forget what the teacher or writer said.


When you have your own insights on a retreat, they stay with you. At the end of the retreat, you might want to take the time to write down the exact wording that can at some point in the future help you in a moment of confusion. But you will be very unlikely to ever forget the experience itself. These moments are like shining jewels, rare, unexpected and treasured.


Insights arise when we give ourselves time to quiet down, center in, preferably in a supportive environment where everyone shares the same intention or out in nature. But even though the insights are shaped in the way we best understand them, offered up from our own still voice within at exactly the time we need it, they unfailing fall into one of three universal understandings. Here’s a typical insight most meditators have on retreat:


Observing the mind at work, we see how thoughts, emotions and sensations pass through our experience, arising and falling away, often the same ones recurring again and again. We see that they are impermanent. Pleasant or unpleasant, misery or euphoria, this too shall pass. Aha!


Observing the impermanent and unreliable nature of these thoughts, emotions and sensations, we begin to understand that they are not us, that they are just what happens at the conflux of chemistry and conditions to the human mind. Just as water passes through river beds and ocean floors and clouds, so too do these mental formations and physical sensations arise and fall away. (Of course the river beds, ocean floors and clouds are also ‘just passing through’.) Aha!


Observing how we relate to our thoughts, emotions and sensations, how we cling to them or push them away, we see how we make ourselves unhappy, disappointed, miserable. Aha!


Can you see the three universal truths within those three insights? In the first we learned about the nature of impermanence, anicca. In the second we got a glimpse of the nature of no separate self, anatta. And in the third we came face to face with dukkha, how we cause suffering. As we have insights, it can be useful to recognize how they fall into these three truths. It provides a comforting confirmation that our practice is indeed fruitful, helping us to maintain wise effort.

So this is why we meditate, why we attend classes and retreats, why we create sangha, that wonderful community of practitioners and others who support us in our practice of meditation. We are not striving for better health or any of the things that turn out to be proven benefits of the practice, though we appreciate them. We give ourselves the gift of being present with compassion, so that we can see more clearly and have the vantage point of what the Buddha called Wise View.

Wise View — Seeing what blinds us to seeing what is

We continue working with the Cooking Pot Analogy, and like all analogies it works to a point, but don’t push it. When we come to Wise View, this is especially true. Yes the pot itself is a means of holding, and we ‘hold views’, so it seems appropriate. But in looking at the Eightfold Path, it’s important to remember that all of the parts are completely interconnected and work to support each other. This is certainly true with Wise View. Without the skillful practices of the others, we could not arrive at a Wise View. So for the purposes of our analogy, imagine this is a cast iron pot that is seasoned by its contents of Wise Mindfulness. Furthermore, remember that the pot, like all matter is not as solid as it seems, simply a pattern of atoms, etc. so don’t get attached!


Just as Wise View depends on mindfulness, intention and effort to be wise, we find it much easier to be fully mindful, exert Wise Effort and set Wise Intention when we practice Wise View.

But what is this Wise View? We all have our own way of looking at things, so where does anyone come off claiming that one particular view is the wise one?

Wise View in this case is not about opinions, but seeks clarity, an undistorted vision of reality ‘as it is.’ It incorporates an understanding of the nature of impermanence, Anicca, (as revealed by nature in the seasons as well as in the mirror — yikes!) and the concept of no separate self, Anatta, (revealed when we do inner exploration as we did with the Five Aggregates); and the understanding of how lack of understanding these two concepts causes suffering, Dukkha.

If you have been in class or following along on this blog over the past year of our exploration of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, this will sound familiar. If not, you might want to read more about Annica, Annata and Dukkha. And if this all seems a little too conceptual and you just want to meditate, don’t worry about it.

Coming to this Wise View is not something that can be transmitted just by talking about it. This is where the regular practice of meditation comes in. The more time we spend being fully present in this moment, anchored in physical sensation, the more clarity we get as to the nature of being. The more time we spend experiencing and observing the natural world, free from the frenzy of obligations and distractions, the more we understand the nature of impermanence and no separate self. The dharma reveals itself in this way.

Metta universal loving-kindness, is also a direct path to understanding, because when we open to the infinite nature of loving-kindness, we come to see the fallacy of the distinctions we thought kept us apart disappear. We might experience a sense of oneness of being, but this too is not some solid state but a sea of constant change, a whirl of ever-changing systems intrinsically combining and falling apart. When we feel ourselves to be separate, then we are tossed about on that sea. When we open to the true nature of experience, then we are alive in the movement itself. We are the sea.

I confess that this is all a lot easier to understand if you ever had the ‘jump-start’ of psychedelics. Many westerners came to the Buddha’s teachings, and other Eastern traditions, through this wondrous glimpse into the wholeness and lightness of being. The problem is that it’s not sustainable. You can’t stay high, and the body-mind cannot take much of that kind of chemical abuse. I never went to India or Southeast Asia like some of my contemporaries, seeking nirvana. I stayed home. But home happened to be the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco circa 1966. Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.

Each time I would drop LSD back in 1966, mid-high — no matter how wondrous it was — I would turn to my friend and say, ‘Remind me not to do this again.’ I would never recommend mind-altering drugs to anyone, ever. Especially when there is this dependable, healthy means to a sustainable ‘high’ — meditation.

That said, when it comes to Wise View, that little glimpse does take the ‘Huh?’ factor out of the mix. If you are in the huh? phase, do not despair. Your body thanks you for your wisdom in choosing the slower more natural course. Find spaciousness in the ‘I don’t know’ mind. That is premium Wise View.

Being where we are with what we’re thinking and feeling, noticing it, that is mindfulness at work. Questioning our assumptions, our previously unquestioned beliefs, is equally important. This is an ongoing practice, not just when we are beginning. We ask, ‘Is this true?’ and then ‘How do I know this is true?’ about all the thoughts that come up. This is not self-doubt where we second-guess everything and get entirely stuck, but instead a state of inquiry that allows us to delight in the mysteries of the human mind.

When we looked at the Five Aggregates, those aspects of experience that we tenaciously believe ourselves to be, we practiced this kind of questioning. Through that inquiry we came to understand the concept of no separate self. Maybe it didn’t sink in, maybe it never will, but at least the seed has been planted, the question is there. And as Ranier Maria Rilke is so famously quoted in his letter to a young poet, “try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is,to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you win then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.Read Rilke’s whole letter.

With regular mindfulness practice, especially spending time in complete silence on longer retreats, we can see our view opening and expanding. We might begin to see cracks in the limited view that we’ve held most of our lives, the one we bought into because it is convenient for managing the details of life to see ourselves as separate. When we come upon these cracks, we bring kindness to our exploration and the understanding that our misunderstanding does not reflect poorly on some separate being that is ‘me’, that must be shored up and protected at all costs. Instead we delight — yes delight — in discovery, in opening to the world with an “I don’t know’ mind, with the understanding that everything is not as it seems on the surface. That there is no way to EVER know everything, and it is not required or even desirable to carry the burden of answers.

What happens when we find ourselves able to access this Wise View? The world doesn’t become a blur of whirled cellular activity we get lost in. Not at all. We still operate much as we did, but the underlying shift is there for us to deepen our awe and lighten our suffering.

How is this idea of impermanence the least bit comforting? How can you relax into it? It has to work in tandem with no separate self, the understanding of all life as complex dance of process, not a collection of isolated objects traveling through empty space.

It’s like struggling to swim, giving up, lying on your back and realizing that the ocean supports you. We can float in this awareness of process and intrinsic beingness.

I leave you with one last analogy, a traditional one: Coming to Wise View is like a hen sitting on an egg. All the hen has to do is sit there. There is nothing she can do to hurry the process. The egg is taking care of all the internal growth that is needed, thanks to her being there, sitting.

So just sit! That’s the practice.