Category Archives: Wise View

Are you defined by your yum, yuck or yawn?

(NOTE: We are exploring the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, a handy set of tools that help us recognize and end suffering in any situation. The first of the eight ‘tools’ or aspects that we’ve been looking at is Skillful View. Our view of existence is off-kilter if we think that everything can or should stay the same, and if we believe we are isolated instead of an integral part of the fabric of being. Because impermanence is so obvious in the changing of the seasons and in the mirror, I only ask that you look around and at least accept if not celebrate the ever-changing wonder if life.
Understanding the concept of ‘no separate self’ is more challenging, because everywhere we look we find cultural reinforcement of the belief that we are separate and in need of identity fortification. So to help us, I’ve brought in the Buddha’s Five Aggregates to delve deeper.)

In the last post we considered whether the answer to ‘Who am I?’ is this body we care for, enjoy, abuse and suffer. We saw how the body grows, ages, dies, and is subject to illness and injury. We recognized that on a cellular level the body is inseparable from the rest of the physical world. And we observed that, for the most part the body is beyond our control, as we had no say in most of its dimensions, coloration and distinctive features, and it operates independently of our will for the majority of its functions. Impermanent, not separate, and beyond our control in many ways.

These are what make us understand that the body doesn’t define us: changeable, inseparable and beyond our control. We apply this same kind of inquiry around these filters to the four other aggregates. All these teachings shine a light for you to look and see for yourself. Please don’t take my word for it, or even the Buddha’s. Discover for yourself if this is true.

Yum, yuck and yawn
Now we continue to the Second Aggregate that keeps us clinging to the painful belief that we are separate: Feeling tones, the way we experience things as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, what I like to call yum! yuck! or yawn.

We all have things we like and don’t like. Where we get in trouble is when we lock in those preferences and believe they define us. What a depletion of enjoyment it would be to narrow down life’s experiences to only a predefined set of preferences that relies on our not being fully present to our senses in each moment.

Let’s use chocolate as an example. Look at the difference between tasting a piece of chocolate with a fresh palate, really experiencing the flavors, and claiming “I’m a chocolate lover (or a chocoholic) so I love this.” Caught up in assumptions and beliefs, we activate the craving and maybe gobble it up without tasting it at all. Do we even like chocolate in this moment? How would we know? All our thoughts and emotions are abuzz and entangled in ideas of identity.
As a person who has long identified with being a ‘chocoholic’ and bonding with friends over that belief, I can attest to the fact that, if I am truly in the moment tasting in a meditative way, the sensations of eating chocolate are not as satisfying as I believe them to be. Oh no, who am I without my chocolate? There’s almost a sense of betrayal to my tribe of chocolate lovers.

Now let’s expand our exploration into other preferences and how we define ourselves by them. How about a sports team? Our local basketball team is almost all new players and one of the team’s shining stars has an injury so won’t be able to play this season. Yet fans will continue to follow and root for their team, wear their jerseys and wave their banners. Why? Because that team brand is part of how they identify themselves as part of a particular tribe. Automatic acceptance and connection.

Then there’s political affiliation. This is not simply a logically thought out set of ideas and then finding politicians to go carry them out, is it? No, this is deeply rooted loyalty. When I was in elementary school, enjoying the easy camaraderie of my classmates, I suddenly felt isolated because it was presidential election season and all the kids sang “I like Ike!” while my mother was devotedly working for Adlai Stevenson. My sense of self was more strongly defined by family and there was no way I would ever betray that by putting on an Ike button to fit in with my friends. I was too young to have any clue what either of the candidates planned to do if elected, yet my perceived identity forced me to take sides. Notice how much other-making comes out of preferences. It can be pretty toxic stuff!

RIght about now, you might be feeling like the Buddha’s asking you to chuck your choices in life, and that is not the case. All that is being asked is to be fully alive in this moment to recognize that our preferences are not who we are. In doing so we might actually be able to enjoy them more or engage in a more meaningful way. Because all we’ve been doing is narrowing our options for savoring life in the fear that without labels we will be lost.

When in fact we will be found! We find ourselves fully alive in this moment, able to appreciate all that arises, able to send lovingkindness to all beings without regard to their tribal affiliations. We can root for a team for the fun of the game, yet still care if a player on another team is hurt. We can seek solutions to challenges without making enemies of those who out of fear resist the changes we seek, or don’t see things as we do. In not making enemies we open to the possibility of real conversations and beneficial means.

I remember arriving late to my 20th high school reunion. My classmates were already seated at big round dinner tables, and the only seats left for us were with people I didn’t know. It turns out in high school they were kids I kept clear of — the ‘greasers’ with their hot rods, the girls with beehive hairdos and heavy makeup. Oh no! But guess what? Twenty years later they were just ordinary people like us, and we had a very pleasant time with them.

Defining ourselves by our preferences, we may feel loved when someone gives us what we like — they’ve been paying attention! – and conversely feel invisible if they give us something we would never choose for ourselves — OMG, they have no clue who we are. But maybe we’re the ones who haven’t been paying attention. After all, our preferences change throughout our lives, depending on what we are exposed to, what experiences we have had with them. There was a time our granddaughter was so excited to see broccoli on her plate she would sing a song about it. An ode to Bahkalee. Now she turns up her nose at it. Tastes change. 

One day in the mid 1970’s I was walking down the street wearing my favorite mini-skirt, when suddenly I felt naked! I could not take a step further. I had to go back home and change. One minute the fashion I had been wearing happily for a number of years was fine, and the next minute it was a total embarrassment!

For those who don’t change with industry-promoted fashions, there might be a certain smugness to having a personal sense of style. But this too can become a ‘taking ourselves to be our preference.’ That style so much defines us that we can’t let it go. There is nothing wrong with our preferences. We only get in trouble when we believe that our preferences define us.

How much trouble can a preference cause? My mother smoked for most of her life. Certainly she was addicted, but she once told me that if it were just a physical addiction she could have kicked the habit years before. What she couldn’t kick was her idea of herself as a smoker — how sophisticated she believed herself to be. If she quit smoking would she be as intellectual and cool? Well, she finally did quit and she was as cool and smart as she’d ever been. Unfortunately it was too late to save her from the emphysema that killed her. She paid a huge price, and all of us who loved her paid a huge price, for her belief that smoking defined her.

Our choice of cars is a powerful preference that for most of us has to correlate with our belief about who we are. I drive an electric car. Enough said! I am automatically putting out a statement about my core values. My daughter is making her statement with a monster truck you can hear coming from two blocks away. She wouldn’t be caught dead driving my car. I wouldn’t be caught dead driving her truck! These hunks of metal are very much tied into who we believe ourselves to be. Next time you see an ad for a car, notice how the message is geared toward your identity, or the identity of someone you perceive to be very different from you.

Which brings up whether our preferences are all that distinct and individual. In fact my mother’s belief that she was cool when smoking was suggested to her by those 1930’s black and white movies where smoking was almost a fine art. Our choice of fashions, cars, homes, etc. are only ever in part our own. We share them with the rest of our culture, or certain groups within our culture with whom we identify. So they are not uniquely us.

When we are so caught up in the belief that we are this preference, we suffer. If, for example, we are assigned a rental car that doesn’t match our personality, we might experience discomfort being seen in something that so ill suits us.

Because these preferences are impermanent, changeable, sometimes even fickle, how can they define us? Beyond that they are ungovernable, out of our control. Don’t believe me? Just try to be sexually attracted to someone you’re not. Just try to eat a food you find disgusting. Some of our preferences seem to be hardwired. Even though they may change, they seem to change on their own, not because we mandated the change. And when they change, we might feel uncomfortable, as if we’ve lost a bit of who we are. But if it is not within our control, how can a preference be who we are?

We have preferences galore, enough to keep all kinds of industries in business for many years to come. But is this the self we are seeking?
Impermanent, insubstantial and out of our control — hmm, probably not.

There is a great simile from the Buddha’s teachings of the Five Aggregates of a dog tied to a post. The post represents the Five Aggregates we take ourselves to be. When the dog walks, it can only walk circles around the post. We can’t wander beyond the edges of who we believe ourselves to be. We are chained to these beliefs just as that dog is tied to the post.

The Pali Canon, the recorded teachings of the Buddha, quotes him as saying that to define yourself in any way is to limit yourself, and that the question, “What am I?” is best ignored.

Notice for yourself over the coming week the degree to which you believe your preferences define you. To the degree that they define you, they confine you! We are not trying to erase preferences. We just let go of the idea that they are us.

Come fully into the moment; be present with the fleeting nature of whatever is happening. With awareness, you might free yourself from the tight leash of the belief that you are your body or your preferences. How does that feel?

Image by Jill Wellington

Who are you?

“As I look more deeply, I can see that in a former life I was a cloud. And I was a rock. This is not poetry: It is science. This is not a question of belief in reincarnation. This is the history of life on earth.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

As we explore the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, we will take it at a leisurely pace, giving ourselves the opportunity to understand each aspect. Within each aspect, there may be a need to review and reflect on other teachings of the Buddha that help us become skillful in that aspect. We might not do this with every aspect, but certainly in this first one, Skillful View, we will. Because how can we become skillful in how we look at things if we haven’t had the opportunity to really look at things? That’s exactly what the Buddha challenges us to do.

We begin by looking at the very heart of his teachings, the Three Marks or Characteristics of Existence to see where we cling to unfounded habituated patterns of thought, causing us to have skewed views of the world we inhabit and ourselves.

THREE MARKS or CHARACTERISTICS

  • All things are impermanent.
  • There is no separate self.
  • Not understanding those two causes suffering.

Okay, let’s take them one at a time:
Impermanence: We may be in the habit of railing against it yet it’s not all that difficult to see that it is the nature of things. Right now in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s autumn: leaves fall off the trees, there’s a chill in the air. Further evidence of impermanence: On my calendar is a memorial service for an old friend, and in my inbox is an email of the latest school photo of our nine-year-old granddaughter that gives a strong indication of her teenage face. It seems just yesterday I was holding her in my arms, whispering welcome to the world. How easy it would be to rail at the passage of time and the impermanence of life. But it doesn’t make my life easier, does it? And it doesn’t make time stop. In fact, it makes my life much more difficult when I either cling to the past or wish away a challenging present in the rush toward a possibly more promising future. Noting and accepting impermanence can lead to appreciating it, finding the wonder of this moment just as it is. Over and over again.

Where in your life might you be wrestling with the nature of impermanence? Can you be compassionate with yourself as you explore the veracity of any untenable position? After all, if no one died, no one would be born. The amazing cyclical natural system would be broken. If nothing changed, there would be no cause for awe and wonder. And without the nature of impermanence and the cycles of nature, we would all starve. You get the idea. It’s not an alien concept.

The third Mark, how we suffer, is not all that hard to see in our lives and the lives of others if we pause to pay attention. Since I wrote about it recently, I won’t go into in-depth here but you are welcome to review.

No Separate Self can be more challenging to understand. But it’s also the one with the greatest sense of reward. Pure joy arises from that deep understanding. So hang in there.

Our habit of mind is to view this body-mind, this thinking-feeling-skin-sac we call ‘I’ and ‘me’ as a singular being. But is it? For practical purposes of managing our lives and our responsibilities in modern life, this way of thinking has its uses. No one is suggesting you toss out your passport, drivers’ license, etc. and erase this identity built up around your name, date of birth, etc. The system’s all set up to support it. It’s a convenience. But that doesn’t mean we have to vest our identity into it hook, line and sinker. It’s much better if we don’t! If we can hold it all more lightly, with appreciation for its benefits, we can access a deeper understanding of the true nature of being.

A couple of posts ago, I offered this scientific explanation of ‘no separate self’:

“All matter, whether it’s solid, liquid or gas, is made up of atoms. We might imagine matter as made up of microscopic versions of children’s plastic building blocks, because, thanks to electrons, atoms bond together into molecules, just the way the little holes and plugs of the blocks allow them to connect. So I’m made up of atoms, as is the air I breathe, the solid, liquid and gas all around me, and every being of every species. All atoms all the time, all interconnected, all coming together and falling apart, in an ever-changing state of being. So there are no edges to being. There is fundamentally no separate self.”

Understanding the science doesn’t automatically make us feel that it is true. Our habit of mind is strongly in favor of the separate-self version of being. But how is that working for us? Look around! We humans are incessantly ‘other-making’ in our relationships with each other, the earth and all life. We get stuck in an alienated mode of misery that doesn’t serve us, angry and hurting.

To help us understand ‘no separate self’ on a deeper level, we practice quieting down and being fully present, softening our habitual need to fortify our identity as ‘me’ and ‘I’. The Buddha knew this part is challenging, but he also knew that these teachings lead to the end of suffering, so he persevered. And we will too, as we look at the Five Aggregates that help us understand the idea of ‘no separate self’, and thus, in incremental doses, help us cultivate Wise View. 

The first of the Five Aggregates: Body

We ask the simple question, a child’s question really, but also the question that forms the foundation of many philosophical discussions throughout the ages: Who am I?

Pause for a moment, close your eyes, sense into physical sensation, and ask it again, as if for the first time. ‘Who am I?’ You might say it over and over like a mantra that goes deeper and deeper.

Where is this solid, dependable sense of self that you call ‘I’ and ‘me’?

The first thing that might suggest itself is this physical body, this material form. This is me. This is who I am, or at least it is part of who I am.

Is this true? What are the edges of the self-defined by this body? Is it the skin that is so porous, letting in and out moisture all day long? That very skin sheds itself constantly. Is it still ‘me’ when it’s dust being vacuumed up off the floor and carpet?

What about the breath? Is it ‘me’ when it is in my lungs, but then no longer ‘me’ when it has been exhaled?

The cells in the body are totally different than the ones that were here seven years ago. This seemingly permanent body is neither solid nor separate from the rest of life.

The Buddha said, “This body is not mine or anyone else’s. It has arisen from past causes and conditions…” This body we see as so separate and so intrinsic to our identity is an intrinsic part of the pattern of life ever-changing and evolving. So getting caught up in labeling it and claiming it, feeling pride or shame in it is just another habituated pattern that entangles us. How liberating it can be to recognize that this body in whatever shape or shade it is, is simply the fleeting opportunity to experience life in human form. Can we appreciate the benefits of being embodied — mobility, sensations, etc. — without attachment? Can we take good care of this wondrous temporal vessel of being without wishing it to be other than it is?

Spend some time noticing your own experience of being embodied. After meditating, do some self-inquiry around the body and the way you think of it. Pay attention throughout the day for clues in your thoughts, words and deeds that reveal your perceptions. Ask “Is this true?” Let the automatic answers arise and be acknowledged, but leave room for the quiet wisdom with nothing to fear and nothing to prove also have a say.

Artwork by Gordon Onslow Ford, Lunar Wind, 1962, Parles paint on canvas (Gordon was a friend of my parents and I sure wish I still had the beautiful piece they had of his!)



The joy of seeing clearly | Buddha’s ‘Skillful View’

When my mother was fifteen years old, she got her first pair of glasses. She was, it turned out, very near-sighted. Leaving the optometrist’s office, she walked down the street and discovered that trees had individual leaves on their branches! How exciting it was for her to suddenly see details that hadn’t been part of her world view. She hadn’t realized she wasn’t seeing well. She hadn’t been aware of all the adaptations and compensations she had to make to get along. She assumed her view was accurate. Until suddenly she could see!

That’s what we all do with the way we view the world, not just with our eyes but through our habituated lenses of perception. We tend not to question our view of things, automatically filtering out any conflicting information. We may feel attached to our view, believing it to be an intrinsic part of who we are. On top of that is the fear that softening our fierce attachment to our view might put us on the outs with the community we were born into or the one we have chosen. (We feel this way even though clear-seeing is not leaping from one set of beliefs to an opposite set, but seeing the complex web of fear-based patterns that prompt them all.) From inside a myopic world view, It feels much safer to stick rigidly and unquestioningly to the familiar discomfort of inner conflict, no matter what.

So along comes Buddha, who right out of the gate (or out from under the Bodhi tree where he attained enlightenment) challenged our view of ourselves and the world. Such nerve!

But maybe we could be inspired by my mother’s thrill of discovery as she walked down that street, seeing things anew. She didn’t toss her new glasses in the nearest trash bin and revert to the questionable comfort of the world she knew. Can we open to the possibility that we could polish up our perception and find joy in the process?

Skillful View is one aspect of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path that helps us liberate ourselves from suffering. We explore it first, because developing the skill of clear perception — and noticing what clouds that perception — enables us to see the other seven aspects of the Eightfold Path more clearly.

Without skillful view, we become mindlessly entangled in greed, aversion and delusion, driven by the fear of not having enough, not being enough, finding fault with ourselves and/or others, having something to prove, having strong opinions about the way the world is that has no room for equivocation.

So who is the Buddha to tell us how to see? Exactly what the Buddha would encourage you to ask! He always told students not take his word for it, but to investigate for themselves.

Fortunately for us, his own deep practice and investigation provide the tools for us to explore, because his brain just worked that way. He was really good at organizing the insights he had. So when you have an insight, you can see where it fits into the overall teachings. That’s what drew me to Buddhism. When I began studying it, I had already been meditating extensively, investigating, having insights, writing them down and, when asked, sharing them. I arrived at Spirit Rock with a meditation group and felt I had come home. Home to the natural beauty of the place, home to the community’s open acceptance of me and my individual journey, wherever it might take me, and home to the wise teachings of the Buddha, who had a scientific bent.

So it’s not surprising that when we come to his teachings on ‘wise’, ‘right’ or (as I’m choosing to call it in this series ‘skillful’) view, modern science supports what the Buddha taught.

If we understand the nature of matter, then we can more easily develop a skillful view of all that arises in our experience, especially our perception of ourselves.

The Buddha identified the causes of our suffering to be the Three Poisons of greed, aversion and delusion. [Read previous posts for review]

The Three Poisons grow from these unskillful views:

  1. We think this being we call ‘I’ and ‘me’ is separate and alone.
    While there may be those for whom a little individuation would be healthy, for most of us what clouds our view is the belief that our bodies and minds operate in isolation. We label things ‘mine’, defend them and want more and more, in order to build and reinforce this separate self for a sense of safety and for others to admire, love or fear.
  2. We react to our current experience by either wanting this pleasant situation to stay the same, or feeling like this unpleasant situation will never end.
  3. We can’t see, or we refuse to see, the suffering we are experiencing, caused by the first two.

Skillful View #1
Here’s the simple science: All matter, whether it’s solid, liquid or gas, is made up of atoms. We might imagine matter as made up of microscopic versions of children’s plastic building blocks, because, thanks to electrons, atoms bond together into molecules, just the way the little holes and plugs of the blocks allow them to connect. What an incredible system, right?

Okay, we get it. I’m made up of atoms and over there you’re made up of atoms and that table is made up of atoms. But it doesn’t stop there because that’s only acknowledging solid matter. Don’t forget the gas state atoms — the air we breathe, for example. There is nothing we can sense that is not atoms! We’re all made up of the same stuff and it is all connected. There are no edges to being!

Skillful View #2
These atoms are not static. There are ever-changing systems and networks of life interacting. Everything is changing all the time. Imagine you construct a whole town of plastic building blocks and then play time is over and you take it all apart and put it back in the toy box. What fun would it be if once you put your town together it was stuck that way forever?

You may think you don’t like change, but you wouldn’t exist without it! The world we live in is constantly coming together and falling apart in cycles of birth, growth, death, decay that nourishes new growth.

Why are these two views skillful?
If we can see that we are not separate and that everything is in a constant state of flux, that this is the natural way of all matter, then we are liberated from the exhausting business of shoring up a permanent separate fortress of self that must constantly be defended. We are liberated from the pain of dreading change, whether in the seasons, in the culture or in ourselves. We are alive in this moment, with deep appreciation for this incredible molecular dance of life!

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Who are you letting shape your reality?

One day Ron Finley put two and two together. He realized that while his home was in a food desert in South Central Los Angeles, he could plant vegetables in the parking strip to benefit the whole neighborhood. Neighbors started pitching in and the project expanded.

Imagine what a difference that must have made, not just in the physical health of all who now had access to fresh produce, but to their mental health, the feeling of community, and being empowered to create a more self-directed and meaningful life. What an inspiration he must be to all who saw what he had done, and how much of a difference one person with a simple idea can make in the world!

What did it take for Ron Finley to do what he did? What would it take for any of us to make a positive impact on our community? It takes wise view, wise intention and wise effort, and Ron Finley clearly had all three.

What is this wise view?
At one point a friend asked Ron if he wasn’t worried about people stealing what he’d grown, and he replied, “That’s why it’s in the street! I want them to take it!”
The two men clearly had different views of life. The friend, like so many of us, saw the world as a dangerous place where we must protect ourselves and our stuff from others who want to take what we have. But Ron Finley saw a community and an opportunity to bring health and joy. He says, “I manufacture my own reality.”

Most of us accept the reality manufactured for us. We are endlessly subjected to the self-limiting perception of the need to name and claim instead of expanding our sense of who we are — intrinsic interconnected aspects of life in a state of continuous flux. Everything we experience informs our understanding of reality, so our sense of reality is in a state of flux as well. That can feel unnerving if what we crave is something solid and unchanging. So we shut down, lock the doors and isolate ourselves in a protective shell. But this doesn’t protect us. It exacerbates our sense of emptiness, and the habit of craving, grasping and clinging — the very definition of suffering.

If we take a break from craving, grasping and clinging, we discover that we can find joy and share it in any situation. It takes a shift of view, but that shift is ours for the taking.

Our innate ability to make the best of whatever arises in life is not what most industries want for their potential customers. They are bent on making their products seem like the answer to our prayers. If only we had this new (fill in the blank) it would assuage our sense of emptiness and satisfy our cravings. Sure, sometimes a product makes life easier, but believing that it will meet our deepest needs is delusional. Believing that a different outfit, a new house, a different job, a perfect wedding, a different mate, a more ideal body — a different anything! — will fill the emptiness of our lives is accepting a manufactured reality that is inconsistent with the nature of joy.

Mine
The word ‘mine’ is one of the most undermining words in the English language. It creates barriers, tension, withholding, and misperception of the reality of our situation. It’s challenging because for most of us who live in developed countries, that may seem like the natural order: I, me, my, mine, and ‘he who dies with the most toys wins’. Caught up in the pattern of desire, there are never enough toys, and other people’s toys always manage to look shinier.

Wow, what a set up, right?  Look at what we as a culture have collectively created: A system that activates fear, craving, grasping and clinging, advertising that makes insidious use of psychology to activate fear, making people feel like they aren’t enough just as they are and that this product will make that feeling of emptiness go away.

Emptiness
Many of us at times experience a sense of ‘feeling empty inside’. Paired with depression or despair, emptiness doesn’t feel good. But what would happen if we embraced the emptiness? In Buddhism ’emptiness’ is not a painful vacuum, a sense of something missing from our lives. It is seeing clearly all that arises in our experience as ever-changing. Nothing is permanent. Nothing exists in isolation. Everything is made of all that went before and continues in an intricate relationship with all that exists in this moment in an ongoing dance of molecules interacting, coming together and falling apart and reconfiguring. There is no solidity.

Let me repeat: Nothing is solid here. This is the nature of life. Look around! If you’re thinking that the leaves falling off trees and the seasons changing don’t apply to you, then here are a few assignments: 

  • Look through your family album and observe all the changes, the new additions, the growth and the faces of loved ones no longer alive. 
  • When you vacuum, contemplate what you are vacuuming up. A lot of it is the detritus of your body — hair, particles of skin, etc.
  • When you clean out the lint filter of the dryer, consider that even your clothes are in a constant state of change, leaving a little fabric behind with each washing.

I could go on but you get the idea. If you are uncomfortable with these reminders of the transitory nature of life, then you are causing yourself unnecessary suffering. And yet you believe that you are avoiding suffering! You want things to stay the same, or you want a set of changes that you craft to match a perfect future you envision. If that future is shiny and you see yourself enshrined, it probably arises out of craving. If you achieve it you will be disappointed and set your sights on yet another shiny future, because that is the forward-leaning pattern you have created for yourself.

Wise view cultivates the kind of present that organically grows into a fulfilling future. If you are collaboratively creating a world full of respect, patience, kindness, compassion and joy, then you can relax about the future. It’s got good roots!

If however you can see that you are stuck in a world view manufactured to keep you craving and clinging, then congratulations on recognizing the pattern. Keep noticing for yourself how this cycle of suffering plays out, how the pattern of craving, grasping and clinging causes a sense of suffering. Know that you are not alone. And know that we didn’t invent the pattern. We inherited it and we are encouraged to keep suffering from it, while calling it the pursuit of happiness. But we can release it and discover how much more joyful it is to open to the beauty of the fluidity of all life.

This is much more fun than struggling to build a safe and impressive fortress of being in the shape of this person we so call ‘I’ and ‘me’ full of things we call ‘mine’. Why claim a little patch of life and call it ‘mine’ when in truth we are welcome to experience the whole garden?

Which brings us back to Ron Finley who planting vegetables in his parking strip, and to his friend who was stuck in a world of ‘mine’ and found Ron’s more expansive view alarming, worried that people would steal his vegetables. Here’s Ron’s TED Talk for you to enjoy:

Ron says, “I manufacture my own reality.” We can ask ourselves whose view of reality we are accepting unquestioned? If that view of reality is making us feel miserable, isolated and depressed, it’s not one that serves us very well, is it? We can wake up and live fully in each moment, alive, ever-changing and deeply interconnected.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear them. And if this speaks to you, please share!

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.