Friday, February 6, 2015

LIFE AS IT IS---THE ONLY TEACHER

Most people are asleep---a deep, psychic sleep in which they do not know the difference between living mindfully and living mindlessly. 

The American spiritual psychologist Vernon Howard [pictured left] wrote, ‘Regardless of exterior appearances, the vast majority of human beings dwell in a state of inner sleep.’ How right he is!

Do you think you are awake? Of course, you do. Well, let me ask you this simple question? When was the last time you drove your car from A to B, and when you got to B you did not recall travelling along this street or that street even though you did travel along those streets? Was it today? Was it yesterday? I bet it wasn't too long ago. You know, if you had driven a bit more mindlessly you might have had a collision. And what about the others on the road---including me---how mindful are they? I suspect that most would be pretty much like you---and me.

Here are some wonderful lines:

Caught in a dream of self---only suffering.
Holding to self-centered thoughts---exactly the dream.
Each moment, life as it is---the only teacher.
Being just this moment---compassion's way.

I have read that the these Four Practice Principles, which are recited at the Ordinary Mind Zen School, were formulated by Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck and written by her student Alan Kaprow. The Four Practice Principles are a restatement of the Four Noble Truths, a basic teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha. (The Four Noble Truths are the Unsatisfactoriness [or Suffering] of Existence, the Cause of Unsatisfactoriness, an End to Unsatisfactoriness, and a Way to the End of Unsatisfactoriness.) 

What does it mean to be caught in a self-centered dream? Well, it’s more than being selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed, and self-obsessed---not that they are minor things. To be caught in a self-centered dream is to be trapped in the illusion of self---false self, lost of them in fact. There is the angry false self (‘I am angry’), the jealous false self (‘I am jealous’), the fearful false self (‘I am fearful’), the unworthy self (‘I am a miserable sinner’), and so on. These selves (actually, hundreds and hundreds of 'psychological "I's" and "me's"' that collectively manifest as our ego-consciousness) are called false because they are not the real person each one of us is, but we mistakenly believe that one or more of these false selves---which are nothing more than self-images in our mind---are the real person that we are. These false selves are illusory, not because they do not exist (for they do exist), but because they have no separate, distinct, permanent identity from the person that we are, the latter being a mind-body complex that is ontologically real (the 'physical "I"'). False selves take many different forms in our mind including beliefs, misbeliefs, opinions, views, assumptions, likes, dislikes, prejudices, biases, predilections, preferences, attachments, aversions, cravings. All this stuff is the result of conditioning or mind-training as well as the effects of memory and habit.

When you hear yourself say, ‘I am angry [or jealous, or fearful, or whatever],’ pull yourself up. Is that your real name? Is there a name on your lapel that says that your first or last name is ‘Angry’ [or ‘Jealous’, or ‘Fearful’, or ‘Unworthy’, or whatever]? Of course, there isn’t. Well, stop acting as if that were the case.

I teach and use in my counselling work what is known as ‘self illusion therapy’ for a couple of reasons. 

First, it works, that is, it helps people to let go of, and even dissolve, their illusory false selves that have made their lives miserable. (It certainly worked for me many years ago when I was trapped in the illusion of a chemically altered false self which had manifested in my life as alcoholism.) 

Secondly, I am firmly of the view that most of our emotional and psychological problems are the result of our mistakenly believing that our false selves are the real person each of us is. Self is the problem and, as William Temple pointed out, ‘no effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own endeavour.’ You see, the self that wants to get rid of the self that is causing problems in our life is the same self as the one causing the problems. Self cannot change self. That is why we need to rely upon a power-not-oneself. The person that you are---a person among persons---is ontologically real. Self can’t change. It has no power in and of itself in any event. However, the person that you are can change, if you want change very much, and are prepared to go to any length to effect change. And where does the power to change come from if it doesn't come from one's negative, conditioned ego-self? Real power is this---the absence of false power (the ego-self/false selves).

Suffering---unsatisfactoriness in many different forms---is the natural and inevitable consequence of being trapped in the illusion of self (a ‘dream of self’). The suffering will continue for so long as we hold on to our self-centered thoughts---that is, for so long as we continue in our psychic egocentric sleep. But the good news is that there is an answer. Yes, there is a way out.

What is the answer? Is it some person, some god or god-like figure who will step in and change everything for me? Well, there are some who assert that is the way out, but I beg to differ. One of the many things I like about Buddhism is that it says, ‘Only you, the person that you are, can get yourself out of the mess you have created for yourself.’

Change begins when we practice mindful self-observation. Observe your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. What are they telling you? Look at them dispassionately and objectively. You will soon discover your false selves. Just watch them---choicelessly, non-judgmentally. Don’t resist them or try to expel them directly or forcibly. Let them be---and then let them go. 

Life---which is the moment-to-moment unfolding of life’s self-expression (things-as-they-really-are)—is the only teacher. Your life is your teacher---and you, the person that you are, is the pupil. You need no other teacher or guru or saviour. You don’t need a new set of beliefs. Why do you think you need to believe? Do you want more trouble in your life? Come now. You only need to come to know and understand, and that’s where mindfulness and self-observation comes into play. When you watch and observe your false selves at work in your mind you will come to know and understand their true nature. Observe your 'angry self' as it really is---as anger. Ditto all other false selves. You need not be the victim of your own wrong thinking, beliefs, misbeliefs, and other self-defeating behaviour.

‘Being just this moment---compassion's way.’ If you get your mind of self---all those wretched selves to which I have referred---and begin to live mindfully from one moment to the next, your life will change in a most dramatic way. And you will wake up. It is the way of compassion and loving-kindness, but you must first show love and compassion to yourself---that is, the person that you are---by doing what is necessary to overcome your bondage to self.



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