A Modern Zen Tale
A practitioner comes to Center where she practices. On her way inside, she notices that the umbrella in the garden, where visitors to the center sit between activities, is not in its usual place.
Entering the Hall, she notices the umbrella lying in a corner. “Why has it not been put up?” she wonders. “Perhaps they are short-staffed. Perhaps I can do it after class.”
When class is over, the practitioner picks up the umbrella and takes it outside. A monk walks up, bows and says, “It’s too windy to put up the umbrella.”
The practitioner bows in return and brings the umbrella in.
During meditation, the conversation starts!
“You violated a basic guideline of practice! You made an assumption!”
“You should have asked whether or not assistance was required before you rushed out to be helpful!”
“How do you feel when someone assumes you didn’t do your task and tries to do it for you?”
“Why do you always project that someone needs your help?”
“Why do you have to fix everything you see?"
“So helpful! So NOT!”
“You might just have insulted the monk whose job it is to put up the umbrella.”
“Ugh, everyone will see that you can’t keep the privileged environment. After so many years of practice!”
Fortunately, the practitioner had given up “feeling bad” and could see these “accusations” as the voices of self-hate. In coming back to the breath, and redirecting attention to “I choose Unconditional Love,” there was a moment of clarity. The still small voice kindly said, “Next time, ask first.”
The way out is to become more conscious. What does it mean, “to become more conscious”? To begin with, becoming more conscious means to start looking for the truth for ourselves, instead of blindly allowing ourselves to be programmed, whether from without or by an inner voice within the mind, which seeks to diminish and invalidate, focusing on all that is weak and helpless. To get out of it, we have to accept the responsibility that we have bought into the negativity and have been willing to believe it. The way out of this, then, is to start questioning everything.
-- David Hawkins
When we “come to” after being unconscious, we are in a moment of pure awareness, a moment when Life has access to us. If we stay present in this moment, an insight might drop in that assists in untying a karmic knot of suffering. Life might offer helpful information, as it did to the practitioner in our modern Zen tale: “Next time, ask first.”
A practice of inquiry and pure attention
Guidance always points to where to look. As Awareness Practitioners, engaging in a process of inquiry about what is suggested in guidance or through an “insight” is always a good step. The practitioner at Center took Life’s recommendation to heart. “Ok. I am to ask first… How am I going to remember that and keep it in awareness? Perhaps a recording I listen to daily in the morning? Wait a minute! What actually happens between noticing something and acting on it in order to be 'helpful'? What am I listening to when I decide to fix something? Do I actually know? Let me watch that process and map it….”
Attention and awareness are recruited to watch how “unconscious” happens to implement a behavior change of “asking before acting.”
And then what?
How can you go unconscious when you are paying such close attention?
We say a change in behavior results in a change in consciousness. It’s important to understand that first there’s an insight that signals a change in consciousness. If we are to maintain that change in consciousness, we must have a change in behavior. It requires immense awareness to practice any change in behavior. It’s because we are paying such close attention that we get to observe karma unfolding and can then practice making a different choice (asking before acting!)
An insight suggests a behavior change (ask first!)
that requires increased awareness to implement
that leads to a greater ability to stay present enough not to act out of unconsciousness
that then leads to a transformation of consciousness, not just a flash of insight but a different orientation
from which we’re not doing “the thing” that causes us to suffer….
….another one of those clever Zen ways of outwitting conditioned mind!
A practice of lovingkindness
When committing to a behavior change, the most important ancillary practice is “not to feel bad” when we do go unconscious and repeat a karmic pattern.
“Not feeling bad” means we do not INDULGE self-hate when we fail to do something we committed to do. We don’t listen to or believe what the voices are saying about “what’s wrong with ‘me.’” We also don’t REPORT on what the voices of self-hate are doing or saying when we have a chance to look at our process. As Fenelon famously said, “Self-reproach is painful, but it is reassuring proof the self is alive.”
As long as we are giving attention to anything that reinforces the “illusion of a self,” especially an ego “self” that is deeply flawed, who can’t be “fixed” and must be “improved,” we’re not doing spiritual practice! For what is spiritual practice if it’s not the journey to seeing ourselves as the Intelligence That Animates all? Attending to self-hate simply reinforces what we’re not and perpetuates a “false” seeing.
A practice of constant devotion
“Feeling bad” does not help us make a different choice. It focuses attention on “me” and what’s wrong with “me” as ego’s way to DEFLECT the attention from recognizing the “self” being talked to by self-hate is not Authenticity. When we hear...
“Again?” “How could you?” “You should be ashamed of yourself!” ”When are you ever going to learn?” “What kind of a spiritual practitioner are you?” “You might as well quit.”
… we cannot then indulge
“What’s wrong with me that I can’t keep a commitment?”
“Why can’t I be like John who is my age and twice as fit?”
“Am I ever going to get it right?”
“Gosh, it’s always my fault!”
In this exchange, “you” is a voice of self-hate and “I” is the self that’s hated. We call it a “conversation in conditioned mind” because ego talks to ego. We have to realize that in this ego-to-ego equation, there is attention but no Authenticity.
Therefore, the behavior change is simply to redirect ATTENTION, to not focus on the “flawed self” in question. This is precisely what the karmic program doesn’t want us to do. As long as ego can get us to believe we are it, then we are not aware of ourselves as Awareness. In fact, each time we indulge self-hate, the groove of the identification with the ego deepens, and the ability to experience ourselves as conscious compassionate awareness attenuates. We are feeding the process that obscures our Buddha Nature.
More eloquently articulated by Aldous Huxley:
So long as attention is fixed on the delinquent ego, it cannot be fixed upon God and the ego (which lives upon attention and dies only when that sustenance is withheld) cannot be dissolved in the divine Light.
A practice of ever-expanding faith
“Not Feeling Bad” does not mean we have license to go unconscious. It’s the first step in a practice process. When we come to after being unconscious, the practice suggestion is to direct attention to
- gratitude for having come to,
- compassion for the human caught in suffering,
- acceptance of how things are
- choosing Unconditional Love.
By choosing the attributes of Authenticity to attend to, we reinforce our direct experience of being conscious compassionate awareness. The aperture of awareness that self-hate is attempting to close stays open, allowing Life to continue its journey of awakening.
If I am suffering, I am choosing something over ending suffering.
When we can receive this teaching without feeling responsible, defensive, or ashamed, we can celebrate a win in the practice of “Not Feeling Bad.” It means that we are not identified with the egocentricity that presumes itself to be the architect of all experiences and the victim of all “bad” choices. Now we are able to see suffering as a process.
We are able to take in the message of the teaching: “Where is the attention? How is suffering being caused? What beliefs are you clinging to?” When we become aware of how our attention is hijacked and how awareness collapses, we can stop doing that and end suffering.
The next time you experience a beating, practice “Not Feeling Bad.” Turn attention to the karmic pattern that just happened and commit to mapping the process that resulted in feeling bad. Let life inform a behavior change that can interrupt the karmic pattern. Practice this behavior change. Don’t indulge the self-hate if you go unconscious. R/L what you notice about this practice of transformation.