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From the Guide - June 2013

I’ve long used “diagramming sentences” as an example of a way to see what we’re doing in awareness practice. In diagramming, one takes a sentence and breaks it down into its components--verbs, nouns, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. Through this process we learn that sentences can be arranged in all sorts of ways to communicate different messages. 

In a similar way we can deconstruct egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate, allowing us to see how it arranges and rearranges itself to remain in control of the “message” and, by extension, of a human incarnation. We can learn what is ego, identity, the illusion of a separate self, beliefs, assumptions, projection, personality, etc.

As a diagramming exercise, an often-used sentence is Gertrude Stein’s, “I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences,” a statement that captures perfectly the difficulty we can encounter in both diagramming sentences and deconstructing conditioned mind. Because it’s easy to get caught by karmic conditioning’s interpretation of the “message” and forget that what we’re doing is diagramming and deconstructing.

For instance, if I get distracted from the task at hand, I might easily get lured into a musing along the lines of, “I can think of a lot of things that are more exciting than diagramming sentences. I mean, exciting? Interesting maybe, probably helpful, but exciting seems a stretch. I wonder what her life was like if she thought diagramming sentences was the most exciting thing a person could do… Must not have had much of a love life….”

Similarly, if I lose sight of the task at hand in awareness practice, when I hear a sentence such as “waking up and ending suffering is something we each can do, but we must look honestly to see if it’s what we want to do,” it can be easy to have the possibility of deconstructing a huge piece of karmic conditioning lost in the scrambling of the message the voices are initiating. “Well, if I’m suffering does that mean I don’t want to end suffering? How is it my fault? I’m doing the best I can. Of course I want to end suffering; what kind of person wouldn’t want to end suffering? That can’t be right…”

The alternative? Take in the sentence. Hear the message as the message. Don’t fall for the “everything is about me” orientation of ego-identity. Trying to see “how this applies to me” is the quickest way to miss the point. See the message as something as simple and straightforward as “that’s a noun and that’s a verb.” In this way we have our best chance of making good use of helpful information.

In gasshō,