A very famous calligraphy artist and teacher had an unusual way of selecting new students. All aspiring to study with her were required to produce a copy of the title page of an ancient manuscript. On the appointed day, the students assembled in the courtyard of the school and presented their copies. The creativity on display was astonishing. One could see the original in each creation but there was something subtle or obvious in every work that suggested the style and personality of the creator. Students had played with color, texture, shape, size, meaning and medium to catch the teacher’s eye. The tension in the room was palpable as the teacher walked past each piece slowly shaking her head.
She finally selected one student that day.
His piece was an exact replica of the original. On a sheet of white papyrus, the manuscript title was etched word for word, stroke for stroke.
This story illustrates the practice principle behind the guideline against entertaining “better” ideas.
Principle: We are not here to create and cling to beliefs. We are here to pay attention!
One of the sayings in our practice is “How we do anything is how we do everything.” In paying attention to the process of how we do anything, we cultivate an understanding of our conditioned karmic orientation; we are introduced to directing the attention, the “how” of a practice of Awareness.
The guideline against better ideas provides a structure for us to practice seeing our “habitual approach.” It is an invitation to examine the possibility of being in relationship with Life in a different way – really present to what is arising as is, instead of a conditioned interpretation of it.
What is having these “better ideas” is, of course, egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate. As a process, it is always in opposition to what is arising in the moment. Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate is the “better idea” of how Life should or should not be and is therefore focused on what is wrong, what is missing, what is not enough. Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate is a process of desire – of want, lack and deprivation. We are trained to consult this process of suffering as the authority in our lives. We are deeply conditioned to believe it is “who” we are.
This guideline against “better ideas” points us in the direction of one of the most important shifts we make in spiritual practice, which is to give up the authority of ego-I and surrender to Life, to conscious compassionate awareness, as our compass. “Thy will be done,” no matter what, is the submission that sets us free.
The “I” that has been in charge does not sit on the sidelines and cede control. It is highly invested in remaining the authority in our lives. Any threat to its survival is strongly resisted.
Ego’s brilliant maintenance strategy is to recruit us as its defense attorney. Because we identify so strongly with the ego, because we believe it is “who” we are, we take it personally when it is challenged. We fight its battles, collude with it, protect it, hide it, and defend it.
The guideline against better ideas supports us in becoming an advocate from Life rather than ego-identity. As Aldous Huxley famously stated: “So long as the attention is fixed on the delinquent ego, it cannot be fixed on God, and the ego (which lives upon attention and dies only when that sustenance is withheld) cannot be dissolved in divine light.”
With the practice structure of no better ideas, we train ourselves to receive Life with curiosity, openness and the spirit of inquiry. We experience the inclusivity of Life to all ways of being. We practice true humility, opening to the possibility that there is a context for existence larger than the narrow perspective that “I” might have.
Someone described surrender as the peaceful submission to Life’s terms. Practice peaceful submission when ego wants to assert its better ideas. For 48 hours, see if you can notice ego’s attempts to defend its point of view, assert its will or maintain its position. Practice not going with the conditioned behavior. Record and Listen to what arises.
Practical Tip: Contrary to what the voices might say, not having better ideas does not mean that we turn into automatons that do whatever we are told. Not entertaining “better ideas” is an invitation to an active process of inquiry. The encouragement is to begin an exploration of how we cause ourselves to suffer and to drop that and end suffering. Practice this orientation of inquiry without indulging “ego-I’s” better ideas in your next guidance appointment, working meditation session, coaching call or group discussion.