An ABC of Awareness Practice.
In a recent workshop, the Guide offered a startling observation that stopped the group in its tracks: “The Mentor’s job is not to make you feel better,” she pointed out. Really? Wow! It seemed a good idea to interrupt the conventional format of the Musings to explore the importance of that statement and its application to our practice.
Three years ago, we committed to stop feeling bad. This quote from Aldous Huxley summarizes why: ”Self reproach is painful; but the very pain is a reassuring proof that the self is still intact.” Feeling bad keeps the attention on an “I” at the center of the universe while obscuring the ability to see how we are conned into doing the unskillful things that self-hate can beat us up over. Feeling bad reinforces the very process of egocentricity that the spiritual practitioner is attempting to transcend.
“Feeling better” is the same process as “feeling bad,” it’s just the other side of the duality egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate uses to keep the “I” as the focus of the attention. When the “mentor” gives encouragement that condones conditioned behavior so that we “feel better” about what we “feel bad” about, it’s time to stop and take stock of who is in charge of our Awareness Practice. This is not to say that the “real” Mentor is not kind, helpful, encouraging, and unconditionally accepting of the human. But the Mentor seldom provides comfort in lieu of clarity.
The voice of the Mentor is the guide of a practice of Awareness, a tough and kindly advocate for the heart, a trustworthy friend willing to hold the line and give us information that will be most helpful to waking up. We recognize the attitude of mind with which we turn to the Mentor in these lines from the Way of Transformation.
The one, who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers refuge and comfort and encourages the old self to survive. Rather, they will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help one to risk oneself, so that they may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it.
Risking the “self” is not in the interest of the ego-survival system. And so the ego, masquerading as the “mentor,” directs the conversation to endlessly examining and reporting on the ego-process. The result of ego contemplating ego is that the karmic loop continues uninterrupted.
With conditioning at the helm, “practice” becomes: “I make a commitment to meditate daily. I am talked into not meditating. I don’t feel bad since that is no longer the thing to do. My R/L practice invites the person not meditating to talk about what’s going on for them. I report on how the voices do what they do to stop me from meditating. And then I feel comforted because the Mentor tells me I am doing my best.”
Suffering happens. Meditating does not.
Yes, we need to pay attention to how the voices do what they do. But once we see how the process of unconsciousness happens around a particular piece of content, the next step on the path to freedom is to practice bringing conscious awareness to the process. Awareness Practice is not just understanding karmic chemistry; it is alchemy—transforming karma into consciousness.
The practice tool to catalyze a change in consciousness is a change in behavior. Behavior changes require us to pay close attention, to expand awareness, to be very present so we can short circuit the conditioned reaction before it has a chance to unfold. It’s not so much the behavior change as the awareness being brought to changing the behavior that is the transformation.
For example, instead of focusing on the ways I am talked out of meditating, (what the ego-I would prefer to do!), there begins to be a focus on what needs to be done to ensure that I meditate. I begin to pursue how to make something work instead of being stuck in the analysis-paralysis of why it’s not working.
Conditioning’s focus is on what’s wrong, what’s not working, what’s not enough. When we are identified with conditioning, we see through the negative lens of ego-I and the world is reduced to a singularity of negativity. There’s no awareness of anything else. This is why the Buddha taught that “ignore-ance” is the root cause of suffering. Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate reduces “All” to “me.”
To escape the black hole of the dark room where awareness has collapsed to what’s wrong, we have to expand awareness. The practice phrase we have adopted to describe this process is Appreciative Inquiry. Turning attention to appreciation of what is allows us to do exactly that. Attention moves to the field of awareness and suddenly life is sky, warmth, breath, flowers, birds, trees, people…. We have access to gratitude, delight, compassion, acceptance, curiosity and insight.
If ego is chiming in at this point to say that appreciative inquiry is not different from “feeling better,” it behooves us to have the experience for ourselves. In this practice, we use appreciation in the same way we use acceptance. We point to an orientation of acknowledging what is without employing the conditioned dualistic process that divides what is into negative and positive, right and wrong, good and bad.
Appreciative inquiry is the expanded perspective that looks at the garden and sees and enjoys the flowers, the fruits, the butterflies and the weeds. There is awareness that weeding is only one aspect of gardening and an obsession with weeding misses the totality of a garden experience.*
You are the aperture through which the universe explores itself. --Alan Watts
Appreciative inquiry becomes the practice of expanding the aperture of awareness and being one with the experience of the joy of Intelligence knowing itself. A moment of presence allows for an alchemy of consciousness where a conditioned reaction can be transmuted to compassionate response.
So when Life offers difficult content to practice with, we can employ the ABC of Awareness Practice.
· Appreciative Inquiry – trade negative ego lenses for an appreciative, expansive, and open focus that leads to an inquiry of a
· Behavior change – that supports an authentic life response instead of perpetuating a conditioned behavior in discussion with the Mentor who offers
· Clarity not comfort – that we may be assisted in receiving the wisdom that allows us to transcend the karmic process of suffering.
*The garden reference is from a Zen story explored in I Don't Want To, I Don't Feel Like It, How Resistance Controls Your Life And What To Do About It, by Cheri Huber and Ashwini Narayanan.
For the next 48 hours, practice the ABC of Awareness Practice. Record and Listen to what arises.