Perhaps one of the hardest things to "get" about present and focused living is the mechanics of how it all works. This issue is so important that I’m starting a new book on the topic.
I’m thinking that the word "enlightenment" is overdone and mis-used, and has a ton of baggage connected to it, so I think I’ll use the word "clarity" for the process I’m going to be talking about.
The new book is going to use Zen stories as starters for each of the chapters. Here’s the first:
A guy named Harry is on a quest for enlightenment, or clarity. He tries everything. He goes to school. Nada. He becomes a life coach. More nada. He worships in the local shrine-of-choice. Mucho nada. Finally, he decides to climb a mountain in Nepal, to visit "His Holiness, Rama Dama Ding Dong."
It was an arduous trip. (Aren’t they always?) Finally, near death, Harry collapses on the ground near a steep path. He looks up, and an old man is walking down the path with a big bundle of firewood tied to his back. Harry says, "I’m looking for Rama."
"I am he," replies the guru.
"Oh, thank god!" Harry says. "I’ve been searching for so long. Please, tell me, what is clarity?"
The guru sets down the bundle of wood, and sighs deeply, and smiles.
In that instant, Harry found clarity. And then Harry’s mind got involved. He asked, "Please, pardon another question, but what happens after clarity?"
Rama picks up the bundle, places it on his back, and continues down the hill.
The problem with Zen, clarity and "the path" is that it is entirely too simple. It boils down to this:
One step, and one step,
and one step, until you die.
Now the problem most people make with this is this: once I "get" this stuff, my life is supposed to be one bliss-filled experience after another, right? Everyone will just look at me and know of my wisdom and centeredness. My relationships will work, I’ll always be healthy, and I’ll be…so…special! Right???"
The process is simple, if you let it be simple. Simple presence allows us to experience life moment by moment. This is emphatically not what most people do. Most people quickly drop out of the experience of now, by getting caught in a "thought loop."
Let me illustrate. That which occurs in our lives are each (as was the main focus of my last book This Endless Moment,) simple events, phenomenon, or stimuli. (You pick a name.) They are essentially meaningless. Now, you may want to rush in and say, "Hey! Stuff has meaning!" And you would be right. It just doesn’t mean anything until it involves a human being. Then, it means what the person (each person) makes it to mean.
This is the process of interpretation, or judgment. We all make them, all of the time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with our judgment process. In a sense, we’d be dead without it. It is, after all, what tells us not to pick up the glowing fireplace poker. A Zen teacher, Adyashanti, used this illustration (which I'm paraphrasing to match my usage regarding "clarity.")
"A poisonous snake crawls up a man’s arm. The non-clear person thinks, "Oh. My God!
A snake. I wonder if it will bite me. What should I do?" The snake bites him and he dies.
The clear person simply flicks off the snake."
I have judgments all the time. My instincts (which are informed by, but not dictated by, my judgments) are pretty good. When I act in accordance with my internal barometer, mostly, I am accurate.
Where the problems come in is when judgment occurs and instead of simple action, we, (like the snake bitten man,) stop, lose presence and go into our heads to universalize and awfulize. It’s "It will always be like this. This is a terrible situation, and terrible situations always happen to me. Why can’t I ever meet the right man? Why do bad things keep happening? I must be a bad person. No, I’m surrounded by bad people. Why do I attract bad people?" Snake bit. Dead.
Or, all of that internal chatter happens, and then we anger ourselves over the situation, or scare ourselves. So, we either attack or run away. But the process is the same. In order to do this, I have to go into my head, away from the present moment, and start chewing on the data. In the mean time, of course, the world has moved on, and the data might not even be relevant.
All discord comes from this odd little game. I receive a stimulus, I interpret it, I may also notice simultaneous emotions. In that moment, I have two choices,
- I can say, "Hmm. Here’s what appears to be up for me. I will act (speak, not act, report, share) in this way, thus staying present."
- I can immediately go non-present, and start playing back awfulized stories, which add to my personal drama (see definition, above.) This only accomplishes confusion, mis-direction and inaction (or wrong action.)
See? I said it was simple.
Now, a lot of "special" people out there are going to argue with me, based upon my not understanding their "special" circumstances, background, DNA, situation, partner… whatever. But you see, all of that is irrelevant. All there is, is the circumstances in front of you, and your choice. It’s not about anything, it doesn’t mean anything, and no one else can do anything to change your internal representation, or change what you are about to do, or not do.
Rama Dama Ding Dong did not bemoan picking up the wood. He didn’t complain about his sore back. He didn’t blame his parents for not being rich so someone else could carry the wood for him. He didn’t blame his wife for not using the communication model.
He picked up the wood and walked.
Clarity is this. I will always judge and evaluate. This is the way it is. The purpose of judgment is to go: "Snake!" And then brush the snake off.
Clarity is this. My actions are consistent with my walk. I act clearly and cleanly, without blame or drama. There is nothing I have to do or learn before I can act with clarity. Clarity is a here and now focus, choice and perception.
I know many people who begin this path, and then scare themselves with the intensity of the experience and take a year or a lifetime off. We’ll be talking about this more as we go along, but remember: all you have is now, and this walk requires one thing – walking.
See ya next time!
I have recently discovered that I am judgmental. Or, let me put that in a more responsible way. I have recently acknowledged that I am judgmental.
Me. A social worker. A college professor. A father. A husband. Me. Judgmental. Now, how the heck did that happen??? I mean, not only am I “trained” to suspend judgment, I’m also just “that kinda guy”.
The more I think about it, the more I can acknowledge it. I’m passing judgments all over the place. We ALL do this. Every time we snicker at someone, get angry with someone, feel betrayed by someone, want to leave someone…even when we love someone. We’re passing judgments.
The snickering, getting angry, feeling betrayed, wanting to leave, and loving are all reactions. That makes sense. These are reactions to things that happen to us. Now if we have two boxes, plus the "judgement," it might be easier to see.
Now, there’s something that happens in between the THING THAT HAPPENS and MY REACTION – and that is what I would refer to as my “judgment”. In ITC, it’s more commonly known as my “perspective” or my “spin”.
My judgment on the thing that happens will be influenced by a whole whack of things such as my values, my experiences, my education, my childhood, my philosophy, my religion, my mood (especially my mood).
An example. Let’s say that the Thing that Happens is that …. My youngest daughter pulls a temper tantrum (she’s two and a half and there are days when I question her humanity). Now, My Reaction could be “utter disgust”, “frustration” or “resigned acceptance a la half-smile”.
My Reaction, as I said before, will largely be directed by My Judgment. And, my judgment is influenced by Other Stuff About Me. Let’s break it down into the three Reactions.
If my reaction is Utter Disgust, then my judgment is somewhat emotional. And that negative judgment is influenced by...well, my mood is a bit off. Probably, I’m a little tired of changing diapers (though my wife does it more – I’m just whining). My Utter Disgust is also about my judgment to what is IN the diaper, which is probably not going to be easy to clean. I also have a philosophy about cleanliness and my kid’s lack of incorporating this value is grossing me out too. There is also a tiny bit of religious influence that embraces cleanliness too, so my Utter Disgust could be a reaction to that. So, all these Things About Me help to form a judgment about the diaper which leads me to react with Utter Disgust.
Next is the reaction of Frustration. This comes a little from tiredness and mood. It also comes from my childhood. I was raised with pretty high expectations and was sometimes compared to other kids my age. There may be some leftovers there as I parent my own children. The frustration comes from the childhood expectation of “why isn’t she the best two-and-a-half year old?” Another influence is my own unwillingness to tolerate repeated changes of soiled diapers (hear that whine). All of these influences then provide for a negative judgment which then, gives rise to my reaction of Frustration.
And the final Reaction is “Resigned Acceptance a la half-smile”. My judgment here is not so hard or negative. The Things About Me that give rise to this more positive judgment are having a understanding that gross diapers are a part of early childhood, the understanding that this is just a part of parenting that has to be done (no whining now), an anticipation of making funny faces at my child as I change the wretched diaper and sharing some humour and closeness with her. And perhaps there’s a bit of inherent patience mixed in there too. My reaction is the resigned acceptance (sigh).
Now, let’s imagine that I were to take each diaper change with a Frustrated or Utterly Disgusted reaction. Over and over again, what do you think would happen? Resentment, disdain and scorn, … and distance from my child (and in so many ways, distance from myself.)
Now, I gave you a pretty benign example of one of the Things That Happen to me. No doubt, there are Things that Happen which are FAR MORE SERIOUS. Think of family violence, spousal abuse, sexual assault. And in no way, would I suggest we take everything with a Resigned Acceptance…nor should we. Some of those judgments we have, though negative, can be quite helpful to us and keep us safe. Think of how your negative judgments actually help you when some sleaze ball is hitting on you.
What I am suggesting (and you have heard this from ITC again and again) is that you do have a choice over the judgments you CREATE. That’s right. You create judgments.
As Wayne and Co. suggest over and over, the spin we put on life’s situations really do make a difference in how we react. And our reactions dictate the spin we put on life itself. I want to be a little more direct and say that our reactions dictate the JUDGMENT we place on life.
As I look back on my education and training, telling me to suspend my judgments or to be non-judgmental, as I look back on my religion and spirituality paving my path to salvation (or a better reincarnation) by being non-judgmental and my own smugness at being inherently non-judgmental, I think it’s probably much more responsible of me to acknowledge the fact that I DO have judgments. And then explore their roots. And then realize that I have CHOICE over the types of judgments I cast on Things That Happen, on People I Meet and Situations That I Ponder.
How do you judge life? As a burden to be shouldered with frustration, resentment and cynicism? As an adventure to be embraced with spirit, thrill and the excitement of gathering new experiences? Or, as a benevolent process filled with opportunity that we take in, feel and let go?
Well, time to change a diaper….Guaranteed, I’m not going to be utterly disgusted or frustrated…this time, anyway.
Curiosity and Intimacy
Good morning everyone. I said last time that I would write about narcissism and arrogance in the next article. I’ve since realized that to assume I have anything to say on those subjects IS arrogant and narcissistic. So I’m going to look at something else of interest first.
I’ve long wanted to write a book. And when I do, I already have a topic. (The Gimli-esque publisher is laughing out loud right now, trying to imagine a guy who can’t deliver an article on time could ever focus long enough to finish a book. Wayne? Piss off). My topic is ‘Curiosity’. I apply it corporately in many of my programs; the basic tenet being thatthe number one quality a manager needs to have in order to be successful is curiosity.
I believe the same thing applies relationally, and is much more integral to successful intimacy. Therefore In order to be intimate with my partner, I must remain curious. This sounds like a great idea, but we each have some huge barriers to doing this on a consistent basis. The biggest one is ego. Wayne has done an admirable job over the years talking about and defining ego. In this situation I am going to suggest that the more I am attached to my own ego, the less curious I am able to be.
If I am in discussion with my partner (Hi Terri!), I may believe that I am being curious. I can even state that I am. And yet as she tells me what is going on for her, what she might need, what she notices about me, feedback she has, or resentments she has created, I notice my need to correct her. I realize that I want to defend my position, or give her more information, so that she sees my point of view.
This is my ego talking. This is my need to impose my own version or impression of myself onto another. And why wouldn’t I? I’ve worked for many years to create this ego, it serves me, defines me, comforts me…who can blame me if I use it so that others can see me as I see myself?
Thing is, while I am so busy convincing, I’ve stopped being curious. I cannot be intimate while serving my ego–it isn’t possible. So the conversation swirls ever downward, usually ending up with me being defensive and resentful. Why? Because my partner won’t take on the version of myself I’m attempting to foist on the world. And in all of that, I’ve learned little or nothing of who she is, what she wants, how she wants to do relationship.
It’s the ultimate example of ‘it’s all about me.’ And it doesn’t serve me unless I don’t want the relationship to grow or shift.
Now, knowing all of this, it would therefore seem logical to just avoid it. To put my ego aside, and be truly curious. To listen without judgement to what is going on for the other person, and allow what they are being to exist without trying to change it.
I’m not very good at that. I suppose it is because without ego I don’t know quite who I am. In the most challenging moments of my relationship, I know at some level that I am getting in my own way. I even do a check and see if I am ‘being curious.’ And more often than not I believe I am. Here’s what I miss:
Asking questions does not equal
If I count the number of questions I have asked, and they seem plentiful, I mark myself as curious. What I’m learning to do is examine the intentions behind the questions. Why am I asking these questions? Do I want specific answers? Am I frustrated that the answers aren’t what I’d hoped? These are signs that instead of being curious, I’m being manipulative. I am trying to negotiate/manipulate the answers to prove and support my position. My ego. I am therefore learning two basic things:
Be open to outcome without being attached to it. When I become aware that the nature of the answer doesn’t matter to me, only that there is an answer, I’m on the right track. As soon as I try and reach a particular outcome – be it a particular admission or position, or even resolution or consensus – I have become part of the drama.
Ego has an agenda–
Don’t care, just be interested. Wayne said this to me in one of our first sessions–that he was interested, but didn’t care what happened in our session. I was justifiably upset – how could he not care?? About ME???? He laughed. He does that a lot. The moment I start to care about the answers, about what the other person says, is the moment I choose to feel better or worse about myself, based on what THEY say. So if my ego doesn’t ‘like’ what is being said, I go non-present and start defending. Being interested in how they perceive me, instead of caring how I am perceived, keeps me present and authentic.
These two are the difference between hurting myself with what my partner tells me, because it doesn’t match my own self-image, and staying present in the moment so that I can learn more about how she sees me. And I can then remember that she actually doesn’t see me, just her version. And since I can’t control that, why try?
I don’t mean to sound like I have it licked – In fact, I swing back and forth depending on how aware and present I remain. If I’m feeling anxious in a conversation, I check my ego and my intentions. And I usually find where I am in the way of being really curious.
So, does this happen to any of you? Just curious.