On Not Being You


Season’s Greetings!

Just a quickie to wish you all the best of the Season! We’re glad you continue to read this blog, and look forward to hearing from each of you in 2009.

This is the last article for 2008. We’ll be publishing again the first week in January, unless something interesting crosses my desk!

Last week I gave you the following quote from a book

called “Bring Me the Rhinoceros”.

Happiness requires a certain surrender”¦ Your unhappiness is threaded through your idea of you. Happiness would overturn some things you know about yourself. Happiness asks, “Are you willing to be a different you?” Or, “Are you willing to be not you?”

John Tarrant, Bring Me the Rhinoceros, pg. 147

As each year ends, I like to reflect back on my life, my relationships, my career, and my writing. One of the things that’s occurred to me is that Into the Centre, our old e‑zine, was first published in 1999. There’s 10 years worth of writing in the archives. I’ve been spending some time making the old articles over into the format of the website, which means a better chance to read some of the old stuff.

I recognize that many of the themes that I present on the blog are in a sense rehashings of things I’ve written about before. So that quote from last week, when I first read it, kind of stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t just that it was a clever sentence — and it is — but that it frames the whole thing in a way I’ve never thought of before.

I don’t know about you, but in my life, these kinds of insights tend to stack up. So a couple of days later, when the January 2009 edition of Shambhala Sun showed up, I really wasn’t surprised to find a pile of quotes that helped to unpack what it might mean “… to be not you.”

About Letting Go

The lead picture for this article really spoke to me. My clients use very specific language when addressing what they think to be their issues. Often, they’ll say,

  • I really need to let go of…” or
  • I really need to stop holding onto…”

And then, they’ll give me a list of one or more of things that they think they need to let go of.

They get the drift that there are certain things they’re doing that are causing the misery. It’s as if they think that if only they could drop those specific behaviors they might just be happy.

Their experience, however, typically is that even if they do manage to stop one or more of those behaviors, they really aren’t that much more happy or content. Happiness, it seems, is always a couple of steps ahead of them.

I mentioned some issues ago about another quote I’d read, where the writer used the term, “cheerful melancholiac.” I said something to the effect that this perspective fit for me — that my tendency is to be a bit sad, and if I don’t watch myself, sad can turn into really sad, and things can rapidly go downhill from there. I’ve noticed, over the last few years, that I’ve gotten over myself to a great extent, and don’t sink very far at all into this odd little pit.

It never occurred to me, however, that viewing myself as a cheerful melancholiac was just another choice.

It felt so real. Thus my surprise when I read the line, “… to be not you.”

I think, prior to that, I got it intellectually that what was going on in my head — my stories, my emotions, my delusions, and all the other nonsense up there — was no more substantial than bubbles atop a rushing stream. They sure felt real — and when I was caught in the middle of all the drama, that was all I could see.

I think I am now really understanding, however, that this is just me doing what I normally do — in this case, making myself miserable. While it’s a great improvement to simply let all of that be — in other words, to be sad when I’m sad, and not to beat up on myself over it — another, more interesting alternative, would be to really let go.

In other words, the way we all go off the rails is by thinking that certain aspects of our personality, emotional or physical condition, or the behaviors we engage in are somehow etched in stone.

Here’s the truth: The contents of my mind, much like the bubbles on water, are the game my mind is playing. They’re not me.

The January 2009 issue of Shambhala Sun is their 30th anniversary issue. They’ve grabbed sections of amazing past articles, and that’s where the following quotes are from.

To begin with, here’s one from the Dalai Lama:

The actual process by which mind creates our unenlightened existence and the suffering we experience is described by Candrakirti in his Guide to the Middle Way, where he states, “An undisciplined state of mind gives rise to delusions which propel an individual into negative action which then creates the negative environment in which the person lives.” Page 78

Unenlightened existence [samsara] is getting caught on the wheel of life. In other words, we think that what we see is real as opposed to something we make up in our heads. I’ve written about this a lot–and about exercises to shift this.

Although it’s a lot to swallow, everything you see, hear, feel, think, all of this stuff, are simply things going on in your head. The things you see, for example, are nothing more than electrical impulses in the back of your brain.


The real point, the essential point, is to fully understand that how you view the world is how you view the world.

The Dalai Lama has it in the correct order: we go up into our heads and tell ourselves stories, act upon the unsubstantiated stories, and then notice that the world we’ve created fits the stories we’ve created. And then we say, “See! It’s just like I thought it was.”

Lame eh?

This is what each of us does, this is what each of us has been trained to do. This is me, being me. This is you being you.

On page 79 we read a quote from Pema Chodron:

The process of becoming unstuck requires tremendous bravery, because basically we are completely changing our way of perceiving reality, like changing our DNA. We are undoing a pattern that is not just our pattern. It’s the human pattern: we project onto the world a zillion possibilities of attaining resolution. We can have whiter teeth, a weed-free lawn, a strife-free life, a world without embarrassment. We can live happily ever after. This pattern keeps us dissatisfied and causes us a lot of suffering.

It’s all in our training. We all know that buying stuff makes us happy, because that’s what the marketers tell us. We all know that we can live happily ever after, because that’s what the movie makers tell us. And yet, when we try to live this way, we find ourselves bumping our noses against our wants, our needs, and our dramas. We believe that happiness and contentment somehow lies outside of us, and we seek after it like Don Quixote tilted at windmills.

What we believe something is, and what something is,

is never the same thing.

So, now I am going to combine what I’ve always written with the “… to be not you” line.

Not only do you have to notice the games you play between your ears, but you have to actually do something about them. I think I can pretty easily get you to watch what goes on in there — certainly we do that when we teach meditation or mindfulness. Doing something about it, or actually not doing something about it, is the tricky part. Many people think that mindfulness equals calmness. What it actually equals is presence.

Presence means being with whatever is going on, with total awareness, and full permission.

The same article, new quote.

For example, if somebody abandons us, we don’t want to be with that raw discomfort. Instead, we conjure up a familiar identity of ourselves as a hapless victim. Or maybe we avoid the rawness by acting out and righteously telling the person how messed up he or she is. We automatically want to cover over the pain in one way or another, identifying with victory or victimhood. Page 80

This would be being you. Being not you would mean simply sitting with the pain, watching the stories go by, and not attaching to any of it. The nonattachment part is a characteristic of the Middle Way.

Another quote:

When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.

Cool loneliness allows us to look honestly and without aggression at our own minds. We can gradually drop our ideas of who we think we ought to be, or who we think we want to be, or who we think other people think we want to be or ought to be. We give it up and just look directly with compassion and humor at who we are. Then loneliness is no threat and heartache, no punishment. page 80

new perspective

The Middle Way–
the world turned upside down

The Middle Way is the balanced perspective. This is how we develop our core. Our self identity expands and loosens. We let go of identifying, not only with what does not work, but also with what does. We are not any of it.

If, for example, I identify with my 30-year-old solid and healthy body, I’m in deep trouble in my 60s. If I think what happened to me in the past dictates how I am right now, I’m stuck. If I think what I imagine ought to happen is anything more than the story I’m telling myself, I open myself to disappointment and heartache.

If I watch myself, and watch others, and in openhearted, caring, and detached way, then what is,is what is, I am who I am, and what’s going on becomes a moment in time, as opposed to a life sentence.

Last quote, From Taizan Maezumi Roshi:

I am not devaluing thought. I am just mentioning that we shouldn’t mix up the fact of our life with our thoughts about our life. What we think and what actually is–that’s what Buddha talks about as constant change. Anything and everything, constantly changing. That’s the real life, which is, in a way, unknowable. And that unknowable, impersonal no-self–unfixed by any kind of values, attachments, detachments–works perfectly. Knowing nothing, it works completely. That is what this life is. That is what is expressed as no-self. When you don’t see this, suffering is waiting for you. When you see it, there is Nirvana, or peace. Page n81

Darbella and I wish you and elegant, present, and mindful end of the year. We’ll see you again in 2009.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

2 thoughts on “On Not Being You”

  1. Wayne,

    Thank you for the quote about “a non-threatening loneliness”.

    Until a few years ago, this was my natural way, but somewhere along the line I was pulled off that path by people in my life who kept insisting that it wasn’t right for me to be ok with silence and aloneness and insisting that I fill virtually all my time with conversation and socializing and distraction.

    I am realizing again that enjoying solitude and sitting quietly with sadness, feeling what there is to be felt, is not the same as being “antisocial”.

    I was divorced a year and half ago and have not yet started a new relationship and then I was forced to say goodbye to my mom in October when cancer destroyed her body. Sometimes it seems like loneliness is overwhelming and it is made worse when we believe that we have to do something about it.

    • I suspect there were more ‘socially valued’ ways to be alone, in the past. It seems to me that with the fragmentation of society and the creation of ‘meaning by volume’ i.e. being popular on FaceBook seems important to many… people are intent on noisefully being connected, at all times.
      My goal, personally and with clients, is to point to self-less-ness, where ‘self’ is being imposed by society, while indicating the value of starting from a place of full acceptance.
      Glad you’re getting back to ‘just sitting’ with yourself, as you are, and acting from there.
      Warm wishes fr the Holidays


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