“I might as well tell you right at the start of this talk that
you’re not living your own life and I want you to listen to the
talk tonight so that you can get a start on living from who you
really are. You’re living from who you are not now, whether you’re
aware of it or not. You don’t have any true strength inside of you,
anyone can do anything, and that is no way to live. And doesn’t
this make sense what I’m going to say next. Regardless of the
endless anxiety and the deep wounds and the scars, regardless of
how many you’ve collected, isn’t it about time you stopped? Isn’t
it about time that you see through the enemy called suffering?”
The question is why is it that we humans are not comfortable with ourselves? Why do we feel uneasy and dissonant? Most of us feel this as unease and difficulty and discontent and depression. In the more extreme states, this manifests as cruelty and genocide and all that we consider evil and bad in our species.
When we are open we can see that the core of most spiritual and religious traditions and the mystics through the ages point to the truth that the basic problem is our deep identification with thoughts. By thoughts, I mean everything that is mind-created: thoughts, beliefs, emotions, embodied patterns, fears and so on.
Through certain practices, such as being present and being aware and letting go, we can see through this.
That’s easy enough to understand, especially for those who have suffered and are open.
Geneen Roth’s book “Women Food Love” is wonderful because it points out that our relationship to food is an exact analogue of our relationship to life. We can understand awakening through understanding our relationship with food.
Eating is a tangible thing that many of us can relate to. Accumulating new beliefs and concepts is like going on a diet. When a person goes on diet, there is some initial excitement because it works. It works because the person is trying and is temporarily aware. There is the insistent energy of the newly-converted. “You have to try this new white-food only diet!”
You might notice that mixed with the excitement is always an underlying fear that this will not last. There is the fear that just a little bit of change, a slight deviation, a life event, will be enough to derail this new-found discipline.
That is the question on my mind these days. What place does discipline have in the practice of awakening?
Self-discipline can be important. There have been many times that some self-discipline has seen me through. For example, when I first started meditating, I felt considerable agitation and discomfort. I worked through it. When we first start any awareness practice, such as observing thought, it can take some reminding and effort and self-discipline to see us through.
And yet, there many other times when self-discipline has worked against me. With self-discipline I can accomplish many things—I can live in the way which I think is best for me. I can develop certain habits, of exercise, sleep, diet, meditation and so on which I believe would be resonant.
When we stop to consider, it’s actually amusingly schizophrenic. Why in the world would we have trouble doing the things which we know are good for us?
It has to do with the fact that what we think is good for us is based on beliefs. It is based on beliefs and concepts derived from learned concepts of self, and what our parents and society and the media have told us, and the patterns which the need for control, approval and security has created in us.
We rush to newly-discovered beliefs—whether it’s the law of attraction or positive thinking or spirituality or a new definition of karma or self-improvement or some pithy saying about relationships we’ve just ingested—we rush to these beliefs and feel pretty sure that this is exactly what we need. But it never lasts, because nothing has really changed. It’s not that the beliefs are right or wrong. It’s just that operating from beliefs and concepts is a constrained way to live. It’s just more of the same old…
This moment, right here and now, is fresh and innocent. And yet, from habit, we bring the entire burden of our past and fears and beliefs and concepts and embodied patterns to bear down hard on the freshness of this moment.
And so, beliefs and self-discipline play a very familiar game of tug-of-war in our heads.
I don’t have an answer here which will satisfy the mind. In fact, the answer I have is decidedly unsatisfying to the mind.
Watch. Allow. Be present. Let go. Develop self-honesty. Let go of concepts and beliefs. With a smile!