Herhaal het begin
Loving others inspires us to take much better care of ourselves, as if we were our own mother. We take care of ourselves so that we can benefit others.
BEFORE BEGINNING our discussion of point four, a short review is in order.
We take our point of view so much for granted, as if the world were really as we see it. But it doesn’t take much analysis to recognize that our way of seeing the world is simply an old unexamined habit, so strong, so convincing, and so unconscious we don’t even see it as a habit. How many times have we been absolutely sure about someone’s motivations and later discovered that we were completely wrong? How many times have we gotten upset about something that turned out to have been nothing? Our perceptions and opinions are often quite off the mark. The world may not be as we think it is. In fact, it is virtually certain that it is not.There’s nothing wrong with habits as such. Habits can be good. But in this case, a little reflection shows us that our habitual way of seeing things is not only not optimal, in many instances, large and small, it causes us much difficulty. It’s often distorted, causing us extra upset we don’t need, and it’s too narrow, limiting our possibilities and our love. And yet we are pretty stuck on our point of view. Clearly, it will take some doing to see through it, and this is why spiritual practice takes time, effort, support, and much repetition. But little by little our way of seeing the world and being in it can shift. With effort, the mind can be trained. That is the underlying assumption of this book.
Punt I. Begin met beginnen
Mind training begins (point one, Resolve to begin) with our getting in touch with our deepest, best motivation. As human beings we are inherently motivated to see life truly and generously. This is our human birthright, our human capacity. It is why every human community from the dawn of time to the present has had some form of wholesome and salvific spirituality. But the pressures of life and the persistence of human folly, embedded as these are in our societies and our communities (and therefore also in our own minds and hearts), have obscured this motivation in us. So our course of training begins with getting in touch with our best motivation. (I will note here what the reader will already have noticed: that mind training isn’t a linear matter. We don’t fully complete one step and go on to the next.
We are constantly working on all the steps, partially completing one and then having to go back to it, and all the others, again and again, in circular fashion, which is why a review at this point is probably realistic.)
Point two, Train in empathy and compassion
Point two, Train in empathy and compassion, awakens our willingness to be with our own suffering and the suffering of others. Most of us believe suffering is negative, difficult, and to be avoided at all costs. Suffering breaks our spirit and ruins our life. So rather than face the suffering, we blame others or the world for the unfortunate things that have happened to us. Or we blame ourselves, imagining that we are essentially incapable of happiness and right action. All of this amounts to a strategy of distraction. Blame is a way of avoiding the actual suffering we feel. And if we are unwilling to face our own suffering, how much more are we unwilling to take in the suffering of others, let alone the whole mass of suffering of this troubled world. There is no way we could even entertain such a thought.But the training proposes that we do exactly that. That we take in our own suffering, the suffering of our friends, of our communities, and of the world, because nothing is more effective than this to change our habitual point of view. We develop this capacity with the practice of sending and receiving, which begins with our willingness to receive and heal our own pain. Of course our efforts to do this will encounter powerful resistance within us. Suffering breeds resistance and loves it, loves our fear, gobbles it up, becoming bigger and stronger. The more we try to push away the suffering, the more difficult it is to bear. But through the practice of sending and receiving, repeated patiently over time, we discover that when we stop resisting, we can bear the suffering with much more equanimity than we previously thought possible. The monster you run away from in the dark becomes more and more frightening the faster and further you flee. The monster you face in your own house becomes a pussycat, which sometimes scratches and sometimes makes a mess on the floor, but you love her anyway. We discover we don’t have to be afraid of suffering, that we can transform it into healing and love. And this is not as hard to do as we might have thought. Whatever our state, whatever our capacity, we can do it. We need only start from where we are and go as far as we can.Doing this, we discover that our practice (and our life) isn’t about—and has never been about—ourselves. As long as spiritual practice (and life) remains only about you, it is painful. Of course, your practice does begin with you. It begins with self-concern. You take up practice out of some need or some desire or pain. But the very self-concern pushes you beyond self-concern. Zen master Dogen writes, “To study Buddhism is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self.” When you study yourself thoroughly, this is what happens: you forget yourself, because the closer you get to yourself, the closer you get to life and to the unspeakable depth that is life, the more a feeling of love and concern for others naturally arises in you. To be self-obsessed is painful. To love others is happy. Loving others inspires us to take much better care of ourselves, as if we were our own mother. We take care of ourselves so that we can benefit others.
Punt III. Transform bad circumstances into the path
In this spirit we realize (point three, Transform bad circumstances into the path) that we no longer have to strategize constant self-protection, as we have been doing all of our lives. We see that suffering doesn’t have to be so frightening, that we can make use of it to deepen and strengthen our life. This changes everything. We are now capable of making use of whatever happens to us, the good as well as the bad, and no longer have to be anxious and constantly obsessed with making sure we get what we want and avoid what we don’t want, that we always win and never lose. Now we are free to win and free to lose. So we live with a lot less fear and anxiety. And even though the usual stuff keeps on coming (fear, avoidance, and so on), we have a new attitude toward it. We are more patient and accepting—and even appreciative—of our own foibles. Like everyone else, we struggle sometimes. Like everyone else, our lives are colorful, sad, and sometimes painful. But they are beautiful, and we’re living them with others.
Punt 4. Make practice your whole life.
With this, we are ready for point four, Make practice your whole life.This point is both an effort that we make going forward and a result of what we have already done.
People often complain to me that they don’t have time for spiritual practice. In today’s busy world, it seems that we can barely cover the basics, let alone refine our lives further with spirituality. When spiritual practice is an item at the bottom of our long to-do lists (which are these days embedded in task-accomplishment apps on our smartphones), it is very hard to get to it, and usually we don’t. My answer to this is simple: spiritual practice is not an item on the list. It is not a task we do. It is how we do what we do. It’s a spirit, an attitude. You are breathing all day long. It doesn’t take any more time to be conscious, let’s say, of three breaths in a row. Your mind is thinking distractedly all day long. It doesn’t take any more time to intentionally think of a slogan you are working with. Even meditation practice, which seems to take time you ordinarily would be filling with some other activity, actually takes much less time when you realize how much time you save when your mind is a bit calmer and more focused and when your day begins with processing and settling with your life rather than rushing headlong into today with yesterday as yet undigested. Practice, in the light of this point, is not something we are doing over and above our life. It is our life. It is the way we live.In Zen, traditional training expresses and extends this point. The template of the Zen life is the monastery, where you meditate when it’s time to do that, eat when it’s time to eat, walk when walking, talk when talking, sleep when sleeping. In other words, you do what you are doing fully, wholeheartedly, constantly trying to pay attention and be present. You use the task at hand as the meditation object, just coming back over and over again to where you are and to what is going on, just as, in meditation, you come back over and over again to the breath breathing all day long. It doesn’t take any more time to be conscious, let’s say, of three breaths in a row. Your mind is thinking distractedly all day long. It doesn’t take any more time to intentionally think of a slogan you are working with. Even meditation practice, which seems to take time you ordinarily would be filling with some other activity, actually takes much less time when you realize how much time you save when your mind is a bit calmer and more focused and when your day begins with processing and settling with your life rather than rushing headlong into today with yesterday as yet undigested. Practice, in the light of this point, is not something we are doing over and above our life. It is our life. It is the way we live.In Zen, traditional training expresses and extends this point. The template of the Zen life is the monastery, where you meditate when it’s time to do that, eat when it’s time to eat, walk when walking, talk when talking, sleep when sleeping. In other words, you do what you are doing fully, wholeheartedly, constantly trying to pay attention and be present. You use the task at hand as the meditation object, just coming back over and over again to where you are and to what is going on, just as, in meditation, you come back over and over again to the breath, without worry or fuss. As the great master Zhaozhou answered when asked about the process and meaning of spiritual practice, “Have you eaten? Then wash your bowls!”For contemporary Zen practitioners, the template of the monastery can be applied in the tasks of daily living. We all eat, sleep, walk, work, and so on. It doesn’t take extra time to do these things in the spirit of spiritual practice. Making practice your whole life can be seen as a simple matter of mindfulness. Simply doing whatever you are doing with awareness, carefulness, and love. And when you notice you are not doing this, coming back to it. Theoretically, there is no reason why anyone can’t do this, all of the time. Realistically, our habits are strong, and we probably need as much support as we can get to encourage us and keep us on the beam. (I hope this book is one such support.)There are two slogans under this point. The first is
Reflecteer nog een keer op de vier punten:
Actie: echt met onecht vergelijken
Onderzoek waar je tegenaan loopt als je de omlijndheid, de voorspelbaarheid en de beheersbaarheid van de dingen in je leven buiten werking stelt. Kan je dat?
‘Totdat je het onbewuste bewust maakt’, zegt Jung, ‘zul je datgene wat je allemaal overkomt, je lot noemen.
Zwelg niet in dat tegengif dat je hebt gevonden tegen de kwaal. Maak geen norm van een verwachting.
Natuurlijk is het leven gecompliceerd en en moeten we heel veel uitwerken en aangaan. Merk op dat er nog een manier is om te bewegen, juist door stil te staan en afleiding te zoeken: je ademhaling en je lichaam voelen. Meer niet.
>> Ga nu aan PUNT IV beginnen.