Equanimity as the base of knowing who we are*
When we begin to practice we are usually seeking something. Some of us are drawn to practice because we want to be free of illness. We want reassurance that things will get better. We want to know what makes us the way we are. Ultimately our seeking in practice reveals a deeper truth: we don’t want what we have and we want what we don’t have.
Let’s look at “not wanting.” We don’t want this pain, this sadness, this confusion. Sometimes we even don’t want this joy (because it may be too depressing when it leaves). We push away our experience. We get angry about it, make demands of ourselves and others to fix “it” – whatever “it” may be. And all the while, we are pushing away something valuable – our life. More than that, we’re practicing a preferential mind, a mind of wanting and craving.
Sometimes we turn away from what we don’t want. We’re disappointed, upset that things are not what we hoped they would be. We start looking around for better things. That cushion, that place in the room, that carrot or that juice must be better than what I have.
Or we become confused about practice. This is probably the most dangerous aspect of our reactivity because it seems so close to what we think practice is. We do the “mindfulness talk.” Oh I’m just in the moment. Oh I just decided to treat it with compassion and love. Oh I just became accepting of it.
Now there’s nothing wrong with these statements but often they are by-passes to truly diving into the experience. They are ways of avoiding what is really happening right here, right now. But it’s tricky because the mind can be so convincing that we’ve “got it!”
The truth is when I think I’ve “got it,” I know I haven’t because the it I think I’ve got is not IT.
So here we have the typical stances to our experience:
We push it away
We avoid it and cling to something else
We get confused by it
So how do we shift these stances? How do we cultivate a non-preferential mind?
Dogen was a Zen teacher in the 13th century who wrote beautifully about practice. He said:
To study the way is to study the self.
It’s inescapable. When we set out to practice, when we sit and let the distractions fall away, we open ourselves up to who we are. Right here, right now. This is who you are. This is who I am. Nothing hidden, nothing added.
Pushing it away, clinging/avoiding or getting is confused is a distraction from this intimate truth. “Here I am.”
Dogen goes on to say:
To study the self is to forget the self.
This can seem perplexing. How do I forget myself? If it’s right here, how do I not know that?
When we add layers onto our experience, onto that original experience, we filter or even block ourselves off. We are no longer in contact with what is real in this moment. We create a “self” that is just a mask, a way of interacting that we think makes us feel safe or in control. As we study this self on the cushion, on the walkways, in the dining hall, we begin to see how constructed it is. We are always in a self-making process.
Now the tough practice begins: we peel away these constructed selves. We see how they are filters that block us from our real experience. We allow ourselves to let these dissolve. It can be a scary process too. The “I”, “me”, “mine” self is powerful and sticks to us with Crazy Glue. (And that’s why it makes us crazy!)
We learn to “forget” the self that carries us away from who we are. Right here, right now.
So when you move through the various moments in these days, notice. Bring your attention to your stance to your experience. Notice. What self is being created now? What stories are being generated? Who am I?
Create the intention to pay attention to these stances. This is the essence of equanimity in practice. We meet each moment of self-making without preference for it to fulfill us in any particular way.
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
― Pema Chödrön
*This is the text of a talk given by Lynette Monteiro at The Heart of Mindfulness Practice, June 14-16, 2014 at Galilee Retreat Centre, Arnprior ON Canada.