Who knows why we make the choices we do, or where the wind will take us. I used to think that being offered choices was evidence of being at the controls. You choose one path, you control the outcome, is how that logic goes. Now I wonder.
It seems we all have certain lessons to learn in this life, and until we learn them, we will be tested again and again, and again. These tests may take different shapes and sizes, and they may appear to be choices. But are they? Are they not simply old karma in a new form, pleading (or demanding) to be purified so that we can move on from whatever is keeping us stuck in samsara?
Awareness of this process, admittedly, can be humbling. Yet, it allows the possibility to enjoy the moment for what it is, instead of rushing along to create the next moment. I’ve been fascinated recently by the subtlety with which ego operates…pretending to be working for the benefit of others, and yet still looking out for Number One. Ego’s main purpose is survival; yet our main purpose in practice is to see through ego’s game. What if we were to go with the wind instead of struggling against it to get where “I” want to go?
On this theme, a few interesting questions arose from some correspondence recently, which I thought I would share….
What do you think about when you practice?
Thinking is ego’s domain; we use thoughts to reinforce our version of ourselves and the world. So the point of practice is NOT about thinking, but coming back to experience: of breath, of movement, and awareness. Breath provides a focus; movement provides a context. Coming back to the breath again and again interrupts the mental stream…it cuts the never-ending chatter that occupies our minds in the usual daily context. We override that by coming back to the awareness of breath….this is quite an important point, because it is quite possible to go through years of breathing practice thinking that you are practicing awareness of breath, without actually practicing awareness of breath….there is a big difference!
The movement allows a more general awareness to pervade, so that we are not just fixated on our own individual experience…we remain aware of the larger environment. This environment can be taken from the simplest experience of our body moving through the space around us, to our neighbors on the mat or family and friends, to the absolute largest degree….like which planet and universe and kalpa, past, present and future…I mean really being aware of ALL of it. What we eventually come to suspect (and hopefully one day realize) is that not only are we devoid of a separate, solid existence, but everyone and everything else is as well.
I ask myself what it means to surrender to practice -I don’t know what I am surrendering to.
The point seems to be understanding that there is something larger than my own benefit….that it is not all about ME. Ultimately its not necessarily surrender to anything in particular since nothing exists as a separate entity, (although in Vajrayana Buddhism devotion to the guru is extremely important as a means to understand this.) Rather surrender is a letting go of constantly trying to better our own small individual situation. There is some sense of letting go of our own agenda, and expanding out into the situation of humanity as a whole; an understanding that ego is a mental construct, so if I give I am not losing anything, but in fact gaining in the sense that we are all benefiting. So we surrender cheerfully. There is a huge amount of trust involved, which develops through practice. And the more we practice, the more we come to understand that we are not who we think we are….and so to continue to invest so much time and energy boosting ego loses its appeal.
When we can see the interconnected nature of everything- that I am dependent on the farmer and the sun and the trucks who bring me my rice-then there is absolutely no problem surrendering whatever is asked, because its just like putting ice-cubes in your water. Same same, but different. But this is the most important point to understand: ego, this idea of a separate self that we claim identifies who we are, is a mental construct, and therefore entirely non-existent. Try this: say anything about yourself, and see if it holds true always, at all times, circumstances and situations, past, present and future. Or try this: think of everything that identifies you, and see if you exist without those identifying factors. For example, I identify myself with having 2 hands…if I cut off my right hand, am I still me? Both hands? Legs? (I’m reminded of this sick film I saw years ago, Boxing Helena…did you see that sicko film?) Was Helena still Helena after her sweet husband cut all her limbs off? If you have not already seen that film, please don’t.
Well after that cheery image, I will leave you with a few simple words spoken by Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche at the end of a retreat he led recently:
“I would like to pass on one little bit of advice I give everyone. Relax. Just relax. Be nice to each other. As you go through your life, simply be kind to people. Try to help them rather than hurt them. Try to get along with the, rather than fall out with them. With that, I will leave you, and with all my very best wishes.”