March 22, 2015 § 2 Comments
The human mind, à la brain, is a unitary system. Although specific areas perform specific functions they do not work in isolation from each other. When an idea takes hold of one part of the mind it can spread to every part and come to dominant how an individual sees the world. This is how attitudes are formed. To use Carl Jung’s definition, an attitude is a readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way.
A subset of attitude is psychological contamination wherein a negative experience or idea colors and contaminates your view of the world. Contamination is marked by a denial or negation of the good of a previous state that has been overwhelmed by a negative experience or idea. It is through contamination that a passing feeling of unworthiness can spread to leave a child believing that every aspect of his or her self is “bad”.
Because contamination is marked by denial, the child with low self-esteem quickly learns to hide his inner self. The child begins to deny his feelings and takes no responsibility for actions that he believes will be met with disapproval or punishment if acknowledged. He begins to fear, then suppress, his own natural assertiveness and spontaneity.
This self-negation leads to a fear of discovery that if carried into adulthood leaves an individual with an undefined fear of being exposed or “found out”, though by this time there is no clear idea what is feared to be found out. It also leads to endless suffering in the form of anger control issues, depression, anxiety or addictions. Yet, if examined closely, it will be discovered that at the heart of these problems is the attempt to change what a person is into what he or she is not. And therein lies the crux of suffering.
Suffering results from the attempt to change what “is” into something it isn’t. Suffering results from trying to make yourself into something you are not. Suffering results from denying your own true nature.
In a state of meditative self-inquiry you can see how your mind reacts with denial to what you don’t like. You may see yourself holding onto a belief even though part of you knows that it is in conflict with the real world and/or your true nature. If, for example, you get news that contradicts your core values, you automatically try to reinterpret the news so it conforms with your beliefs. This attempt to change reality into something it isn’t causes a great deal of stress and it is this stress that creates your suffering. Yet, when you name your self neither good nor bad, you open to your true self and the end of suffering.
March 14, 2015 § 2 Comments
Just as a home is built with the materials on hand, so is the ego built from the materials of childhood, with a cornerstone being one’s sense of value or self-worth. A key contributing factor to this value is whether an individual was raised in a happy or unhappy family.
It is consistent with the development of the ego that a young child adopt an egocentric position and see him or her self as the cause of what’s happening in the family. If the family was happy, then the child would assume the credit and grow up with a positive self-worth. If the family was not happy, then the child may take on the blame for this situation and grow up with feelings of guilt and low self-esteem.
It does not help that unhappy people often seek to blame others for their state of unhappiness. Even with the best of intentions, parents may unconsciously raise a child to accept the blame for their unhappiness. How much more so might it be if the parents were suffering from addictions, neuroses or were, themselves, raised to accept the blame for their parents’ unhappiness! Whatever the additional circumstances, if a child thought a parent’s unhappiness was his or her fault, then that child may grow up to believe that he or she is a bad person.
It needs saying that neither you nor whoever raised you is to blame for your level of self-esteem. To play the blame game would only continue an unnecessary cycle of suffering. The aim here is to enable you to consciously recognize that your self-worth is determined solely by you and can therefore be changed by you!
Many people go through life with a vague feeling that they have done something wrong but cannot figure out what that was. This may contribute to chronic depression over feelings of worthlessness, or anxiety lest someone expose their secret sin. It seldom occurs to them that these feelings are the result of their compassion for another’s suffering having led them to falsely assume the blame for that suffering!
If you are one who has always felt that something was wrong but weren’t sure what that was, then take that feeling into your meditation. See if it doesn’t arise from an unconscious acceptance of blame for your family’s unhappiness. Then see that if someone was not happy that it was not your fault and that you are not responsible for anyone’s happiness but your own.
Over the course of time your bad feelings and catastrophic expectations of being “found out” will fall away. And you will find greater peace of mind from the simple recognition that the fault was never yours.
March 7, 2015 § 11 Comments
In the past few weeks I had been troubled by drowsiness when meditating. My first impulse was to use the drowsiness as the object of my meditation, a method recommended by the Buddha as told in “Ask a Monk: Falling Asleep While Meditating.” (Thanks to a spiritual friend for this site.)
Using drowsiness as the object of my meditation provided insight into the mental goings on when becoming drowsy. I could see that my attempts to only focus attention quickly led instead to following whatever subtle thought that arose in the background of my mind. I found that dozing off is like sinking into the ocean when you stop treading water, or like a bird that stops flapping its wings and falls into the sea. It became evident that I had to find a way to prop up my attention when meditating or I would continue to sink into unconsciousness.
In the above link, the monk made it plain that meditation is a practice that requires effort and not simply one of entering a calm, relaxed state. In the opening of The Gateless Gate we are directed to channel thought and feeling to one purpose. It’s asked, “Has this art of turning on one’s light been lost? It needn’t be if you put your mind—and all else you have—to it.” And in his work, Fukanzazengi, Dogen writes, “If you concentrate your effort single-mindedly, that in itself is negotiating the Way.” The direction from all points is therefore clear. We must apply effort if we hope to progress along the path and we can use all we have to develop that effort, even thought.
Meditation is not a matter of denying the mind’s functions. These go on vividly with thoughts and feelings arising and falling as we meditate. But if we do not apply effort in our practice we will continue to falsely identify and fall sway to our thoughts and feelings, with sleep oft-times ensuing.
Patanjali, the composer of some famous yoga aphorisms, taught that over prolonged periods of time when the waves of thought are continually pushed by the winds of mind, our thoughts become habitual. To counteract this he recommended raising thought waves that opposed our habitual thoughts. For instance, to overcome selfishness we would generate waves of compassion and loving-kindness. Likewise, we can use directed thought to focus the awareness to overcome habitual drowsiness.
Directed thought differs from following thought in that the later requires no effort. Following thought is simply a matter of habitually thinking the same old thoughts you’ve followed all your life. Directed thought, on the other hand, requires effort and it is that effort that keeps the mind from becoming drowsy and falling asleep.
To be clear, directed thought is not a matter of thinking new or more thoughts. It is the use of thought to focus the attention while meditating. One takes a truth learned through self-observation or Buddhist study and holds it in the awareness with the expectation that a deeper meaning will evolve naturally and of its own accord. This is not done mindlessly or by rote but with an active interest that raises your level of awareness.
For best results, the truth will be one that is dear to your heart or involve some problem that has been bothering you. If, for example, you feel unworthy you might attend to the truth of your own goodness. Or, if you are plagued with catastrophic expectations you might focus on the unreality of thought. Holding these in the awareness you actively attempt to realize the truth of your goodness or the unreality of thought. In one sense this is like trying to solve a koan in that you are not trying to generate thoughts about your self but seeking an insight into your own true nature.
I have found it best to use more than one truth as sometimes one will give more energy than another. And I have found that while doing this I am able to drop all but the essence of the thought as my awareness becomes more focused. In this way, I have been able to use thought to deepen my practice, instead of just mindlessly following it into unconsciousness.