It is kind of amazing to realize we don’t have to take credit for all of our habitual patterns and thoughts, but we can be responsible for them.
How is that? We’re not responsible for them in the sense that it’s not our fault that they came up in the first place, but once something has arisen, how we work with what arises, our reaction, that is our power. That is what mindfulness, awareness and compassion is cultivating, the power to work with our reaction, to choose how we work with what arises, how we view it. We have the power to learn how to grow in that capacity.
Here I’m talking about individuation and egolessness at the same time and I’ll explain that. This stuff is hard! If you don’t think 90% of your thoughts, who is doing it then? Who is causing all these problems? When you look, you really don’t find a solid single, fixed, unchanging thing that is doing it. In fact, it’s all a misunderstanding. It feels like it’s your fault but when you really look at it, actually it’s not.
So, we may not have control in the sense that we can’t stop all those thoughts, at least nobody I know has learned how, it just doesn’t work like that, but we do have the agency to work with them in a way that is different.
That agency to practice, to reframe, to look with compassion, that is a healthy sense of being an individual.
This is where I sort of veer away a little bit from some of the ways my teachers talked about this. People use the word ego, it really gets bandied about a lot. I know that Freud used it a lot and attached a lot of meaning to it, but Buddhists don’t always mean the same thing that Freud did.
I often hear people say “That’s just my ego.” This frustrates me, as a meditation teacher. It’s okay if you want to use that word, but I personally find it confusing and not helpful. I’ve come up with a replacement, you might not find it more helpful, but I do, and that is ‘fear-based clinging.’
Fear-based clinging is not shameful. There is no solid entity that is bad, no ego that is bad. As we look in meditation we realize if there isn’t a solid fixed thing that is the problem, then why refer to it that way? It doesn’t seem very helpful.
Also if this inner critic voice arises spontaneously and says “See?! You did it again! You thought that thought!” or “You’re distracted again!” When that happens, it feels like it’s who we are, but then when we look there is no one there. That is not really who we are. As soon as you become aware of the inner critic, you know it’s not you. Yes, the thought came up but you can see it.
There is really an ephemeral quality to consciousness where we can become identified with certain thoughts and emotions. That is so confusing and so unfair! Unfortunately we can’t will that away. We have to look, with clarity, and see and then we can say, “Oh yeah. No wonder it’s confusing.”
There is a functional identity in each of us. Each of us having a body means we’re a biophysical organism that wants to survive, that is good news, that means we get to walk around on the earth for a while and hopefully we can be helpful and enjoy it
But this functional identity was never what the Buddhist teachings were targeting. They were never saying all we need to do is get rid of (insert your name here) and everything will be fine. There are a lot of ways that one might go about that, but that was not the point of Buddhism. It’s not the point of meditation either, of any tradition, really, that I know of.
So fear-based clinging is when we identify with our fear and believe in the fixations and stories and solidifications of that perspective. We are in a claustrophobic state of identifying with a fear-based mind. Even while we do that, if we could hit a pause button and step outside of ourselves and look back, we’d see there’s no solid fixed ego there anyway, even in that moment. It sure feels like there is, doesn’t it?! Yes, I’m not denying that you feel that way, but when you really at it, you see it isn’t really like that.
Aha. So it turns out being individuated and having a functional self and a functional identity known as so-and-so, with your name and your history, and your story, is not the problem. In fact the healthier we are in being who we are, the more we can actually be who we are, the more we’re in touch with this so-called egolessness.
This is part of an ongoing series. Stay tuned for Part 5!
Maitri For Our Time Part 1
Maitri For Our Time Part 2
Maitri For Our Time Part 3
Maitri For Our Time Part 4
Maitri For Our Time Part 5
Maitri For Our Time Part 6
Maitri For Our Time Part 7
Maitri For Our Time Part 8