I thought I’d look at some examples of the ghosts in the cellar, especially those we thought we had already dealt with but then they raise their spooky heads again (carrying on from Dealing with our demons).
For example, I was talking to someone recently who thought he had totally gotten over an ex-boyfriend. He was feeling very content, but then, out of the blue, just idly swiping through Instagram, an image of a grinning man with a new lover jumped out and hit him in the solar plexis. WHAM!, he was back to relating to that attached person who needed this person to be complete and happy, so feeling bereft and jealous all over again.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of people reading who can relate to this, me included. Life is full of separations for all of us until we have unconditional love for all living beings, or deep faith in the omnipresence of holy beings, or an understanding that no one ever existed outside our mind in the first place.
He told me, “I haven’t been happy since he left and I won’t ever be happy again, not really.” I reminded him that this was in fact nonsense as he had been contented many times since the break up, and blissfully happy and free on occasion, not to mention stronger and wiser.
(NEWSFLASH: Not to put Tinder and Hollywood out of business, but we don’t in fact need a romantic relationship to be happy, as countless monks and nuns will testify, including Buddha himself, as well as lay or ordained Yogis, Yoginis, and Mahasiddhas galore. Plus a whole bunch of regular folk. Whether we are in a relationship or not, the only thing that can bring us actual, deep happiness is cultivating our innate capacity for mental peace. Neglecting this truth to chase happiness elsewhere can be exhilarating at the time but has a habit, sooner or later, of coming back and biting us in the butt.)
But this friend’s current mood was affecting his perception of the past and the future. It always does. And, overpowered by appearances, we grasp at these perceptions as true.
The painful, limited self is back! It is as if a pathetic, rejected, mournful ghost crawls back up the cellar stairs, rattling its rusty chains to demand our attention, and we think, “Man, not this one again!” But, as Geshe Kelsang says, there is no need to panic.
There is also no need to feel like a “bad Buddhist” as one commentator said in the last article. “I’m a Buddhist, I shouldn’t feel this way, I’m hopeless, I’ve been doing this for years, there is no point even trying!” This is succumbing to the laziness of discouragement, wherein that delusion has now crawled up the stairs as well, and put his gnarly hands around our throat, “Just give up! Join us! For you know you’ll never defeat us.” It is only if we identify with our delusions and shortcomings that we will feel like failures when they arise, when in fact we are not failures at all.
Instead, within the vast space of accepting ourselves — and feeling the deep acceptance of enlightened beings too if we can — we can eye this strange creature with curiosity, and then shine the bright flashlight of our Buddha nature straight onto him. It is a good time to remind ourselves of the love we do have for others, of our renunciation, of our faith, and so on; to feel our way into it by tuning into, for example, the affection we have for our brother or the gratitude we have for our teachers and precious human life. And we will find that before very long the ghost of the limited self evaporates, POOF!, and the Hero is back with all his retinue. At which point, the past doesn’t seem so bad any more, “Wow, I learned such useful lessons from this relationship, I’m grateful!” and nor does the future, “I have so many good things I want to do with my life.” The heavy spirit of attachment has gone. We can identify with being an unpainful, unlimited being. We are free.
And we know what to do next time.
Object of annoyance
I think in some ways objects of annoyance are easier to deal with than objects of attachment as we KNOW we don’t want them around, whereas with attachment we are not so sure. That may be partly why attachment is said to be harder to remove, like oil soaked into cloth, whereas anger is more like dust. But when a supposedly dealt-with object of aversion does come charging up those stairs again, we can remember the forgiveness we have felt for them, for example, and that “I am so much bigger than you!” Perspective gives us space so that we don’t feel cornered – and the whole of Dharma gives us perspective. Huge perspective.
We can do something similar when Jealousy, Boredom, Anxiety, Pride, and Lack of Self-Worth, not to mention Self-satisfaction, Complacency, and Pride, or indeed any of the merry tribe creeps back up the stairs.
Remember there is nothing really out there
By the way, if you have some familiarity with emptiness, it is well worth turning to that straightaway whenever the painful, limited self appears.
Last night I dreamt that I witnessed a violent crime and then had to flee for my life – only I had no idea where to go. Then I realized there was nowhere to flee, and no one to flee. There was no one or nowhere to flee from, and no one or nowhere to flee to! And there was no one to flee. The only thing to do was to wake up.
In a similar way we need to wake up from all dream-like appearances by remembering that they are utterly unfindable.
If you have wisdom, you can use it to shine a light on any problem, “This person whom I normally see does not exist.” Dissolve them and us away and start again. Physical problems too. They seem real and fixed, eg, tinnitus, headache, even cancer, but they are not.
I know what I want to do – pop my own and others’ bubbles and be fully alive in groundlessness. Our karma has been blowing insubstantial, impermanent bubbles since beginningless time. We get caught up in one after another, as if they are actually important, but in samsara, as Ven Geshe-la says, all our dreams are broken in the end. I want us all to wake up and STAY awake.
More next time… meanwhile, please comment, including sharing any experiences of banishing your painful, limited self.