7 mins read.
Do you feel like you’re in a hurry a lot of the time? Like there’s always something to get to after this?
It’s not very relaxing, but in my observation we’re pretty much all in a hurry these days, including me more than I’d like of late. I caught myself the other day even managing to feel in a hurry while waiting in line at the airport. I had nothing to do and no real choice except to be, but I had an antsy feeling wanting the line to hurry up and/or wondering about what I was going to do or say when I got to the head of the line. Even though it was obvious that I simply had to show my passport and Covid certificate — even though I knew that and was prepared (had spent days preparing! even had the Verifly app!) — I still wanted to get it all over with.
This was instead of being utterly peaceful and relaxed in the present moment.
Which I can be if I want. We all can. But for that we have to slow down. There are many ways we can slow down, the simplest being just breathing and relaxing into our heart. There is no need to push for any result – we simply give ourself a few minutes to allow all our busy conceptuality to dissolve into the peaceful clarity of our own mind.
Slow down AND wisen up
When we allow ourselves to slow down, we start to feel happier and less rushed. Even better, as soon as we absorb just a little bit we automatically become a little bit wiser. We are able to see things with a deeper knowing. We drop below the flotsam and jetsam of our turbulent thoughts to the still depths within and everything becomes clearer, reflected more accurately, as in a still lake. And then we can start to figure things out on a more spiritual level such that we can truly let go and relax.
Being in our heart letting everything dissolve into emptiness is the most relaxing activity on the planet. At least it is if we are actually a little bit absorbed and present and not over-thinking things, pushing to get this done, pushing for an insight. To begin with, we have to let ourselves abide with our Buddha nature. From there we can gently contemplate Dharma instructions – allowing ourself to stay with each little insight as it arises so that it can naturally evolve into the next.
It doesn’t work if we try to stay in control of the proceedings and rush them as opposed to surrendering to a deeper, let’s say unfurling, wisdom. This wish to control is ego-driven and it doesn’t work for meditation. If we’re not careful we start to identify with someone who isn’t that great at meditation, believing that meditation is going to be too much hard work even though we know it is supposed to be good for us. Meditating with that self-identification is rather painful. Sometimes it makes us a bit “lungy”, which is when our inner energy winds stop cooperating so that we feel strained and distant from our own insights.
I’ve spoken about how to deal with these things on the blog, but today and in the next article I want to explore in particular that self-grasping we have at a singular self, such as the me that cannot meditate. Maybe we can approach this on the basis of a little meditation, such as the one here. See you back here in five minutes …
…. Hello again.
How to abandon grasping at singularity
As with any discussion of emptiness, first of all we need some intellectual understanding through listening or reading to instructions, and then we gently bring that understanding into our heart by contemplating it with interest or admiring faith, without pushing. When we get a personal insight, our heart moves and we abide with that for as long as we can, neither following other thoughts nor pushing for further insights.
In the chapter Ultimate Bodhichitta in Modern Buddhism, Venerable Geshe Kelsang explains how we can meditate on the emptiness of the 8 extremes. These specialist meditations are in the section “The emptiness of phenomena”, and are the 8 different ways in which we grasp at phenomena as real. It is a spacy section and a lot of fun! I’m going to jump straight to #7 to share a practical way of meditating on avoiding the extreme of singularity as it relates to our self.
When we observe one object, such as our I, we strongly feel that it is a single, indivisible entity, and that its singularity is inherently existent.
When we think “Me” at any given moment, we are holding onto ourself as singular. The one and only. I am a whole unto myself. I am a discrete entity, existing in and of myself, I don’t depend on anything else. I am just me, indivisible me.
In reality, however, our I has many parts, such as the parts that look, listen, walk and think or the parts that are, for example, a teacher, a mother, a daughter and a wife. Our I is imputed upon the collection of all these parts.
We impute ourselves on multiple things. Whenever our “parts” change, which is all the time, our self changes, because we are not inherently single but imputed on a plurality. For example, what happens to the unhappy self when our mood lifts and we are happy again? It disappears because it was only ever appearance to begin with.
As with each individual phenomenon it is a singularity, but its singularity is merely imputed, like an army that is merely imputed upon a collection of soldiers or a forest that is imputed upon a collection of trees.
That’s not how our self is perceived by our self-grasping ignorance! Regardless which version of self is arising, ignorance grasps it as objectively or inherently singular. There’s just one of me, right?! So when I’m feeling overwhelmed, for example, that me is a single overwhelmed self, the one and only me. I believe it and buy into it. This grasping fills my mind, and therefore I feel bad and have little energy to do anything.
However, far from having just one self, we have a lot of them — in fact we probably have hundreds in any given day. I’ll go first:
I am a daughter; in fact I am arguably two daughters – my mom’s and my dad’s. I am a sister and a sister-in-law. I am anxious. I am relaxed. I am a writer. I never get round to writing. I am a hiker. I am a lazy lump. I am good at meditation. I should be better at meditation. I am kind. I am mean. I am cool. I am a nerd. (I am a cool nerd.) I am overwhelmed. I am in charge. I am a traveler. I never go anywhere. Etc etc. I just threw those out randomly, I could probably go on all day.
Most of these versions cancel each other out, yet strangely I still manage to grasp at each single one as if it was the real me.
We have gotten habituated to this singular sense of self over this and many lifetimes. For example, we can go for a long time without identifying with, say, a jealous self, but then someone does something and we’re believing it again. In those moments, it can feel unimaginable that we may not be that self. A friend may encourage us, “Hey, just drop it!” Yes, why don’t I?!, but it’s impossible. You don’t get it, I am that.
Ten minutes ago I was a different self. I am swapping selves continuously. I have to let go of one self to be another. How real can any of these singular separate selves therefore be?!
Moreover, with each friend we have also developed a different persona – jokey, serious, flirty, etc. We are constantly swapping hats/selves. Yet due to ignorance we then keep grasping at each self as distinct and fixed and stuck.
And not only that, but what about all those distinct selves the rest of you see when you look at “me”? You all think something completely different when you bring Luna Kadampa to mind. How many versions of me are floating around?! I hope there are some decent ones, but it’s not entirely my fault if there aren’t.
I am out of time and you may be out of coffee break. But the meditation I’m going to explain next week (already written) will help with this.
Over to you 🙂 Please leave any comments or questions in the box below so I can address them as well in the next article.
Quick fix meditation on emptiness
Always a brilliantly timed post, KL. The Eight Extremes was on my mind when you brought up the analogy of a tree and a forest in an emptiness retreat earlier this year. (When can we begin to impute forest on a collection of trees?) I feel some resolution now with this post.
It allows me to feel relaxed and accept the throwing karma of this life and the societal and racial trauma that’s appearing. If I start to abandon grasping first at my own singularity. Then, abandon the singularity of another that has harmed me or resemble those who have harmed me (they never existed inherently anyway). What’s left is the appearance of one of the four effects of my actions. There lies the fork in the road. It’s a practical portal into the emptiness of self and of persons and an opportunity to generate minds of compassion and forgiveness to further along on the correct path. Of course, remembering to do this as Heruka.