• April 9, 2019

    Collage by Sae Kimura

    You continue to emphasize that everything in this work comes back to observation of self. I think I am beginning to know my habitual reactions but I do not see much change in myself.

    This is a subtle process. You may not notice the changes that arise over time. It’s a form of homeopathy, like curing like. The tendency to anger is observed as anger…its sensations and related gestures. The cure is the thing itself. Anger releases anger. Adopting a posture of peacefulness is most often a form of repression which does not release anger.

    By release you mean express?

    No. I mean a voluntary release of the impulse, which means that it is transformed into energy which can be expressed in other ways or not expressed at all. I have the power to choose, in the moment.

    So you are not erasing the tendency to react with anger?

    No. I am putting the anger reaction on wheels. I have baggage but it’s mobile.

    Perhaps you are missing a critical intermediate step. Observation, knowing the sensation and shape of your reaction as it takes place in real time, is the first step. The next step is to be impartial…that is, not reacting to your reaction. No judgment, no justification, just observation, recognition, perhaps amusement. Then you can easily move the reaction out of the way and respond to the situation at hand freely and creatively.

    The secondary reactions such as justification and judgment must also be observed impartially.

    When I discover and begin to track my habitual reactions, it’s natural that I should want to eliminate them. This is wrong motive. Perhaps it will come about, perhaps ongoing impartial observation will eventually erase the sensation-based electrical anomaly that sustains my reaction, but adopting this orientation risks becoming goal-seeking, which is not impartial observation. Our work is not a path to self-perfection, it is a path to freedom from self.

    The freedom is in the moment, to be able to set aside the reaction because impartiality has put it on wheels.

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  • October 19, 2018

    In my view, the greatest obstacle in this work is self-justification.

    We have become a society of professed victims. The pseudo-science of popular psychology has helped to create a culture of blame. Each of us is encouraged to develop a narrative that explains our difficulties, limitations and unhappiness in terms of the injuries done to us by others.

    What I justify I cannot change. Only by removing the judgment, the blame, can change begin. That is why impartiality is so important in this work.

    Perhaps some of you know that ‘justified’ is an old term used in the printing industry. When copy is ‘right justified’, the spacing of the words has been changed so that the text lines up on the right. Computers now do this automatically. The irregular is jiggled into place, making it conform.

    Our personal narrative is justified in a similar way…a hundred little edits and embellishments to our personal history which support and ‘explain’ our behaviour. This is how it goes: my father was very strict with me so I blame him for my inhibitions. My narrative, repeated endlessly to myself and to my friends (as often as they will listen), leaves out the small gestures of loving attention in favour of the moments of anger. The narrative lines up, I am a victim, I am justified.

    This might suggest to you that the way out is to disprove the narrative, go into your past and find out what really happened. I would not say this is always wrong if you can somehow get to the truth and accept it.

    Is there another way? Consider where the problem lies. Is it not the impulse to blame? Could the solution be impartiality?

    This is why we have such an emphasis on impartial observation of self. Yes, you will follow in the footsteps of the ancients who claimed that the key to spiritual evolution is to ‘know thyself’. You may also have the benefit of releasing yourself from the cult of blame. As the Khwajagan have said: “The undesirable must be relinquished before the desirable can be attained.” From the point of view of this work, blame is undesirable. On the other side of it is compassion, for oneself, for others and for all sentient beings who share in the sufferings and imperfections of this world.

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  • December 28, 2017

    For me, obligations are a heavy weight. Caring about others enmeshes me in a world of worry, frustration and anger. These seem to me to be obstacles to work. I think I would benefit from fewer attachments to the world around me.

    You have described precisely the field of our work on self. Without these difficulties, which are very real, nothing would be possible in this work. Swimming in a sea of self-indulgence leads to nothing. And let us be clear. Most of what we think of as spiritual practice is really self-indulgence.

    I obligate myself and I feel resentment that I cannot be at peace looking after my own preferences. I care about others and I feel anger and frustration at their pain and disappointment. This path requires that I learn to deal with these reactions, and not by avoiding them. It is not the obligation that weighs on me and it is not the caring that diminishes my potential. Rather, it is my habitual reactions that reduce the range of possible engagement to a few predictable defensive contractions.

    The problem is that I am partial. I want things to be a certain way. Consequently, I do not see what is actually happening in my life and I constantly lie to myself. To be impartial is to be free of personal demands. To be impartial is to be completely honest with oneself.

    This path is not one of disengagement but rather one of direct and open-ended engagement, without judgment, without blame and without self-pity.

    Can you discern a boundary that divides attachment from love? I cannot. Yes, I may have wrong attachments that cater to my self-lying and self-importance, attachments that cover me from my own sight. But it seems to me that attachment is also the secret purpose of the universe.

    The Buddhists teach a process called Trekcho, ‘cutting through’. The inner stage is impartially observing my reactions, not justifying them, releasing them and engaging with life from a place of freedom, a place of spontaneous presence. The state of spontaneous presence arises more often as my reactions subside.

    Resentment becomes agreement, not a ‘yes’ when you really mean ‘no’ but an inner alignment with the task required of you. The action is therefore joyful.

    Feeling the pain and disappointment of others could mean to suffer their circumstances while feeling love, compassion and the joy of relationship, rather than frustration and anger. This is not possible from a place of judgment. Why do we judge? Because we cannot bear the extreme contradictions of a fully human experience. The juxtaposition of opposites is both exquisite and excruciating. It is easier to divide the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’.

    Cutting through is a process of self-purification which cannot be accomplished without obligation and caring. In obligation I can learn to do things for their own sake, not for reward or the final result but simply because I said that I would. This is a doorway to impartiality and the joy of service. In caring I place the feelings of others ahead of my own. This is a doorway to the joy of sacrifice. Both actions deliver small defeats to self-importance that over time can make all the difference. As the Buddhists suggest, these experiences may lead to an insight that my personal self is essentially empty, having no independent existence.

    There are some schools that propose non-attachment as the goal. I propose a path of complete attachment…embracing the full catastrophe of human existence…its sorrow and its joy…attachment not limited by my personal preferences. The key is in knowing that it’s not about me. Attachment is only a problem when I make it about me.

    Can I be a medium through which the universe loves itself and celebrates its attachments?

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  • October 12, 2017

    I am still having trouble understanding what you mean by the stalking exercise.

    The hunter tracks his prey by knowing its likely behavior in certain circumstances. How does it approach the water hole? How does it move in rocky terrain? When does it feed and when does it sleep?

    Impartial observation of self brings a similar clarity. I see what my behavior is in specific situations. My aim is to see without bias or analysis. Attention itself brings about change. Disclosure itself is powerful medicine. But I also accumulate knowledge as a hunter does. I learn when I am likely to have the sensation of envy, when I become fearful or when I get bored. It is possible to think of these situations and produce in myself the physical reactions that would arise in them. Can I make use of this knowledge?

    Stalking is a way of using what I have learned about myself to provoke a change in my response to ordinary situations.

    Let’s suppose that I have observed a particular reaction I have to an unnecessarily talkative person. I signal my disinterest by partially turning away and I have an involuntary reaction of impatient irritation which expresses as a sensation of tightening in the chest and a dismissive gesture of the hands and head. I have decided that when this reaction begins, I will face the speaker, smile and listen with apparent courtesy (whether genuine or not). I observe the effects on myself and others.

    You cannot do this exercise if you have not previously observed yourself impartially many times. Impartiality brings separation and dis-identification from the state and these are the very qualities that enable you to remember to stalk yourself in this situation. Otherwise, you will forget your aim and your life will continue in its habitual form.

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  • November 22, 2016

    You have talked about impartiality towards others but it seems to me to be much more difficult to be impartial towards oneself, which is the basic requirement of impartial observation.

    Our lives are neither uninterrupted sleep nor do we have long periods of voluntary attention and presence. We have periods of sleep when we are identified and essentially blind to ourselves and we have moments when we experience the cracks in our sleep states, where the light shines through.

    The cracks are where you see impartially?

    Yes. Let’s suppose you are motoring along in your favourite sleep state where you habitually express your political opinions. For just a moment, you catch a glimpse of yourself as pompous and insincere. It’s that tell-tale hand gesture of yours and your tone of voice. You recognize it instantly. You are in the crack between.

    What happens next is the key. You will have an immediate physical reaction and then you will have some thoughts on the matter. One of your identities will try to reassert itself and pull you out of the crack. This identity will offer to judge or excuse, condemn or justify, or perhaps simply distract, the options are limited, and that will get you out of seeing objectively and back into your personality, home sweet sleep. The movement is from impartiality to partiality.

    Or you can see the reaction as part of a habitual process and refuse the identification, remaining impartial.

    What’s important here is to see the crack as separate from the reaction. There is a distinction between impartial seeing, which is the moment of insight, and the reaction. Seeing this makes it possible to escape identification and return to the crack. What was seen in the original insight—your insincerity—is part and parcel with the reaction that follows; it is all one movement of personality. What is separate is seeing. Can you stay with seeing?

    Can we stay longer in the cracks?

    The reactions to impartial observation of self inevitably begin with sensations that co-relate with specific muscular contractions. We like to think that the thoughts stirred up by our reactions are the primary things to deal with but they are secondary to sensations and contractions which actually precede the thoughts. Can you see and release these contractions? Doing so may halt the reaction, allowing impartiality to continue. Do not be surprised if the resulting insights are very painful.

    How do you make more cracks?

    Life itself makes cracks. We receive shocks. People close to us suffer. We fail to realize our fondest dreams. We make mistakes. Suffering creates cracks in our personal veneer. Our inconsistencies are exposed. We can begin to see more of what is actually going on in ourselves.

    Work on self can expedite the cracking. One valuable step is to understand the nature of attention.

    Our ordinary attention is not impartial. We believe it is a personal possession controlled by our thinking and we allow this assumption to hide the possibility that attention can be independent and impartial. Learning to invoke attention can teach us that it has a miraculous power to act without the interference of the head brain, that it has an independent existence as a fundamental property of the space around us. Freeing attention from the limitations we impose on it allows us to enter more cracks.

    Also, the process of observing self accumulates data over time. We begin to recognize our habitual patterns, perhaps at first after the fact but then in real time. We humans are not nearly as complicated as we think we are. For each of us, our sleep patterns come down to a limited few with recognizable sensations, gestures and expressions. The more you know them, the more you see them.

    Related Post:
    Impartiality – Nov 13, 2016

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