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I’m exploring a new take on a familiar theme and am putting it out in this format in order to engage those of you interested in exploring it with me.
We’ve often referred to this, our shared delusion of reality (this world), as the “world of opposites.” Everything in this plane of existence is opposite to what we’re taught to believe. “Conventional wisdom” runs along the lines of “worry ispreparation, fear keeps a person safe, it’s possible to control outcomes,” and so forth. (You might take a moment here to jot down some of those you’re told you don’t believe but live by nonetheless.)
But what if the “world of opposites” is much more pervasive and more deeply “personal” than we’ve realized? What if that notion can assist us to see, on a moment-by-moment basis, exactly what egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate is doing to keep us in its thrall? Seems worth looking into, doesn’t it?
Now, of course, as with most of awareness practice, coming at this straight on isn’t all that effective. That’s why spiritual folks use metaphor, parables, analogies, etc., to assist in sneaking up on what we can see out of the corner of the eye but often miss if we look directly. When we look directly, we’re usually using conditioned mind to look, and “from the corner of the eye” viewing enables insight and intuition to slip through.
With that approach I will endeavor to point us in the direction of exploration.
Let’s use as our first test case a person who is insecure, responsible, and hard-working, who seeks external approval and tries hard always to get everything right. The internal conversation is along the lines of, “I need to…, I have to remember to…, I wonder if ‘they’ will like…, I can’t believe I messed that up again…, why do I always say the wrong thing….” There are plenty of openings for self-hate, and the conversation in the head is focused on what went wrong in the past, what’s probably wrong now, and what’s likely to go wrong in the future. The person is tense, tight, unsure, anxious, and often miserable. He’s working overtime to be the perfect person and living in a world of failure and criticism. If asked, the “self-aware” person would acknowledge, “Yeah, that’s pretty much how I am.”
Here’s the “what if” for that person. What if that person arrived in this world bright, intelligent, eager, and enthusiastic, with great instincts and a well-developed ability to assess circumstances and communicate clearly what’s being seen? What if that person encountered an egocentric, karmically-conditioned, self-hating environment that needed to squash any authentic expression of Life in order to maintain its own false reality? What if that person eventually acquiesced in order to survive, got with the program, took up as internal conversation a version of what was coming from the outside, and, over time, came to accept the false reality of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate as the “true reality” of Life, treating himself as he’d been treated, striving to please the “outside authorities” (which now only exist inside!), unable to access his authenticity and certainly NOT living as the authentic expression of Life he most likely came to this plane of existence to be.
In other (and perhaps fewer) words, authenticity arrives into a conditioned circumstance, the human being adapts, takes up the conditioned reality in order to survive in it, forgets the original authenticity, accepts the conditioned reality as “true,” and looks to the assessment of the conditioned reality to know “who/how I am,” then spends a lifetime believing, feeling bad about, hiding, and compensating for an identity that has nothing to do with who s/he is! Except it is the opposite of who/how s/he isauthentically.
Let’s try another: Person is born intelligent, curious, eager to learn. External environment is threatened by all that present, here, unencumbered “seeing.” Person gets a lot of rejection for seeing and saying. As above, the person gradually gives in in order to survive the circumstances. The internal conversation becomes one of “I know what’s right/best, but I can’t say because I’ll be rejected and punished.” This can turn into anger and resentment that “they” (a “they” only existing inside conditioned mind at this point), are controlling me. The conclusion: I’ll hide out, lay low, not let anyone know what’s going on with me, and I’ll be safe.
Sadly, in all such cases, we are emphatically NOT safe. Instead, we are in the gravest danger a human can experience: we are trapped alone with a force that is surviving at our expense. In addition, we are unable to access our authenticity (which resides on the other side of the incessant internal survival conversation), and thus can neither express our authentic being nor learn all that would be available to us if we were able to show up in each moment ready for the receiving and transmitting of the Intelligence that Animates that is possible for us as human incarnations.
So, as we explore this:
~~ An “I know” conversation in the head is meant to conceal the fact that “I don’t know” and prevent me from being open to information that would allow me to be lit-up and eager to see and learn in each moment. In other words, “I know” robs us of innocent authenticity.
~~ An “I’ve got to be perfect” conversation keeps us from recognizing the perfection of all Life and robs us of our ability to relax into the unique part each expression of Life plays.
~~ A “There’s something wrong with (me or them)” prevents us from experiencing that there’s nothing wrong anywhere in Life—never has been, never will be—and cuts us off from an open-hearted appreciation of everything exactly as it is. This orientation also closes us off from gratitude and compassion.
Now, the main thing I want for us to explore together is how focusing the attention on an internal conversation reinforces the illusion of an ego-I and creates a barrier to authenticity. It’s not that authenticity isn’t “here” and available. In fact, it’s ALL that is here and available. It’s that when we are engaged in the conversation, we can’t experience authenticity. It’s exactly like sitting on a beautiful beach in front of a perfect sunset and missing the whole thing because our attention is on an annoying conversation we had last week.
A perspective: Life is improv. Until we are with the moment, we are attempting to follow (and insist that others follow) a very old script (that others don’t even know exists) that has nothing to do with anything happening now or in the past.
The whole point: If you want to know who/how/what you are authentically, listen to what the conversation in your head is telling you, look to see what is opposite to that, and get a sense that that opposite definition is who/how/what you are authentically. The same formula works with others! A person who “presents” as one way is probably very close to the exact opposite when identified with the conversation in egocentric karmic conditioning/self. To see what one is authentically, look at the internal conversation with conditioning and know authenticity is the opposite of that! The one exception: When someone is “coming from center” they will be congruent inside and out. Fun to play with, yes?
- Encounters an egocentric, karmically conditioned/self-hating world
- Identification with the ego-I system created to survive in the world
- Attending constantly to the conversation in the ego-I survival system
- Presenting the opposite of that ego-I conversation to the outer world
A rather simplistic example: You are born open, curious, and loving. The world you must navigate is fear-based, suspicious, and reserved. You become frightened, anxious, and protective of self. As the internal conversation focuses on how “they are/it is,” you are told how to behave in order to avoid what will befall you if you run afoul of “them/it.”
Inside you’re terrified and closed, outside you appear to be self-effacing and affable.
Who/how are you authentically? Open, curious, and loving. Along with a lot of other Life-affirming qualities you’re not allowed to experience and own.
My hope is two-fold. 1) That you will look to see what is the conversation that occupies your attention (it may seem too varied at first glance, but if you continue to attend, you will see the over-arching talk that contains the many sub-texts), and 2) that you will call in to Open Air so we can talk about what you see. I am hoping to engage the whole Sangha in this conversation, and Open Air is our best avenue for achieving the broadest exchange. An upcoming practice opportunity that might assist in clarifying the conversation is the email class beginning July 16—lots of clues there!
About Cheri Huber
Cheri Huber has been a student and teacher of Zen for over 30 years. She is the author of 20 books, the newest being What You Practice Is What You Have, the sequel to her widely-read There Is Nothing Wrong With You. Other titles include The Depression Book, The Fear Book, and When You're Falling, Dive. In 1983, Cheri founded the Mountain View Zen Center, and in 1987 she founded the Zen Monastery Peace Center in Calaveras County. She and the monks at the Monastery conduct workshops and retreats at these centers, other places around the U.S., and internationally. In 1997, Cheri founded Living Compassion, a nonprofit organization dedicated to peace and service. She also has a weekly, Internet based call-in radio show, Open Air.
ॐ Namasté - Blessings!
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