-- Seng-ts’an, Third Zen Patriarch
In this chapter, Pema suggests that noticing our opinions as opinions, just like noting our thoughts as "thinking", can be extremely helpful. IMHO, this chapter, in itself, can be transformative.
I had been meditating on and off for over twenty years, attended a couple of Zen Sesshins, and had some fairly compelling experiences both on and off the zafu, before I was introduced to "noting practice" by a teacher trained in the Theravadan tradition. To be honest, the instruction to make the mental note "thinking" when noticing that thoughts are dominating my attention seemed quite clunky and unnecessary. (Likewise, the instruction to label other sensations, feelings, etc.) I shrugged it off, and spent the remainder of the seven day retreat at Insight Meditation Society practicing Shikantaza, the Soto Zen practice of Just Sitting.
It was another ten years before I was re-introduced to this instruction in the teachings of Pema Chodron. This time it took -- and it took me deeper. With her teaching to pay close attention to the tone of voice that we use as we make this mental note, a new dimension of practice opened as well. I was able to actually cultivate a kinder, calmer, less judgmental quality of consciousness toward myself -- and others. The noting practice became a regular part of Sitting Practice.
Now, I've seen for myself clearly how we create the appearance of a solid reality out of thin air. Lost in our thoughts, as we often are, the vast and flowing sacredness of Life As It Is, escapes us. Instead, we are imprisoned, oftentimes in a non-existent past or future, in a world created out of a haphazard hodgepodge of concepts, beliefs, and opinions about life. Now, both on and off the meditation cushion, the mental note "thinking" can open the way to a moment that is brimming with the miraculous Presence of life itself.
A Day's Lesson: The Theory and Practice
As it turned out, I ran into an old Zen DharmaBuddhy on the bus that day. Together, we headed to the coffee shop to continue the discussion. As the conversation turned to the current Presidential campaign, all hell could have broken loose.
Having just read Pema's presentation, I was primed to see my opinions as just opinions. It was easy to see how clinging to them as some sort of absolute truth would have help create something quite different than the interesting discussion that emerged. Again and again, I was able to let go of my own strong, well-rehearsed positions, take a breath, and let go into the moment. There, I could feel my friend's deep caring, his sincerity, and his concern. There, I could even see the logic of several of his arguments.
Rather than adding more aggression to the world, the inevitable result of ego-clinging, the Practice allowed us to touch a bit of Basic Intelligence. In doing that, we channeled a bit more respect and understanding into this old suffering world.
I like it when that happens.
*Internet jargon for "In My Humble Opinion"