"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart enough to engage Life directly, to be more fully Present in a kind, clear, and helpful way."

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call! Musings on Life and Practice by a Long-time Student of Meditation.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Know What?

“Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: 
Heart Advice for Difficult Times 

"It is only when the mind is free from the old that it meets everything anew,
and in that there is joy.
― Jiddu Krishnamurti


Bodhidharma by Shokei, 15th Century
Not having a clue rarely stops me these days.  In fact, at age 71, it seems to be the best stance to take in any given moment.  It certainly seems the most appropriate.  The presumption that we really know what is going on is most often is only just that.  It's a presumption.  Clung to, it can be patently presumptuous.  

This can lead to all sorts of problems.

My first boss, Charlie Winchester, foreman of the maintenance department at a small factory in a small town north of Chicago had a decidedly less delicate way of making the point.  The memory brings a smile and warm glow to my heart.

I started working at that factory as a high school sophomore in the summer of 1962.  A working class kid, I had come of age.  Dutifully eschewing summer days splashing in the local lake, I needed to get serious and start saving money for the college education that would propel me up a notch in status, if not in income, as a public school teacher.

In those days, like many of us, I was able to get a relatively good paying union job for the summer at the factory where my dad worked.  Although I began as a stock handler on one of the assembly lines, I was soon able to transfer to the maintenance department where my tasks ranged from mowing the extensive grounds to learning how to fix things.  Although it was often noisy, dirty, and sometimes even dangerous, I loved it.  

My boss, Charlie, was a kind and able mentor.  That spirit pervaded the maintenance crew and during the seven summers I worked there, I learned a lot about how things work -- on many levels.

One particular lesson on the nature of reality that first summer began when Charlie came around the corner to find me standing in front of a simple piece of production machinery gone amuck.   Lurching erratically and making tortuous noises after my attempt at repair, it threatened mayhem.  The afternoon's production quota now in question, I quickly explained what I had done and why.  

With the ever present cigar stub in his mouth, Charlie quickly shut the machine down, then immediately took a pen from his shirt pocket pen holder and wrote the word "ASSUME" on a piece of paper.

"You know what happens when you assume?" he asked.
(READ MORE) 
I don't need to go into the details of his lecture here (he was actually quite gentle and compassionate with me considering the circumstances), but to illustrate the points he was making Charlie grinned and added two strategic slashes, leaving me staring at the piece of paper.  It read: 
ASS/U/ME
Although Charlie's delivery may seem a bit rough around the edges for some of my spiritually minded friends, his was a profound Teaching.  Its depth continues to amaze me.

After 45 years of Practice, it has become quite clear to me that our assumptions and preconceptions consistently stand in the way of actually seeing what is right in front of our noses.  What makes matters even more interesting is that this usually operates subconsciously.  We don't experience them as the assumptions they are.   

At the deepest levels, clung to and codified into belief systems, they create a perceptual screen that filters the way we experience the world.  To make matters even more challenging, the way ego often operates, this screen often filters out data that doesn't verify the "truth" of that what we "believe" to be true.  Then, if someone actually appears to directly confront these belief systems, fear and anger often emerge as a defensive reaction. 

This, of course, has enormous consequences.  

The Mind of Not-Knowing

The first of the Three Tenets of the Zen Peacemakers, an organization of socially engaged Buddhists founded by Roshi Bernie Glassman is:
"I vow to live a life of Not-knowing, 
giving up fixed ideas about myself and the universe."

To many folks who are swirled up in the mainstream of contemporary society,  an intention to not know may seem quite strange.  After all, we've all been raised in a system that rewards status, power and influence to "experts", those who claim to know.  No matter where we end up in that pecking order, we still most likely have a great deal of ego invested in 'knowing" what is going on.  It operates as a subconscious security blanket.

This runs pretty deep.  The software coding of our conditioning, if not the genetic hardware of our species itself,  has most of us operating from a system of fixed ideas about who we are, who "they" are, and how things are.  Moment to moment, we have been conditioned to think and feel that we are seeing and responding to an objective reality "out there" that somehow exists and operates independently from us -- and that we ourselves can objectively assess it's nature and go from there.

Guess again.


Through the ages, the avatars, seers, sages and saints of all traditions have made a point to look at the world created by a prevailing system of belief and proclaim "it ain't necessarily so!"  

Whether it is conceptualized as the Kingdom of Heaven or Nirvana or Sat Chit Ananda or the Tao or Being or Presence, each of them pointed to a dimension of  experience that transcended the "conventional" reality presented.  Oftentimes they had to confront the religious authorities of their day. 

I consider myself lucky to have come of age in the late 60's, a time when a lot of us caught the tidal wave of a worldwide Collective Kensho, and surfed our way into personal mystical experiences.  Back then, many of us sailed through modes of consciousness where the Teachings of Jesus and Buddha made perfect sense.  The bottom line? There was spiritual plane of existence.  We saw it with our own eyes, felt it with our own hearts. 

And yet -- here's where Practice comes in -- a lot  of us came to understand that "knowing" that we are All One and that Love IS the Answer, doesn't quite hack it.  In fact, clinging to that experience as a belief structure could lead to all sorts of side-effects: arrogance, self-righteousness, and closed mindedness perhaps being three of the most obnoxious.  (I've managed to manifest each and everyone of them all too often over the years.)  
Within a few years of that first "peak experience" it became obvious.  There was much more to it.  To actually be a kind and considerate human being in touch with the ever-flowing nature of reality moment to moment with was going to take some serious time and committed effort.  
It would take Practice.    

Although I hadn't realized at the time, the Practice that emerged wasn't about taking a magic carpet ride to ecstatic states.   It would involve diving into the nether realms of my own subconscious.  Over time, it entailed exploring and reconfiguring the framework of conditioned belief structures, thought, and feeling that had always operated beneath the level of conscious awareness.  That conditioned point of view that some refer to as the ego, continued to freeze the world I lived in, separating me from aspects of myself and the One Love that exists at the Heart of Being moment to moment.
 
This is where meditation comes in.

The development of a regular meditation practice can be extremely helpful in deepening an awareness of the essentially spacious quality of consciousness that always exists within and beyond the constrains of our conditioned patterns. It can also afford us the opportunity to gaze at the essentially fluid nature of all experience.  This may be a bit unsettling at first because the thrust of our ego conditioning is to "nail down" a fixed reality. 

Believe it or not, that may be the easy part.

Another, perhaps more daunting, aspect of the Practice is the process of taking a deep look at our own conditioned patterns, to get in touch with even the darker, "unacceptable" aspects of ourselves, those that are most often reflexively denied or repressed.  

Both on the meditation cushion and elsewhere, this takes a commitment to look at ourselves in the mirror so honestly and so compassionately that we are able to not only touch the more miraculous aspects of who we are, but to face --and embrace -- the ghosties and ghoulies, the gnarlier aspects of our own conditioned personality.  This is the Heart of Practice, the process of opening our hearts to cultivate a clear, open and accepting mind. 

As the Practice unfolds, more and more, we are able to more clearly discern the difference between knowing and thinking that we know. As we become more aware of our actual experience, time and time again we will witness directly how often our assumptions stem from conclusions previously drawn (ranging in time from the moment before, to as far back as early childhood), and that these preconceptions then actually obstruct our ability to see and respond appropriately to the situations that present themselves.  In time, we develop the ability to catch this as it happens in the here and now.  With Practice, more and more, we are able to just drop it -- and open to what Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn called "Don't Know Mind."

Life gets a lot easier when that happens.


Being somewhat clueless as to how to actually proceed years ago, I didn't realize that being clueless was not only the starting point, it was the endless endpoint of the journey as well. 

In the midst of the ordinary events of our lives, Not-knowing opens us to a realm of mystery and unimaginable wonder.  Life itself becomes Iridescent.

Moment to moment, letting go of thinking that we know what is going on, we are able to be Present with an Open Heart and a Clear Mind. 

It just takes Practice.

4 comments:

Don Karp said...

Another great article, Lefty!

One can easily become attached to meditation practice and reinforce one's ego this way. How to avoid that?

When I was at the original Woodstock, there was a huge storm. Some of our tents got wiped out. No problem. Across the way was another, and since we ere all brothers and sisters there was no problem sharing.

This is a belief system I yearn for.

Lance Smith said...

I hear you on that One, Brother Don. I share that Vision of the way it could be. IMHO, cooperation and sharing are the hallmarks of an enlightened society. I think that Aspiration emerges from our Heart of Hearts for many of us. It flows from our essential Connection in the One Love.

It seems to me that belief systems can really become an impediment if they are SUBconscious and steer us in ways we are not aware of. They are also unhelpful when they are clung to and used as a way to Separate ourselves from one another. (Fundamentalism in is basic form)

Ego is nothing more, nothing less than our "point of view". If we can lighten up and not cling to that point of view moment to moment, it opens up the possibility to Connect with our essential Oneness more consistently. When we hold fast to "our point of view", especially as it emerges as conceptual thought, we can readily fall prone to reinforcing our ego.

I Meditate pretty much daily. Am I attached to Practice? Does it reinforce my ego? I Dunno. You tell me! LOL
One Love,
Lance



Carol said...

Hey Lance;
Very nicely worded for me! Thanks. The joy for me is when in any moment, ...knowing I'm conscious 'in' that moment. Then... the practice of accepting the moment comes more easily and quickly. In any moment, being able to pull files from past events, able, to be aware of the student, and teacher within, becomes soulful joy.It becomes a categorical awakening to reality. The old file is a teacher for me. Being calm in any now, illusive storm, seems to be part of the lesson.
The 'don't know mind', for me, is a 'brightening' of daily joy by 'practice' of balancing 'human being' with 'human doing' and feeling harmonic results.
The 'who are we?',who am I,question, surfaced during this moon for for me, and the reply to that, surfaced as a food for thought, 'post it' type moment. "Nothingness, or ego validation?" It seems to be a total headliner for moment consciousness in my category file cabinet/chakras.
Yes, for me, meditation is facing reality, and embracing it. Peace is the reward.

Lance Smith said...

Well said, Sister. Reading this brought a smile to my face and a glow to my heart. Thanks for Touching Base. 🙏❤️🌈🎶