-- Seng-ts’an, Third Zen Patriarch
Luckily, Hearts were trump.
In that morning's chapter, Pema suggested that noticing our opinions as opinions, just like noting our thoughts as "thinking", can be extremely helpful. IMHO, this can be transformative.
Taking Note: Some Thoughts about "Thinking"
To be honest, the instruction to make a mental note -- "thinking" -- whenever I noticed that thoughts were dominating my attention seemed quite clunky and intrusive, patently unnecessary. (Likewise, the instruction to label other sensations, feelings, etc.) Being a self-styled "Zennie", I just shrugged it off. Zazen was zazen. Who needs "techniques?" Hurrumph.
I spent the remainder of the seven day retreat at Insight Meditation Society practicing Shikantaza, the Soto Zen practice of Just Sitting. As had happened before in sesshin, I was able to access a quality of consciousness that was tranquil yet crystal clear and highly energized. Mission accomplished. Or so I thought.
This opened a new dimension of practice for me.
With this simple instruction, not only was the process of "discursive thinking" brought into clearer focus, the emotional content of the current mindstate became an object of attention as well. In the very next Sitting, I saw clearly that my mind's "tone of voice" was harsh and judgemental. Following Pema's guidance, I was able to recalibrate, take a deep breath, relax, and open. Then I was able to find a bit more compassion for myself and make a softer, kinder, mental note. What had been "THINKING (!!$#@!!)" became a soft, gentle, "thinking".
At that point of my journey, this simple instruction was the gateway to an ever-unfolding ability to open my heart to the present moment. Along with metta and tonglen practice, the noting practice became a valuable tool in cultivating a kinder, calmer, less judgmental quality of consciousness toward myself -- and others. It became a regular part of Sitting Practice.
As Practice has deepened over the years, I've become more mindful of both thoughts and feelings. I've seen for myself clearly, again and again, how we create the appearance of a solid reality out of thin air. Lost in our thoughts and feelings, as we often are, the vast and flowing sacredness of Life As It Is escapes us. Instead, of being truly Present, we are imprisoned in a world created out of a haphazard hodgepodge of our mental concepts, beliefs, and opinions about life.
It doesn't have to be that way.
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. At times, I have literally made the passage from a self-created hell realm to the magical realm of the sacred at the instant that I noticed that I was merely "thinking" and opened my gaze to embrace what else was happening.
In that day's reading, this was taken to an even deeper level in another way. Pema suggested that much of our "thinking" was merely "opinion." Learning to note that, opened the gateless gate to a much more glorious Reality -- again and again.
A Day's Lesson: The Theory and Practice
As it happened, I learned that day that putting "thinking" into proper perspective could also help in my relationships. Understanding that thoughts oftentimes emerged as "opinions," I saw how these opinions could stand between me and a connection to the moment, to myself, to others, and to the One Love in which we are immersed. An over-identification with these opinions, known as "attachment to view" in traditional Buddhist teachings, is seen as a primary cause of human suffering. Being a "political junkie" for most of my life, I could see pretty clearly how much of my own ego emerges as deep attachments to my opinions. Theoretically: less attachment to view, more Connection, less suffering.
I was soon able to put that theory into Practice.
As it turned out, I ran into an old Zen DharmaBuddhy on the bus later that morning. As generally happens we found ourselves in an engaging conversation. We decided to head to the coffee shop to continue the discussion. As the conversation turned to the Presidential campaign of 2016, all hell could have broken loose.
But it didn't.
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. I listened deeply before responding. Paying attention to what he was saying, what he was feeling, I could sense my friend's deep caring, his sincerity, his keen intellect, and his concern for peace. I could even see the logic of several of his arguments.
As it turned out, we actually ended up finding significant areas of agreement -- although the votes we intended to cast the next week would still cancel one another out. (In the great Cosmic Poker Game, IMHO, Hearts trump Trump. LOL)
That morning, rather than adding more aggression to the world, which would have been the inevitable result of my own clinging to my personal opinions, the Practice allowed us to share a sense of Basic Good Will, one which Connected us within and beyond our areas of disagreement.
In doing that, I believe we channeled a bit more respect and understanding into this old suffering world. I think its part of the solution to the plight we find ourselves in. I love it when it happens.
It just takes Practice.
*Internet jargon for "In My Humble Opinion"