Afflicted as we are with a kind of psychological materialism, we are concerned primarily with beefing ourselves up. Self-development, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-expression, self-awareness, and self-control are our most sought after attributes. But Buddhism teaches us that happiness does not come from any kind of acquisitiveness, be it material or psychological. Happiness comes from letting go. In Buddhism, the impenetrable, separate, and individuated self is more of the problem than the solution.
The happiness that we seek depends on our ability to balance the ego’s need to do with our inherent capacity to be.
From the beginning, the mother’s task is greater than just satisfying her baby’s physical needs, greater even than mirroring. She must also be able to leaver her child alone. This leaving alone does not mean ignoring, nor does it necessarily mean physically, or literally, looking away. An infant, after all, has to be attended to almost constantly. Leaving alone means allowing a child to have her own experience, whether alone or when feeding, bathing, or being held. When suspended in the matrix of the parent-child relationship, a child is free to explore, to venture into new territory, both within herself and without. This freedom to explore while held within the safety net of the parent’s benign presence develops into the capacity to be alone.
In Western theories, the hope is always that emptiness can be healed, that if the character is developed o the trauma resolved that the background feelings will diminish. If we an make the ego stronger, the expectation is that emptiness will go away. In Buddhism, the approach is reversed. Focus on the emptiness, the dissatisfaction, and the feelings of imperfection, and the character will get stronger. Learn how to tolerate nothing and your mind will be at rest.
Most of us have to free ourselves from overlearned responses that become habitual and restrictive.
In the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism, those moments of unknowing when the mind is naturally loosed from its moorings are said to be special opportunities for realization. During orgasm, at the moment of death, or while falling asleep or ending a dream are times when the veils of knowing are spontaneously lifted and the underlying luminosity of the mind shines through.
But we have a powerful resistance to experiencing this mind in all of its brilliance. We are afraid to let ourselves go all the way. To set ourselves adrift requires a trust that for most of us was lost in childhood.
“Be patient, do nothing, cease striving. We find this advice disheartening and therefore unfeasible because we forget it is our own inflexible activity that is structuring the reality. We think that if we do not hustle, nothing will happen and we will pine away. But the reality is probably in motion and after a while we might take part in that motion. But no one can know.” ~Paul Goodman
If we feel empty, taught the Buddha, we must not let that emptiness paralyze us. If we are reaching for intimacy, we must let ourselves get out of the way. If we want peace, we must first learn how to quiet our own minds. If we want release, we must learn how to cease our own craving.
The thinking mind remembers itself constantly, not wanting to forget or to be forgotten. It must always have something to do. Like an ever-vigilant, overly intrusive chaperone, it interrupts any possibility of connection.
We are used to thinking of thinking as a good thing, as that which makes us human. It can be quite a revelation to discover that so much of our thinking appears to be boring, repetitive, and pointless while keeping us isolated and cut off from the feelings of connection that we most value.
In the heart of the Buddha’s teaching: that it is possible to cultivate a mind that neither clings nor rejects, and that in so doing we can alter the way in which we experience both time and our selves.
To one degree or another, we are all, like his friends, in a state of abbreviated, or interrupted mourning. Acutely aware of our own transience, we alternate between an aching despondency and a rebellion against the facts. We cling to our loved ones, or remove ourselves from them, rather than loving them in all of their vulnerability. In so doing we distance ourselves from a grief that is an inevitable component of affection.
Opening oneself to one emotion deepens the experience of the other. The heart can open in sadness as much as it does in joy.
In the Buddha’s teaching on transience, his point is that everything is always When we take loved objects into our egos with the hope or expectation of having them forever, we are deluding ourselves and postponing an inevitable grief. The solution is not to deny attachment but to become less controlling in how we love.
“The antidote to hatred in the heart, the source of violence, is tolerance. Tolerance is an important virtue of bodhisattvas (enlightened heroes and heroines)—it enables you to refrain from reacting angrily to the harm inflicted on you by others. You could call this practice “inner disarmament,” in that a well-developed tolerance makes you free from the compulsion to counterattack. For the same reason, we also call tolerance the “best armor,” since it protects you from being conquered by hatred itself.” ~The Dalai Lama
Mindfulness allows us to explore those aspects of our experience, like our day-to-day thoughts, that we usually take for granted.
We do not get lots of realizations in our lives as much as we get the same ones over and over.
Delusion is the mind’s tendency to seek premature closure about something. It is the quality of mind that imposes a definition on things and then mistakes the definition for the actual experience.
We must learn to respond rather than react.
It is the holding on to pleasure and the pushing away of pain that is the problem (not pleasure and pain themselves), we start to see how it is possible to practice in the midst of our daily lives.
Putting down our burdens does not mean forsaking the conventional world in which our compensatory selves and thinking minds are necessary, but it means being in that world with the consciousness of one who is not deceived by appearances.