Friday, December 11, 2009

Nothing To Do, Nowhere To Go, No One To Be

Part 3: No One To Be

(This is the final installment of a series of commentaries on the statement, "We have nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no one to be," given by Mary Orr during a retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in 2001. In today's blog, I'll be discussing its final component.)

As with the other two parts of this teaching, the concept of "no one to be" centers primarily on the paradox of non-doing. For most of us, our life is spent being someone, rather than simply being. For me, this includes being a father, being a husband, being a teacher, and being a therapist, and I take a lot of pride in who I have "become." But these labels are merely the process of my becoming, and not who I actually am. If I am anything, it is the collection of interdependent causes and conditions that gave rise to the being that exists here today.

The Buddha said that when a concept of I, me, or mine presents itself (as in my exampes above), suffering will follow. This sense of self leads to clinging (such as the pride I feel about who I have become) and aversion, which can give rise to unpleasant experiences (such as fear of losing any of the things I have become). This small sense of self, what the Buddha called "the body of fear," exists only as thoughts that come and go and change constantly.

We can see this perpetual ebbing and flowing of the sense of I, me, and mine - of a "someone" - in our meditation practice. As we do this, we can just allow these experiences and events to be, without needing to change or fix them. Nor do we have to get rid of them. I don't see this process as one of trying to extinguish our sense of self, but rather of becoming more aware of when that someone we think we are arises. This kind of awareness may offer us the opportunity to make better, more effective choices in how we respond to people and situations.

During the retreat that Mary opened with her words, "You have nothing to do, nowhere to go, and nothing to be," I remember a specific walking meditation during which I contemplated these ideas. I suddenly saw myself standing behind a building facade, like the kind you might find on a movie backlot, and holding it up with both hands. It was a dirty, dilapidated storefront, nearly rotting from exposure to the elements. But there I was, using all my strength to keep this ratty old thing propped up. Then, I experimented with letting go of it, and just allowing the facade to drop away. In that moment, I felt a bit of nirvana - the cessation of suffering.

Stoking the fires of "being someone" is hard work. What Mary was offering us on that retreat was the chance to take ourselves off the hook. She was suggesting a possible new way of using our energy more skillfully, and not wasting it on maintaining the constant effort of having to do something, go somewhere, and be someone. Paradoxically, what we find when we experiment with these concepts is that life can flow a little bit easier, the weight can feel a little bit lighter, and we can be more authentically who we really are.

From Nisargadata Maharaj:
Wisdom tells me I am nothing.
Love tells me I am everything.
Between the two my life flows.

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