Monday, March 8, 2010

Don't Take It Personally

Every day, events occur that have nothing to do with us, and yet we take them very personally. We are constantly creating a self where there is no self to be found, and this is a primary cause of suffering in our daily life.

A good example of this is the experience of sound. All sounds are essentially neutral events that arise because of causes and conditions, abide for a period of time, and then subside back into stillness. Once the sound is heard, however, the mind steps in to  catalogue it, and then color the experience by creating preferences, giving rise to desires for more or less of it, telling us it's a good sound or a bad sound, and so forth.

One summer, when I was leading a meditation in an urban yoga studio, we had doors on both ends of the studio open. On my left was the street, complete with the sound of every conceivable kind of motor vehicle: mopeds, Harleys, diesel trucks, fire engines, police cars, helicopters, and more. On my right, the door opened into a quiet parking lot where birds sang in the trees.

As I sat, I was able to see clearly how my mind created a preference for the birdsong, and had quite a bit of aversion toward the street sounds. So I just sat in the middle of this stereophonic dharma lesson, watching how my mind greeted all of it.

The reason for my preferences for one sound and my dislike for another (in other words, for my clinging and aversion) are quite simple: the mind had created a self where none actually existed. There was no I, me, or mine in any of these sounds, but my mind telling me how much I liked the birds and I hated the traffic, or telling me how much the traffic was upsetting my students, and so forth. When I was able to open the tight fist and abandon the aversion, I was able to be with both experiences equally well. I could see that there was no self in any of these sounds, and where this no self, there is no suffering.

The next time something arises in your daily life that gives rise to suffering, notice that you are I-dentifying with it as having something to do with you. The truth is that it doesn't have a thing to do with you. Then repeat the following phrases: 
I am not this. It is not me. It is not mine.
You may have to repeat these words a lot and come back to them over and over again. The mind may also resist this notion of the absence of self very strongly, at least around some things. Be persistent, and see what happens.


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