My meditation teacher Narayan Liebenson in her book, “The Magnanimous Heart,” talks about the Buddha’s call to us to wake up, to see things for ourselves.
How do we see things for ourselves? How do we trust ourselves to know what we see, what is truly there?
We have spent our lives listening to parents, friends, teachers – perhaps not in that, or any order – so how do we know what we see? How can we trust that we are not just seeing what we know?
Are we not conditioned to see things as we are told they are? Our life has likely been filled with “this is,” “that’s how we do,” and a multitude of factual, emotional references to enable us to live in the world we inhabit.
How are we to separate from this lexicon of ideas, attitudes, and beliefs? In my psychology training these habits are called a “belief system.” It is very hard for us humans to recognize, separate, and visualize a choice that deviates from what we have learned and intuited from our caregivers. We are so long helpless, it can be a huge issue for us to know who we are enough to let our reactions, which are early learned, become actions.
Once we “know” something, it is difficult to learn something new within the same mindset context. We have to “molt” and be without assurances that we know where we are. We all know that every Being who changes something constitutionally is fodder for an aggressor, call it another point of view. The Hermit Crab, the snake, the bird are all vulnerable in these days and moments of faith that the next thing will come, the next moment will continue their life.
This doesn’t always turn out the way they (we) want. A competing interest may derail us. Someone may see we are open to change and want us to come with them. If it comes at a moment when we are lost to ourselves, we may find ourselves on a different path. Sometimes we may have cut ourselves off and been sniffed out by a predatory “friend” and get eaten up with their belief system which we come to call our own.
This self-awareness is, in my view, the whole point of meditation. Meditation is not meant to make me better, it is the practice of clarity, of winnowing a thing to its essence. It is the most intimate moment with myself. There is a lot of talk about mindfulness and awareness, it has become a Big Deal, for which I am grateful. The structure of awareness and mindfulness certainly makes life easier for those who practice it and for those around them. I hope I am easier to live with and I know my life is easier with it.
I see this as taking responsibility for my mind – which is always my intent, whether I am able is another matter. I know for sure that without giving my mind a break from what I “know,” external forces will hop in and choose for me. My education has been a learning process in what to let go. I have a degree (cum laude – I worked hard) in dead white men’s literature and a concomitant major in dead white men’s psychology. These were the forces that shaped me.
I grew up in a misogynous world and I didn’t trust a woman to pilot a plane or drive a bus any more than my mother did. Yes, that was one of my “drops.” Early on I’m happy to say – but not before my education was over. It took me a long time to listen to women, to say “no,” to think that taking care of myself was not a selfish thing. Mind you, this is ancient history. I finished my college years which became archaic as the Seventies brought workshops and encounter groups that would teach me how to say no and give my feet a place to feel comfortable.
We are all vulnerable to what our minds tell us. Sometimes our mind is like a telephone game, whispering what we want to hear while we say what we think “they” want to hear. How can we deal with that? What’s the truth? How can we trust? The game of life, of seeking and seeing, knowing and speaking, is best played from the heart. Our heart.
Emotional relevance is the engine of the heart, we can damage our hearts with negative emotions, with depression – among other things. When our mind and heart are relating and have coherence we can trust that we are close to truth. When we feel “off,” or a dissonance, however that may be felt, the sign for “help wanted” has been posted. The dog’s first growl has been detected. The horse’s ears have told what’s to come.
Meditation equals noticing more subtle clues. We don’t have to be bitten. kicked, fired, or left if we heed early warnings. The by-pass can pass us by. What we need can be attained because we have learned to be open to what can happen, not expecting some rote evidence of ourselves from what we were told to be or not be.
Achieving awareness can become a goal and a habit. Letting go of assumptions has lead me to a world of sharing I never knew when I thought women shouldn’t fly and only men could think. Letting my heart lead has often felt weak and embarrassing but I have found no finer place than this life I live now. No sorrow or fear cannot be displaced (eventually!) by the great good that is my heart.