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"There Is Nothing Wrong With Us," cont.

(From Fabric of the Future: Women Visionaries Illuminate the Path to Tomorrow)

So, with passive awareness added to the mix, I eat a meal and watch very closely how I avoid washing the dishes afterward. "I'm too tired. It would ruin the meal to have to clean up right now. I'll do it later." I listen to what the voices tell me as I don't do the dishes. "You really should do them now. You won't do them later. You are a lazy slob and you always will be." I notice how I feel when the voices are talking to me and I'm caught in this "I should do the dishes/I'm not doing the dishes" duality. I begin to feel the toll it takes on me physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. I observe that I feel defeated and depressed.

As I practice, I realize that if this were only a matter of doing the dishes, they could be done in no time. But this is not about doing the dishes. It's about keeping me in prison. All my time, energy, attention, and awareness are locked up in "Will I wash the dishes and be a good person, or will I not and be a bad person?" If doing the dishes didn't make me a good person, and not doing the dishes didn't make me a bad person, what would I do about the dishes?

This is where spiritual practice, awareness practice, begins. Spiritual practice does not begin until the beatings have stopped. If I become aware of something about myself that I don't like, and I beat myself up for it, I am once again using the old childhood system of conditioning. The missing element is compassionate self-acceptance.

Believe nothing. All thoughts, images, and impressions are filtered through conditioning and are after-the-fact interpretations of events. For example, we have made connections in our minds between certain situations and a set of physical sensations we label "stress." When we encounter these situations and feel these sensations, our automatic response is to believe that, yes, in fact, this is stressful. As we sit in meditation, we begin to notice that when we feel this we have that thought, and it triggers that emotion which in turn leads to this action. This is all learned, inauthentic, and devilishly seductive. Do not believe it. Question every sensation-thought-emotion-action sequence that goes through your mind and body. Is anything inherently stressful, or is stress something we add? Do this with literally everything. In the dishwashing example, as you pay attention, you hear the same words but you don't believe they are true about you or about the situation.

"But, Cheri, don't some situations call for certain responses? If a tiger is chasing me, for example, shouldn't I be afraid ?"

No, it is all learned. Examine fear and you will discover nothing more than a set of sensations, thoughts, emotions, and actions, all of which you have learned to associate. But don't believe me, find out for yourself.

Don't take any of it personally. The universe is not personal. For "personal" to exist, there would have to be something separate from all that is, and there is not. The feeling we humans have that we exist apart and separate from everything else is an illusion, a trick of the mind. There is nothing wrong with that, it is just that being caught in the illusion of a separate self makes us feel alone, afraid, and insecure. Believing we are separate (in Christian terms, believing we are out of the presence of God) is the source of our desperate desire to control life. Trying to control life–hold on to this, get rid of that–is the cause of suffering.

As we sit in meditation, we see all kinds of things about ourselves. Some we like; some we do not. The practice is to watch from the "center," our core of wisdom and compassion where nothing is taken personally. If we see something about ourselves we do not like, our attitude is, "Ah, judgment"; if we see something we are proud of, "Ah, pride"; if we become confused, "Ah, confusion." In this way we grow accustomed to watching conditioning instead of identifying with it, which is a giant step toward self-acceptance and freedom. From this greater perspective, we might ask all sorts of questions, such as, Who (which aspect of the personality) makes decisions about what needs to change? Where does that part get its information? Does the part who is being required to change agree? Has trying to change in this way ever worked, and if so, at what cost?

This nonjudgmental questioning allows the parts of us who have felt so threatened feel safer, and they begin to relax a little. We have created a safe place for all the aspects of who we are. Compassion has turned inward, and the joyous work of self-acceptance has begun.

In Zen meditation practice, all that is happening is that we are sitting there facing a blank white wall. We notice all the drama we are capable of acting out with others is being acted out with no one but ourselves and that white wall. Everything we feel, think, and do in all sorts of situations in daily life, we do while sitting there on the cushion. No one else is required for conditioning to be triggered, just ourselves. We just sit there and it all arises ... and begins to fall apart. The mind is a fascinating thing right up until we notice how repetitive it is. Our issues are "real" and "true" right up until we notice how arbitrary they are. The trap we are caught in is inescapable right up until we notice we have the keys.

For meditation to make a difference, we must do it. Reading or listening to someone talk about it will do little if anything to make it real, but, as with diet and exercise, we cannot approach it as a "should." If we do, self-hate will quickly talk us out of our practice. Self-hate's power lies in its covert activities. It requires darkness. When we begin to shine the light of compassionate awareness on our inner workings and begin to see that blindly following conditioning robs us of our lives, self-hate starts to unravel. It does not want to unravel, and it knows it cannot stand up under scrutiny. It is a false overlay keeping us from seeing that we already are everything we seek. So if beginning a meditation practice is another attempt at self-improvement, if it is not our heart's deepest desire (and, often, even if it is), we can expect self-hate to do its worst.

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Copyright 2003-2011 Cheri Huber