In our Practice we train to be in the mind of meditation in each moment. To this end, we practice different forms of meditation: sitting, walking, and working.
Sitting on a cushion for thirty minutes attending to the breath may feel like a herculean task for many. But in creating a set of conditions where all stimulus, triggers, and distractions are removed, we are enabled to see and see through egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate in the ways it manifests—terror, boredom, fantasy, resistance, discomfort, rage, anxiety, despair, guilt…to name a few! In the words of Joko Beck, “The meditation hall is a furnace room for the combustion of egocentric delusions.”
This training on the cushion prepares us to direct attention and expand awareness in more complex situations, such as walking and working. What makes walking and working meditation more “difficult” is that we are no longer in “laboratory” conditions. The environment is no longer “controlled” and so conditioned mind can more easily hide out in plain sight. It takes practice to be present in an activity that we are conditioned to do unconsciously, precisely because we have no awareness that the attention is not here in the execution of the action.
All three forms of meditation practice tend to be done in the silence of the privileged environment with minimum, if any, interaction with others. This is a deliberate construct to assist us clearly to see that everything going on with “me” is manufactured in a conversation in conditioned mind.
We want to be grounded in the practice of “paying attention to everything, believing nothing, and not taking anything personally” when we encounter the variable that makes staying in the mind of meditation most difficult, other people! For some reason, perhaps because only humans have the capacity to experience themselves as a “self separate from life,” the intersection of two people (and therefore two egos) produces the perfect conditions for karma to be triggered and ego to be maintained.
It is a fundamental understanding in this practice that “there is no self and other.”
How can that be true when my colleague is standing in front of me saying the very thing that makes me want to throttle him?
This teaching (no self and other) is not pointing to non-existence of physical form but to the extent to which personalities are mental projections. Are we truly present to someone else? Or are we indulging a conversation in conditioned mind in which ego is projecting unobserved about feeling victimized by another person’s actions and words? Have we not all heard the voices say, “If they were not how they are, if only they would say or do things the way I want them to, I wouldn’t be the way I am or say or do the things I do!”
Here is an illustration of how interactions often go.
Lily and Rose are housemates of many years.
Lily notices it’s garbage day and the cans are still in the yard.
Lily (inside head): Again! I can’t believe she has not taken the garbage out yet. Wow! Is she so busy that remembering to put the garbage can out is not on her radar? If she expects me to do it for her—again!—she is mistaken. Why should I always pick up the slack around here! Not one word of appreciation when I do something for her. She just takes advantage of the fact that I take responsibility.
Lily (aloud): You’ve not put the garbage out yet?
Rose (inside head): She is so uptight! Can’t she see how focused I am on this work project? She’s so insensitive. It’s all about her and how she wants things done! What about how I want to do things? I may miss putting the garbage out once in awhile but so what? But can I say that? Of course not! And I really don’t have time to stick around and argue.
Rose (aloud): I’m running late. I’ll do it when I get back.
Lily (inside head): Yeah, right! I’ll believe it when I see it
Can we see the manufactured self-and-other in this interaction?
Lily (ego/self) in her conditioned reality is responsible and on top of it. She feels unappreciated and undervalued and is in relationship with her projection of Rose (“other”) who is irresponsible, unconscious and uncaring.
Rose (ego/self) is overwhelmed and overworked and lives with her projection of Lily (“other”) who is insensitive, uptight, selfish, and nitpicky.
Here, the garbage can issue triggers external and internal conversations that are only between ego-Lily and ego-Rose! This process is the water we swim in. Without practice, it’s almost impossible not to drown in it.
How do we stay in the mind of meditation when an encounter with conditioning in another form/body triggers identification? One simple practice is to become interested in the “other” person’s experience.
We sidestep the pull to identification (into feeling we are a self separate from life) in reaction to someone else’s identification by keeping attention on, and interest in, their Authenticity. Expressing interest in the Authenticity that is animating another form, being curious about its life experience, querying its sense of being animated and alive, allows for true relating. It’s impossible to be engaged in Life and identified with ego at the same time!
In the mysterious way that is Life, attending to Authenticity includes, and therefore dissolves, what divides. The process that separates “you” and “me” is no longer the focus of attention. Attention remains on awareness, and we drop into a sense of togetherness that stems from two nodes of Intelligence relating to each other’s oneness.
It’s one of the happiest ways to experience these words of the Third Patriarch of Zen:
In this world of suchness
there is neither self nor other-than-self.
To come directly into harmony with this reality
just say when doubt rises "not two."
In this "not two" nothing is separate,
nothing is excluded.
Emptiness here, emptiness there,
but the infinite universe
stands always before your eyes.
Infinitely large and infinitely small;
no difference, for definitions have vanished
and no boundaries are seen.
Practice responding with interest and curiosity instead of identification when next you encounter an “other.”