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March 2019 Musings

In a recent group I reported what we call a “duh” awareness. Most of us who do this practice are familiar with what that is. A “duh” awareness is one that’s so obvious we’re almost embarrassed to share it with Sangha, the underlying implication being that anyone with a solid practice should be way past the point of so basic an insight. But as the Guide says reassuringly, “We see it when we see it, and we see it as often as we need to until all the depths are plumbed!”
The awareness was about answering the question “Are you excited about …?” Whenever I’m asked that question, I find myself hesitating. “Am I excited?” “I should be, shouldn’t I?” Usually, I find myself responding with a tentative, “I suppose so.” And then quickly equivocating, “Yes, of course,” while silently wondering why the enthusiasm of people “doing exciting things” is not my internal experience.
Over the years, I’ve employed the same Socratic method to other things and decided that not only am I not excited about many things, I’m not enthusiastic about, not happy about, not passionate about (fill in the blank). Subliminally, the self-hating conclusion is that I must be the most neutral, colorless, joyless, phlegmatic person in existence. Occasionally, I am aware of sadness about that.
Sadness was hovering around that morning before group, and in a flash of insight it dropped in, “Wait, what if the question is the issue?” Instantly the world transformed, from monochrome to technicolor. Suddenly there was the golden warmth of the sunshine, the sweet pinkness of geraniums, the intoxicating scent of paperwhites, and the excited tweeting of hummingbirds in conference.
“Of course you’re not excited about anything in your HEAD,” trilled the hummingbirds.
Exactly! Referencing a mental process to sense a feeling is bound to result in a dry, sterile, metallic experience! Of course, there was nothing wrong with me and there never had been. I was just looking in the wrong places for an answer to a question that could not possibly be answered from there.  As I stood in the shower, transfixed by this awareness, something else clicked. The construct of the question was the red herring. Are you excited about xyz? Now this is a level of subtlety that conditioning specializes in. It may not be universally true, but it was true for me! The “about” in the question was the decoy. It had my attention focused completely on the what – about my travel to India, about writing a book, about seeing a friend, about the project. I wasn’t excited about any of these things. “Things,” or as the Buddha would say, “mind objects,” are not inherently exciting. I WAS having the “right” experience. But since I was also listening to a voice in the head say, “You should be excited about this thing and you’re not,” I was confused.
And here is the awareness that “blew the mind away.” Attention was on “why” I was not excited. This ensured that the focus was on the “why” and not the “I.” Not only doesn’t excitement exist in conditioned mind, not only are mind objects not intrinsically exciting, “I” is a “mental thing.” Ego-I-me is completely unexciting. Identified with it, excitement doesn’t EXIST.
Exciting is being aware of the Intelligence That Animates, the dancing, powerful, heartbeat of the Life force of the Universe. When attention is on that, “everything” is exciting. The vitality of Life energy is one’s experience, whatever the mood of life in the moment: stormy, quietly content, or wildly enthusiastic. I was jubilant! Passion, delight, joy, enthusiasm…all there, nothing lacking in this expression of Life. I went to group feeling gloriously alive.
True, this movement of attention is what we practice always, but the difference this time was so subtle I almost missed it. Awareness was aware when the “mind” had taken over. Sadness was not “my” experience. Sadness was a collection of sensations associated with a story in conditioned mind that flagged an expanded awareness of where the attention was focused. Sadness no longer meant attending the funeral of this expression of life one more time, succumbing to being negated out of existence. (That may sound dramatic but it’s true, yes? Don’t we all have that feeling, with varying degrees of intensity, that we’re such sad sacks who can’t enjoy being alive that we don’t deserve to live?) That very feeling, that “lament,” was the portal back into Life.  
This insight transformed my worldview, and my intention in reporting it in group was to share my wonder at having an entire foundation of karma crumble. And yet the reporting of it as “duh,” however tongue in cheek, completely trivialized the insight. If someone had told me (the Guide does repeatedly) that there is a force of negation actively extinguishing life energy, I would have dismissed it (evidence of it in action!) as the subject of myth and fairy tale. But we’re all living myths. The battle for what has expression, Light or darkness, is being waged inside of us all the time.
We grow up spiritually when we recognize and accept that there are no winners or losers in this battle, that the outcomes are not weighted towards a “right” side. It seems we all participate in an eternal unfolding dance along a spectrum of conscious awareness. And despite the formidable recruiting campaign of the “dark side” that conditions us to live as shadows of what we are through shame, guilt, worry, fear and hatred, we do get to weigh in on the composition of consciousness in any moment.
Motes of dust dancing in the light 
That's our dance, too. 
We don't listen inside to hear the music-- 
No matter. 
The dance of life goes on, 
And in the joy of the sun 
Is hiding a Friend.

-- Rumi
As we approach the celebration of another International Day of No Self-Hate, perhaps this band of spiritual warriors can declare ourselves once more for the expression of Intelligence That Animates that is “Unconditional Love.” Engage today in an act of kindness, a choice for compassion, a nod of thanks, a word of encouragement, a pause of wonder, a smile of appreciation. Each of these tiny acts of love just might tip the balance in favor of a more lit-up world!
In gasshō,