self responsibility

Zen 101  —  Self-Responsibility

This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series Zen 101

Self-respon­si­bil­i­ty is hard, as we live in a time when blame is much more pop­u­lar. Nonethe­less, Zen is all about self-responsibility

Look­ing for more on this topic? 

Check out my book, Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall.

Wayne’s “East­ern” book takes you by the hand and helps you to find peace of mind. Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall is a Zen-based guide to liv­ing life ful­ly and deeply.

I’ve got a cou­ple of ideas for today’s arti­cle, and it’s real­ly great that they’ve come from read­er com­ments.

So, the first thing I want to talk about today is the appli­ca­tion of the four A’s. This fol­lows up on a point from the pre­vi­ous article.

The four A’s describe the inter­nal process of work­ing through our expe­ri­ences. Step-by-step, we work through Aware­ness, Acknowl­edg­ment, Accep­tance, and Action.

But this technique, like all techniques, is prone to a very simple misuse.

We are all prone to exter­nal­ize what is going on in our lives. We give our­selves cred­it for our suc­cess­es and blame oth­ers for our fail­ures  —  but what I real­ly want to talk about is the con­cept of total self-respon­si­bil­i­ty.

This way of being is key to what I write about, and key to Zen. It’s the idea that all I can know is me  —  my thoughts, inten­tions, feel­ings  —  and all I can do is what I do. What oth­ers are doing only has an impact on me if I choose to cre­ate an impact.

Here’s the misuse:

When apply­ing a new tech­nique, we may eas­i­ly “get” the lan­guage, but mess with the intent.

The point of every­thing we talk about is to devel­op a state of detached awareness. 

What, you might ask, is it detached from? It is detached from the need to cre­ate an emo­tion­al reac­tion that leads us away from sim­ple obser­va­tion of self and the experience.

The four A’s are intimately intertwined with the pronoun “I”.

This is dia­met­ri­cal­ly opposed to what I notice when I explain this tech­nique. Peo­ple will say stuff like,

So I am aware that my boyfriend is a jerk, and I ful­ly acknowl­edge what a big jerk he is, and I even accept but he’ll always be a jerk; where I get stuck is what to do (action) now.”

To the casu­al observ­er, this per­son is per­fect­ly fol­low­ing the “4 As” tech­nique, as she lists off the four aspects. She clear­ly “gets” the language.

But it does­n’t take great wis­dom to see that the sub­ject (the use of the 3rd per­son pro­noun) of the 4 A’s total­ly miss­es the mark. She’s using the tech­nique to main­tain blam­ing and externalizing.

Here’s a more elegant application of the technique:

So, I am aware that I have a ten­den­cy to judge my boyfriend, and I acknowl­edge my judg­men­tal streak. I fur­ther accept that this is a part of my per­son­al­i­ty, and is an issue I want to work on, so it is my inten­tion (this is how I will act) to notice, and stop myself when I shift into judging.”

An entire­ly dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish, eh?

The prob­lem is that talk­ing about some­one else’s fault(s) solves noth­ing. It just reaf­firms what we already believe. And end­less­ly lec­tur­ing anoth­er per­son on their per­ceived faults, while using ever more sophis­ti­cat­ed tech­niques to try to make them change is still noth­ing more than bitch­ing, moan­ing, and complaining.

Zen Lesson #9  —  the pronoun is “I”

There is no eas­i­er way to say this – your job is to pay atten­tion to you.

We hear this and tend to react by say­ing, “…but that’s so self­ish!” I sus­pect peo­ple toss out the “self­ish” word as yet anoth­er way to stay focused com­plete­ly on (the “sins” of) oth­ers.

One of the chief lessons that comes from Zazen is the aware­ness of just how much crap our minds gen­er­ate. We’re always look­ing around, judg­ing, crit­i­ciz­ing, blam­ing. It’s what our minds do best. This does not change the point.

Nothing in your life changes if you don’t change it. Your pain doesn’t stop until you stop hurting yourself. 

There may be a grim sat­is­fac­tion that comes from blam­ing oth­ers, but all you get is that grim sat­is­fac­tion  —  noth­ing else changes  —  and there you sit, in a pile of mud of your own creation.

The solu­tion is end­less appli­ca­tion of the four A’s, using the pro­noun “I”. Here is who I am, here is what I am doing, here is what is work­ing for me, here is what needs to stop. And then… wait for it… you actu­al­ly have to do it!

Zen Lesson #10  —  there is little we can know

I received a blog com­ment regard­ing the last arti­cle  —  and intrigued myself over the last sentence.

When you don’t have that mind­set it’s a great chal­lenge to get your mind think­ing in a dif­fer­ent direc­tion as long as you know it will ben­e­fit you.”

The mind­set he was describ­ing is doing as opposed to just think­ing.

I’m not par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in notic­ing how the writer describes act­ing as “think­ing in a dif­fer­ent direc­tion”  —  what he is real­ly describ­ing is get­ting caught in a thought loop that goes nowhere  —  and how dif­fi­cult it can be to escape this pattern.

What I want to say something about is the last clause:
“… as long as you know it will benefit you.”

Life in the 21st cen­tu­ry, espe­cial­ly in the West, is built on the flim­sy foun­da­tion of (even­tu­al) reward. Vir­tu­al­ly every­thing we buy is sold on the basis of all the great things that are going to happen–eventually–if we buy the product.

It’s like the real­ly old joke:

Two New­fies are vis­it­ing Toron­to. They dis­cov­er they have a five dol­lars between them. They real­ly want to have a bunch of great expe­ri­ences. One of the guys takes the saw­buck and goes into a drug­store. He walks out with a box of tam­pons. He says, “Prob­lem solved!” His friend says, “What are you talk­ing about?” The guy says, “I saw it on TV. You can go horse­back rid­ing with Kotex, you can go swim­ming with Kotex, you can go danc­ing with Kotex…”

Anyway, it’s really silly to think that we focus solely on future benefit.

When we teach the com­mu­ni­ca­tion mod­el, we often hear, “I’m will­ing to try this, but only if my part­ner does too.” 

And then they go on to explain that in the past, their part­ner has let them down, and there­fore will like­ly let them down again, and they don’t want to put all that effort into learn­ing how to com­mu­ni­cate before they can be total­ly assured that it’s all going to work out the way they imag­ine it might.

We demand assurances because we fear death  —  the greatest uncertainty of all

Most of us hate think­ing about dying, and do what­ev­er we can to avoid the sub­ject. We even use euphemisms for death  —  “passed away,” “moved on,” say­ing, “I lost my moth­er,” to which I often reply, “Do you want help look­ing for her?”

Because of this innate fear of the inevitable, many are end­less­ly look­ing for assur­ances and secu­ri­ty. We’re will­ing to stay stuck in dead­ly sit­u­a­tions  —  dead­ly for our hearts, dead­ly for our souls  —  if some­one can­not or will not promise us in advance that doing some­thing dif­fer­ent is going to make it all better.

And no one can.

John Lennon had it right when he sang, “Life is what hap­pens while we’re busy mak­ing oth­er plans.” With­in a very short time after record­ing this line, he was shot and killed by a deranged fan. There are no assur­ances, about any­thing! This is just the way it is.

So the important question is, what can I do right now to fully and completely live my life in this moment?

It is impos­si­ble to know now what will ben­e­fit me in the future.

You might have to wrap your head lit­tle bit to get around this one, but imag­in­ing an out­come and expe­ri­enc­ing an out­come are absolute oppo­site things.

So, let’s go back to the idea of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion mod­el, or the four A’s –

You can sit there and think about what might pos­si­bly hap­pen were you to use either or both of these tech­niques. You can draw pic­tures in your head, have con­ver­sa­tions with imag­i­nary peo­ple, think about out­comes, think about dif­fer­ences, and at the end of the day you know pre­cise­ly nothing.

Or, you can do the com­mu­ni­ca­tion mod­el, you can use the four A’s, and then you can see what actu­al­ly hap­pens. If you like it, do more of it. If it does­n’t work, do some­thing else.

Doing things this way is direct and sim­ple. You do some­thing, you eval­u­ate the results. No one else is involved  —  it’s just you observ­ing you. The more you apply the tech­nique, the eas­i­er it gets, and the more inter­est­ing the results become.

This is so with anything we learn  —  it’s hard until it’s simple.

Today’s les­son is this. Zen liv­ing is not an intel­lec­tu­al pur­suit  —  it’s a way of act­ing and being. When sit­ting, you sit. When com­mu­ni­cat­ing, you com­mu­ni­cate. When eat­ing, you eat. 

Noth­ing we do is for an even­tu­al ben­e­fit, because there is no even­tu­al. There is just the now in which I act, and now in which I observe the results of my action. No assur­ances. No manip­u­la­tion. No games. Just liv­ing with attention.

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