Zen and Clarity

Zen and Clarity

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series Zen 101

Zen and Clar­i­ty  —  learn­ing to see clear­ly is key to cre­at­ing peace and focus. Zen offers us many oppor­tu­ni­ties for clear seeing.

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’m con­tin­u­ing the series of arti­cles fea­tur­ing my pecu­liar twist about Zen  —  how a “Sim­ple Pres­ence” approach to life might be of use to you in these most tur­bu­lent times.

Zen tends to turn our understandings on their ear, by insisting on the reality of no reality

If you’ve read my book, This End­less Moment, you’ll remem­ber that I wrote that the most impor­tant con­cept to ‘get’ is that there is no real real­i­ty.

What this means is that stuff is hap­pen­ing  —  in the world, in our lives  —  as we grow, mature, and change. The stuff that is hap­pen­ing, how­ev­er, has no intrin­sic (built in) mean­ing. It just is.

The way we interpret what is happening is entirely personal AND optional.

The process of inter­pret­ing ‘just hap­pens’ as we observe the world around us. We per­ceive a ‘thing that is hap­pen­ing.’ Our nat­ur­al process is then to ascribe a cat­e­go­ry to the thing we perceive. 

This is a good thing  —  we have, for exam­ple, a cat­e­go­ry for ‘hot’ things  —  like a glow­ing stove top. It’s great to know that this cat­e­go­ry applies to all glow­ing stove-tops.

The trouble comes when we take it a step further, and add in a meaning (an interpretation, or judgement)

This is the realm of right and wrong, good and bad. Should. Shouldn’t.

The words them­selves are not the issue. The issue is cling­ing.

The Bud­dha said that suf­fer­ing is caused by cling­ing. By this, he meant that we get attached. 

The attach­ment is to the “right­ness” of our view, and espe­cial­ly do we cling to the “wrong­ness” of the views of others.

And yet, the things we cling to are stories we’ve made up  —  fictions  —  they are not a part of the thing itself.

To wake up is to both under­stand and accept the intrin­sic mean­ing­less­ness of every­thing around us, includ­ing the sto­ries we tell our­selves. This is tough, as we have a lot rid­ing on being right. On being smart. On being “the one with the answers.” 

We are invested in our stories, and our investment is in our stories, and in the stories we create back up the beliefs we’ve created.

Life dis­com­fort comes when how we inter­pret events does not match what is actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing ‘out there.’ 

And that begs the ques­tion: when I feel dis­com­fort, do I blame ‘out there,’ or do I ques­tion my inter­pre­ta­tion?

Let’s step through our process: we see an event, and rather than stay clean­ly engaged with the event per se, we start to run a script based upon sto­ries we have told our­selves in the past. 

Exam­ple # 1: if I believe that I am inca­pable of hav­ing a mean­ing­ful and last­ing rela­tion­ship, this sto­ry will colour each and every trans­ac­tion I have with my part­ner. If I am not con­scious that I have cre­at­ed this sto­ry, I will find myself doing two things:

  1. notic­ing any event that sup­ports my sto­ry, and
  2. ignor­ing every instance the denies my story.

Or, I may believe that my role in life is to explain life to my part­ner or child – to ‘help’ them to ‘see the light.’ 

Now, if we are talk­ing about a real child – say some­one under 12 or so, then yes, our job as adults is to keep the child safe, fed, dry, housed and clothed. We are also respon­si­ble for social­iz­ing the child, so that he can fit in to the cul­ture to which he belongs. 

Where this falls off the rails is when par­ents con­tin­ue to par­ent their adult kids – end­less­ly inter­fer­ing with them. “You are not hap­py, and I have to fix you.” 

Or, one spouse decides their part­ner is ‘a child,’ and the ‘par­ent’ part­ner then engages in an end­less tirade designed to get their part­ner to behave (to mind their “mom­my.”)

All of this seems rea­son­able to the per­son doing this because they think they know best for anoth­er. They are unwill­ing to deal with the actu­al per­son – they want the oth­er per­son to shift so they can be comfortable. 

What’s odd about all of this is that the oth­er per­son typ­i­cal­ly isn’t ask­ing to be fixed! 

And you can’t fix anoth­er per­son any­way. It’s hard enough to fix ourselves. 

Exam­ple #2: Many peo­ple think that wak­ing up is ‘about’ root­ing out all that is ‘wrong.’ Typ­i­cal­ly, such peo­ple trap them­selves into assign­ing blame. They are look­ing to fig­ure out who to blame for their dilemma.

  • Par­ents typ­i­cal­ly get a lot of blame. “If only my par­ents had been dif­fer­ent, had been bet­ter role mod­els, had treat­ed me differently.”
  • Part­ners, past and present, are also blamed. “Why does­n’t she under­stand? Why can’t he grow up and act right? If only I’d picked better.”

Such reflec­tions lead pre­cise­ly nowhere. The reflec­tions are based upon sto­ries we tell our­selves, and not upon present reality. 

Our first admis­sion needs to be this:

Our mem­o­ries are noto­ri­ous­ly unre­li­able and self-serv­ing. Our sub-con­scious minds ‘selec­tive­ly pull’ “mem­o­ries” to sup­port what we already believe!
And even if the sto­ry we tell our­selves is essen­tial­ly ‘true,’ (dad was a jerk and mom was an enabler, or what­ev­er…) so what? Is know­ing that like­ly to change any­thing in the here and now?
Who you are right now, is … wait for it … who you are right now. There is no way to change one iota of your past. You can’t get a bet­ter deal, can’t change your upbring­ing, nor can you change a sin­gle deci­sion you ever made.

What you can do is wake up.

Waking up involves stepping out of the dream.

The dream is the sto­ry you tell yourself. 

  • I’m abused.
  • I’m hard done by. 
  • I’m a victim. 
  • He is the jerk, I am the princess. 
  • I have to get every­one to believe my side of the story. 
  • Every­one hates me / is out to get me. 
  • How peo­ple per­ceive me is important. 

And on and on. The dream is you, liv­ing on auto-pilot, repeat­ing the same lame behav­iour, day after day, decade after decade. And nev­er, ever, accept­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for your behaviour.

Waking up is seeing the game for what it is, and choosing, repeatedly, to walk another path.

Rather than doing away with our sto­ries (we can’t) we find new ways of think­ing and being. 

For me, the Zen approach is best. This per­spec­tive is very much ori­ent­ed toward being present with­out judge­ment and with­out pre­con­ceived notions. I engage with what is hap­pen­ing now, and in this way my behav­iour is rel­e­vant to the here and now. 

When I take this approach, all that mat­ters is what is going on in this moment. 

I choose to let go of the past – all of the ‘try­ing to fix things,’ all of the ‘assign­ing blame.’ In this moment, I can choose to see and hear and inter­act, or I can choose to let the sit­u­a­tion or per­son go, for now or for forever. 

I can make that choice based upon where I am right now, as opposed to mak­ing the deci­sion based upon the past. 

Here’s a quote from Zen Body-Being, by Peter Ralston:

The suc­cess of our actions depends entire­ly on our abil­i­ty to relate appro­pri­ate­ly to what is actu­al­ly occur­ring in this moment.”
And here’s the key:
“Notice that the prin­ci­ple is not based upon what we per­ceive or expe­ri­ence. This may not make sense unless we rec­og­nize that there is a dis­crep­an­cy between our per­cep­tion and what is occur­ring. In short, we can per­ceive some­thing oth­er than what is there, and fail to per­ceive what is actu­al­ly there.” [p 151]

In oth­er words, what we think is going on is just what we think is going on. It’s not what is actu­al­ly going on. 

I remem­ber once, sit­ting with a cou­ple. The woman told me at great length, and with sighs and tears, what her hus­band thought about the top­ic at hand. 

I asked her if she was inter­est­ed in actu­al­ly ask­ing him what he thought, as he was sit­ting right next to her. It turned out that she was inter­est­ed, and asked. 

Strange­ly enough,’ he thought exact­ly the oppo­site of what she thought he thought! And she’d been mad at him for a week, because she ‘knew’ what he was think­ing, and … well, you get the point.

We begin to move past all of this by get­ting our noses plant­ed on our side of the fence. I do not know what Dar­bel­la is think­ing, doing, want­i­ng, desiring.

I can tell myself a sto­ry and inter­act with her as if my sto­ry is true. Or, I can ask her.

Guess which one works?

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