Dear Still Water Friends,
I grew up with an implicit and wide-ranging dualism. There was light and dark, us and them, right and wrong, cause and effect, life and death, suffering and happiness. For me, it was particularly strong in regard to my sense of self: there was me and there was the world. There was inside of me and outside of me. There was an executive voice inside of me directing me and appraising the results, and there was everything that was not that inner voice.
I spent a lot of time and thought trying to bolster that inner voice, making it stronger. I tried to give it (and asked others to give it) what I thought it needed in terms of praise and compliments. I also looked for excuses when I found it wasn’t quite up to the task.
When I found my way to mindfulness practice, I learned (and am still learning) a different way of looking at the myself and the world. The hard edges of dualism blurred. I learned that what appears to be two separate phenomena, such as light and dark, or suffering and happiness, can be seen as not separate. They lean on each other for support. One cannot exist without the other. They inter-are. They are not two, and not one.
Developing this sense of “not two, not one” is at the heart of a meditation practice. Thay (the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh) explains in The Sun My Heart:
When we meditate, we seem to have two selves. One is the flowing river of thoughts and feelings, and the other is the sun of awareness that shines on them. Which is our own self? Which is true? Which false? Which is good? Which bad? Please calm down, my friend. Lay down your sharp sword of conceptual thinking. Don’t be in such a hurry to cut your ” self” in two. Both are self. Neither is true. Neither is false. They are both true and both false.
This Thursday evening, at the beginning of our meditation period, and again at the beginning of our Dharma sharing, we will read some guidance from Thay on relaxing the edges between the observing self and what it observes (also from The Sun My Heart):
Observe the changes that take place in your mind under the light of awareness. Even your breathing has changed and become “not-two” (I don’t want to say “one”) with your observing self. This is also true of your thoughts and feelings, which, together with their effects, are suddenly transformed. When you do not try to judge or suppress them, they become intertwined with the observing mind.
From time to time you may become restless, and the restlessness will not go away. At such times, just sit quietly, follow your breathing, smile a half-smile, and shine your awareness on the restlessness. Don’t judge it or try to destroy it, because this restlessness is you yourself. It is born, has some period of existence, and fades away, quite naturally. Don’t be in too big a hurry to find its source. Don’t try too hard to make it disappear. Just illuminate it. You will see that little by little it will change, merging, becoming connected, with you, the observer. Any psychological state which you subject to this illumination will eventually soften and acquire the same nature as the observing mind.
Throughout your meditation, keep the sun of your awareness shining. Like the physical sun, which lights every leaf and every blade of grass, our awareness lights our every thought and feeling, allowing us to recognize them, be aware of their birth, duration, and dissolution, without judging or evaluating, welcoming or banishing them. It is important that you do not consider awareness to be your “ally,” called on to suppress the ” enemies” that are your unruly thoughts. Do not turn your mind into a battlefield. Do not have a war there; for all your feelings—joy, sorrow, anger, hatred—are part of yourself. Awareness is like an elder brother or sister, gentle and attentive, who is there to guide and enlighten. It is a tolerant and lucid presence, never violent or discriminating. It is there to recognize and identify thoughts and feelings, not to judge them as good or bad, or place them into opposing camps in order to fight with each other. Opposition between good and bad is often compared to light and dark, but if we look at it in a different way, we will see that when light shines, darkness does not disappear. It doesn’t leave; it merges with the light. It becomes the light.
…. To meditate does not mean to fight with a problem. To meditate means to observe. Your smile proves it. It proves that you are being gentle with yourself, that the sun of awareness is shining in you, that you have control of your situation. You are yourself, and you have acquired some peace. It is this peace that makes a child love to be near you.
You are invited to join us.
This week is also the first Thursday of the month, and, as is our tradition, we will offer a brief newcomer’s orientation to mindfulness practice and to the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm, and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.