A lovely person recently commented with perhaps some disappointment that the dialogue that took place in our group didn’t contain any teachings. What was meaningful for this person was the Buddhist teachings (and possibly other teachings, I imagine.)
I’ve been reflecting on what this person said. Here is what has come up for me.
There are many beautiful and powerful teachings in meditation traditions. There is no doubt about that. Some people may take teachings as sayings to be internalized and in difficult situations you should try to live according to the sayings, rather than according to one’s impulses in the other direction.
This is actually interesting to consider. If I get irritated with someone, I may be tempted to treat them unkindly, maybe complaining to them or speaking with a harsh voice. But something else may suddenly come into the mind, maybe the saying, “Do unto others…” or maybe a Buddhist teaching on practicing compassion. The amazing thing is that there was a gap between the impulse to act unkindly and the physical action of doing it. That gap is the miracle! The memory of “Do unto others…” or the memory of someone scolding me for being mean – those memories come afterwards, after the gap has occurred. Those memories come up into the space that comes along with the gap.
Another amazing thing about this is that before the gap there was just a concern with my own personal gain. When the gap has occurred, the mind is now aware of how others might feel or maybe we can say the mind is aware of the bigger picture.
What happens then could go either way. I speak unkindly anyway. Or I might do something different.
I think what happens for many of us is that those “teachings” that come into the mind when there is an opening can end up doing battle with the difficult impulse that originally arose. “I should try to be a nicer person.” And then there is a sort of compulsive application of will power to follow the “good” instead of the “bad.” I suppose it’s probably better if a violent person has learned to do this rather than punching or shooting people. But for myself I’m not satisfied with a battle between one way and another way, even if one way is the more “enlightened” way.
So how can it be that there is not a battle between the original impulse and the feeling that there is a different way (maybe through a teaching)?
First we have to really look and see if there is a battle going on in us. Maybe it’s a very small or gentle battle. For some of us it may be a more compulsive battle. It seems very helpful to look at this carefully. The mind seems to be almost continually in battle with itself in my experience. This is the root of conflict and separation, so it’s really good to look at this freshly.
It strikes me that one kind of “peaceful” battle is to think “Well, I’m going to practice being kinder right now and maybe in the future these impulses to be unkind to others may go away.” Wow. That’s feels to me like side-stepping the brewing battle. Maybe it avoids the battle at the moment but it also avoids really dealing with the essence of the conflict between acting unkindly and acting kindly. It puts “dealing with it” into the future.
What does “dealing with it” mean? It might mean really listening to that voice that wants to be mean to someone else. Really listening to it!! Really feeling what comes up when that voice is finally given the chance to speak (internally. I don’t mean speaking meanly to the other person.) Really listening to what is behind that voice. Is that voice afraid of something? Not knowing what to say to that voice. Not having a “teaching” for it. Just listening and feeling.
Let’s back up a minute and go back to that moment when there is the impulse to be unkind and then the gap and then a larger awareness that includes others. We could say there is a voice of unkindness and a voice or mind of compassion both operating. At times it might seem like these are in conflict (the battle) but in reality, at least in my experience, it is exactly that voice of compassion that does not want to do battle and instead wants to hear that voice of unkindness. It is the Big Mind that allows the voice of unkindness to unfold, to be heard, to open up. In this activity there is a complete interpenetration of wisdom mind and ignorant mind. Another way of saying this is that it is Love itself that allows the battle to end and the unfolding of difficult patterns to happen. Love is big enough to hold and feel and support the expression of violence and anguish of that voice of unkindness.
How does this work when we are in dialogue with each other? One person may bring up that they have a habit of being unkind to others sometimes. What happens then in the group? Someone might give a teaching about practicing compassion. That’s one approach. Another approach is to allow the mind of compassion to do its work right here together in the heat of the moment. To me that means inviting the voice of unkindness to speak, to open. Inviting the person who brought this up to allow the unkindness and everything that is behind it to open up right here in this gap, this space, that we are in together. It may be possible for others in the group to open up to this as well, together, because it is something that is in all of us.
As this happens together in dialogue, unexpected things come up. Unexpected responses to each other. Explorations of what one person is experiencing. And the whole time this fresh unfolding is happening. This is the end of the battle between difficult impulses and wisdom. It is difficulty opening in the embrace of wisdom. It is wisdom washed in the pain and difficulty but not tainted by it. It is the end of separation and the live functioning of Love and healing.
A person observing this might well say, “I didn’t hear anyone give any teachings.” A Buddhist teaching, to me, isn’t really a prescription of how to try to live in order to become better. It is a description of how a person functions when the mind is not at battle, when there is personal agenda is not narrowing the mind, when there is a spaciousness functioning. At best, such a teaching is a reminder. It points to something. It points to how we function when we are open, without agenda, vulnerable, having put aside the battle and having allowed ourselves to directly and intimately experience what is happening in us that has not wanted to be experienced. Teachings point to the functioning of the Wisdom mind, of Love.
When we are together, immersed in this functioning, exploring together, not afraid of what might be seen, then we are, in that moment, living in the mind and heart that teachings point to. We are alive. We are not separate.