Every time we sit down in meditation, we are challenged to face our dissatisfactions. What is really going on in our body-mind? What ideas are we stubbornly holding onto? What are we afraid of? What would we rather not deal with like anger, resentment, longing, dissatisfaction, numbness? What, or who, are we rejecting? What aspect of our lives makes us want to act selfishly or childishly – by throwing a tantrum, blaming others, or refusing to participate? We don’t have to go seeking for our dissatisfactions when we meditate. Zazen, seated meditation, doesn’t have to become a grim session of taking account of how crappy our life is or how flawed we are. We also need to be open to awareness of the joy and positivity in our life; we have to be completely open to awareness of everything as it is. However, we are much more likely to be open to the positive stuff than we are to the negative stuff, so facing the dissatisfactions takes some intention and courage.
I like to think of “opening the doors of my mind” during zazen to whatever might wander in. The Zen ceremony of Segaki ritually enacts this process when the doors of the temple are opened wide and the hungry ghosts or manifestations of unresolved stuff are invited to enter. It is surprising how effective this ceremony is. Many people report unresolved stuff coming up for them as they sit zazen in the day-long retreat that follows the ceremony traditionally. In the evening there is a ceremony to send the “ghosts” on their way, but it often takes much longer to become familiar with a new ghost, learn what it has to teach, and then take the actions necessary to truly send it away.
When I open the doors of my mind as I settle on the meditation cushion, I always feel some apprehension. What am I going to discover? What am I going to have to deal with? Am I going to have to change?
When I finally summon the courage to face my dissatisfactions, I am always surprised to find that no matter how bad it is – it is less anxiety-provoking to face it than it is to avoid it. Finding something behind the door can be scary and might require serious action, but in the long run it’s better than sensing there’s something behind the door but just wondering how terrifying it might be. When we really face our dissatisfactions there is often some sense of relief. In addition, avoiding or denying parts of our reality increases our sense of separation or isolation from our whole life and from the people and situations we encounter. When we are one with our dissatisfactions we are more fully present with everything. When trying to summon the courage to face our dissatisfactions during meditation or anytime it can be helpful to recall the sense of relief or presence that can be achieved by doing so. Sometimes it also helps to imagine the worst that is likely to come through the doors of our mind and ask ourselves if it would be the end of the world; it rarely would be. Alternatively, we might talk ourselves into facing our dissatisfactions by noticing how tired we are of running away from it.
Once we are determined to be still no matter what comes at us, we expand our awareness by letting go of any idea about our life, our body-mind, or what we should or should not be experiencing at this moment. Then our dissatisfactions can arise and find itself recognized and embraced – because, after all, it’s not coming at us from outside, it was already here.
What do we really know? It’s impossible to know the future and often difficult to know the present. At least we can be sure of being able to know the past; after all, they say that hindsight is 20:20. However, even history books can be wrong. Facts are indeed not often “Facts” and vary depending one who’s describing them. Even history books vary in their interpretation of historical events.
Why do we blame? In part, we blame because we feel that others are at fault. They said or done something wrong, hurt us in some way. Thus, some blaming depends on the fact that we that we believe that we know certain things. Are these reasonable cognitive strategies? What are the implications and ramifications of this approach?
What do I truly know? Not much. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I really know. I am more likely to make assumptions than I am to actually know what is True.
Everything I see, hear, feel, taste or smell is through my senses. Obviously, this is not a new concept. What we “know” is actually only what we believe to be true. We make assumptions based on faulty or incomplete knowledge. Human senses are limited and fallible. External information is processed and filtered. We see only a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum (from 400 to 700 nm) and we hear only from 20 to 20000 Hz. Our senses cannot hope to give us an accurate representation of the world with these limitations? Our minds sort and analyze the input. As Descartes pointed out, the only thing that we can know is that we exist. “I think, therefore I am.”
Our senses are also intimately affected by our beliefs, desires, needs, instincts, and emotions. As individuals, you will see the same things differently than I see them. We not only view them from different physical perspectives, but we also perceive things through different emotional, intellectual, and historical filters. Both our nature and our nurture significantly influence what we see, hear, smell, feel, and think. Our biases have as much influence on how we interpret events as the actual events themselves. Thus, everyday where we jump to conclusions, fill in missing pieces, and assume we know when we rarely do.
We boldly rely on our senses and draw quick and often incorrect conclusions, based on what we erroneously believe to be “true”. There are many examples of the fallibility of our senses: We all regularly experiences “misses” – episodes of mis-hearing, mis-reading, mis-seeing, and mis-taking someone or something.
I overhear a conversation between two of my friends about how great Jack Cohen’s party was last night. I immediately get upset that Jack didn’t invite me. I almost always invite him to my parties. I commit that I’m not going to invite him to the next event. I dwell on this for a few days and become more frustrated. Later in the week I bump into one of the friends who had been discussing the party and make up a story that I was unable to go to Jack’s that night. After discussing it, I find out that it was actually a different Jack Cohen that I didn’t know-Needless Blame.
A martial art teacher was teaching a class and one of the regular adult student shows up a little late. He tells him to take a spot in the front row and proceed with the class. Then he notices that the student is really being sloppy with his techniques and master provided what seems to be appropriate criticism. After several comments, this student turns to master and says, “Do you think that I’m David?”
“What are you talking about?” Master responded, “Of course you’re David”.
“That’s what I thought”, he replied. “I’m not David. I’m Steven, David’s twin brother. This is my first time in the class. My brother couldn’t make it tonight.”
You’ve got to be kidding! Master was sure that it was his regular student, David who he had been blaming for not practicing and poor performance. What was the chance that he had an identical twin brother? Well, that was a true story except for the names and it did happen. Master was sure that he was wrong.
We are absolutely positive that we heard or saw something that upset us, later to find out that it wasn’t exactly who or what we thought it was. We thought they were talking about someone that we know, but they weren’t. We thought that they were talking about us but they weren’t. We thought they referred to our kids, but they didn’t. We thought that they missed an appointment with us, but we had the wrong day or time or place. The result of believing that we know is dissatisfaction with the person, situation, or event. When we are dissatisfied, we default to blaming.
So, maintain a healthy amount of doubt about what you know or think that you know. Have little humility and a little acknowledgment that you don’t know everything. Take an unassuming attitude and be open to alternative perspectives. This is not to say that you shouldn’t be confident in your actions. Obviously, high self-confidence and self-esteem are beneficial; however, believing that we have all of the knowledge necessary to start blaming others, is potentially even more deleterious to relationships and our own personal growth.
Of course, I hope you don't take my word for this. Feel free to doubt that any of this is true.