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The Writhings of Conditioned Mind

In my sangha, where I practice, part of the daily recollection is reminding ourselves that the purpose of our practice is to wake up and end suffering.

There's an interesting Zen mind tweak happening in there -- because if we focus only on ending suffering - there is no way we will wake up. And when we principally focus on waking up the ego floats by like a wisp of smoke, ephemeral, transient, diaphanous.

Lots of traditions talk about suffering. Lots agree that suffering is resistance to 'what is'. Lots of teachers' constant refrain is that when the ego is annihilated, suffering subsides.


A lot of our attempts to take the edge off of suffering (boozing it up, surfing the web, shopping, over-exercising, binge-watching Grey's Anatomy, whatever it is) actually just keep suffering deeply entrenched. And keep the ego - or conditioned mind - firmly in charge of our lives.


When we sit in the midst of our pain, our capacity to be with all things, just that act of sitting with ourselves, being with our lives, little by little carries us towards our freedom. Sometimes is a real, legit grief that we get to be with, in order to move through it, to let it carve down into us, to deepen us, to expand us.


We sit with the writhing of ego:

The ache of not getting the response we want from someone. The sting of the material world taking something away. The smarting of the open wound of our own incapacity to express our truth.

What's hard to realize is that BEING WITH all of it is the LIBERATION of this being.

Maybe we can think of ourselves as night-nurses for the ego, as it cries itself to sleep. Or maybe you'd rather think of yourself as hospice care for the ego, as it takes its dying breaths. Whether you like to love the ego into maturation or starve the ego into emaciation and final extinction...

EITHER WAY, you get to BE WITH the gyre of ego's whirrings, while it burns itself away, or grows itself up.

The annihilation of the ego is either excruciatingly painful, or the sweet pain of getting free, or nothing but a wisp floating past the still mind of the watcher.

How can we apply this to real life? Perhaps the waxing poetic is lost on you...

The other day I read that they (the scientists) have discovered a new plastic patch. It's roughly 1.5 times the size of Texas.

I was explaining to my babysitter why recycling plastic bottles is not a good enough solution. (She thought we should have bottled water for the birthday party (Nano is almost 5!!!) and I thought we should definitely not. She was emphatic - 50 bottles are only $2.50! "Esta bien barato destruir el medio ambiente," I said. It's so cheap to destroy the planet, I said, probably in an obnoxious preachy tone.)

Then as I drilled down into the details of why I'm so opinionated about this she started to get it. I shared a few videos with her and showed her pictures of turtles choking on plastic bags. (It was hard to explain -- someone needs to make one of those videos in Spanish!!) As she started to get it, and feel for those turtles, I felt my energy take a big swoop into sadness... there is a deep, deep pocket of eco-angst under there. I know it well.

Eco-angst and ego-angst, because it's also really lame of me to preach to anyone about something I am so bad at being consistent about in my own life. It's soooo hard to be good, in our efforts to save this world, to save ourselves. Some people do a phenomenally good job and have some ideas as to small ways we can help. My friend Jackie started an organization called The Last Plastic straw whose mission is just that.

But saving the world, in my opinion, must rest on the foundation of loving it, so I generally put my focus there.

Back to our story -- I was then off to see a therapy client and had to kiss the kiddos and run out the door. So there wasn't much time to linger there, but it really hit me. I felt like I'd landed again, in the center of the messiness of spiritual life.

Sometime we realize we get to be WITH all of our messiness, our drought of knowing, our fieriness, our irritability, and that is all we can do. Sometimes we get to be with all of our broken-ness, and that there is no other way through.

Humans, as Douglas Brooks always reminds us, are deeply flawed. The political climate we are swimming in lately is stark evidence. He has done a stunning job of following the charade, and applying the teachings of yoga to the mayhem we see in D.C. Brooks writes eloquently about this. As politics goes, and perhaps everywhere, broken-ness is the most inalienable of all truths about humans. But, as he reminds us, perfection is the enemy of good, so in politics, we must cut our losses and rally for the least broken victor. And in spiritual life?

Perfection is definitely the enemy of the good. We keep trying to claw our way towards awakening, forgetting that the SELF was never asleep, and conditioned mind will never wake up.

What do you think? Which is the over-arching goal? To end suffering, or to wake up? Peace, or Truth? I posit, truth. To wake up. To FEEL.

So curious your thoughts. What is your path? How are you doing, being with the broken-ness? Send me a quick response, if you are so inclined. I'd love to hear from you. Email me here.


Meanwhile, on a personal note -- family life persists in being heartbreakingly beauteous. The littlest amongst us turned 5 yesterday. Here he is these days, and a somewhat older pic, for contrast.

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