Wednesday, December 21, 2011
The World is Here to Change Us
By Karen Beetle
"We are not here to change the world, the world is here to change us.”
--Shantideva, 8th century Indian Buddhist scholar
I read these words late last week, and they echo in my mind as I walk and work and eat. These words point to a chronic tension between how we want the world to be and what our experience is telling us about the world we live in. In learning meditation, we begin to discover the profound story-telling capacity of the mind. As a meaning maker and interpreter, our brain is constantly presenting reality to us – but that reality is highly conditioned by our previous experience and our habitual mental patterns of thought. Several years ago, I had a client walk into my office and sit down. Before I could say anything, She said. “I had no new thoughts. All week, I had no new thoughts.”
As we turn toward mental chatter in our meditation practice – it is often laughable how routine and unexpansive our everyday thoughts are. We can easily go through a whole week with no new thoughts.
Without awareness, our thought play a huge role in defining our experience. We are caught in the constant chatter and believe or half believe the content of our thinking. Meditation allows us to turn toward the direct experience of our days - our thoughts, feelings and sensations. This allows us to investigate the story line. We see how thoughts and feelings create impressions that can easily be crafted into fiction. The stories we tell about ourselves, other people, and life itself actually spin us further and further away from the world we live in. And this isn’t a neutral or accidental direction for our human mind to go – it is part of a fundamental strategy for self-protection in which we convince ourselves that our view is right. We place ourselves at the center of our own universe – and dig in our heels. Shantideva isn’t asking us not to believe in our capacity to make change in the world. He is saying, if you dig in your heels, you place yourself outside of the influence of life and you actually harden yourself against life. We all have the capacity to let life come closer to us than that.
Rodney Smith writes in Tricycle (Winter 2011), “To abide in awareness without asserting our need to control what is arising suggests a complete restructuring of our view and intention…When we attempt to force or influence reality, we are refusing to be affected by it. We have opted out of changing ourselves, investing our energy in the course of our desire. The sense of self remains fully empowered when it decides how the world must change to meet its needs, and nothing can get through to modify the mind.” When we harden against our experience, instead of softening in the face of it, life retreats from our grasp.
By accepting that the world changes us, we can align ourselves more directly with our true talents and capacities. We see more clearly where opportunities are, and the capacities of those around us come into view. We have more accuracy in our perceptions. The stories we tell are lighter and more spacious. We believe ourselves less and trust our direct perceptions more. We come into relationship with what we can and can’t change in the world and how to walk more effectively toward that which enlivens us.
During this holiday season, we are often alerted to the stories we tell about ourselves and the people in our lives. Pause as you attend family events, stay close to your direct experience. Notice the stories that are forming in your mind. Breathe and return to your direct perceptions. Look for what nourishes you in the environment. Feel your feet on the ground. Look up at the sky. Allow life to soften you and those around you. May you have a happy and peaceful holiday time.
Karen Beetle is a therapist and mindfulness teacher practicing in Albany, New York. Her next mindfulness meditation class begins in January. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 518-424-7516. This post appears today on the Albany Times Union's Holistic Health blog, a blog well worth visiting and bookmarking!