Friday, September 9, 2016

Cutting Through Delusion by Holding onto the One

I had high hopes for my summer vacation this year. I was going to head off to St. Louis to meet up with my dear, sweet, lovely wife;  stay for a while;  and then we were going to drive back to Guelph. She wanted to stay for several months. But when I arrived in St. Lou it was obvious that she was going into a psychotic episode. After a week of seeing her deteriorate, I bought tickets and went back to Guelph. When she gets like this, all I can do is leave her alone and wait the six weeks or so for her to come back to her rational mind.


When I got back to Guelph I still had several weeks of vacation booked. A friend invited me to stay a week with him and his wife in another city. I did and had a pretty good time. At one point, however, we were sitting in wonderful restaurant, eating a delicious meal, and it occurred to me that my dear wife would have loved to be there with me. At that point, I felt a tinge of sadness. A normal event, but I thought I'd share it with readers because several times people have asked me to go into some detail about my meditation practice.

When I felt that sadness, it occurred to me that I should be unhappy---that there was something wrong with me feeling good. In fact, I noticed that part of me was actually trying to feel sad. That I was obligated to feel sad, that if I didn't feel sad I was letting my wife down.

This is a textbook case of delusional thinking.

Looking deeper within, however, I noticed that one part of my mind was fighting with another. It had put forward this delusion and wanted to use it to dominate and control me. But this was a feeble attempt. After years and years of careful introspection from sitting and forgetting, I was able to recognize what was happening. And because of this self-awareness, I was able to recognize how the Dao was operating in my life at that exact moment.


"Sitting and Forgetting" (Zuowang) is something that I was taught by Daoists. It was nothing special at all, and wasn't even called "Sitting and Forgetting", and was actually called just "Sitting". And that's all they taught us how to do, sit. Why would we anyone do that? Well, because it is profoundly boring. And if you get bored enough, you start paying attention to what your mind is doing. And that, is a very useful exercise. Most people wander through their lives with only the barest of self-awareness. Ask them why they pursue some sort of behaviour and they will usually say "I dunno". Most will get angry with you if you try to get them to introspect and think about why it is that they do what they do. This anger isn't really with you, it's a way of changing the conversation. This is because there are different parts of a person's mind, and one part of it actively fights against you becoming self aware.

But if you are one of those "odd ducks" who sticks with sitting, you have a good chance of becoming more and more aware of the complexity of your consciousness. And the more aware you become of how your mind operates, the harder it becomes for that part of the mind that sabotages self-awareness to remain in control. Because I have many years sitting and forgetting, first formally through sitting and then later through every moment of my life (what Buddhists call "mindfulness"), I instinctively started analyzing my thoughts the moment the idea entered my head about the necessity of feeling sad.


And once a person has developed the ability to be increasingly aware of how their mind operates at any given moment, they begin to have the clarity to see processes at work both within themselves and the world around them. This is what Daoists call "holding onto the One". (The "One" is the Dao.) It was because of the sitting that I could see how a part of my mind was trying to create a sense of guilt in order to regain control over my consciousness. And because I had held onto the One for a long time, I recognized a process that has been at work in my mind for a very long time---and which used to almost completely control how my mind operates.