Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Are you talking to ME??

The things you want to say speak volumes when you can’t say them.

I spent the first two weeks of June mainly in silence on a meditation retreat in the Shambhala tradition. Most the time we were restricted to functional talking, which means we could speak only to provide essential information or give directions. Some of the time was spent in noble silence, which means you can’t speak at all. If you need to communicate you have to write notes.

On the first day of silence, I ran hard into things I wanted to say to those around me but couldn’t. Mostly I wanted to apologize for my existence, which I assumed must be an irritating distraction to others. I’m sorry I’m fidgeting. I’m sorry I’m tall and it’s hard to see over me; I was assigned to this seat. I’m sorry if I’m walking too fast or too slow or if my ass looks fat in these pants or whatever.

Traditional Buddhism talks a lot about avoiding arrogance, but, as IDP founder Ethan Nichtern often notes, in our culture we’re more likely to feel unreasonably bad about ourselves than to have an inflated opinion of ourselves. The piece of shit at the center of the universe, to borrow a phrase from recovery groups.

The thing is, we still see ourselves at the center of the universe, however we see ourselves. And that’s a delusion.

My meditation instructor on retreat directed me to a phrase posted on our bulletin board: Letting go of attachment is the ultimate generosity because it connects us with our wisdom and compassion. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

Could I convert my self-consciousness about my perceived inadequacies into generosity? Sitting in meditation, I contemplated that. And I discovered that if I took my self out of the scenario, what I wanted was to support others in their meditation, to create as much ease as possible. Working with that, my heart began to open. Instead of judgment and criticism, I saw kindness.

I also saw that, just like me, some people were caught up in protecting/affirming their self image, no matter how much work that took. As a food server, I got a lot of instruction from staff – not all of it necessary in that moment, not all of it from people who should have been giving it, not all of it phrased kindly. (Those are the Buddha’s three criteria for deciding if speech is wise.) If I could have spoken I would have trained to explain, but it wasn't worth the time to write it all out while people were waiting for food.

Later another meditation instructor told me that when people are speaking, they’re really speaking to themselves. So the person who wrote "you may not know who I am" wasn't so much giving me instruction as confirmIng his own sense of importance. The person who wrote frenzied paragraphs about responsibility maybe fears what will happen if she doesn't meet her responsibilities. The person who pushes you to do something probably pushes herself too hard.

Ee cummings write: “all talking’s talking to oneself” **

Think about it. How much of what you say is meant to connect with someone and how much just reinforces your view of yourself?

It helps to have two weeks of silence to ponder it, but you can try this at home. Get centered in your body and do some breath awareness to clear your mind. Recall a conversation ... without the back story and the emotions, just the words. What are you saying to someone else that’s really there for yourself?

*all which isn't singing is mere *talking and all talking's talking to oneself (whether that oneself be sought or seeking master or disciple sheep or wolf) gush to it as deity or devil -toss in sobs and reasons threats and smiles name it cruel fair or blessed evil- it is you (ne i)nobody else drive dumb mankind dizzy with haranguing -you are deafened every mother's son- all is merely talk which isn't singing and all talking's to oneself alone but the very song of(as mountains feel and lovers)singing is silence

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