Wanting To Get Rid Of The "I" In Me

Saturday night after Buddhist teacher, Will Duncan’s, talk, I was awake for hours. I was wracked by the desire to somehow burn through my ego during the time remaining before I die. Burn through until there would be nothing left of it but ashes. How to get rid of the “I” in me?

Good grief! What was I thinking? In the light of day I know that isn’t going to happen. Surrendering the “I” is for the great souls like Jesus, and the Buddha and Muhammad and Martin Luther King and Gandhi and Nelson Mandela--just to name a few-- all of whom burned through ordinary life and its dazzling distractions to the place of ultimate service. That they might die for the teaching they offered the world was clear to each one. And some did have to make the final sacrifice; some did not. Nonetheless each one suffered his personal and profound trial in the process of purification.

I’ve had some trials; purified, I am not.

Have you noticed our propensity for killing off those who emerge to give voice to the still revolutionary messages of forgiveness, of our connection to all beings and of our call to love “our crooked neighbors as our crooked selves?”  (W.H. Auden)

Unlike the great souls, I am pretty well stuck into this life: this existence of mine, rife with its preferences, prejudices, its possibilities unexplored, jealousies and human frailties. You know what I mean: all the stuff that keeps us grinding away at life. Most of us are unable to sustain a vision that propels us forward into increased open heartedness; greater understanding and generosity and above all, the freedom to just let go.

Because I believe in reincarnation—please do not ask me to explain this-- I want to clear as much of the debris of my ego stuff in this lifetime as I am able to identify. My hope is that in the next life—in which of course I will not be me--I will not have to repeat all the same garbage. There will be new garbage to deal with as my soul evolves; I just don’t want the same old, same old, been there, done that.

You know that feeling? I’ve been through this situation before: the people are different, the stage set is altered, but I am feeling a familiar nasty anxiety here. I thought I had this one figured out!

If we can shine a benevolent light of awareness on such moments as they arise, we can, right then, in that moment, have a chance to make a different choice. We have the capacity to change when we notice our habitual patterns.

God knows I am a million lifetimes away from being able, like Will Duncan, to spend three years gently guiding rattlesnakes out of my solitary hut in the desert. But I can be on the path of liberation. I can keep opening my heart. Every time I want to shut down on someone or some situation I can become aware of that and breathe and soften my heart around it. I can seek a different response to feeling attacked, or ignored or disappointed or angry or . . . anything.

As Will would say, “We can only do the best that we can” in each moment, trying not to concretize our opinions, solidify our prejudices, juice our dramas and stir our anger. When we notice those habitual reactions arising, we can choose to breathe and soften. We can choose freedom; we can choose peace.

Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at LifeOpeningUp.blogspot.com

The Hard Part: Recognizing Our Good Qualities

Our spiritual study group is slowly making its way through the great theologian, Karen Armstrong’s book, Twelve Steps To The Compassionate Life.

We are on Step Four: Compassion For Yourself. I have scribbled above the chapter title, “the hard part.”

Armstrong writes that in studying the Biblical commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” she had always focused on the first part of that injunction.  I think that is true of most of us. We are happy to show up with the chicken soup for someone else but rarely create it or its equivalent for ourselves when we are in need of comfort or tender loving care.

“The Golden Rule,” Armstrong writes, “requires self knowledge; it asks that we use our own feelings as a guide to our behavior with others.” Treating ourselves harshly, with quick, slicing judgment means that, in all likelihood, we will treat others in the same fashion.

“So,” she goes on to say,” we need to acquire a healthier and more balanced knowledge of our strengths as well as our weaknesses” and then she suggests that we begin by making  a list of our good qualities, talents and achievements.

Sounds good? Maybe. One of our group members had written in her book margin, “a good idea.” But, she confessed, that she hadn’t done it. It was too hard. We all agreed. Writing down our good qualities would be really difficult. Discussion ensued. Should we do it anyway and then go even further and share our lists with each other?

“Oh God!" a member exclaimed. "I can just hear my mother now!” You are boasting! How can you possibly think so well of yourself?

Another: “I’d much rather make a list of my shortcomings. So much easier!

Still another: “How can I write the things that I think are good about me and read it to all of you? What if you think I’m not that good?”

We all made faces.

Constructing a list of one’s good qualities, talents and achievements only sounds easy. Obviously it is not. Especially if you plan to share it with people who know you pretty well.

Couldn’t we just move on to the next part of the exercise: writing down our “egotistically driven fears” that make us act uncharitably and without compassion toward others? The group was tempted.

 But bravery and compliance with the process won out. We decided to take on the hard part. We will open our hearts to ourselves and to each other, creating and sharing our good quality lists.

Will you join us in this endeavor?  Will you shine the light of your awareness onto your critical voice for long enough to soften it sufficiently for the task? Are you willing to make a list of your good qualities, talents and achievements?

I will let you know how our group fares with this and I hope some of you will do the same by sharing your comments on this blog.   

(See below if you need help in commenting.)

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But first:

On Saturday I went to a talk given by a 43 year-old Buddhist named Will Duncan. Will, who has been studying Buddhism since he was sixteen, returned in July from a 3-year solitary meditation retreat where he lived in a hut in the desert of Arizona.

He was amazing!  As he imparts wisdom, Will already exudes that wonderful combination of mental discipline and humorous lightheartedness that I have come to associate with the very best Tibetan teachers.

Check out his website for Will's speaking schedule, audio talks and pictures of the Arizona valley where he spent those isolated three years. You don't need to be a Buddhist to benefit from what Will has to say about living mindfully. If you are anywhere near where Will is speaking, I urge you to get there!

Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at LifeOpeningUp.blogspot.com