The Letters Part 6
Subject: I guess this would qualify
Sent: 06/08/97 11:54 PM
as a late night thought.
Howzit going Normbear the Great?
I realized while I was in the shower today that I wasn't (amn't?) an "I". And I mean really "realized" in my heart/brain/soul, not just an intellectual understanding. It only happened for a moment but it was so joyful. Then I forgot and it was sad. I have been in and out of stress the whole day and I keep thinking, this is not what is supposed to be feeling , I am not an I, there is no need to feel stressed because things just work out and I should trust the elephant and I know I'm shoulding on myself , it's just so hard to realize and when you do it's amazing. Thank you for even making that one second possible. It also happened a couple times before and thank you for those too.
Just Say Hi (nike norm slogan) Love Laura the Bald
Subject: What? new haircut?
Sent: 6/11/97 5:35 PM
I've been out of town a lot--lost track of time.
I'm very happy about your non-person realization--in the shower and elsewhere. I appreciate your thanks, too, although I "personally" don't get any credit. You can thank the movement of the universe that brought us to the point of seeing through the illusion.
Got to run!
The Ocean Ran Away
Sent: 06/20/97 6:31 AM
do you remember that song? girl group from the 50s...
you never EVER listen to music or see movies? i have to admit that put me off for a minute- i remember you telling me that i didnt have to meditate or move to japan in order do learn this stuff but then when you descriibed your "monkish existence" to me i thought- so how are NORMAL people supposed to do this. then i thought after reading it again - why am i thinking its abnormal? its definitely from one of the activities you dont participate in - TV. they are always making fun of "new age" kind of people who have to calm themselbes down in the middle of a crowded room by saying some mystical zen sounding saying to themselbes and then the laugh track kicks in- im refering specifically to a recent murphy brown episode i was forced to watch in wn emergency room waiting area (i got in a small fender bender did i tel you?) so anyway, the point is i think i could possibly be more zen like even with the entertainment - but i really do think sometimes when im about to be entertained or am in the process of being entertained that there is no point to it, it is not "all its made out to be", the whole hopeless feeling bit. Are freinds for amusement purposes only? speaking of entertainment, i was listening to the music from Rent - a hot young broadway play that has wonderful music and the words were talking, kinda psychologically, about detachment and connectiong (meween people) and the people in Rent had problems because they always detached themselves from realyionships - basically because the other person had AIDS. then i was thinking of how you can refer to yourself in the third person all the time like "she is feeling depressed" and how that really detachs you from everey situation - any blame or anything and then i got scared of being detached - Rent says its wrong too. im sure psychologists would think its bad too. what do you think? am i thinking of the she wrong?
soooooo my proms tomorrow - big deal we have about 20 people going in a "party van" - silly stuff! im graduating in 6 days :) im so excited about california
see you there love laurabearry
ps tell me more about the "armas" (dharma etc)
Subject: His name was Bill
Sent: 6/24/97 1:59 PM
Yes, I remember that song. I have a head full of songs, and whenever nothing else is going on, my brain sings to itself--one of the reasons I don't listen to music anyMORE, is because, left to its own devices, it will sing the same line from the same song, over, and over, and over....
No, you didn't tell me about the small fender bender, or the emergency room... I suppose if it didn't effect your going to the prom it wasn't too bad. Hope you had a good time.
So the "Dharma" is the "teaching", usually, and in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, the Buddha gives teachings on how to develop mindfulness. He starts off talking about being mindful of your breath--its coming in, its going out, whether it is a long or short breath. He goes on to describe being mindful of other phenomena including thoughts, feelings, sensations. All these instructions are just about paying attention--they aren't instructions for how to CONTROL the phenomena in question. However, if you pay attention long enough, understanding will come of how these thoughts, feelings, etc., arise and disappear. The understanding will in itself result in changes in the behavior you are paying attention to, and the changes will come without any particular effort to make them happen.
There is a problem which arises from telling people what the changes will be. If you say to people, "If you do these things, you will sooner or later become continuously happy," they have a tendency to respond with, "Oh, I know what it's like to be happy--I'll just skip all that work of paying attention and go straight to being happy." They think they can get the result without making the effort--without doing the groundwork. Thus when unhappy feelings arise, they say, "I'm not supposed to be unhappy!" and they try to push the feelings away--try to force the outcome.
This trying to force the outcome, to control one's feelings, is the kind of "detachment" people talk of in negative terms. When people are frightened by something--a friend or relative has aids, for example--they find themselves being afraid, angry, depressed, anxious--tons of unpleasant feelings. They don't like them, and they find ways of avoiding and denying them--sometimes suppressing the bad feelings, sometimes suppressing the love they have for the person whose suffering is making them afraid. This is detachment in the negative sense.
This kind of detachment is what the Buddha called "grasping". People grasp at certain feelings as being desirable, and this grasping at some things and pushing others away makes it impossible to simply be aware of things as they come and go, to simply take note of things as they are. In order to understand things, we have to pay attention to how they ARE, not how we would like for them to be.
Here is a sample of the procedure as the Buddha described it:
“And how, monks, does a monk abide contemplating mind as mind? Here, a monk knows a lustful mind as lustful, a mind free from lust as free from lust; a hating mind as hating, a mind free from hate as free from hate; a deluded mind as deluded, an undeluded mind as undeluded; a contracted mind as contracted, a distracted mind as distracted; a developed mind as developed, an undeveloped mind as undeveloped; a surpassed mind as surpassed, an unsurpassed mind as unsurpassed; a concentrated mind as concentrated, an unconcentrated mind as unconcentrated, a liberated mind as liberated, an unliberated mind as unliberated.”
“So he abides contemplating mind as mind internally (his own mind). He abides contemplating mind as mind externally (other people’s minds) ...He abides contemplating arising phenomena in the mind... or else, mindfulness that ‘there is mind’ is present just to the extent necessary for knowledge and awareness. And he abides detached, not grasping at anything in the world. And that, monks is how a monk abides contemplating mind as mind.” (THUS HAVE I HEARD: THE LONG DISCOURSES OF THE BUDDHA, translated by Maurice Walshe, Wisdom Publications, 1987, p. 340. Parenthetical material added)(A different translation now available online.)
My little trick of speaking of myself in the third person, "Oh, he's SO, upset!" is actually the result of a long period of watching my brain go through the being-upset-routine. I used to get involved in justifying my being upset; I would reflect on how people had DONE ME WRONG; I would think about how I was going to treat them next time so that they would recognize the error of their ways and never do it again. I watched myself go through this routine so many times that after a while it became totally ridiculous. It became so ridiculous that I just can't go through the whole thing any more. I only get as far as the first rush of adrenaline and then the routine falls apart of its own silliness.
Perhaps I shouldn't have told you about the third person trick--its may be that it is an aftereffect of "contemplating mind as mind", rather than something you can use BEFORE you have done the groundwork.
There are some people going through a long narrow cave. Their flashlights don't show them where the cave goes, or if it goes anywhere. They begin to wonder whether there is any point in going on at all, but one of them happens to have a burst of energy, so she rushes on ahead. After what seems like a very long time she comes running back with the news that there is light ahead; that if they just keep going they can reach the outside. This is encouraging news, of course, but IN ITSELF, it doesn't bring them any closer to the light. They still have to make the effort, to trudge onward, but now, at least, they know there is a payoff ahead.
So don't worry about whether you should or shouldn't listen to music, go to the movies, play with your friends, etc. Just pay attention to what goes on in your head, and after a while things will sort themselves out. One of the simplest versions of what the Buddha said was that some things lead to happiness, and some things lead to unhappiness, and if we just pay attention, we will learn the truth about which is which. The trick of paying attention is to do it without "grasping"--without all the cultural baggage of how we are taught it is SUPPOSED to be.
Here is Jean Klein's version of it:
“As a human being related to all living beings we must first be related to ourselves. We cannot understand, love and welcome others without first knowing and loving ourselves. Generally, however, we spend our whole lives involved in what is apparently outside us without ever looking at what is closest. We give no time to the thorough reading of our own book, our reactions, resistances, tensions, emotional states, physical stresses and so on. This reading requires no system or specially allotted time spent in introspection. It involves only facing oneself during the day without the habitual identification with an individual centre of reference, an I-image, a personality, a propagator of viewpoints.
“To face ourselves scientifically we must accept the facts as they are without agreement, disagreement or conclusion. It is not a mental acceptance, an acceptance of ideas, but is completely practical, functional. It requires only alertness. Attention must be bipolar. We see the situation and at the same time see how it echoes in us as feeling and thought. In other words, the facts of a situation must include our own reactions. We remain in the scientific process free from judgment, interpretation and evaluation, only looking in different moments of the day, at our psychological, intellectual and physical ground and our level of vitality. There is no motive, no interference from a ‘me’, no desire to change, grow or become. Functional acceptance is not moral. There is no need to opt for a new way of living which, inevitably, becomes a system like any other. When attention is bi-polar, at first there is observation of the so-called outer world but with an emphasis on inner movements. Then these movements, the likes and dislikes, themselves become the object of exploration. In this way we become more intimate with ourselves, more aware of how we function from moment to moment in everyday life. When we are explorers, real listening appears automatically and in listening there is openness, receptivity. Exploration never becomes a fixation with a goal to be achieved. It remains as a welcoming that brings originality and life to every moment....
“There is nothing to try to add or subtract from the life you are living. It takes only alertness to see habits of thinking and how these contract us. When we see that almost all of our existence is mechanical repetition we automatically step out of the pattern and into observing.” (WHO AM I, pp. 17-18)
So there is a certain kind of detachment we need to have, simply to be able to know what IS, but this is very different from the kind of detachment that DOESN'T WANT TO KNOW what is.
Well, that should be way more than enough for one email.
Looking forward to seeing you and your dad in July.
Sent: 07/05/97 7:33 PM
thats what your name would be according to my dog
i must tell you - good email. you put the bipolar attention thing very well , not as flowery as jean klein - although the combination of both was very enlightening. maybe you should put it on the web site
i still have a question : example : i am writing thank you cards for graduation. i write a couple and then bi polar myself and i find out that i really am not having a good time writing thank you cards. i want to be swimming instead. but i feel guilt because i would enjoy recieving a thank you card from someone i gave a present to and i want to be a giver of joy myself. when you find something out by turning bi polar - how does that help? this example is very "in the system". i know it helps in the long run with certain things like your anger at other people problem.
have you ever heard of that math chaos theory? i think it says that things always go wrong no matter how you plan it -oh and there is no such thing as a perfect circle. and crazy wisdom seems to be saying something along those lines.. so what is the point of planning anything? if something always goes wrong.. is it worth planning anything if you are not the one planning it? i always feel the best when i think things are under control and i always seem to be fighting to get them that way but the crazy wisdom book says that holy fools are at home with uncertainty
at graduation there was all this talk about dreams and the future and it made me cry - i dont have any dreams. and all the talk about freedom scared me too - i dont know what to do once im free. are dreams even legit zen wise? i went to my shrink for the third and final time and she asked me if i had any self respect after i told her something about what i did with a guy and it also made me cry - i wasnt so sure i had self respect. is self respect even a concept worth keeping anymore? i get so confused thinking all the time.
i got confused with something you wrote (or buddha wrote)
"So he abides contemplating mind as mind internally (his own mind). He abides contemplating mind as mind externally (other people's minds) ...He abides contemplating arising phenomena in the mind... or else, mindfulness that 'there is mind' is present just to the extent necessary for knowledge and awareness. And he abides detached, not grasping at anything in the world. And that, monks is how a monk abides contemplating mind as mind."(THUS HAVE I HEARD: THE LONG DISCOURSES OF THE BUDDHA, translated by Maurice Walshe, Wisdom Publications, 1987, p. 340. Parenthetical material added)
could i have further explaination?
thank you for taking time to write to me- i really appreciate it (thank you card) love laura
Subject: Norman the dog
Sent: 7/8/97 5:55 PM
I get a great kick out of dogs--they are so much just what they are--so doggy. People try to get them to be peoply, with greater or lesser success, but it's their dogginess I love. My third wife, Linda, used to get terribly upset when her dog would lick his privates. "Joss!" she would yell at him, and he would look up in the funniest way, hearing his name, but he never understood that she had a problem with his behavior.
About four billion years ago the ancestors of dogs and us and everything else were starting to get their protoplasm together. Life began with the simplest things that were capable of reproducing themselves--if they had not reproduced themselves, there wouldn't be any life. In the beginning and ever since there have been occasional life forms that emerged that did not have a strong urge to reproduce, and they didn't, so they didn't have any progeny. What this means is that the only creatures that became ancestors of other creatures were those that had strong urges to reproduce--we come from a long line of horney creatures. It would be odd if that urge did not manifest itself in us in some way.
Once life got complicated enough to produce society and culture, these phenomena became factors affecting reproduction. Those cultures that were most effective in the production of reproductively successful offspring overwhelmed those whose values, techniques, etc., were not so effective. It would be odd if the values being promulgated in our society did not have a fairly long history of producing biologically successful offspring.
As we "bipolar" ourselves (you have invented a verb!) we may expect to find--both in the situations we are in and in our responses--a lot of baggage from our four billion year history of reproduction. Part of the baggage is biological, and part cultural. On the biological side we have the facts that 1) boys can father a lot more offspring than girls can mother, but, 2) if the babies don't survive to reproduce, there is no biological advantage to having a lot of them. The ideal situation for the boys is to make tons of babies that healthy, nurturing girls then raise to maturity. The ideal situation for the girls is to have as many strong healthy babies as they can, and to get as much help from their friends and from the fathers in raising them to maturity as they can. You can see that there is the potential here for a struggle between the boys and the girls. Among animals that don't have culture, there are many examples of how this basic situation affects the interrelationship of the sexes. (An article called, "First, Kill the Babies", in the September, 1996 DISCOVER magazine, discusses this.) Culture introduces a lot more variables and complications--a lot more ways of playing out the conflict.
So-- when your shrink asked you about your self-respect, she was using a behavior-shaping technique that has been very popular in our culture--guilt and shame: "Tommy! You went ca-ca in your pants AGAIN! Aren't you ever going to be a big boy mommy and daddy can be proud of? Are you going to embarrass us and make us miserable all our lives! Don't you have any SELF RESPECT?" Little Tommy feels just awful, and he never goes ca-ca in his pants again--a very powerful technique!
Your shrink was trying to shape your behavior--to promote the strategy in the "Battle of the Sexes" that she thinks is most effective. For her it is a MORAL ISSUE--"morality" being another technique for shaping the behavior of succeeding generations to conform to the cultural strategy for survival.
In watching our thoughts and feelings appear and disappear, we contemplate "mind as mind" as opposed to "mind as ME" In watching our shrink's thoughts and feelings appear and disappear, we contemplate "mind as mind" as opposed to "mind as THEM". In being detached, not grasping at what appears in our mind as "me/mine", and not interpreting what appears in other peoples' minds as "them/theirs", we come to understand minds as they are, not as we might want them to be. When we bipolar ourselves as we are writing thank you cards and find we would rather be swimming, we recognize that as perfectly normal mind behavior, and we see our guilt as the product of normal mind behavior, too, but the more we understand the causes and conditions of the things that appear and disappear, the more the guilt disappears. Guilt is a product of identifying "mind" as "me".
This being "detached, not grasping at anything in the world", is necessary if we are going to understand ourselves--it is what is meant by the expression "having an open mind"--but it can be very difficult to achieve. It requires faith in the old saying, "Know the truth, and the truth will set you free". Sometimes it seems like the truth is scary, and that perhaps it might be better not to look at things too closely. Life has to give us this faith. We have to experience it over and over before it becomes clear to us. Part of the reason for telling my story on the web was to show how, over and over, what I thought was true turned out to be false, and that the REAL truth turned out to be better than what I had believed in before. Jean Klein says that fear, unhappiness, and boredom are all gifts--they push us toward asking questions that lead to the truth.
Now chaos theory, as I understand it, says that in very complex systems, a very small change in one variable can result in large effects later on. Since there are very large numbers of small things that COULD happen, it is impossible to predict the behavior of very large systems IN DETAIL We can say that it will probably snow in Vermont next winter, although we can't specify when and where exactly. That doesn't prevent us from buying new skis with fair certainty that we will be able to use them. However, if we base our happiness on being able to ski on Thanksgiving weekend, we may be in for disappointment. We plan, but we try to stay flexible, and we remember the horse story--we can't really tell good from bad in the short run.
Our brains are perfect examples of very complex systems, so even though we can come to understand how they work in general, we can never predict what specific thoughts are going to pop up from moment to moment. Some infinitesimally trivial input that we are not even aware of can result in a major rush of feeling--seemingly out of the blue.
Knowing how our brains work in principle, and how evolution and animals and cultures work in general; and by paying scientific attention to what appears in our brains, we can learn to relax a little. We can become comfortable with life, and we can watch it unfold with equanimity. We plan, but we don't get upset if things don't work out. We listen to people and their reactions to things with understanding--we don't take their reactions personally. We see where dreams come from, and we don't get attached to their coming true; whether they are ours or someone else's. Finally, if we find ourselves confronted with chores (like writing thank-you cards), we can recognize (without guilt), that if we choose to participate in the system , then certain things are right, and certain things are not right. Sure, there are other things we would rather do, but it may be that at this particular time writing thank-you's is "better" for us than going swimming (the horse). Since it is the right thing, and since we have committed ourselves to doing it, we might as well think of it as the most fun thing we could possibly do at the time; since it very well can be. Watching (as a disinterested observer) your hand write, watching the ink appear on the paper--it's an amazing magic trick, incredibly entertaining--nothing is ordinary or boring.
Everyone in the neighborhood is talking about how the amazing Laurabear is coming soon to the Bay Area. They are all very excited; they can hardly wait! Of course they're committed to enjoying life in the meantime, however, so you needn't rush--fly carefully.
p.s. It took two years of college for me to find out what I wanted to do with my life--which dream lasted three years. It took forty-odd years for me to learn that my life is my dream, and vice versa. None of it has been wasted.
Subject: Conversation Revisited
Sent: 7/28/97 2:50 PM
Hope you had a good trip home and found everyone healthy and happy.
I enjoyed our conversation, but felt I didn't explain or tie things together as well as I might, so here's a recap with embellishments.
You mentioned that "Scoop" Nisker made it sound difficult to reach enlightenment--that maybe decades were involved. The Zen folks have been a little perverse on the subject: If they were talking to someone who thought it was easy, they would say, "Oh no, it's difficult. It could take 20 or 30 years;" if they were talking to someone who thought it was difficult, they might say, "It's easy--it can happen in a moment." Anyone who thinks in terms of "easy" or "difficult" is thinking from a conventional point of view, and the Zen folks' job is to undermine that point of view.
All the stuff in my journal is also intended to undermine the conventional point of view that we are independent, self-controlling individuals. I was fortunate in that life presented me with a series of experiences that loosened up my thinking enough that when I encountered the idea of non-personhood, I was (after some struggle) open to considering the possibility.
Other people may be attracted to Zen for one reason or another, but without life's jolting them a few times they have a hard time letting go of the conventional point of view. I thought it might be helpful for them to understand intellectually how the mind works, since that had been helpful to me. When we realize that there is too much happening in the brain for us to understand it in real time, we realize that the notion of there being an entity--a person--in there controlling it as it happens doesn't make sense. Our conventional idea of who we are is--hopefully--undermined.
The ideas of evolution have been helpful in a slightly different way. Those darn boys--so amusing with their competitiveness and aggression--experience happiness and joy in their winning, and are dejected and sad when they lose. Their sense of well-being, and of WHO THEY ARE, is bound up in their success or failure. Some of us have been helped in giving up those conventional ideas of manhood by seeing how those ideas and behaviors that we identified with were programmed into us by the processes of evolution--we were behaving just like lizards, roosters, dogs, lions, chimpanzees, etc., etc.--like organic machines.
The girls, of course, are no less mechanical. Their joy in nurturing and socializing go back as far as the dinosaurs and beyond. In some circumstances--like war--they can be as cruel and heartless to their "enemies" as the boys.
It may seem disheartening to realize that we human beings have risen so little above our beastly beginnings, but in fact, facing ourselves as we are offers the only hope of getting beyond it. People who denounce the cruelty of others without recognizing it in themselves are just drawing more boundaries between "us" and "them"; raising banners to fight behind in the war against cruelty that are in essence the same as the banners of the cruel. Both the warriors and the peacemakers are trying to engineer the kind of environment that they think would be best for their offspring. There is a saying that goes something like this: "Today's liberators are tomorrows oppressors". Even in a world without war, human beings will compete with each other on some level--economic, social, artistic, etc.--and as long as there is competition there are winners and losers, and suffering.
So how does facing ourselves as we are offer any hope of improvement? The Buddhists call it understanding causes and conditions. If we look at the concepts we use in describing ourselves--our loves, our hates, our values, our opinions--we see that they all evolved from the point of view that sees the universe divided up into parts and persons. They are all involved in differentiating the winners from the losers. Unless we find a way to experience the underlying unity of the universe, we are doomed to struggle with all that seems to be other than ourselves.
What the Buddha found is that there is a way to experience a reality that is beyond either separateness or unity--beyond anything we can conceptualize or think about in words. It includes both everything that exists and everything that doesn't exist--there is nothing outside of it, not even our illusions. And yet it is our illusion that separateness is the ONLY reality that prevents our perceiving the reality that includes everything, including separateness. We have to somehow loosen the hold of that illusion, that conventional point of view. When you can switch from walking forward into the world to having the world move toward you and under your feet--that is a beginning. Having a moment when you see that there is no person in your brain controlling what it does--that is another step along the way. Every moment in which you are aware of the coming and going of thoughts in your mind undermines the ordinary way of thinking about yourself and who you are, and opens up the possibility that you may encounter a moment in which there are no verbal thoughts at all. In time the thought-free moments expand, and you get to a place that an old guy named Hung-chih talks about in a book called THE FIVE HOUSES OF ZEN:
“Deliberately stopping speech and thought to plunge absolutely into tranquil silence, your inner way of being spontaneously shines, and you roam independent in the realm of true eternity... But tell me, how does one behave in order to attain such a realization? ‘Walking to where the stream ends, sitting and watching when the clouds arise.’”
“Empty, empty, absolutely trackless, not dimmed by even a dot; when profoundly still, free from words, unified potential spontaneously goes into operation.”
“Birth and death go on in profusion, but they do not reach the house of true purity; entangling conditions are troublesome, but they do not reach the realm of complete clarity. Let them change outside, while you as an individual remain empty within.”
(Before) “Affection congeals to form the body; thoughts settle to form the world; henceforth you bob around in the sea of birth and death.”
(After) “When you see through to the spiritual source, whose profound stillness is unmixed, then you will know that illusions and bubbles present no obstacle.”
“Spirituality spontaneous, open and always empty, you cut off the conditioning of birth and death and depart from subjective evaluations of what is and what is not.”
“Truly arrive at the emptiness of time, and you understand yourself; when you do not fall into being or nonbeing, you transcend birth and death.(THE FIVE HOUSES OF ZEN, Thomas Cleary, Shambhala Publications, 1997, excerpts from pp. 93-97. Parenthetical material added.)
Enjoy your time at home; see you soon.
THE BLUE CLIFF RECORD, Thomas Cleary and J. C. Cleary, Shambhala Publications, 1977.
THE FIVE HOUSES OF ZEN, Thomas Cleary, Shambhala Publications, 1997.
TRANSMISSION OF LIGHT: ZEN IN THE ART OF ENLIGHTENMENT BY ZEN MASTER KEIZAN, translated by Thomas Cleary, North Point Press, 1990.
ZEN ANTICS: 100 STORIES OF ENLIGHTENMENT, Thomas Cleary, Shambhala Publications, 1993.
ZEN ESSENCE: THE SCIENCE OF FREEDOM, Thomas Cleary, Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1989.
THE BOOK OF SERENITY, translated by Thomas Cleary, Lindisfarne Press, 1990.
WHO AM I?: THE SACRED QUEST, Jean Klein, compiled and edited by Emma Edwards, Element Books, 1988.
A MAN OF ZEN: THE RECORDED SAYINGS OF LAYMAN P'ANG, translated by Ruth Fuller Sasaki, Yoshitaka Iriya, and Dana Fraser, Weatherhill,1992.
THUS HAVE I HEARD: THE LONG DISCOURSES OF THE BUDDHA, translated by Maurice Walshe, Wisdom Publ