Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I, The Best Show Ever

Nathan has written another one of his wonderful posts, reflecting on how quickly we go from reacting to an event, to manufacturing a story around it. In "Anger As Entertainment," he quotes Pema Chodron describing meditation as "learning to stay still and going through what I always refer to as the detox period of finally connecting." This is in contrast to our habit of "entertaining ourselves" with angry thoughts, aggrieved thoughts, and so on. Nathan then writes:

...it's hard to stay with what's coming up when the world seems to be calling for some kind of action from you. In fact, even in situations like the street crossing, where you need to get to the other side, afterward it's terribly easy to get lost in stories about "those assholes" blocking the crosswalk. The opportunity to hang with what's coming up is there, and yet it gets lost pretty fast if you allow yourself to get hooked.

Amen! So true, and worth remembering over and over again. One of the best analogies for what's going on here was presented by David Brazier in his book The Feeling Buddha. (More on Brazier's work here.) He spoke of a stove, and the way it contains fire so that we can use this dangerous element for constructive purposes. Without a good stove, fire is a dangerous element, but when contained and handled properly it provides heat and cooks our meal.

I caught myself staring out the window of our living room the other day, trying to catch sight of one of the vehicles that frequently blast down Nickel Street at unsafe speeds. There are kids in this neighborhood, playing on these streets -- my own son lives here now.

What spreads a fire is wind, and my own hot air, my thinking, was blowing this up into a story. A simple and familiar story of "assholes" out there doing terrible things and making the world a dangerous place for "me." Indeed, as Pema Chodron put it, this is an entertaining fable: a fable that reinforces "I" and pleasantly puts "me" in a sympathetic position.

None of which has anything to do with keeping the kids safe. That's the actual matter to be dealt with, but instead of connecting with my feelings about the problem or addressing a solution, for a moment I'm off on my "I-land" feeding my sense of a beleaguered self. Nurturing anger, however entertaining, does not help the situation and may, in fact, make it worse if I am not clear and constructive.

Simply being with one's feeling is not entertaining, is it? It doesn't make good mental television at all. For good mental television, we need drama and conflict -- and without a suffering "I" you can't have all of that.

On the other hand, we don't always need entertainment. Like Zen Master Seung Sahn said frequently, a glass of plain old water is plenty refreshing when we are truly thirsty.

[Photo: from our back yard.]

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