“Restructuring reality by challenging the self seems like an effective way to bring about change… Still, at the deepest levels there is a danger of covering over one story with another. We all know how easy it is to mimic moments of true inspiration and insight.” Tarthang Tulku, “Dynamics of Time and Space”
The last sentence there was the one that caught my attention the most; this is an issue I’ve had for some years now. Now, granted, having insights or moments of understanding is not the goal in and of itself. It took me a little while to get that. I think this isn’t the goal because lasting realization is the goal, along with being of benefit to others. Momentary flashes of insight don’t often bring lasting realization, and don’t often help others much.
Still, there are some insights that seem to have such a strong feeling along with them, and seem to be about how to live. But they still seem to have an expiration date of sorts. Holding on to them doesn’t seem to work. Is part of this problem just habitual patterns, the habits we have (more or less negative)? If that’s the case, it seems like with enough energy or drive some insights could be incorporated into a person’s life in a big way. Maybe the falling away of a momentary insight is partly just laziness.
I was thinking about the idea of renunciation last night. I remembered teachings I’d heard about this idea, and a wonderful feeling came up. I felt like I didn’t really need anything. I felt like if I could somehow make a leap, and live by this, my life would start to make a lot more sense. It felt like it put my struggles with making a living, relationships, navigating being a person in society, in perspective.
I don’t know what to do about this. It dovetails with recent experiments in doing less, not trying to accomplish so much, literally scheduling time to lie around and think, and do nothing else (not even listen to music).
Anyway, let me get back to the book. The first quote deals with working with self, questioning it, and the possibility that any insight will get reabsorbed as another story. The insight then loses potency. Action becomes imitation.
I think maybe depth of feeling is some part of the solution. Ego and its movies are powerful and subtle and manipulative, but there do seem to be ways to “go deeper.” Thinking about stuff is generally superficial, and emotions can be too, but emotions seem to hold more potential for going below the surface. I’ll say this also- panic and unfamiliarity can go along with breaking through habitual patterns. So those are good news.
Let’s touch down on the alien planet of TSK once again. Last time I wrote about knowingness as wisdom, and a quality, and freezing and unfreezing. Next, Rinpoche writes about different kinds of mindfulness, or focus.
“… the hypnotic demands made on our attention by ordinary social customs, entertainments, and other well-intended, harmless enjoyments- which keep us ‘tuned in’ in a constant and limiting way- are actually both physically and psychically destructive in a very pervasive sense.”
This follows a part in which Rinpoche says, basically, that what we turn our minds to effects the quality and flavor of what we experience. This point seems simple and true. The quote above is less simple. I would agree that the occupations people tend to be involved in are limiting. Our minds are generally run along a pretty narrow track, without much openmindedness or expansiveness hoped for as a result. I agree that it’s psychically harmful, although saying that it’s physically harmful too seems harder to prove. I am tempted to agree, although it’s a complicated issue.
How are peoples’ bodies effected by the “constant and limited” occupations of being a person in a society? I think maybe you can say that there are good, bad, and neutral kinds of occupations. The really good ones involve becoming a more insightful person and being of service. The neutral ones are all sorts of things that don’t help you or others much, which I would say includes most entertainment. Then there’s the bad stuff.
But that’s a really simple way of viewing things. It doesn’t account for unforseen consequences. Bad things can teach you lessons. Trying to be helpful can lead to suffering and confusion. You can say that intention is important, but it’s certainly not enough. If you want to actually help yourself and others, intention seems like a good safeguard, but you actually need skillful means too. One teacher I know defined skillful means as “getting things done.” That’s pretty good!
Rinpoche writes that even sitting and doing nothing can have consequences, in that you can ignore Time and Space. Seemingly neutral actions have consequences. This kind of thinking tends to make me a little frantic. After studying Utilitarianism a little in college, I had a similar response- how can one person possibly live by such a high standard, trying to consider the meaning of such small decisions? For a somewhat obsessive and self-conscious can mean trouble (and inaction, not being more helpful).
I guess, if you find this line of thought interesting, the best thing might be to consider it, and see how it effects your life and your actions. Then be careful. Don’t let thoughts about the consequences of your actions make you too anxious or self-condemning.
Next, Tarthang Tulku writes that every moment, with every thought that happens, Time and Space are shifting. So part of what he is writing about is how an awareness of the present, even as “nothing” is happening, can put you in touch with “hidden” dimensions of experience. Sitting and doing nothing is fantastic, in my opinion. One argument for it is that you start to notice things you might not otherwise.
Doing nothing is definitely an action. Acting in a more obvious way is important too. Is it possible that doing nothing is a chance for renunciation, renunciation of meaningless business and entertainment? Is it possible that acting “in the world” is a chance for another kind of renunciation, of the things that separate self and other? This is a nice little logic. I think I’ll try this one out, and see what happens.
Quotations used with permission from Dharma Publishig. Books available from Dharma Publishing.