perfecting imperfection

(image from Instagram: @notperfectlinen)

july 19, 2017

I listened to a podcast I have only recently found called 10% Happier. I read the book, 10% Happier, by Dan Harris (ABC news anchor) and I will talk more about that in later posts. The particular podcast I listened to today was from March of 2016 – Dan Harris interviewing Dr. Jay Michaelson. Michaelson is a lawyer, rabbi, legal/religion columnist for The Daily Beast, an LGBT activist, a theology professor and an author. It may be difficult to record my thoughts with much cohesion because they were flowing rapidly throughout the podcast.

A strong explanation for me at this infantile stage of meditation practice was the delineation he made regarding meditation now as opposed to meditation of Buddha’s time. Most people today get into meditation (and I am one of these people) for things like wanting to alleviate stress, lower blood pressure, be kinder to their spouse and more effective with their co-workers. But this was not in Buddha’s mind when he created what we know of as the steps to enlightenment of which meditation is a way to move through this process. Michaelson referred to the adaptation of meditation for our times as ‘Meditation Hobbyists’. It is a ‘gateway drug’ to enlightenment but not everyone uses meditation for the purpose of enlightenment and that’s okay. Strangely enough, I felt a great deal of relief to hear this. I just can’t quite pinpoint why except that I, too, wish to (as Dan Harris puts it) “be less of a schmuck and to tame my monkey mind.”

Speaking of monkey mind…

Michaelson points out: The part of our ego that wants to run the show is the least competent part of our minds. It was necessary for evolutionary adaptation that a part of our minds kept us from harm by pointing out weaknesses and survival techniques. It is the controlling part of our minds that usually results in suffering. For instance, the familiar voice that says ‘You suck. You don’t belong.’ Through mindfulness and meditation (note: I need to eventually define those two terms to better understand them myself) we will reach a point where we can recognize that voice and say, ‘Oh hey. There’s that voice.’ That’s the voice that was installed early on and probably won’t ever be gone from me. It’s the voice, Michaelson quips, of his well-meaning Jewish parents who praised him when he got 100% and questioned what went wrong when he got 95%. We can get to the place where we recognize the voice but not believe it. What a relief that would be! To recognize the voice, shrug my shoulders and say, ‘Meh. I’m not buying what you’re selling. then move on. Certainly a productive and liberating stage to achieve.

Practicing a Concentrated Mind is not something you leave to chance, however. Developing the capacity to differentiate The Voice from Self takes practice. Similarly, to be so present that you experience things with a crisp and clear awareness. These ‘crisp awareness’ experiences are not the point – they are merely a sideshow. The point of mindfulness is lasting transformation in the mind – to be more just, happier, and compassionate towards others and yourself.

Intuitive Knowledge means not having to think about a situation. When your mind can simply let go. Michaelson used the analogy of a cookbook. You cannot taste the dish by reading the recipe. You need to actually make the recipe. You need to actually do the instructions in order to enjoy the taste of the dish. There are ways in which we all unplug. Sleeping is a prime example. If you lie in bed thinking about how you want to sleep (aka: me!) then you cannot fall sleep. Not until your mind unplugs and lets go will you be able to sleep. I think of Scott fishing. He can spend hours fishing and thinking about very little except the act of baiting and strategizing and reeling in and re-baiting his line. He is ‘transported’ and unplugged from any work concerns or everyday stresses. He is fully present and in the enjoyable moment of fishing. I get the same way when working on a project. I am completely concentrated on the task at hand. There are times throughout the project when my mind jumps out of the present task and thinks of a stress or concern but I quickly bring it – intuitively – back to the task at hand. I don’t think, ‘Stop thinking about that right now. Get back to your project.’ I just intuitively jump back into the now.

Enlightenment v. Experiencing God. Enlightenment in the Dharma tradition (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) can be defined as an experience so profound it resonates for the rest of your life. In the Abrahamic faith (Christianity, as it applies to me) the point of conversion would be explained in the same way. The point of truly experiencing a God of forgiveness and love and mercy and grace is transformative and life changing. The Dharma tradition hopes to accomplish 1) less suffering, 2) less grabbing and 3) less holding on. This is accomplished through the training of the mind. Buddha talked about ‘awakening’ and ‘liberation’ as a means of completely uprooting greed, hatred and delusion. In Romans 12:2 of the Bible we see a similar idea: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” When we encounter and come to know our Abrahamic God, we learn to work against our natural instincts that are selfish in nature, and instead be transformed into a new way of thinking that is ‘good and pleasing and perfect.’ 

Similar to the discussion on recognizing the voice that is telling us we are not worthy, we need to also recognize the voice of consumption and need. There is the perception of ‘need’ versus the craving of ‘want’. The space in between Perception and Craving is the non-addictive middle ground of Liberation. To walk into a store (or for me, to open up Instagram!) and to see something we really like and believe we need – and then to recognize that voice as desire rather than true need and say ‘Oh there’s that voice of desire. I don’t really need this.’ and then to simply walk away without purchasing that item. It is not unlike the biblical teachings of being in the world but not of the world. 1 John 2:15-17: “Do you not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the father, but are from this world.” The things of this world are only temporary things. Revelations 21:4: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” When we believe this concept we know that not getting this one item or job or lover or {fill in the blank} is not the end. It won’t ruin you. The opportunity of happiness or fulfillment is not over with forever. The precepts of the Buddha and the precepts of God seem to align with regard to ultimate life goals. 

Michaelson reflected that in the end, the world as a whole would be better off if each individual participated in some form of Contemplative Practice. If we each worked on reducing greed, hatred and delusion individually then the macro level of world participation would be greatly affected. In our current political climate, it is easy to see the ramifications of contemplative thought and actions as opposed to the short-term reactive tirades and blame.


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