So in the Buddhist teachings they say that the root of the problem… is actually the self-absorption. This fear of being present. You go from being open, receptive to your mind and to your world and to other people, to your emotions, to the whole thing, which is a sort of a broad feeling and which is a far less reactive feeling, and it’s a more ‘at home’ feeling–you go from that to going into a small, dark room. Or like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. This is called ‘ego,’ where everything gets extremely small.
The Buddhist teachings talk a lot about ego. Ego clinging. One of the words for it is ‘the cocoon.’ And you just stay in there because you’re afraid, basically, of your feelings and the things that life is going to trigger, and the things that are going to come at you.
And you know, if that strategy worked, then the Buddha wouldn’t have really had to teach anything. You could just sort of protect yourself, which all living beings do, and then that would result in security and happiness and comfort and there would be no problem.
But what has been observed is that this going inward, this self-protection, this trying to find zones of safety creates suffering. Terrible suffering. Because it weakens us. And the world becomes more and more terrifying. And our mind and our emotions become more and more threatening as well.
There are a lot of different ways to talk about ego clinging, but in essence, it’s the fact that we are never present. There is this deep-seated compulsion to distract ourselves.
Pema Chodron, Getting Unstuck:
Breaking Your Habitual Patterns
and Encountering Naked Reality
In meditation we are practicing ‘being’ — giving ourselves the opportunity to transcend our thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions, etc. By doing this, we experience the state of pure Being itself.
What we practice in meditation cultivates our capacity to experience the state of Being outside of meditation. We begin to become present to life without judgment of ourselves or others; present to the world rather than to our thoughts about the world; present to the essence of life rather than to our thoughts about life; present to each other rather than to our thoughts about each other.
In our tradition, we refer to all these ego thoughts simply as speculation; and we recognize that speculation leads only to suffering, ever. Whenever we allow ourselves to be drawn out of the present moment and into speculation, whether from fear or resentment, from shame or self-loathing, we move in the direction of suffering. We spend our days lost in our thinking, trying desperately to find ways to make ourselves feel better, never realizing that speculation itself is perhaps the main causes of our misery.
We always are practicing something, and what we practice grows. What we can practice each day is to let go of speculation, whenever we become aware of it, and instead, come back to the present moment, because in the present moment there is no speculation. There is the experience of the flow of life itself. And as we give ourselves to life, we will find that life gives itself to us.
We are meant to be awake, aware and alive. We are meant to enjoy the moments of our life. What is required of us? First, to be present in those moments. It can seem terribly difficult, and yet it is almost ridiculously simple. By choosing to be present, we are choosing an end to suffering.
Today I will notice when I am avoiding the present moment and I will choose to become present. I will choose, again and again if necessary, to hear what my friend is saying, to see the play of light in the trees, to ignore my Smartphone and social media apps for an extended period of time. I will choose to feel myself in the world and I will notice who is willing to join me here.
Rehearsal, “On the Money,” Victory Theatre, Burbank, CA
All original material copyright © 2018 Jeff Kober