Last week I was talking about experiencing life through the lens of a beginner’s experience. Here is the link if you wish to catch up before reading on (and this article will make more sense to you). This raises some questions about how we can safely incorporate life experience into our daily lives, and all the lessons we have learned to make things work more smoothly without loosing our hold on the present moment. How can we hang on to our wisdom and make swift judgments based on our Life’s Experience whilst remaining in the present? Is that even possible if our judgements are based in the past?
Tolle divides time into two distinct categories – Clock Time and Psychological Time. Clock time controls our calendar and without it we wouldn’t be able to make arrangements, come to a Yoga class etc etc. This is where our past mistakes live. It’s where our wise judgement based on past experiences live. It’s also the place of planning for the future. It would be no good if I was nearing the end of the butter and didn’t think of the future and take the next pack out of the fridge to get nice and soft ready for a clean butter dish… At least in my household that’s really a big no no! However, if we come to our cushion and allow our meditations to be invaded by past events and future planning, we are missing the whole point of meditation – to be fully alert and alive in the present moment, which allows us to access something quite incredible and unique compared to the day to day running commentary in the mind we normally experience if we don’t seek to become the observer of this mind and release ourselves from our obsession with past and future time. The enlightened person’s main focus of attention is always the Now, but they have to use awareness of planning and learning from the past.
Things only becomes part of “psychological time” when we allow ourselves to remain stuck in the past or future. For instance. I might want to speak to a dear friend about something they do that upsets me. If I was fully present in the moment, I would have that thought, make a plan to see them, have the conversation and whatever would be would be. How likely is that for my worried GLC mind? Very unlikely! Instead, I have the thought, then go back into the past, not to examine how this might be best done but to re run past failures in relationships in which the conversation went badly, fill my mind with fear and get stuck fully in the future running and re-running likely scenarios, all of which entail disaster! By the time I meet the friend, if I haven’t talked myself out of doing it altogether, I am bringing a whole host of unnecessary Psychological Time worries into the mix of the conversations which are quite likely to affect the results of it. You might say that my view of the world is warped by my past experiences. Like I am wearing yellow coloured sunglasses and everything has a yellowy tint to it, that I get so used to seeing through that I no longer recognise that my view of the world isn’t reality.
In terms of Yoga, you may know yourself to have a stiff hip. I suggest a hip exercise and straight away, you refer to your past experience of doing an exercise like this. If you can duly note the hip issue with the effect that your awareness is heightened, you can be in your body, in the present moment and can really learn how that hip is today, which might be very different from the same hip in the morning or when you last did the exercise. I can plan my class but those of you who do more than one of the supposed same class in the same week know that they are all really very different, despite the same planned content because, if I am fully present to the participants, each class will have it’s own flavour and each person give feedback and responses that control the class content. And so it always should be. So the next time you are criticised by someone, notice your response – your psychological and physical and emotional response in the present moment but try not to turn this into Psychological time, try not to put on your yellow coloured sunglasses. Otherwise you will re-run events and rehearse your revenge (if you are very confident of your righteousness) and re-tell the story in terms of the wrongness of the other and plan a future response in order to defend your good name. Or alternatively (if you are stuck in RLC) you stay in the past by re running exactly how the conversation went and deeply regret your own behaviour and make it mean something about you in terms of your inferior nature to the other. All of these things serve to tinge your view of reality even more yellow and firm up a false sense of identity which becomes harder and harder to be released from.
There is a story of the monks who meet a woman who can’t manage to travel across a river. In those days, it wasn’t allowed for monks to touch women, let alone carry them but one thought that since needs must, he would help her out and carried her across the river. They continue on their way and the other monk is reeling in shock as they walk down the road – he cannot believe that his fellow monk – his senior – would do such a socially unacceptable thing! When they get to their destination, the younger monk asks his elder “why did you give that woman a carry across the river”. His superior replies “I put her down at the other side, but you are still carrying her”! So you can see how difficult it is to leave our experiences out of things and bring along beginner’s mind to the present moment as we discussed last week.
Time itself is a human made concept. Birds aren’t late… Dogs aren’t early for things (though try telling that to Maisie when it’s 3.30 and her tea time is 4pm)…. Time was invented by humans and the human ego laps up the concept! Our sedative journey is to rid ourselves of this illusion. GLC people like me, live endlessley in the future…plotting and planning the way ahead, living in our imagination. I do my classes 40 or more times in my own head before you see them at class! This is the Green Light Mind controlling my life! As we get older, and RLC begins to take over our lives, we begin to live from our memories. Our identity is wrapped up in our past careers and child rearing activities and we think back to the gold era before… But all of this is an illusion. All there really is is this moment. The Now! Take a look at the diagram below to see what I mean:
The more of our lives we spend in the now, the less we will be rehearsing and planning the future or looking back to a distant past when things were perceived as happier compared to this RLC moment… Your life is then about an obsessive need to move on all the time. I confess to having the TV on and searching through my phone at the same time. All of it’s about escape from the present moment and it’s part of the human condition. When I exist in this crazy drivenness to always be moving forward, beating myself up with the crazily long task list etc etc, I can no longer remember my lovely husband’s eyes and the love I feel for him, I can no longer see or smell the flowers, or justify a day by the seaside just to watch my happy old man Labrador’s tail wag it’s most waggy wag! The only time the miracle of life unfolds and I feel close to the Divine is when I’m living in the present. So why is there such a strong pull away from it?
When we come into this world, our identity is formed by our parents initially. The first and foremost identification is with gender. The self, (small s) is generated within a whole pile of expectations for girls or boys which would give you enough identity for a whole lifetime without anything else! On top of this, your position in the family, roles and expectations are laden on you along with attributes that are considered valued in your culture. Let alone all the running commentary from your schooling that defines you and the life situations that we believe are uniquely ours. But is this really you?
It’s quite funny when a toddler says “Ben is hungry”. In my case, I couldn’t say Deborah, so I said Buddha (perhaps a sign of the Spiritual Teacher – or more likely the rather rotund middle – to come) and the phrase “Buddha do it” was endlessly on my lips, much to my family’s amusement! A toddlers statement, of not using the I is essentially more correct that saying “I want to do it”. It is in fact Deborah, the false identity that wants to do everything, not the alternative me, the true Self, capital S, not to be confused with the even stronger ego identification that psychologists expect you to find in therapy. The one that will cost you a fortune to find. As if there is only one of you that is Truer than others. I’m talking about an altered state of consciousness. The observer in you that can listen to your thoughts and know that ISN’T you.
The trouble is, we begin to associate who we are with all our thoughts and feelings. We make this who we are and spend our lives collecting markers of this identity. For instance, having brightly coloured hair goes with being a bit of a hippy, a show off and entertainer and of course requires bright coloured glasses and clothes to match as well as matching my so-called “Extrovert Personality”. We all believe that our own set of issues and problems which we endlessley ruminate on and wear anybody’s ear off who will listen is entirely unique and belong to us specifically. When you scratch below the surface though, the problems aren’t unique and they don’t make us who we are – they are a description of our life situation. It is the interpretation of the situation that we attach to ourselves. We are meaning making machines and say things to ourselves like “I don’t deserve to have selfish children / sister’s / mother / husband as this” etc etc because we have a view of who we are and how life is supposed to go based on socially constructed norms. All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence. Most people find it difficult to believe that a state of consciousness, totally free of all negativity, is possible. And yet this is the liberated state to which all spiritual teachings point. It is the promise of salvation, not in an illusory future but right here and now.
Meditation and the search for a different relationship to consciousness, is about developing a different relationship to those thoughts and feelings about who we are in the world. Even in the middle of a meditation, I find I forget that I’m making an escape from those thoughts and feelings and my mind runs off onto a big task list that I can never leave along, being a GLC type of gal. If you don’t know what I mean by GLC, take a look at this post.… During these little escapes from meditation (not so little sometimes) I am taking myself away from the present moment, from the now, and rehearsing the future, plotting, planning and predicting the results of these plans or (less commonly for me, stuck in GLC) re-running past incidents (RLC). Tolle reminds us that “The Now is inseparable from who you are at the deepest level. It is the prerequisite of Being”.
It is amazing how stopping still to view my thoughts, rather than get involved with them can make me see them in a new perspective. Although I’m so sad not to ever see my dear sister ever again, one thing her death in January has taught me most successfully is how to put my attachment to getting things done into perspective. It’s also been very useful getting feedback from Laura being around the office who is always commenting on how amazing my systems are and how she can’t believe I ever did it all on my own! It makes me see how obsessing over getting things done is equating my worth with doing things, and doing them very well, fast and efficiently and giving me an identity which it is difficult to let go of. Though it is obvious why I need to! Because most days, I don’t live up to this giant and perfect administrator – it’s part of GLC to have a task list that is undoable every day. The result is that “I am not worthy” will be another identity based on my result, which will always be poorer than my expectations. You can see how having a human identity ties me (and everyone else) up in knots!
Meditation isn’t about stopping the thoughts and trying to make the mind go blank. It doesn’t matter if there are many thoughts during your meditation sessions – its about your relationship to those thoughts. It’s about having a new relationship with those thoughts – being able to just watch them sailing on by, without getting involved. Trying to stop them only gives us more anxiety. Giving yourself a running commentary about the content of the thoughts is also part of the ego’s way of keeping you involved with your identity (small s “self”). However you can celebrate the victory every time you come back to watching them, instead of being involved in them – this is a moment of awareness and it’s a moment of being present! Sooner or later, you will have a session on your cushion / chair in which you notice that the spaces between this spontaneous ego filled chit chat is getting bigger and you have more peace. There may be times where you have relatively little or even none. These are moments of pure bliss. It’s a glimpse of Nirvana / Heaven / Enlightenment. However, don’t try to grab it, or you will be indulging the egoic mind and it will remain elusive!
So who is watching the stream of consciousness then? Who are we if we aren’t the things our parents taught us?
“Who are you?” said the caterpillar.
“I-I hardly know sir, just at present- at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then,” said Alice.
“What do you mean by that? Explain yourself!”
“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid sir, said Alice. Because I’m not myself, you see.”
“I don’t see,” said the caterpillar.
“I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly, for I can’t understand it myself, and really to be so many different things in one day is very confusing.”
“It isn’t,” said the caterpillar.
– ALICE IN WONDERLAND
The thing that we think we are is changing moment by moment. Our identity is dependent on context so even though I am defined by others as an extrovert, this isn’t what I understand myself to be in a permanent fixed way. If you put me in a situation in which I am new or nervous about it, I will act like the smallest little introvert you have ever met, with all the attendant behaviours and emotions. There are enough of these occasions in my life for me to feel like Alice. I can see that I am not this or that. In fact everything we think we are, you can guarantee we are not that! All of it isn’t real! It’s all the result of this vast meaning making that is part of being unconsciousness or asleep to reality in the present moment.
One of the best things about realising that you are not your thoughts and your mind-made identity is that you can change yourself whenever you please. The possibilities are endless! Well…not quite endless. My background as a social constructionist taught me that language is key in understanding who we, others and the world is and we only have our own cultural context to choose from. The linguistic constraints of our discourses (ways of describing the world) aren’t possible to remove ourselves from. We also have socially constructed systems of morals and social practices that we are deeply embedded in and it takes some analysis to step back from these. This is why I think meditation is key. After lots of practice, more and more time on the cushion is spent in a wordless experience. This is the place in which “the kingdom of heaven” comes to fruition. This is why Jesus said that we are God. If we are not a thing, then we are no-thing or nothingness and therefore everything is possible. We are at one with the Divine. This is the now. This is the place of true peace and happiness.
Click on the link below to find out about the app I recommend. You don’t have to subscribe to anything – it’s free for the first 10 meditations by which time you’ll realise if you are likely to use it or not. It’s lovely!
Here is your recommended reading for this week: