Why is that key? Because if we don’t view things with dispassion, with equanimity, that means that our emotions are engaged and that means suffering … whether it’s from frustration, anger, fear, whatever.
Most of us know, not just from the teachings but from our own awareness, that our emotions, our feelings and perceptions, cause us suffering. But we just cannot let them go. The usual reason stated for our inability to let go these harmful habit-energies is that our ego-mind is so strong, its roots so deep within us, it’s all we’ve ever known, that the ego-mind won’t let us experience free of its perspective.
And that’s true. But why does the ego-mind have such power, beyond the fact that it’s roots go deep within us?
The answer lies, I realized while meditating recently, in the famous statement by Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” In our culture, it is our thoughts, our perspective on everything that has become the essence of who we are. Combine that with the fact that we are all insecure because of our early life experiences, and you end up with people having the need not just to think their thoughts, but to expound on them, whether to themselves or to others; and so to exert control. And it is that desire to control that leads to frustration and suffering.
We can’t just let things be if we find it disagreeable; we have to voice our feelings. We can’t just let things be if we find it provokes fear in us; we have to voice our feelings. We can’t just let things be if causes us anger; we have to voice our anger.
And we don’t just voice our feelings once. We tend to obsess about our feelings, the righteousness of our thoughts, and voice them over and over. The more we go on, the more agitated we get. The result? Only frustration, suffering.
The Buddha could not have spoken more succinctly when he said, “To be rid of the conceit ‘I am’ – That is the greatest happiness of all.” Because only then is one truly free. This does not mean that one has no sense of self, of who one is. It means that you don’t attach to it. That the capital “I” is missing; the ego has lost control.
How does one achieve that? My blog posts, books, and videos are full of suggestions. They boil down to understanding that our feelings and perceptions cause us suffering. But that they are all a product of the ego-mind, not our true self. And so say to them, “Not me!” While reconnecting with our true Buddha self, our heart.
Another, less radical, way regarding perceptions and judgments (not emotions such as fear) is to be aware of your sense of self, both feelings and perceptions and your true self, but say that you have no need for the world to conform to your feelings and perceptions. Remove the attachment, the capital “I.” Things are the way they are because it’s just the way it is, and that’s ok, recognizing that your past way of giving voice to your feelings and perceptions did nothing but make you miserable and weaken you. This isn’t about changing your ideals or thoughts; it’s about changing what you do with them. If you can do that, you will respond to the world around you with awareness and dispassion. And you will not suffer in this regard.
The other reason why we don’t react to things with dispassion is that there are things about ourselves that we don’t feel good about; things that typically go back to childhood trauma. And so when something touches that sensitive spot, we react with emotion, not dispassion.
Here there is no way out of suffering other than freeing yourself from control of your ego-mind, saying “Not I!” and connecting with your true self, your heart. And specifically freeing yourself from your childhood trauma through the exercises I have mentioned in my blog posts, including opening up your heart to embrace all aspects of your being and experience. Only then will you be able to love yourself unconditionally, to have compassion for yourself and so not respond to such experiences with emotion.
Finally, the experience of a friend reminded me that there is another way to be dispassionate: being present. First of all, let me define again what being present means … having no thought about the past, the future, or even today. One is just in the moment.
The techniques for being present allow one to, for the moment at least, be free of the control of the ego-mind by focusing on something.
While the other steps I’ve discussed here to achieve dispassion involve directly freeing oneself from the control of your ego-mind, or at least removing the attachment, the capital “I,” from what you do, being present does not involve a direct confrontation with the ego-mind. Think of it as a stealth attack.
When we meditate, we are present in the moment because we focus on our breath, on chanting, or on a point on the floor several feet in front of us. During the day, we are present by likewise focusing entirely on what we are doing at the moment. Whether it’s a menial task, whether we’re doing something creative, whether we’re reading, whether we’re taking a hot shower … whatever it is … it means being totally focused and aware of what we are doing and taking pleasure in it, without any thought of what the next moment, that day, or the future will bring. Focusing is key because the mind cannot be two places at the same time; when you are focused, your ego-mind has to wait in the wings.
When we are in that present space, faith and mind are not separate and not separate are mind and faith, nothing offends, and so free of mental obstructions we experience all things directly, with dispassion.
In all cases, remember, the key is dispassion.