Thoughts – Hold on Loosely

Are my thoughts a habit of mind that I acquired as I grew up?  Were they planted by my family . . . cultivated and nurtured by my peers, experience and education?  Or are they “closer to being instincts” as Robert Wright proposes in his book Why Buddhism Is True?  A classic conundrum – nature vs. nurture.

Wherever they’re born, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing I am my thoughts.  I am not.

“A thought is harmless unless we believe it.  It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts that cause suffering.  Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring.  A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to.” – Byron Katie

All those stories I tell myself and others about who I am, what I know, are just that – stories.  Believing my own stories, that drama; the spectacle – creates suffering.  Letting go, releasing my expectation that a certain something must happen, brings a relaxed sense of calm.

Holding tight to the story – attaching to it as Byron Katie says; brings resistance – and ultimately suffering.

I have a choice.  Calm, relaxed awareness – or resistance and suffering.  What will I choose today?


“To me the ego is the habitual and compulsive thought processes that go through everybody’s mind continuously.  External things like possessions or memories or failures or successes or achievements.  Your personal history.” – Eckhart Tolle


The Queen of Me

In his book “Why Buddhism Is True; The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment,” Robert Wright discusses the Buddhist concept of not-self.  The view of “not-self” is hard for westerners to appreciate.   We think we’re in charge – we’re our very own CEO.  In control our mind, the beliefs we hold; the world we see from our very own eyes.

The Buddha asks . . . where is the “Self” found?  He walks us through the five “aggregates” which in Buddhism comprise the human experience.  Can you find it here?

  1. The physical body – including the sense organs like the eyes and ears
  2. Basic feelings
  3. Perceptions – identifiable sights and sounds
  4. Mental formations – emotions, thoughts, inclinations, habits, decisions
  5. Consciousness – awareness; especially of the other four aggregates

Who’s in “control?”

If I’m Queen of “Me” … wouldn’t these aggregates obey my wishes?

If I were Queen of Me … my body would behave as instructed, I’d feel happy, joyous and free ALWAYS!  My Queen would ensure my perceptions are noble and true; my emotions steady and pleasing.  There would be no radical committee in my head hi-jacking my thoughts, inclinations and habits.  No!  My Queen would be consciously aware in all things.

If I were Queen of “Me.”

So why does my body fail me?  Why are my feelings untidy and complicated?  How is it that my habitual thinking creates warped perceptions?  That insurgent committee in my head? – has far too much power over my thoughts.  Would love to say I’m always conscious … except when I find myself home after a long day, and really don’t remember much of the ride.

Wright quotes Buddhist monk Walpola Rahula:

“… the idea of self is an imaginary, false belief which has no corresponding reality, and it produces harmful thoughts of ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism, and other defilements, impurities, and problems.  It is the source of all the troubles in the world from personal conflicts to wars between nations.  In short, to this false view can be traced all the evil in the world.”

Who the hell’s in charge then?

According to Wright, there is no boss; “if there is something that qualifies as a constant amid the flux, something that really does endure, essentially unchanged, through time, that something is an illusion: the illusion that there is a CEO, a king, and that “I”—the conscious I—am it.”

“… it’s a jungle in there, and you’re not the king of the jungle.  The good news is that, paradoxically, realizing you’re not king can be the first step toward getting some real power.”

Using a “field of evolutionary psychology” that asserts “the mind is ‘modular’,” Wright proposes we look at how our brains evolved for the source of thoughts, feelings and beliefs.  This psychological approach says people primarily behave in ways that ensure our genes get passed on to the next generation.  The choices we make, the theory goes, are all a factor of evolution.

The primary mental modules are:

  • “attracting mates
  • keeping them
  • enhancing your status (which can mean derogating rivals)
  • taking care of kin
  • tending to your friendships (which includes making sure they are reciprocal and that you’re not getting exploited)
  • And oddly … looking forward to a reward” (aka beer, sugar, tobacco)

“When your mind is wandering it may feel … like it’s strolling along the landscape of modules and sampling them, indulging one module for a while, then eventually moving on to another one.”  Or consider that “the different modules are competing for your attention, and when the mind “wanders” from one module to another, what’s actually happening is that the second module has acquired enough strength to wrestle control of your consciousness from the first module.”

 “… your mind isn’t wandering within its own terrain so much as being hijacked by intruders.”

These thought modules become habit and “it takes practice to try to break this conditioning, to be mindful of the thought rather than be lost in it.”  We all love a good story; and the story we tell ourselves is what we tend to believe.

What are my stories?  I’d love for the “I can’t resist sweets” story module to be wrestled to the ground by the “I eat healthy foods” story module.  Evolutionarily-wise … eating healthy should have lots of muscle!  But NOOOOO … I allowed the sweets reward module to become The Hulk!  How can I tame this monster?

Wright provides what he calls “A New Approach” to turn around what could be considered a self-discipline issue.

“… suppose you think of the problem as instead being this particular module that has formed a particular strong habit.  How would you try to overcome the problem then?  You might try something like mindfulness meditation.

“Judson Brewer, who did a study at Yale Medical School . . . said the basic idea is to not fight the urge. . .

That doesn’t mean you succumb . . . it just means you don’t try to push the urge out of your mind.  Rather you follow the same mindfulness technique that you’d apply to other bothersome feelings—anxiety, resentment, melancholy, hatred.  You just calmly (or as calmly as possible) … examine the feeling.  What part of your body is the urge felt in?  What is the texture of the urge?  Is it sharp?  Dull and heavy?

“The more you do that, the less the urge seems a part of you; you’ve exploited the basis irony of mindfulness meditation: getting close enough to feelings to take a good look at them winds up giving you a kind of critical distance from them.  Their grip on you loosens; if it loosens enough, they’re no longer a part of you.” 

Wright provides an acronym to describe the technique:  “RAIN”

R:  Recognize the feeling

 A:  Accept the feeling

 I:  Investigate the feeling

 N:  Non-identification; and eventually Non-attachment

Naturally I experimented with my “sweets” addiction story!  DAMN if it didn’t help!  This reward module being The Hulk will probably require reinforcement – but I don’t doubt a healthier module will rise up with sustained mindfulness.

It’s impressive the way Robert Wright brought together the disciplines of Buddhist meditation, psychology and the science of habit.  I do love a good mash-up!

This practical application of mindfulness meditation is a different kind of sweet – one that has the potential to improve my life in many quarters.  Let the paradox of releasing the Queen – relinquishing control – give power to my something other.


“Let go or be dragged.” ― Zen Proverb


You Look Marvelous!

The fresh, young millennial in last week’s yoga class had beautiful legs – with a light brown downy pelt of hair; soft and silky smooth.  It was dazzling, amazing – lovely.  She probably never put a razor to her legs once.  Trying to remember why I spend any time at all on that activity.  As a kid, I WANTED to shave my legs; made me feel all grown up – glamorous.  Decades later that upkeep is frankly a pain in the ass.

The reasons behind shaving, plucking and adorning women’s bodies has changed and morphed throughout history.  Why do women keep on shaving today?  Why do I?  It can’t simply be aesthetics when natural can be so pretty.  Is it because I was brought up to think I must?  To believe in this activity as a condition for beauty?

Going natural – in bits and pieces is my new experiment.  Fingernails, toenails – makeup . . . the non-permanent stuff . . . whose scale of difficulty to go au naturale varies.  That one really ugly toe (ugh) . . . slides the scale toward uncomfortable – but bearable.

Of course there’s THE BIG ONE . . . Hair!  When I left the corporate world I gave myself permission to quit the tedious and expensive ritual of dying my hair.  Chasing the auburn was wearing my ass out – and I suspected I’d be 100% white/gray. Boy-oh-boy was I scared!  What would people think?  Would I look old? – Ugly?  What would they say at Hip-Hop class?  I was extremely nervous, but determined.  Luckily I found a private support group on Facebook that helped me re-frame the questions.  Instead of wondering what other’s thought – I was encouraged to ask “What do I think?”  Instead of worrying about looking old – they wanted to know “How did I like my new look?”

Of course when the movie ticket guy asked my husband “is that one adult and one senior?” – Me being “THE SENIOR” – I was just a tiny bit thrown.  Then I laughed – have to wait a bit longer for that discount.

Society has very clear standards for female appearance – and behavior.  We’re expected to look a certain way, with the right make-up, hair, nails – and yes silky naked legs.  Too often we’re supposed to be quiet, calm and lady-like – all “sugar and spice and everything nice.”

Just not buying that right now.  We – men and women – are messy, complicated and peculiar.  When I’m authentic, I contribute something unique to the world.  It’s easier for me to make physical changes than behavioral adjustments.  This experiment is moving my comfort zone . . . providing the impetus to brave the source of my beliefs behind appearances.

Will there be a silky pelt on my lower appendages in the future?  – Hmmm, jury still out on that one.


“You look marvelous!” – catchphrase of Fernando Lamas. That is who Billy Crystal modeled his character “Fernando” after.


If Truth be Known

From the time I was introduced to Ken Wilbur and “The Spectrum of Consciousness” in his book No Boundary back in ’92 – his ideas fascinated me.  His philosophy has evolved into what he identifies as an Integral worldview.  He connects ideas and perspectives across multiple disciplines rationally and persuasively.  What seems incompatible or contrary, is not – it’s just a different piece of the puzzle.

When he published his eBook Trump and a Post-Truth World after the election, of course I downloaded it.  Took me 9-months before I would sit still and look at it.  When I did, I found an interesting take on what got us to today’s cultural conflicts, and what we might do if we’re not happy about it.

Wilbur’s a bit of a rebel; his theories are bold, original; visionary – and complex.  While they aren’t necessarily written for the masses, they woke me long ago – and continue to bump me out of my mind ruts.

He reminds me that we all travel every phase of growth.  We’re born narcissistic infants … who sooner or later discover how family and community can suffer from our behavior.  As we mature we learn about science and humanity.  We become rational; we discover diversity.  We even begin to see how differences create strength.  We learn there are universal truths.

We move through stages that Wilbur calls “pre-personal,” (magic / mythic) “personal,” (rational) and “trans-personal” (integral).

Depending on the cards we’re dealt, our strength of character – our willingness to examine life; we move through these stages.  But some don’t.  Some get stuck.

Sadly we can’t see beyond our level of development.  Just like parents can’t reason with a toddler – we can’t make people see.  Many remain judgmental and disapproving of things they don’t understand.

Wilbur estimates that ~60% of the U.S. population are in ego or ethno-centric phases of development.  These citizens see little value in a global community, in science; diversity.  What compassion and empathy they have, is generally reserved for their tribe.

Then there are the folks who claim a liberal, progressive outlook.  Wilbur submits that a portion of these progressives took this position to a nihilistic / narcissistic extreme.  Using logic and rational critical thinking, these postmodernists – haughtily and arrogantly disregarded those they felt beneath them.  They forgot that they too once walked related paths.  No wonder the self-proclaimed patriots pushed back.

“Every now and then,” Wilbur says, “evolution itself has to adjust course.”  So we regress to a place where we were once stable – before we can self-correct and move forward again.  That place for us was part of a domination hierarchy.  A hierarchy that existed before we began to believe that hierarchies don’t exist – that all beliefs and opinions are valid; no matter how ridiculous (“flat-earthers” claim the earth is flat – for real).

Hierarchies do exist.  Truth exists.

We embody a wondrous example of a holistic hierarchy.  In No Boundary Wilbur says:

“.. just as, in evolution, a whole quark becomes part of an atom, a whole atom becomes part of a molecule, a whole molecule becomes part of a cell, a whole cell becomes part of an organism, and so on.”

Either we live in a society with a dominating hierarchy, or one with a holistic hierarchy . . . with natural, intrinsic truths.  When we deny any hierarchy at all – that egalatarianism of viewpoints; we get “alternative facts” and conspiracy theories.  When we deny universal truth . . . we deny that there IS a better way.

My preference is to live in a holistic hierarchy.

As I continued to read about the post-truth world, a message sunk in – again; how some of my relationships need a willingness – on both sides, to work toward a middle ground.  Ground that allows authenticity and loving acceptance for the one who holds a contradictory belief.  This can be a hard pill to swallow.

Ken Wilbur says “step one” is for the off-the-rails postmodernists (the “greens”) to reduce their “pervasive hostility and vindictiveness toward all previous stages of development…” – they really can’t see that dimension.

His “step two”— is for “the realization that growth holarchies provide the actual basis of the value judgments that green is already making, and that these growth holarchies also are the only truly effective means to displace the dominator hierarchies…” – we must pursue growth, educate for growth; resist dominance.

Yes; I want a holistic hierarchy – not a dominating one.  The sneering must stop – on both sides.  If truth be known . . . inherent truth, not made up alternative facts – we must bring it to light.  Again and again and again.


“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” ― Mahatma Gandhi


Am I Willing to Be Misunderstood?

“Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood?” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


When I stop “trying” to be understood and let things be as they are – an interesting alchemy occurs.  First, an immediate tension of wanting to be right . . . to be heard, sweeps over me.  The committee in my head gets agitated – yeah; cause it’s all about me right?!

When I’m able to be still for even a minute, the tension eases.  I relax and acceptance creeps in.  Like magic – stress, tension and annoyance seem to dissolve.

I was reminded recently that I get the honor of learning lessons over and over.  Like an onion, I peel away the layers; discovering subtle nuances in each – that remarkably resemble each other, but are not.

Changing my behavior begins with awareness.  I must be willing to see things upside down and backwards.

My yoga instructor shared about letting go and acceptance.  Hearing her personal lesson that “having to be right” sometimes showed up as the “need to be understood” – and that both can interfere with accepting what is . . . nudged me sideways.  That these two concepts could be connected was novel to me.  Could this be one of those subtle layers?

Stepping out and being willing to be misunderstood is an aspiration of mine.  In some ways I’m quite capable.  In others – I’m finding not so much.  Without awareness I don’t even see the obvious.

Today I have a new awareness.  Now it’s time to make this wondrous shift occur more often than not.  Not easy, but do-able.  When I find I’m explaining myself – when that sweeping need to have someone hear me – know me – get me, shows up . . . I pay attention.  Sometimes I can stop myself and allow that magic moment of stillness to happen; sometimes I wade in knee deep – sometimes I bloviate.

Every now and then I’m privileged with a meeting of minds.  Occasionally I find a precious character who not only gets me but builds on what I say; taking my thoughts or concepts to a higher level.  These conversations are electrifying.

More often my words land with a thud – or worse, return a contrary and obstinate response.  This is when trying to clarify my position only creates friction.  This is when I get to practice my new awareness.

The testing ground of my aspiration – am I willing to be misunderstood?

Taking another step outside my comfort zone.