Wednesday, April 29, 2009

the "good" self

It's been a cool, dreary, rainy day here in Minnesota. Images of growing greens, peas, radishes, and carrots have flashed through my mind a few times throughout the day. While it may not be to the liking of many of us humans, this weather is very much to the liking of those plants. Another reminder of how flimsy and limited our preferences can be in the grand scheme of things.

I'm a bit too groggy to write anything about the chapter I read in Yasutani Roshi's book on the Genjokoan. Maybe I'll return to it another time.

Instead, I'd like to talk a little about what we've been working on in a class I'm in at out zen center. Essentially, the focus is on awareness of, and breaking through, deeply ingrained habit patterns. This can be anything from biting your nails to perhaps the biggest habit pattern of them all - clinging to, reinforcing, and believing in a fixed and separate self.

What I have chosen to examine is the tendency I have to do things to prop up an image of myself as "a good guy" or "nice guy" or "likable guy" or other variations on that theme.

Here are a few pointed observation questions we've worked on in class, and have taken up in meditation.

1. What triggers it? (the pattern)

2. What is the body sensation?

3. What's the story that arises?

4. What do you say or do?

5. what's the impact of your behavior on others?

I like the clear, easy to follow nature of these questions. To me, the beauty of Buddhist practice is that not only is it rich in wisdom teachings, but it also is rich in practical applications based on those teachings. I can dig into Dogen one day, and sit with very simply, pointed questions the next. I feel very grateful for that.

The stories behind the "good guy" I've discovered so far are the following: 1. If you do something that causes someone irritation or uncomfortableness, they will cease to like you for the long run. 2. You're supposed to be good, that's what a good Buddhist does. 3. Being "good" makes life easier.

Now, the reality is that this "good" includes an awful lot of repression, false affect, over-eagerness to support others, and sometimes flat out lying.

I think the triggers are interesting too. The desire to uphold this "good guy" image appears when:

1. I have something to say that might threaten or contradict others' ideas.

2. I'm in a situation where someone needs help and I have no idea how to help.

3. I'm upset about something, but don't want to "worry" the person or people I'm with.

Not every time I'm in one of these situations does this issue come up, but enough of the time so that it really is calling for attention. This, to me, is the essence of practice - seeing what is arising in your life, often over and over again. And I think it's important to recognize these kinds of patterns precisely because they take you away from your life.

I have come to see these kinds of patterns as linchpins stacked against enlightenment. And at the same time, through them is the way into our complete, unhindered lives. Hopefully the practical nature of the questions above are useful to you, as they have been for me. May we all continuously unfold and break free from our habitual ways of living.


sallymandy said...

Linchpins against enlightenment. I like that. This is a thoughtful blog you have here, and I appreciate you sharing your insights.


Sara said...

You are probably already familiar with Yoga's Yamas and Niyamas but you might enjoy my teacher's blog: and/or her book: The Yamas & Niyamas~Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice. You are both very thoughtful writers.

Namaste - Sara

dragonfly said...

This is tricky territory - and yes, practical questions. I haven't thought about this before in exactly this way. The "good" self is seductive and seems on the surface like it can do no harm - but of course, it is a particularly difficult version of the self to relinquish for this reason. Thanks for sharing.