Sunday, December 18, 2011

Surprise! Now What?

I have been experiencing a lot of shoddy perceptions lately. Or maybe it's better to say that I have been responding to situations from a faulty lens.

Zen talks a lot about "don't know mind," and yet I think most of us get lost in the nice sound of those words. Don't know mind means, in a way, to be constantly surprised by the world without being tossed about by that surprise. Not really an easy thing to do without some practice. And even then, a lot of the time, we're mostly sleepwalking through our days.

When I think about the impulse to be kind, for example, and how easily that can turn into sour if the other person surprises you first, I kind of cringe. You're about to grab the last bag of groceries, and your partner gets there first. And then you get angry because ... well, you wanted to help, but now you can't. Although really, if you look closely, much of that anger is probably more about the surprise itself - that the world didn't confirm the story you had about it.

This kind of thing happens every day. I do it. You probably do it. My guess is that nearly everyone has these moments where there's a shift away from the basic kindness of our buddhanature because some surprise has occurred and startled us.

What does the mind and heart that is "don't know" truly look like? How does it feel? Do you even see it, feel it, when it's happening?

Sit with those questions awhile. And maybe remember them as you go about your day.


zendotstudio said...

it takes just seconds to get thrown off my game! thanks for the reminder that we all do this. no matter how much I resolve that a particular person is not going to throw me off centre, before I know it, there I go again, in the blink of an eye. Humbling and a reminder in itself of how much I don't know and how strong the force of habit is. surprise? yes and no.

Barbara O'Brien said...

Let me get this straight -- you start to do something nice for somebody, then find the other person took care of this thing already, and that makes you angry? Why does that make you angry? That makes no sense to me. Something like that doesn't make me angry.

I don't think "surprise" is your issue here. Have you considered that something about this scenario is pushing your ego buttons? We all have those, although I have a different set. But I suspect other things surprise you that don't bother you.

Nathan said...

Barbara, it's an example that I have witnessed multiple times. Maybe it's not something you have experienced, and it's probably not the most useful example either.

But seriously, it was just the first thing that came to mind. And it's not something that describes how "I" react either. Perhaps I should have used a specific example from my own life experience, but I didn't this time.

I agree that some things are surprising without creating an emotional upset. At the same time, other things most definitely can be surprising and also very upsetting. Surprises can trigger all sorts of things, some of which seem to make no sense at all.

Algernon said...

"Don't know mind" started as a nice little phrase but it very easily gets defined in ones imagination and becomes as sticky as other teaching phrases in Zen -- no-mind, buddha nature, dharmakaya, and all the rest. Then it comes time for a Hui Neng or a Seung Sahn to tear the sutra up and shout at us to "put it all down" and there's a sort of cycle that starts again.

I like your analogy of holding ones expectations softly, letting surprises toss our expectations without tossing our happiness. I think of our nine-month old child, delighted and laughing as we whisk him around and bounce him in unexpected ways. I do not always feel so secure when life appears to be tossing me around. Do I have some problem? Any problem I can identify has to do with expectations and desire -- that is always what convinces me that things are somehow "not okay."

Dean 'Jagaro' Crabb said...

I loved those words 'don't know mind' too, and was also at a quandary for their meaning for a long time too. For a while I thought it was about living in the moment, and in many ways it is exactly that because mindfulness is about living in the moment.

But in a much deeper way, 'don't know mind' points succinctly and directly to the very heart of the truth of impermanence as a direct 'in the moment' experience. In this moment, when we are very present with anything are they ever known? No. What will happen next? Don't know. Where exactly is 'self'? Don't know. Where exactly is mind? Don't know. What exactly is this moment? Don't know.

If there is anything that appears 'known' then we've in some way have incorrect understanding about its nature, we've bought into the appearance of its static-ness, and its sense of form, time and place. This is not Right Understanding.

To rest deeply as a ongoing experience into this 'don't know mind' is to BE this impermanence completely and to see that in this experiencing, nothing AT ALL, nothing anywhere, is ever known. There is only 'The Knowing', and even if you look into that 'Knowning', that has no owner (no self), even this cannot be known.

When you've penetrated to the heart of all appearances and seen that ALL that appears as known is really not, one lets go of grasping after wanting to know. This is the 'don't know mind'. This is Right Understanding and Right View.