Genju, over at 108 Zen Books, has a post about experiences at a recent mindfulness conference she attended. The following stood out for me:
in various encounters, the rumble of territorial markings became audible. Well surely I couldn’t have filtered out the human tendency to want, to crave, to feel unsafe and therefore to bare fangs, set boundaries, and draw lines. Apparently, I did. I do. This is where the practice of simply noting is a good one; it helps negotiate through the conversations that circle the marketing of the self and poorly masked rhetorical questions. I mean noting that in myself as well because certainly there were many, many times when I caught myself falling into being the product rather than the person.
Marketing of the self. Aren't we taught to do that pretty early on in life? You gotta stand out or you'll be forgotten, right? You better promote or you will never be successful, right?
I believe there is a double bind around all of this in modern societies. The human tendency to self cherish is the main dish. Humans have been eating it, probably since the beginning of our species. In addition to the main dish is a set of side dishes called consumerism, capitalism, and commodification. Ever seductive, they add endless flavors and textures onto the main dish. I suppose it might be the case that plain old self cherishing gets kind of dull after awhile. It's so much more exciting to be the hot, new product on the block. Or the respected, reliable old one.
The pressure to be a product is damn strong, so much so that even spiritual teachers are falling for it in droves. Being a person with some wisdom mixed with a bag full of delusion doesn't feel good enough. Being a person who takes a shit and can't quite wipe it all clean isn't sexy enough. Being a person who is articulate one minute, and has nothing helpful to say the next just doesn't cut it. And so, we end up with teachers with trademarks at the end of their names. Teachers who spew endless amounts of flowery, high fullutent language. Teachers who market themselves as healers, and then end up abusing the hell out of anyone who gets close to them.
It is any wonder that so many of us are so confused in this life?
Some people get really irritated with me when I start talking about systems and collective conditions. They say things like "Zen practice is about you. Focus on yourself and stop pointing the finger at others." But this isn't about simple judgment. This isn't about damning those trademarked teachers to hell. It's about cultivating an awareness of the larger patterns that are influencing our thinking and behavior. About seeing much of what we see as "normal" isn't, and that to the extent that we continue mindlessly eating it, we'll be used and controlled by it.
As Genju points out, simply noting that this is occurring is a major step towards breaking the pattern. Every time you see through the story, it's influence on you becomes weaker. What I am suggesting here, though, is that we need to recognize the main dish, and also the side dishes as well. They all play a role in keeping each of us oppressed.
We need to re-learn the sources of true nourishment. And the first step is simply seeing how so much around us is not that. How so much in our minds is not that.