It is quite common to idolize teachers and one way of doing it is by imagining that a weakness one may have has definitely been overcome by the teacher. It is a projection, a way to see an idealized version of myself in a teacher. Well, right now I plan, at least to a certain extent, to break that idealization of me.
A few days ago, I was returning home on my bicycle after a class, when suddenly someone driving his car recklessly came very close to hitting me. Without even thinking about it, in a rush of anger, I gave the driver the finger.
The person rolled down the window and I clearly saw that he was either high or drunk. I said I was sorry and although the person wanted to keep going with the discussion, and a part of me was very insistent on doing the same, I just followed my way. The car simply speeded up and in just a few seconds it was nowhere to be seen. But there I was, riding my bicycle and wondering: ‘What did just happen?’ I was as stunned as if I had just seen an amazing magic show: an amazingly powerful force had lifted my arm, showed the finger and, if left to act on it, would have ‘burnt the car to the ground’.
These explosive emotions, these sudden reactions are not done by ‘us’. They are done by the ‘past’, or what I call in another note the background 1, and for most people, most of the time, this is all they ever experience. The background is a huge and complex soup of billions of experiences originating from the time we were in the womb, our parents, family, society, our first experiences, the culture we are born and raised in, the stars that were presiding at the time of our birth, the DNA, past lifetimes, etc. This combination of numerous aspects and circumstances that I call the background – or simply, the soup – gives rise to various psychological predispositions (thoughts, emotions and sensations) that over time reinforce and multiply themselves creating, at a particular moment, a particular response. According to Western thought, the creation of these tendencies begins in the womb and they continue to be created for the next 6 to 15 years. According to Eastern thought, they begin before that, in previous lifetimes. We may believe in past lifetimes or not, but for the purpose of my argument here it really does not matter because irrespective of whether this tendencies originate from a previous lifetime or from the first few years of our life, the person that I am now has absolutely no control over them.
These tendencies tend to show up mostly as our first impulse/reaction to things, before we even know what is happening, before we have a chance to think. In general, we call those reactions ‘I’. We say: ‘I did that’. But really, is it really me? In the case I was describing, the rush of tension appeared, the negativity emerged, the hand came up, the finger came out, the strong desire to fight was there… and then a powerful thought came: ‘just let it go’. It was as if there were two different beings in there… and they were! We can call them a) ‘being 1’ and b) ‘being 2’.
- A) ‘Being 1’ is the one that gave the driver the finger. That being is not me, but it is the background, those uncontrollable reactions that may appear in some circumstances and are continuously reinforced by inattentive thoughts and emotions. These reactions do not belong to the person, but to the past, the background. I should never feel guilty about them because there is nothing I can do about them. Usually, because I do not know this, I take it personally and feel bad about myself: “How can I think those thoughts?” “How can I do such a thing?” “How can I even imagine this?” The truth is that I didn’t have those thoughts, nor did I imagine such things. The background did, and I had no control over it.
- B) The being that appeared after the first impulse, which had the thought: ‘just let it go’ – ‘being 2’ – is the being that has free will, is the being that has the power to discriminate, and that is the being I need to learn to call ‘I’ 2. It is also the being that has the capacity to see that before the discriminative being appears, it is not me and so I don’t need to judge myself. Those first impulses and all the thoughts and emotions that may come afterwards without attention on my part are not under my control. Of course we should not use it as a justification; we need to take responsibility for what happens, but at the same time, we need to free ourselves from feeling guilty about those reactions because they don’t belong to us. In the criminal world, a crime of passion has a lighter sentence than the premeditated ones.
Now, do we have any control at all over these tendencies? Or are we completely taken by their power? The answer is that we don’t have any control either over the first impulse/reaction, nor over the thoughts and emotions that appear in our head without our attention; we have no control over ‘being 1’.
But we do have control AS ‘being 2’. When we cultivate attention in our everyday life, we can have control over what to do after the first impulse occurs. That is when ‘I’ – as the person with free will – enters into the picture. With attention there is the possibility for ‘I’ to appear, and it is this ‘I’ who has the responsibility and the discrimination. It is only then that I can genuinely act. But most of the time, what happens is that the attention will remain lost and so instead of ‘being 2’ to appear, ‘being 1’ will remain in control and it will justify its first impulse; and it will surely find thousands of justifications available. There is very little that can be done3 about ‘being 1’, but much can be done about ‘being 2’: we must train our own capacity to discriminate.
This training has two parts:
First, we need to learn to exercise and focus our attention. Without attention, the separation between what belongs to the background – ‘being 1’ – and what belongs to me – the power to discriminate, ‘being 2’ – will never happen. When we think without attention, it is our past doing the thinking, which is continuously reinforcing itself. And so the first part of our training is to start to pay attention, to really intensely pay attention to the thoughts that appear in our mind, as opposed to let them run freely in our head. We need a clear, quiet, observing, peaceful, alert mind that will help us discriminate because not all thoughts are created equal.4
It is not easy to do this, but at the same time it is very important if we want to change, to evolve, to develop. It is similar to the professional musician who has to practice his chords. A musician will spend hours and hours practicing, but of course the practice is not the concerto he will play for the public. It is the same for us. We need to practice paying attention and discriminating from our thoughts in order to finally play the grand concerto: living a more beautiful, harmonious life. Every time we are lost in our thoughts we are reinforcing our past. And I will say that at least 90% of the thoughts that generally appear in our head are not wise, compassionate thoughts. And every time we think those thoughts, they get reinforced and so the tendency to think those same thoughts increases.
We need to start to see that there is a background, that there is a powerful force which we cannot control. Seeing this force, realizing its existence will create a completely different relationship to what is possible and will open the door to the next part of the training.
The second part of the training is to create wisdom. ‘Being 2’ is not born wise, but it has the capacity to become wise. Wisdom is the ability to understand and live one’s everyday life with compassion, love, acceptance, patience, etc. Another way to say it is that it has the possibility to create and experience a higher kind of life. If we don’t spend any time trying to get wisdom – investigating, studying, reading and then, applying what we learn into our everyday life – but instead spend most of our time in survival and/or the search for pleasure, wisdom is not going to appear. Without wisdom, when this powerful force – the background – appears in our life, we are going to believe it is ‘I’, justify its existence and reinforce it.
Not everything that the background may express is wrong or has problems. If we have learned since childhood to respect the elder, for example, we are going to respond gently even without thinking when talking to an old person. The discriminative being – ‘being 2’ – will see this happening and it will agree to it.
But maybe since childhood we have learned to accept violence as a useful and justifiable way to get what we want. In this case, if ‘I’ – ‘being 2’ – understand that this is not what I want for my life, then by practicing attention and wisdom I can, in time, modify my behavior.
We cannot control the first impulse – ‘being 1’ – but we – ‘being 2’ – can and should be able to see if this first impulse is how I want my life to be. We have the option to create a beautiful life. But it is only an option. It really depends entirely on recognizing and strengthening ‘being 2’.
1 See note The Background, page 146 (from my book About Presence)
2 At least until I am ready to call ‘I’ the silent-presence that is aware of both ‘Being 1’ and ‘Being 2’. In this note I am calling ‘I’ the discriminative power, ‘being 2’. To do this is like a concession before we are ready to realize our real being, what we really are, the aware-silent-presence looking through our eyes right now even as we read these words. In general, when we refer to ourselves as ‘I’, we mean a muddy combination between ‘being 1’ and ‘being 2’ and this mix-up creates an enormous amount of confusion, stress and disharmony. Before we can come to our real self, we need, at least to a certain extent, to clear up this confusion. And so, to call ‘being 2’ by the word ‘I’ is a way to help create the kind of mind that will have the space and power to – if it has the desire – discover in time its real identity.
3 Actually 99% of the psychological and the so-called ‘spiritual’ therapies in the market are about ways to change ‘Being 1’. But to me, these therapies are like diets. Almost every day a new ‘revolutionary’ therapy (or diet) appears that is going to change our life. The reason why they keep appearing is because, in the long run, they rarely work. It does not mean that one should not try to do something about it, especially if some profound trauma has been created like child abuse, rape or intense violence. But in my understanding, and for most people, the best way to deal with ‘being 1’ is not by changing it, but by deeply realizing that it is NOT ME.
4 See note Not All Thoughts Are Created Equal, page 196 (from my book About Presence)