Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Real Cause of Mental Pain

When To Meditate, and When To Contemplate.

It hit me last night. One dart, strategically shot, that left my heart bleeding . . . Of course, reactive mind chimed in, and pushed the dart further in, causing even more suffering. Something had to be done. I knew better than to give 'poor me' voice much weight. Sure, I had been done wrong by someone close, but still, that was no reason to take on the sad, angry role of victim. I remembered Ayya Khema's advice. Meditation would do me no good in this situation. Instead,
"What you could do at such time would be contemplation. Sit down where nobody will disturb you, and focus on the pain to find out it s cause, why it should have arisen. Do not be satisfied with an answer such as "Because so-and-so said something"- that's only the superficial cause of it. That would have been the trigger, but there's no cause for mental pain unless there's something inside oneself that is reacting to that trigger. It is useful first to find the outer trigger, which is probably well known to you. It could be a sense of futility, anxiety about the future - any kind of trigger is possible."
Sitting down at my desk, I was able to put my finger on the outer trigger. Yes, anxiety about the future, and also of not being able to rely on the other person.
"Then you need to find in yourself the reason for the reaction creating pain. The reason has to be "I don't want it the way it is." There can be no other."
Yes, I have a big need for security. Anything that threatens it, triggers a strong personal reaction of fear.
But why don't we like it the way it is? Usually the answer is "Because my ego is not supported." The bottom line of the whole inquiry is always the "ego", but it's useless to say, "I know it is my ego" and then continue to have the pain. It is useful , however, to go through the whole process of the trigger, the personal reaction , the inquiry into the cause of the reaction and then the understanding that the reaction is our dukkha and not the trigger.  I have a formula: "Don't blame the trigger." Never let the mind stay with the trigger; always investigate what and who is reacting. Unless we find the reaction to the trigger in ourselves, we are going to repeat the same performance with the same result over and over again, like a preprogrammed computer printout. Press the same buttons and the same printout appears, until we finally realize that it is nothing but a button being pressed, and that we don't have to have the same printout. We are in a position to be able to stop ourselves.
There is so much freedom in no longer looking for cause outside of oneself. I, not the other person is responsible for my pain, and that at least, I can do something about. In this case, I asked myself the question, why do I give the other person so much power? Why can't I find the security I need within myself? Down the ladder, I went, asking more why's, all to do with me, and no one else.
In the beginning that may be painful because we have to look at ourselves in a new way. We need no have this exaggerated idea of our own worth, nor do we need an exaggerated idea of our nonworth. We can learn just to accept the way things are. Sitting on the pillow at such a time is very good, but trying to meditate is often useless; contemplate instead. The subject of the contemplation is to be: "The cause of mental pain."  
~ From 'When The Iron Eagle Flies', pages 76-77, by Ayya Khema ~

What are some forms of inquiry, that you practice, and that complement your meditation practice?


  1. Some illusions are bigger than others. So what do we do about them, especially when they overtake our equanimity? Great question! Yesterday I found out that a close friend passed away last Tuesday. She had cancer and the treatments didn't heal her. She left a grieving husband, and a fifteen year old son. Now this is a bit different than being treated badly by someone close to you, but though i knew she was going to die soon, it rocked me. Still does actually. In these times when our equanimity falls apart, i too think meditation is rather useless. Because the subject is already deep in our craw. I usually just let the illusion run its' course. I imagine it like a cloud that has formed in the clear blue sky, even sometimes a huge thunderstorm. I know it is temporary, and am pretty sure that i have not rid myself of being knocked off balance again. "Time heals all wounds", is another little quip that comes to mind. I think the "middle way" anticipates some rocky ground that is capable of knocking us off the path. And if we fall, stay down for however long it takes, but know you will get up , and "keep on truckin'"! Boy there were a lot of cliches in this post! :)

  2. Thank you Chana, and much metta to you as you go through the stormy waters of grief. I have always been struck by how flip the Buddha is about the emotions of grief - I am thinking about Sutta where he tells Ananda to not grieve, and the mustard seed one . . .

    I agree with you, grief is a different thing altogether, and one where metta practice and a supportive sangha can go a long way.

    I appreciate your faith and courage. Again, much metta.

  3. wonderful, practical advice for daily life in this post. yes, I like this "don't shoot the trigger"

    It is so important to do this, to go deeper, it's the only way to dissolve these karmic reactions, but shining clear light on them and like little nightmares they evaporate. Our big ones take a lot of light!

    Thanks for reminding me of what to do, when habit starts me ruminating on some action or words or another, some circumstance that arises.

  4. Thank you Zen Dot! Always such a pleasure to see your face here, and to read your wise words. I was thinking about you yesterday, and all those Buddha images of yours. If I was an artist again, I would follow your path . . . :)

  5. I sometimes try to understand what torture does to people, since my government is practicing it. Reading this, it occurred to me that one thing it does is make it impossible to contemplate. There is nothing but pain and fear, which leads to deep, perpetual despair and total loss of the sense that "I can do something about it" mentally or in any other way. This is how it destroys a person.

  6. Thank you Dean. I am just curious, which country are you from? Can you tell?

    Torture is an interesting topic, and one I have no personal knowledge of. The closest I come to it is when I experience intense physical pain. I would imagine even in such extreme circumstances, mindfulness practice might be one's only recourse.

  7. Hey Marguerite - how are you doing? This is absolutely something I'm really consciously working on. Any sort of pain, anger, resentment, fear, etc.....well, I think I was so used to looking at the external world for or as the cause. I am much more often looking within. For example, if I find myself getting angered, annoyed, etc. with someone I'm beginning to look within first and say 'what's going on here with me that's creating these feelings' instead of 'why did that person do that?'

  8. Wonderful, Nate! I so much appreciate your dedication to practice.

    Deep bow to you.


  9. Thank you so much for this post and for your blog, and also for the introduction to Ayya Khema. I am fresh out of a break up and a 5 day retreat at Cloud Mountain (you should add that to your list on meditation centers...), and am asking a lot of these questions.

  10. Jess, much metta to you! May your bruised heart find its way back to happiness . . .

    Of course, one of the great blessings of the path, is that it gifts us with a wise perspective on all experiences, good and bad. May you grow and learn from that one.

    And yes, Cloud Mountain is a wonderful sanctuary for the mind. I am glad you were able to retreat there!

  11. Interesting topic, thanks. I don't think that grief is an illusion, but is real pain that must be felt. The problem arises when we inflict the second dart by grasping the pain and letting it become our all.

    I think it useful to sometimes contemplate on "who is feeling the pain" and letting our minds work on that.