Tuesday, September 21, 2010

All In my Head

Boy, the mind is sticky! Sitting last night, after a long day working at my desk on 'big' project, it was hard not getting caught into thoughts. Planning, elaborating, fantasizing . . . getting lost in my own sense of self- importance. Head was overheating from so much activity, and efforts to land on the breath seemed almost in vain. There was much suffering.
The ordinary, untrained mind has a quality of stickiness. It keeps remembering old hurts and resentments, comparing the past to the present, and hanging on to its dissatisfactions. [or creating future that perpetuates the illusion of control and power!] We believe all the thoughts and projections that fill our minds. A mind like ours seems to have a fence around it and within that enclosure all understanding takes place . . . We should be cautious about the thoughts we think during the day, because they have no true found foundation; they are ego-based projections of our desires and habits. They do not touch upon absolute reality. This doesn't mean that we abandon them right away, but we treat them with caution. They're simply old habits, not commendable in themselves, not conducive to peace and happiness . . . Whatever we use as our personal identity constitutes our prison. Letting go is freedom. 
~ from Ayya Khema, in Be an Island ~
It's good to notice when the 'I' takes over . . . Only then can we start slow process of disengaging from it.

It is also worthwhile to pay attention to the conditions that put us at greater risk of entrapment. For me, danger lurks whenever I spend too much time in my head, engaged in intellectually rewarding endeavors. I literally need to come down, and ground myself in mundane activities such as doing the dishes, going for a walk, petting the dogs, . . . Talking to my mother who has Alzheimer's is another great way to do away with self-assertions from the ego. The illness leaves no room for fancy thinking. It has become one of my greatest teachers. 

What are your danger zones? How do you deal with the 'I' in your life?


  1. I think one of the big ones for me is the danger zone of 'constant doing.' Or, thinking I need to 'do' in order to be more complete. A real example right now is personal work I'm doing to help myself find work that I find more enjoying..so it's career related as I don't enjoy my current career. Sometimes though, I get caught up in what I need to do next, or this illusion that by doing x, I will be more content and happy. So, there's this struggle there. I know that I want to do different work...work where I help people...work that resonates with me, yet I have this innate knowing that it isn't by getting somewhere else that I'll find peace. So, yeah, that's definitely one of the danger zones and struggles I face on a regular basis and am working with.

  2. The real you has a sense of ego too. It isn't going to go away completely. Sometimes it takes over a little too much, but like you said as soon as you can, become aware of it. I have found that having a sense of humor about my ego is a healing thing. It kind of puts it into perspective, that it is impermanent, and reminds me that i too am just human ( another blade of grass ). Our society demands us to be perfect especially if we are in the business of being a professional. That is unfortunate and a bit materialistic. It gives us little room to be our selves and really display our humanness. Puts way too much stress on us to live up to professional standards which usually has to do with performance anxiety or money making. It's nice to be a little "quirky", to have some flaws, like the Tao te Ching says ....an uncarved block. :)

  3. Big projects, yes that will send the mind spinning off! Right now my big project is moving and renovating a new home. The mind loves this project of planning, figuring out the logistics, throw in some worry and then off I go. As you say the mind clings fiercely to this "project". It is hard to tame the mind at this point! And I see the self centred importance in it all.

    Again the "project" needs the attention of my mind but not in the obsessive, clinging way it wants to go about it. It reminds me of the zen saying "the mind makes a good servant but not a very good master." As you point out the work is in finding ways of the taming, finding ways to bring us out of our heads. I find some good dharma reading (even just a sentence or two) a helpful way to reorient the mind from its frantic confusion.

  4. Nate, I so much relate to what you are saying. There is a fine balance between knowing that not all is right in one's life, as a result of discernment, and wanting to take right action . . . and also living every moment as if it was one's last, fully, wholeheartedly since this is the only one we have really. I too struggle there!

    It has been helpful to arm myself with resolve, and then let it go, on moment to moment basis.

    I wish you well in your search. Sometimes the head gets in overdrive, when really the heart is what will decide in the end. :)

  5. Chana, I agree with you about the ego not being a bad thing. It is a matter of what parts . . . For instance the part that causes performance anxiety is of no use and is to be transformed. I was just listening to a recent talk from Gil Fronsdal on the self, and I really liked what he said about the need to deconstruct the self, and then build it back up again in accordance to the truth.

    Meanwhile being patient with what is . . . and greeting all these clumsy parts with loving kindness :)

  6. Zendot, first, I would like to wish you well in your project. Rearranging one's house can be such a spiritual undertaking as well, and from what I know of you, I am sure it is . . .

    Dharma reading, yes, and also discussion as the one we are having here. There is something very empowering about sharing with good spiritual friends. Next time, I find myself in this place of stuckness, I will have your words and Katherine's words, and Chana's words, and Nate's experience to hang on to. Friendly branches from where to survey the scene :)