The Self in Times of Turmoil

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which is the recorder is working. So, I'd like to introduce our friend, Ryushin Andrea Thatch, who is a priest of this temple. She's a Dharma disciple of Sojin Roshi's. She's been to Chuso and had most of the physicians that we have at Ripley Sand Center. She's also a physician, and she's presently living in Bellingham, Washington, and is down here every now and then to practice, to help with things, and to give a talk every now and then. So, welcome. I'm glad you got this work. Thank you, Hosan. So good morning, everyone.


I'm really heartened to see so many old friends here. So many familiar faces, some of whom I haven't seen in the Zendo for some time, and a lot of faces I don't know. And that's also really encouraging to me. I realize in this time, We look to a solid ground under our feet. We look for something to help us find a way and a stability in this time. I have had a number of conversations with people about what they were going to do for the marches, which I think are now canceled. But still the conversation is the air and I don't think that anyone in this country can be unaffected by the tenor of conversation and activity that's going on. And so our practice is even more alive in the presence of how we're living our life because it's all around us in a different kind of way.


This talk is meant to be a part of that flow. And without planning it, I find that I'm in conversation from different perspectives with my dear Dharma sisters, Karen Sonheim and Lori Sanaki as their talks one of which I've heard and one of which I haven't yet, are related to the same topic. So I see that the same things are on our mind, which is how we work with and transform our mind. The title of this talk is something like resiliency and pliancy. Two of the eight factors that are paired for enlightened activity. As always, my life is my material. It seems like when I'm looking for a talk, something happens that gives me something to chew on. And things always begin with a story, don't they?


If you really look at how your mind works, doesn't everything begin with a story? It seems. So here's my current story as an example. I recently, for reasons, I recently came into ownership of a house. And you know, having a house means that you're really responsible for it, and you take care of it in a slightly different kind of way, even when you're a responsible renter. So I'm taking good care of my house, and I particularly love that I have a yard and a garden. And I'm working hard to make the lawn and the garden become kind of a sanctuary or a refuge. That really matters to me. I have a landscaper who's gonna come next month. We've been working on plans for it. So one morning I'm in my kitchen, I can see out to the backyard where I parked my car and I see a car pull up alongside or parallel to where my car is parked and it seems awfully close.


And I think, that's funny, that's awfully close. And I watch for a while and I see It's close because he's on my lawn. Well, I don't like that very much. It hurts the grass. It's a little bit of an incline. It can wear ruts and it can increase the erosion. I'm in the watershed. I care very much about taking care of the watershed. This isn't so good for that either. So I wait, I'm sure he's just going to run into the neighbor's house and pick her up. I know he's the boyfriend, nice guy. We say hi in the morning times. I'm sure it's nothing. Who would park on anyone's lawn, right? He doesn't come back. In fact, there's a party happening next door that I assume there's a big gathering of people. I start to feel annoyed. Why would anyone park on your lawn?


Why would anyone wear dents in your lawn, right? So I go out, I take a look around. Is he really on the lawn? How could that really have happened? And I see that other people are parked on the lawn. And now my mind is really going. I've got a whole storyline going about it. No one parked, my parents would never have, right? It raised me to do that. Have you ever sat a long retreat? And you know, in the middle of that retreat, at some point, the same story is going over and over again. I have 30 days. In my early years, I used to sit 30 days, silent retreats. You sure get intimate with what your mind is made of on those retreats. And I had one where I had the same, actually probably had about three of them, where different versions of the same story played over and over again.


It was excruciating and yet they were there. I couldn't loosen them. If you've ever sat a sashin, you have the same experience. Every time you sit down, your knee hurts. And before too long, you're sure that you've torn a ligament or that your knee's never gonna straighten out again, or you might not be able to walk right after the session is over, right? Or the Doan has fallen asleep, and he falls asleep in every single period, and how could that happen? So, Over time, we learn that those are creations, really, that we have some choice or we have some part in what appears in our mind. And I want to just talk a little bit about my experience in opening that up some. We start by paying attention. It's the Buddha's basic teaching.


The basic teaching of the Satipatthana Sutra is on mindfulness, and we start by paying attention to our breath. When we give zazen instruction, even zazen instruction, which is really not so much a practice of paying attention to specific things, we encourage people to notice the breath as a kind of anchor. I find it really comfortable and very reliable. It's like listening for the ocean at the shore, right? If you're ever by the ocean, it's always there. There's something about that that you know how to orient. It's no wonder that the more you practice Zazen, the more you recognize that Zazen is a body practice. It's really about being completely present in your body. You become aware of sensations just as sensations. You become aware of the nuances of your posture.


You become aware of the places where there's a burning or a tingling or heat or some something there, the slouch, the angle. Oh, and you come back into being in your body, being in your hara, in your breath. And you may notice that some kind of descriptor, it's some kind of descriptor, a quality, tingling, heat, cool, or sharp. If we're not fully present in paying attention, there's perhaps some perception of this pain, discomfort, ease. It becomes some sort of a thing.


And then our mind says, oh, This is not something so good. This is something that's pleasant. I like this. This is something that's unpleasant. Ew. My neighbor is breathing heavily. It's a loud sound. Breathing heavily. He shouldn't do that. You see the way that suddenly creates itself so quickly. Sometimes we think it just arises as a He shouldn't be doing that. But actually, first, it's recognizing that it's someone next to you making an unpleasant, loud sound that you don't like, right? So there's a whole chain of events that go on that begin with sensation, that begin with some kind of an awareness in the body. And we find as we observe and sit with this that there are certain ways that we orient, we tend to orient to these states that come up.


We either tend to be people who have more tendency to be aversive or irritated, people who tend to like certain things and focus on those. the sashin you sat where you were lustful about the gal who was sitting across the way, that kind of thing. There may be times when you're sleepy the whole time, or times you're just caught up in all kinds of wonderful fantasies. So the mind has certain ways that it tends to orient, but it all tends to arise out of being present in the body. I find, I find that, um, Long before I'm aware of, boy, this hurts, or I'm really annoyed by my neighbor parking on the lawn, there's some reaction that I have that's pre-cognitive, pre-recognition, that I can begin to pay attention to.


And even before I really recognized that I was ruminating about my lawn, There was something that was here in my body that I was paying attention to and saying, this is unpleasant. Wait a minute. This is unpleasant. What's happening here? Over time, we develop some facility. Many people in this room have some facility of sitting with these pleasant and unpleasant states and being able to reside and abide with them and really not be knocked around. It's actually very, it's a very helpful place to be. It's kind of an encouraging place to be able to have these little sunstorms come up and not react to them very much, or to be able to be stable enough that they pass by. That's really good. Sometimes we stay there. Sometimes we think that's enough, that that's actually the purpose of what we're doing in our practice.


I think that's one of the really important places to pay attention. There's something in practice called spiritual bypass. Spiritual bypass, I think, means, at least in part, that you get comfortable sitting on the cushion with whatever comes up. But the deeper understanding of what arises and why it rises and really turning towards it and opening to it is more difficult. And it's possible to sit on the cushion for many years and not necessarily come deeply into that place. Our practice really asks of us to come deeply into that place. when Dogen Zenji says in Genjo Koan, study the self, he's really talking about, well, I'm not gonna talk about Genjo Koan, but it's a kind of seeing yourself so clearly down to the bottom that you don't get in the way of whatever's happening around you.


In order to do that, you really have to have some kind of understanding of how you're continually in the way. I'm continually in the way. I'm continually creating a self moment after moment after moment. We all do. And the nuances of the ways in which we do that are subtle. I find the longer I'm in practice, the more subtle they become to me. Don't be discouraged by that. It's actually very interesting. It's very interesting and it's very connecting with everyone else. I think Laurie talks something about how we make community and how we help each other. And I think it's very connecting to understand how deeply Inherently delusional it is to have a human body and a human mind. And you get quite curious about it because there's freedom in there.


There's freedom in there and there's also love and connection with other people because we share that with each other. I don't see anyone nodding to this. I find also the study of the Yogacara has been very helpful here, and I won't try to recapitulate very much at all. Karen Sondheim gave a wonderful talk on this about a month ago, but I just want to touch lightly for those of you who weren't there. that this is basic Buddhist psychology, one Buddhist idea about how the mind works. And in this idea, there are different levels of consciousness. Maybe the two most important ones are what you might think of as the total repository of all of experience. And all of experience has all these latent potentialities.


Latent meaning they're not activated until they interact with you, with the self, however the self is manifesting. And those include what we know, what we're enculturated to, what's been in our family, in our culture, in the history, I'd say in the environmental milieu. It's totally unknowable. We can't know everything that's in it, but they're always operative within us, this great big store of potentiality. It has no moral valence in particular. It's in interacting with our self, our consciousness. You might think of it as our ego called Manas, our kind of common way that we think of mind. And this ego or self is always appropriating.


It's always taking the potentialities and looking to make something of itself by them. For example, I'm a Greek woman, physician, Zen student. So those are, if you will, seeds, experiences. They appear to be permanent and continuous, but actually they're always being influenced by the culture, what it means to be a woman, what it means to be Greek. by my relationship to them, by the relationship of other people who are interacting with them. All of that has some different impact on how I manifest, but yet I have this kind of set idea about it. In the Yogacara, there are four main ways in which we fool ourselves, in which the self creates itself.


And not to make too much of these, but I actually found these really helpful for myself because it's hard to see the ways in which you kind of fool yourself. It's hard to see the ways in which you create yourself because you live in, you know, you have to have a body. You have to be a person. You have to walk in the world. The most fundamental is called self-delusion. Self-delusion is the idea that you can exist separately from everything else, that you manifest in your life functions independently. Don't we say that I'm an independent person? Of course we don't function independently. Our life is actually always a functional activity of interaction with other people, things, the environment, the world, and that's how self manifests in any moment.


But we're always caught. You kind of, in some ways, it's inherent to be caught there. But it's a delusion to see yourself just as that, because it creates all kinds of other ideas of who you are in relationship to things. It makes objects out of everything else. But actually nothing is outside or separate from yourself. You're always in relationship and activity. Self-view is the basic delusion that you're a fixed, permanent person. That who you were when you were five is exactly who you are now and who you'll be when you're 90. This idea that we don't change. And you know how limiting it is to think that way about yourself. I'm the kind of person who... I'm the kind of person who doesn't allow people to drive on her lawn. Imagine how limiting that is. It's ridiculous, but we do it in all kinds of subtle ways.


And even more than that, we do it to everyone else. Oh, he's the kind of person who's always late. Oh, he's the kind of person who's always irritable. so-and-so is always like this. You catch yourself saying that about anyone? Sure, we all do, and it's all a falsehood. We may have tendencies, those seeds, depending upon how often they get, if you will, stimulated, stimulated by the idea or other people's ideas about what you are, they tend to arise more readily. When we believe them, we reinforce them about each other and we help create that reality in ourself and in others. Self-conceit, I think this is a really powerful one for all of us too. Self-conceit is the idea that we're always comparing.


We're always seeing how we stack up to other people and how they stack up to us. You may not think that, but observe it for a while. You know, am I good enough? Oh, that one's a little better than me. Oh, he likes her more than he does me. We put instead of accepting everything as having. different worths perhaps, something gold is worth more than dirt, maybe, depends on what you're doing with it. But everything has its own value. Everything has its own qualities inherent to itself. But we don't tend to operate that way. We tend to operate in subtly a hierarchical way. It's better to have a nice lawn than it is to park close to where you need to go. and help out your neighbors by allowing it. There's a conceit in there. Do you ever notice that?


And the last one is self-love. Self-love is the idea that I'm the center of the universe. And we all do that too. Oh, you know, why won't the teller hurry up? I have some place I need to go, right? that the world is operating in order to serve me in some way. It's subtle, you know, these are dramatic examples. But when I really drill down and see myself, I see that these different qualities are operative and I find them really helpful because I can fool myself into thinking that what I'm doing actually is justified in some way because I'm not seeing the fallacy behind it. So just to observe, and just like when you start practice, trying to pay attention to sensation and how you relate to it is really hard. It takes a long time to have some kind of awareness of what's happening without jerking your knee up every time you think that you're never going to stand up again.


Over time, it becomes more readily available. Oh, I think I'm the center of the universe on that one, ha, ha, ha, space. What else is out there? So you'll also notice that the self continually gathers information to verify itself. You make a case for what you think is true. You make a case for who you want to be or who you think the other person is, and it actually changes your perception of things. It actually changes how you receive sensory information. I don't know if anyone's noticed that one of my first experiences of that was on one of these really long retreats and it was a very silent. I was in my room for hours every day and at some point we would go down and take our meals. I was very still and very concentrated. Come into the dining hall and everyone is clanging their silverware.


Like there's a ruckus going on. We're queuing up, they're picking up their plates, they're spooning out stuff. And you know, you don't do sensory stimulation on one of these retreats. Someone's wearing this bright orange sweatshirt. And I have a very irritable mind. It was even more so before 20 years of Zen training. But I was like in my mind going, what's going on here? That day I had been studying pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral, just those typical kinds of reactions to things. And I said to myself, Not pleasant, unpleasant, only neutral. And all of a sudden it's like someone turned the volume almost to nothing. It got really quiet. And I looked again and that sweatshirt was actually a washed out pale pink. I kid you not. I think we have those qualities too when we hear things, when we respond things, we're just not aware of them.


I was a washed out pale pink color, not a bright orange, or maybe it was an old red that had been washed over and over and over again. Uchiyama Roshi says that real self-reflection can only happen in the context of our everyday activity. We think that it happens on the cushion. Sazen is important because it prepares us. It gives us practice in the mind that helps put the mind in neutral so we can observe the movie going by, so we can understand that that's what's happening. It's our experience of that. But actually, where we live our life, where we realize Genjokan, is in the everyday moment of meeting the 10,000 things. Those 10,000 things are not just the 10,000 things outside of us. They're the 10,000 things that are going on inside of us all of the time.


Can we meet them? Can we allow them? Can we recognize them? Can they just be what they are and pass away without grabbing onto them and making something out of them and believe them? Suzuki Roshi says our way is to put the dough in the oven and watch it carefully. He's talking about making bread as enlightenment. Can we just bake ourselves over and over again? That's what we do when we sit Zazen. Carefully observing. Observing doesn't mean taking notes on your mind state. Observing means being in the body, being fully present, showing up completely and allowing whatever to arise to arise. recognizing it on some level, having some awareness, tension in the body, tightness in the body, oh wow, all of a sudden a story has appeared.


Can we find that kind of equanimity and turn toward it? What did I do when this was going on and I recognized, oh my God, this is really unpleasant rumination. What have I gotten myself into? I put the brakes on. I said, Oh my goodness, there's a self that's being created here. What is that self? And actually it was really helpful. It gave me the space to let it go for a while. It's a common saying in our practice that you can only see as far as your eye of practice can reach, right? I can only understand as much of myself as what I can recognize. That's why I have to keep turning towards it like a scientist. I actually, as I was thinking about this, I think we're all scientists here. They're always good scientists, especially physicists, maybe, and maybe biologists.


They're always just paying attention to things. They don't have, they may have a hypothesis. They may have some ideas. Oh, I'm a Greek woman. What's that all about? But it's always, it's always a, provisional understanding. It's always open to what else is seen, what else comes into the field, what other information comes forward. Oh, so-and-so's that kind of person. What is that kind of person? What all's involved in being that kind of person? I don't know. Let me keep observing here. Over and over again, putting the dough in the oven. At first, I think we learn just to tolerate the discomforts in our body and our mind. We find that basic stability. But then something shifts and you actually have some clarity.


Something different just happens. So what I did is I got ready to go for a hike. I have great trails almost outside my door, so I thought that was a good anecdote to my mind state and I had created some space around it. Then I walked in and I don't remember if I looked at the headlines really quickly or I turned on some podcast. But I heard that the leader of the Senate was about to put the healthcare bill back up in the middle of the night to be voted on for repeal and replace later. And I got incensed. I got incensed and I thought to myself, that's evil. Actually, I thought to myself, he's an evil man and I went, Wow, I'm a whole lot more churned up than I had any idea about.


That's a line. When I go there, I realize that something is really out of place. I'm not seeing clearly. I'm not seeing clearly. I have some self-admonitions. Maybe you have self-admonitions too. I think they're really useful. I say, I turn towards that to which I have the strongest reaction, meaning I have the strongest idea of what it means, especially if I think it's right or wrong, and I ask, what else is there? because I know I've formulated some pretty fixed ideas about what it means. And I'm not saying that there's not, if you will, right action. I'm not saying that actions are not reprehensible, but I'm saying the self that I create that's responding


is out of balance. It can't see clearly and it can't see what to do. It can't see how to meet the circumstances when it's acting from that place. What am I so afraid of? What have I so angry, desirous or judgmental about really? And who is it? What are the elements that are behind that? And then I can see more clearly about what's happening and what needs to be done. Otherwise, we are caught up in this emotional state that's all tangled up. I turn toward that which I disagree with the most and look at myself within that. Who's creating herself around that? What kind of person do I think I am? And can I get under that and see what's really happening here? If I think I've done something good, if I think I've been successful at something, I remind myself to keep a mind that says, let's see, who actually really knows?


It might've felt good in the moment, like it actually worked, but I don't know. That's very helpful for me. I don't believe anything I think of is true, especially if I really believe it's true. It's provisional. It's how it seems now. I'm open to more data. I'll continue to investigate. Those are really key qualities. At least I found they're so in my mind. Like probably everyone in this room and maybe everyone in this country, I have been reflecting on how the national tenure has become so overtly violent and hateful, unmasking some of our deepest, darkest history.


I was listening to an interview with a man named Christian Piccinoli. Does anyone know the name? He's the co-founder of an organization called Life After Hate, which was up until very recently, the only organization, they just lost their funding, but they have been the only organization that's meant to help to respond to people who have been part of or are part of one of the 900 plus organizations that promulgate hate in this country. And he was, do you know his story? He was originally a skinhead. He was early on a skinhead. He was recruited when he was a young boy. He'd grown up in Italian neighborhood in Chicago and had a decent, stable family background and certainly was not raised overtly with any hate, but he found this kind of


gang, if you will, or this kind of mentality of coming together around a particular identity of hate. And he took it on full force. He started a band that was meant to be a recruiting tool. He was very successful. He rose to the leadership. What changed him? At some point, somehow, and I don't know the details of this, maybe someone here will fill in. He had reason to interact with some people who were progressive, to have, be in dialogue or to have some exchanges with them. And he said that he was met with profound empathy, that people received him as a person, not as an object of their hate, not as an object at all, but as another person. And he said that he could not hold the same mind to them.


He had to be a scientist. He had to open himself up and say, what else is here? I can't believe everything that I've heard about these people. And so he began to look and that's when he changed. I thought that's very good. He was willing to open his mind. How did that happen? I don't know, maybe the wholesome seeds his mother planted was part of it. Maybe he had, too, a way-seeking mind, a vow within him that turned, that wanted to be whole, that wanted to be complete in some way. Maybe that was touched because he saw something larger than this small identity that he had created for himself. Something had been touched in that. everyone has the potential to change. That doesn't mean this works with everyone. It's all a matter of timing and circumstances, but it was very moving to me to be reminded that I can never create an other out of those things I disagree with, that I have to turn towards them.


And the first place I do it is myself. So about a week ago, I was sound asleep in my little house and about midnight I was roughly awakened by both my car alarm, my old car I was getting ready to sell, was parked in a place that was visible across the street from my neighbors, different neighbors. And I hear the confluence of a car alarm and metal, on metal. This was not a good wake-up call at midnight. And I quick open my blinds and I look out and I see it's one of my neighbors that lives across the street in this kind of rundown house that someone moved into not long ago and put down this big gravel driveway and lots of cars that are parked out there, which is not pleasant to look at, you know.


But we've had friendly gestures from time to time, but no conversations. And I watch him drive up, and I watch him get out, and he goes right into the house. And I think, huh, you're not going to go look to see what happened? There had to be a relationship there. And maybe he's going to write a note and come back and leave it on my windshield. So I get myself up, get my flashlight and go out in my pajamas and just see, like, what's happened to my car I'm trying to sell? I can't see much. I go back to bed. I actually fall asleep. I didn't make much story out of it. I get up in the next morning and I go look out. It's not much. And I noticed that he's come out again and he's coming up to the, the, um, the instrument of damaging, but he's coming up to his car and kind of uncharacteristic, because I can be kind of a shy, afraid person, especially when I have a lot of emotion.


I just walked up to him and said, hi. And we actually had just a normal conversation. Oh, hi. Just thought I'd introduce myself. And he said, and we had a great conversation. I learned a lot about him. He practices at the Gunwara that I go to occasionally, the Sikh temple that's about 20 miles from where I live. Really hardworking, a big family from India. And it was quite lovely. He offered to help me out with something that he just brought up. He's a contractor and told him something about myself and we started a relationship. And that was really fine. It felt really good. So I think resiliency is being comfortable with myself, all of myself, all of my reactions, to study myself, to have some sense of who this person really is so that I know myself.


And pliancy is to be able to receive all of the 10,000 things with curiosity and openness. So that's what I have to say. I haven't seen much reaction on anyone's faces. I think most of you are still awake. But I'm really curious how this reached you and I'm really curious about your own, how you're working with your own Um, sets of emotions, feelings, and ideas, particularly in this time. I don't think we can be too, uh, aware of how impacted we all are and how it affects everything. Everything, even what we think about our neighbors. Uh, Linda and Leslie, do you have the striker up already? Yeah. Oh, I'm so. I'm sorry, well maybe we'll take one question, one or two.


Okay, Linda, you're first up. So you'll be happy to know that I did get excited and upset. Simple question is, well, what did you do about the cars on the lawn? Or, well, what are you doing about Mitch McConnell? Or, did you not mention to the man across the street that he Because you've shown us this one side about not reacting with wisdom, but you haven't told any stories about stepping forth into acting. Well, those are really good questions and I expected them. In each of these cases, you know, with the lawn, I left really simple notes asking people to please not park on the lawn again.


There was no charge to it. It was a very simple thing and they honored it and I continued to have friendly conversations. They live right very, very close to me. And with the other person, the contact was minor enough. It really didn't make anything significant. It wasn't worth it. What mattered to me was that I removed the wall I had within myself there. And so that was that action. Mitch McConnell is a, you know, not to wait a minute. I don't want to be alienating to anyone who may have a different point of view here, but I will say that's my point of view. And I am I. don't have a completely effective response to that. It doesn't mean I don't get mad. I do get mad and I do make my phone calls, I do actually organize with people, but I don't think he's an evil person.


I don't get caught up in that mindset and so I don't pollute other things by it. That's my point. One other person? Yeah, John. You say you get to know yourself in the process Just with compassion. Just with recognition. Oh, oh, that. Again, that there's no, you know, sometimes there's judgment about it, but then I recognize I do have a tendency to judge myself. People have told me that. So I've begun to believe it. But it's more. Uh-huh. Continue on. Continue on. Okay, well, I, oh, Sue? I just, I'm so glad to see you and hear you up here.


Thank you for your talk. There was a lot going on. Thank you, Sue. Thank you everyone for listening and take good care of yourselves.