You can’t break the rules until you know you’ve been following them

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Age of Empires exhibit


What if nothing—nothing—depended on you? What if everything and everyone your life currently contains would not only survive but in all probability do quite well were you no longer involved with anything? Say you moved to Cleveland or becoming a hermit or even hmm…

Once again the obvious had occurred to me, something that seems to be more and more a wonderful byproduct of living long enough. In this case I’d actually realized that that is exactly what will happen when I die, and that works! And the only ‘proof’ of that is that there is no longer any desire, any craving to be in any way indispensable re any aspect of human or planetary existence. Just let everything and everybody be in charge of its own life. I might be nice or annoying or useful to have me around, but when push comes to shove, life without me will continue unabated.

A lovely consequence of this insight is that there’s no bucket-list. Were my life on earth end today there would be no one whom I’ve loved whom I’ve not told that or didn’t need to. There are no bike rides I’d still long to do or photos to take. No blog entries unposted or water aerobics classes unattended. No countries there’d be that I must visit—not that I’ve been to all, of course. Even the trip I’ve scheduled for next spring to the “5 Stans” should it not happen would not leave me with regret nor the folks in those countries saddened at my non-appearance. It will all be all right.

What a phenomenal “load off” to know this! And it’s not the only bit of blessed information to have worked its way into my consciousness recently. It follows the equally great release I was granted last spring when Simon Child, leader of a Silent Illumination retreat I’d attended upstate told us that:

  1. We have all internalized or accepted consciously sets of “rules” by which we live our lives.
  2. These rules are abstractions and thus not reality.
  3. Trying to abide by them often puts us in conflict with reality and thus creates suffering.
  4. You don’t want that!

All this came together last night. I was sitting in meditation with a small group of folks vastly more advanced in the practice than I. Apparently one of my rules for this situation was “You must sit perfectly!” I’m pretty sure I got this rule from Shunryu Suzuki, a teacher close to my heart. Actually he said, “To take this posture is itself to have the right state of mind. There is no need to obtain some special state of mind.” No biggie. I can sit as still and in as good posture as the next guy. Nobody knows what chaos is running through my head at any particular moment–which, it would seem, is a perfectly permissible state of mind–so that’s covered. Just sit still…until along came the backache!

And what a backache! All mental chaos disappeared, swallowed up into the outrageous agony lower right just above the waist and below the rib cage. My mind—my soul, my Buddha Nature, my Essence—probably my amygdala, pleaded with me to move, to twist, to rub the spot, to stand up from my kneeling bench, run outside and scream.

But no—nnnoooo—0! That would be breaking my “perfect meditator” rule. And it wasn’t about looking bad in front of these folks. Hell no! These good, loving souls weren’t about to turn on me for revealing some humanity. This was about me looking bad to me. And just in case I was slipping, Rule Voice kicked it up with the list of reinforcers:

  1. You’ll disturb the others if you move.
  2. They’ll think less of you.
  3. Rubbing the pain might not help.
  4. You’ll feel bad that you moved. You’ll be a failure again!

Rule Voice knew that I was weakening, that somewhere in my intelligence the voice of Simon Child was again being heard. And that voice now echoed brilliantly. RV reinforcers fell like chickens in front of a hungry man with a Kalashnikov AK-47.

  1. We’re meditating in Manhattan. We’re hearing traffic, street conversations, crying babies, halve of phone conversations, and that’s not disturbing anybody. Besides, meditation isn’t about escaping reality. It’s ultimately about refining (I almost said perfecting) our awareness of that reality as inseparable from us.
  2. No they won’t.
  3. Not rubbing the pain in the belief that it will not work is predicting the future—again a departure from reality.
  4. Feeling badly that l’d moved could not possibly feel as bad as the back does right now.

Rule Voice was not about to give up: “Those are rationalizations!”

My Voice responded silently—if not, “Yeah, yeah.”

I reached around with my left hand and began to massage, to knead, to rub, pull and push the painful area. Sure enough, just doing that, just overcoming the misery being imposed by Rule Voice created a smile deep in the deepest aspects of me.

And yes, there was another benefit: The pain left enough to allow another half hour of meditation on the bench.

Published in: on July 22, 2017 at 3:09 pm  Comments (9)