Are we conscious and intentional about the co-creation of our experience or are we wandering aimlessly, sleepwalking and not really understanding that we are dreaming? Seeing through the lens of three interrelated “I”s, a framework useful to my own understanding, might help us awaken to the role we play individually and collectively in co-constructing our reality. I would like to share these three truths with you as well as some mantras (or sayings) I use to help me remember them in times of difficulty.
When I feel personally put upon, targeted or affronted, I’ve noticed that my suffering has a particularly poignant quality. But, when I look closely, I see that I’m not a solid and unchanging entity. Human beings are dynamic processes – elements coming together and metamorphosing, dispersing. The experience of “me” consists of thoughts, feelings, body sensations, urges, atoms, particles, and more, connecting and falling apart, over and over, in ever changing configurations, like a kaleidoscope. If we are able to be still and observe experience unfolding a little more objectively, we see that even the smallest of changes ripples out into widening circles of transformation – into a stream of causes and conditions that is much bigger than “I, me and mine.” This shows us that it’s really not personal and that we’re all in it together. In our caring for ourselves and others, we are inspired to do our best to practice mindfulness in our every thought, word and deed so that we might not compound harm.
My mantra for recalling this truth is “Neither praise, nor blame“, adapted from two sources. One is from the Dhammapada, in which the Buddha was quoted as saying some variation of “The wind cannot shake a mountain. Neither praise nor blame moves the wise person.” It’s also a snippet from Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, in which he taught, “You are what you are” and nothing said about you or done to you can make you any better or worse than you are.
Life experience teaches us that nothing is forever, if we dare to pause and investigate. Everything that comes into worldly existence is subject to transformation or decay. We observe the seasons passing, births and deaths, and our own faces aging in the mirror, and we begin to accept that everything, wanted and unwanted, will pass. We learn to savor the good while it’s here. Patience and equanimity grow with the understanding that the bad won’t stay forever. We realize that as long as we are living, there are limitless opportunities to begin again. We see that renewal is available to us in each moment, when we are awakened to this possibility.
My mantra to help me remember this truth is a quote from the philosopher Heraclitus, “Nothing endures but change.”
Insight into change teaches us to embrace our experiences without clinging to them—to get the most out of them in the present moment by fully appreciating their intensity, in full knowledge that we will soon have to let them go to embrace whatever comes next.
Insight into change teaches us hope. Because change is built into the nature of things, nothing is inherently fixed, not even our own identity. No matter how bad the situation, anything is possible. We can do whatever we want to do, create whatever world we want to live in, and become whatever we want to be. – Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu
The truth of our fundamental interconnection has become increasingly apparent in light of the recent pandemic. We all breathe the same air, derive energy from the same sun, drink water made up of shared hydrogen and oxygen molecules, eat food grown from the same Earth. Everything we enjoy has been touched by something outside us. All worldly things, including ourselves, exist in relationship to other things – they are caused by something else, made up of parts, and depend upon a conceptual understanding in order to be known. We experience our interconnection when we feel the ripple effects of hardships experienced by people on the other side of the world. All of our sufferings are the result of interrelated historical and present moment causes and conditions. Some element of our actions exists essentially within any outcome, like threads woven into the whole cloth of our experience. This isn’t magical thinking – it’s directly observable. For example, neuroscience is demonstrating that the mind becomes imprinted with our actions – especially the ones we repeat – through the strengthening of neural pathways. Conversely, what we don’t nurture weakens and fades.
My mantra to remember this truth is, “Causes and conditions.”
Causes bring about the production or arising of something. Conditions help shape the identity of what is produced or arises… if we can see all the different components of it, and realize that everything is changing at a different rate, and there are so many variables that are affecting what I’m experiencing right now, then it helps to desolidify it. And when we have deconstructed – desolidified – what we’re experiencing… we can see all the different things that it arose from, all the different results that we’re experiencing simultaneously, and then deal with it in a much more rational type of way. – Dr. Alexander Berzin
When we can bring to mind the three “I”s – the impersonality, impermanence and interconnection of all things, including ourselves – we might appreciate how extraordinary it is that we are in this together, experiencing a rare convergence of events that are as ephemeral as a bubble in a brook, and as deeply shared and intertwined as the warp and weft of a tapestry. Embodying this understanding, we are better equipped to compassionately face the difficulties and wholeheartedly embrace the joys life offers with greater skill and wisdom.
You, me, alive, here, now – how rare. Love. – Sensei Sokaku Kathie Fischer