To study the buddha way is to study the self.  ~Dogen
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Like most tweens, my nephew is often glued to his gadgets playing games. A few years ago, he went through a phase where he insisted you sit behind him and watch while his avatar accumulated points. I did my auntie–duty and watched because I want him to be feel seen by me. Also because I recognize we all have that desire to be seen… except when we don’t.

I was on a month–long meditation retreat in February and in the first few days I encountered the same question I do on every single retreat: “How can I be so completely fascinated by myself and so utterly sick of myself almost in the exact same moment?”  I call this The Narcissistic Paradox of Practice.

All of us have that chasm between the desire to be seen (when we feel good about ourselves) and the desire to disappear (when we don’t). A retreat is an opportunity to sit behind our own–damn–selves while playing our hearts & minds…

Meditation practice is mostly about learning to see ourselves (compassionately).

To do this we need, as Dogen says above, to study the self. We must make space for what my teachers call the orphans of consciousness, the parts of ourselves that we have discarded or imprisoned in unconscious places within. When things are “going good” (peaceful, positive), we might enjoy “studying the self.” When things are going to shit (turbulent, troubled), not so much.

My first teacher, Barry Magid, talks about the challenge of taking ourselves whole and our lives whole. Often we come to practice not wanting to see parts of ourselves, actually, wanting to get rid of parts of ourselves. If we want only the “good stuff” or reject things we don’t like, we can’t know ourselves in full.

Or maybe you are conditioned to only recognize your faults and failures. Or always looking for affirmation and accolades from others — looking out more than in.

Can you see your–self? Just as you are, right now?

The full quote from Dogen reads:

To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.

What does it mean to “forget the self” in a selfie society? In an economic climate where everyone is a brand (hello, my name in big letters at the top of this page). In a world that erases or distorts your cultures? In a life you’ve spent healing a wounded and fragmented sense of self — you’re finally glued back together and now you’re asked to break apart again?Or perhaps you’re more comfortable with breaking apart? You want to skip the stage of self–study and get to the good stuff… “I don’t know what ‘actualized by myriad things’ means, but it sure sounds better than studying my pain and trauma.”

They’re a package deal, studying and forgetting the self — let’s call them, seeing your (not)self.  Step–one… See Your–Self.

 

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