Day by Day to the Selfless Self

Day by Day to the Selfless Self December 7, 2022

Confused About the Self, My Lama Showed Me What I Wasn’t

 Image by Mohamed Hassan/Pixabay

The Question

Have you spilled buckets of time wandering the halls of the tumbleweed hotel of your mind pondering your existence, trying to figure out what you should be, who you should be, who or what your best self is?

I imagine you have only because I have. And so far, life’s evidence continuously shows me that many of us face that same vague sense of, What the heck am I supposed to be doing here? How can I just be myself? And what exactly is that by the way? And even more perplexing, why is that not obvious? Why do I feel a tremor of nervousness somewhere deep in my belly when it appears someone is genuinely looking at me?

All of these things haunted me for many years.

Of course, many people throughout my life have been more than happy to expound on the negative and positive qualities they saw in me. And I listened to them. Why? I didn’t know who or what I was, so where else would I look other than the people around me? I suppose I valued others’ opinions of myself just enough to keep me properly confused.

When I stumbled into the dharma, I was undoubtedly operating from this “Who am I” position. Constantly thinking, what can I be, how can I improve, how can I be a better me and feel like I am worthy of something? Could the Dharma give me that power boost into John Plus? It was exhilarating.

The Lama’s Confusing Answer

But my Lama had other plans.

Here is a link to the post in which I describe meeting Lama Marut.

He certainly had no interest in supporting my identity crisis. Quite the opposite. He just got right down to it. He walloped us with the idea of being selfless. No Self? HUH?

Somehow, that was the path all the way home to contentment. Selflessness.

Of course, I interpreted that in my usual fashion of making it serve me somehow. I immediately began to entertain my new look. I would strut around as my new and evolved identity; I would be Selfless John.

But that hope was shattered when he started saying to anyone in the room that had the good fortune to be paying attention, “You (say your name to yourself) won’t become enlightened.”

Which was just shocking enough to both make sense and give me slight terrors at the same time. We all sat up straighter, laughed outwardly and went silent inwardly, wheels turning against the current.

No, He didn’t tell me I was one thing or another. Positive or negative. He taught me the Dharma. He was doing his work, stripping me of the ground I believed in.

I did my best to learn and practice it.

He said things like you are under the influence of your karma. And even closer to home, The thing I related to as “John” is karma ripening every moment.

Everything we feel and see – all the opinions regarding the qualities of others, things, and even ourselves that we are so sure of – all of it is a consummate performance put on by the ever-ripening seeds we have planted beforehand by actions of body, speech and mind.

And these seeds were not just planted just yesterday or last year. We have been dropping these seeds into the ground of our consciousness for all of our countless past lives. Countless means mind-bogglingly too many to count, according to Buddha. Handheld calculators can’t display that many zeros.

After some heartfelt practice of studying and meditation on the ideas, it started to sink in. I couldn’t deny it anymore; the selfish way I had been living was bringing me the opposite result of what I wanted. My selfish behaviour and self-absorption were the direct cause of my suffering, and I was hurting other people as well.

That may sound like a bleak prognosis, but it is pretty hopeful if you look at it from a power-to-do-something-about-it perspective.

Now What?

I can use my body, speech and mind to influence my well-being and not have to hope that something will provide it, like a perfect job, meal or great book. And I could do it every day. On the job, off the job, at home and play. I could make my life serve something greater than myself.

When I started to understand that I could greatly help others if I could only wake up myself first, I began to understand this Bodhichitta idea a little; The wish to become enlightened to serve others the best way possible.

Suddenly I possessed a complete and valid reason to close my mouth every time I wanted to shout back at someone who threw an insult at me. I could continue with my “How dare you insult me” approach and make sure they got theirs which would ensure that my normal state of suffering could continue.

Or, I could choose a different path: close my mouth, consider this unpleasant moment as a ripening of my karma, and stop a whole cycle of suffering right in its tracks. And in so doing, create a new reality for my future self while being kinder and more patient in the here and now.

Or, do my best not to participate in divisive talk. I could smile and not participate when the topic of conversation had suddenly become the negative qualities of whomever just left the room.

Or, I could see that giving material things like money or food would increase the sense of “I have enough” and not serve to deplete my resources, which have arrived to me from the act of the previous giving anyway. Being kind could become my new way of operating.

Here is a link to episode 9 of my podcast Chitta Chat where we discuss methods to be mindful of your actions during the day and plant great virtue. 

A New Journey

And so began a new understanding of the self. The old fossilized idea of John was giving way to a mystery that could be sensed underneath all of John’s big plans. Each act of selfless kindness was a direct line to that mystery, a selfless self.

And it was not easy.  Old habits die hard. I discovered the stubborn power of the mind. I thought, wow. If you believe the mind isn’t powerful, try to change it!

As hard as it was to put it into practice as much as I could every day, I was also greatly encouraged to know I could change my reality from the inside out—one day at a time.

One of the things he taught us was to take it slowly- one step at a time is the way to get lasting, deep results.

Image by Larisa Koshkina/Pixabay

One summer, I remember working as a roofer at a pulp mill in Port Melon, BC. We were re-roofing an area with pipes suspended over the work area, and one of the pipes constantly dripped water, preventing us from working in that area. So we placed an old tar bucket underneath to catch the water so the deck could stay dry while we worked.

I was the lowest seniority employee, so naturally, the task of bucket-watcher became mine. I was also running around cutting materials for the journeymen and cleaning up, and all the little jobs that an apprentice has but my most important job was that bucket. And it needed emptying faster than it made any sense to me.

Drip, drip, drip, day after day. It was infuriating that the bucket could fill that fast from those drops. More than once, the water made it over the top of the pail, which was embarrassing. I would then have to scramble on all fours with dirty rags and dry up the water while getting teased by the other guys that I couldn’t do this one job right.

But in the middle of the fourth day, as I was replacing the bucket for the thousandth time, I bent down to my work, and all peripheral reality disappeared from view. Time slowed. I saw one drop of glistening water descend in slow motion. It had become a diamond catching and refracting the sunlight. The top of the bucket became a pool, and as the ripple from the drop went out to the sides, a new feeling dawned.

I was aflame with enthusiasm as I absorbed the teaching from the droplet. Anything is possible with steady effort—one drop at a time, one day at a time, one task at a time. You can do anything! I felt the truth so profoundly that it never left me.

That one drop at a time is the approach you need to succeed in Dharma practice.


Learn more about John and his classes here:

Image by  Gerd Altmann/Pixabay



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