How To Stop Living Like an Animal

As Venerable Robina, a spirited Buddhist nun, once told me: Buddhist psychology is embarrassingly simple. When she told me that, she didn’t need to add a caveat — such as “But it’s spot on.” As we sat in a Manhattan apartment, she in her maroon robes, me with a notebook in hand, we were united in our shared belief that there’s something incredibly valuable in that simplicity.

Here’s the Buddhist take. Our mind have three modes:*
1) Disliking and pushing away
2) Liking and running towards
3) Not really caring one way or another.

* We can get beyond these, but this is our starting point.

We basically spend our days flip flopping between the three. It’s very animal like. If you boil down the majority of our behavior, it’s the equivalent of barking at cats, chasing a ball, and napping.

Just being aware of that is pretty radical, but evolving beyond that instinctual behavior is truly radical. For one, so much of our self identity (and by extension confidence) revolves around our dislike of cats and our love of balls, which is shaky. Take the cat away, and who are we?

More on that in a moment, but for now, consider how much energy it takes to be so invested in hating cats, and how much energy it takes to chase them away. These three instinctual modes of being are exhausting. Even the last mode is exhausting because it’s dulling instead of life affirming.

The first step out is to be aware. Notice when it’s happening. “Oh, here’s something I don’t like, and here I go using a lot of energy to push it away.” In time, you can start to get a feel for the energy behind it. What does it feel like to actively distance yourself from something? What does it feel like to grasp at something you like? And what does it feel like not to be particularly interested?

Meditation:  Look for a internal confidence that depends on something exterior, something outside of your self. Your job, partner, art, status (or lack there of) are good starting points. Mull it over until you find a confidence that is a bit shaky, something that is too dependent on an exterior circumstance. And ask yourself, what can you either a) give up, or b) take up, to build up that confidence from the inside. Spend some time mulling all of this over. What makes sense to you? What doesn’t. Is building your confidence up from the inside valuable? Is it feasible? What do you think?

Megan Mook's MNDFL class notes. Oct 13, 2016.

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