A talk by Susan Schepp from the January 2019 3-day retreat in Springwater.
This morning when I stepped out to go for a walk it was quite cold. The body felt cold, it was uncomfortable, and I immediately noticed the thoughts coming up that perhaps it was too cold and I shouldn’t be going for a walk. As I kept walking down the road, feeling the cold, I looked over and noticed a little pine tree with its beautiful bright green needles with a little snow on them. I continued walking on and the body started to warm up. And as the body was warming up I could feel the snow droplets melting on the face, beautiful hemlock trees standing there in stillness, the tingling feeling on the legs, the sound of the feet crunching through the snow and a feeling of gratitude for whoever it was that thought of these contraptions with metal spikes that you can put on your boots so there was no fear of falling and a freedom to walk freely.
So, we are here in this moment sitting together. Some of us may have noticed thoughts clamoring around in the mind. And maybe one has read somewhere that the whole point of sitting and meditating is to clear the mind of thought—to achieve some state where there is total peace and calm, a feeling of freedom with no thought. We are so conditioned to strive, to do whatever one needs to do to get somewhere, to be somewhere else, to be successful, to work hard—in order for what? Something gets lost there. We are no longer doing something for its own sake or just doing something because it needs to be done in a moment. We add so much other stuff to just simply doing.
For example, I am washing the dishes and I want to do this better than someone else. What a radical thing it is just to allow things to be as they are, to just observe. To be as one is, with all this extra stuff, to see that the striving is there, but not going with it. Noticing that there are all kinds of other things going on besides the thinking that is happening. And if one is feeling stuck, is that really all that is going on? There’s the breathing, there’s the feeling of the snow on the face as one is walking, the tingling sensation in the body, the feeling of warmth. There is just being here with all that is going on, observing and wondering.
Is it possible to just be here and be nothing special at all? With no need to be special, no need to stand apart, to just be comfortable with how one is? What a peaceful world it would be if people could just feel comfortable being nothing at all. To be no one special, with no need to outmaneuver, to strategize, to protect or defend, to resist, which all comes out of upholding some image of being something. It really seems so simple and yet people continue to strive endlessly.
For example, someone who is close to me has spent a good portion of her life striving and working almost compulsively to somehow validate herself, which has caused tremendous suffering to the body and the mind. We are desperately trying to uphold something, an identity or image, maybe coming from the paralyzing fear of feeling a void or feeling inadequate, and wanting to avoid these feelings that may be uncomfortable, scary, because it is so unfamiliar to be nothing, no one at all.
But in actuality we are so much more than these thoughts about ourselves. We are life, we are this life force that runs through all life, this energy of aliveness, which gets constricted with all these thoughts about ourselves being this enclosed thing.
I have often felt that there is a flaw in human evolution because on the one hand there are thoughts that have created this structure we are in and the different ways of navigating our environment that have helped people, and thoughts in medicine that have helped to cure people. And yet there is so much unnecessary thought that creates division and suffering. I see it as a flaw in our evolution because so much destruction to the earth and to each other perpetuates, all coming from this striving to be something other than what we are. And what is that?
Sitting here we have this wonderful opportunity to just wonder about who are we when we are not all these thoughts and images. The understanding of that does not come out of conceptual or analytical thought. It does not come from that place, this understanding. So, in sitting with a question, can one just allow that question to be, and wonder? No need to come up with some answer. Because in wondering and in not knowing there is space for things to unfold the way they unfold. When there is seeing and watching, one sees how the mind wants to know, to move away and create stories we do not need, to go into judgments.
This is how we are; this is how the human mind is and we do not need to say it is good or bad. We can see in a moment the suffering that comes from that. We can become intimate with that, with all of it. It does not belong to any one of us, it is not personal. it is what the mind does. When we try to make it personal then it becomes “Me and my judgement” or “Me and my stories” or “Why can’t I get rid of these thoughts?” or “I am not good” or “Oh, I have a peaceful moment, I have achieved something.” All this stuff that operates in the mind, we don’t need to make it personal, we can see it as it arises and when we notice it, then where are we?
On the cover of one of Toni’s books it says, “The Work of This Moment.” It is a noticing, an observing, a questioning–what is going on in this moment? A thought may come up, maybe an unpleasant thought, a fearful thought, the body tensing up, a tightening in the chest, the breathing feeling constricted, a feeling of things being out of control, and the observing of the thoughts—”I shouldn’t be feeling this way, this is going to last forever, when is it going to end,” all feeding into this avoidance of what this discomfort is.
It takes a measure of courage to stay with that—to observe and wonder and feel. There really is no way out because all the thinking, conjuring up strategies and doing things to prevent something from happening in the future does not get at the heart of it. All that does is just push the stone further down the road but eventually it is there, it comes back, it arises. The only way is through–surrendering into it and wondering, “What is this feeling that I might call fear?” How much is this experience coming out of memory? And what is really happening right now? Do we really know?
One thing that is wonderful to experience, is being in the presence of a cat or a dog. We can feel that they are just totally the way they are, just being themselves. To observe that quality of being a cat, rolling around on its back, simply being there, purring. People find it very comforting being around animals because they are not carrying around all these images and identities. They are just open and vulnerable and right here in this moment. As human beings, when all this conditioned thought or image-making activity slows down or is not the dominating force, there is this vulnerability, a loving energy, a warmth, that can be felt. And that may be the only profound impact that we can have in the world, when there is no striving, achieving, upholding. In that there is true love and compassion for how one is, here and everywhere.