I’ve mentioned before in other posts that all that is ever really experienced is thinking and sensation. No matter what it looks like, everything that we are ever experiencing is thought and sensation. The combination of these two elements is what we sometimes refer to as emotion (with sincere thanks to zen teacher Joko Beck for pointing this out to me). All else is a story. The story is our interpretation of any particular configuration of thought and sensation.
Most of the time, we get into trouble because of the story we tell ourselves about the thought-sensation arising in any particular moment. As an example, let’s say a car cuts in front of us in traffic. The body (probably) immediately tenses in reaction to a perceived threat to its safety – a natural reaction preparing the body to respond further, if necessary, to safeguard the organism. We can see this same reaction throughout the world of living things. No problem here.
Then, almost as automatically as the physical reaction occurred, the thinking apparatus drapes a net of interrelated thoughts over the sensations. These thoughts are The Story. They attempt to explain the experience (sensations) in some way. The net of thought that drapes over the experience-sensation varies from person to person depending upon a nearly infinite number of variables. Is there a problem here? Not really.
The “problem” is created by BELIEVING the Thought-Story – “that guy is a jerk and doesn’t care about anybody on this road but himself!.” That is, we assume our Thought-Story is true – we assume it is “the way things are.” The believed Thought-Story creates more physical sensation (usually tension, clenching) which we then assume confirms our original Thought-Story – “See! He really is a mindless cretin in a Pinto!” We then drape even more thoughts over those sensations and…you get the picture. The more blaming or critical or fearful the Thought-Story, the more intense the sensations.
There are a few things going on here that we will investigate over the next few posts. First, there is the awareness of sensation and thinking. Then, there is a recognition of the believed Thought-Story. Third, there can be a recognition that what SEES all of this – sensation, thought, Thought-Story – is not itself sensation, thought, or Thought-Story. Finally, at the heart of it all, is the realization that the body and the very idea of a “me” who is experiencing all of this is itself composed of thought,sensation, and Thought-Story. This realization dissolves it all.
However, it can be useful for some of us to be a bit more methodical about uncovering all of this. Let’s begin by simply NOTICING physical sensations as we go through daily life. We can do this especially when we find ourselves upset in some way – what we typically label as sad, lonely, irritable, angry, worried, afraid, confused, troubled, etc. As you begin to play with this, notice how thought is always attached to these states. Don’t worry about investigating the thinking. It is enough for now to know that it’s there.
Instead, come back to the raw physical sensation (buzzing, tingling, heat, cool, pressure, tension, hardness, softness, etc.) and stay with it. What do I mean by “stay with it”? Let your attention rest easily on the sensation for a while – maybe a minute or so. Give the sensation ROOM. Give it SPACE. It is already there so, as best you can, leave it alone and watch what happens (hint: it will change).
Let’s leave it there for now. Next post (probably), we’ll talk more about The Story. If you resonate with this methodical approach, STOP READING NOW!
For those of you who really hate a methodical approach, when you feel the sensations, ask, “What is aware of this (tingling, burning, itching, pressure, etc.)?” or “What is seeing this now?” But, don’t leave the sensation to investigate some thought that comes up in response to the question – that keeps us caught in the same trap. The answer is not a thought.
(By the way, I am not trying to be tricky or coy when I say “the answer is not a thought.” I am not trying to make you “work at it.” The deal is that the answer really is NOT a thought. The only thing another thought can do is point to “it” or attempt to describe “it” – but the description is not “it,” and “it” is not an “it” anyway! [this is the point at which, when I used to read this stuff, I wanted to throw my computer out the window and/or strangle the writer…*gulp*])
I’ll bet you wish you hadn’t read on 🙂
More to come.