We’re all about the mind. Have you noticed that? It’s true but it’s also preoccupation. I read my dharma books and magazines, listen to my podcasts, hear teachers speak and it’s all about the mind. Monkey mind and buddha mind and don’t-know mind and horse mind and open mind. We have a dozen different names and categories. But what about ‘shut up mind?’ Where’s that?
“…teaching tells us to break our habit of looking at experience in terms of labels or concepts and instead observe ultimate reality directly. This is done by paying attention to bare seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting, and feeling in their most primitive state, before you inner narrator names them,” the call-out text in the recent Tricycle article “Disconnect the Dots” tells me.
Uh oh, I think, I’m in trouble.
Well, I knew that. Have known it for quite some time, otherwise I wouldn’t be reading magazines like Tricycle. And if you didn’t know it too, you wouldn’t be reading this. We’re all in trouble.
When was the last time I got down to primitive perception? I wonder. Have I ever? Maybe so, but by this time it’s been so obscured about the stories I tell myself of that experience that I can no longer recall the experience itself. Now, more often than not, I perceive through the filter of how I’ll write about it later. I don’t know what percent of my perceptions (thoughts included) make it on to the page, but the percentage must be minuscule. That doesn’t stop me from seeing the world through writer’s mind though.
I know that isn’t helpful. It’s more of a road block than anything, even to its own ends. I get caught up in the narrative and space off the experience as it is happening. So I castigate myself, Shut Up Mind! Then I shrug it off as an ‘occupational hazard.’ Then I congratulate myself for noticing in the first place. And by then the butterfly/horse/homeless man is gone and I start all over again with Shut Up Mind!
I’m sure this sounds familiar by now. I’m sure this sounds like what we’ve all found on the cushion. And I can’t help but wondering what happens when someday I tell my mind to shut up (with infinite gentleness and unbreakable firmness, of course) and it actually does? Nirvana? Or tomato? Are they the same thing?
In that same issue of Tricycle, Anam Thubten talked about coming to the United States and opening his mind to the tomato. He avoided it for a long time. They looked like blood and he feared they were gross. Now he loves them, avocados too. “The truth is similar to that,” he wrote. “We just don’t open our heart and mind because we haven’t experienced the benefit of that.”
It sounds to me like a classic Catch 22 (which I learned recently could have been named ‘Catch 18’ or any one of a dozen other numbers – oh, yeah, Shut Up Mind!). We’re not open because we don’t realize how great being open will be because we’ve never been open before because we’re not open. Gee howdy, that’s crazy.
I’ve often wondered if the characterization of the neurotic Buddhist is a cause or an effect. I used to believe it was no wonder we were so neurotic considering how much time we spend looking at our own minds. Then a friend pointed out it wasn’t that we were any more or less neurotic than others, we, as Buddhists, just noticed it more. Now I tend to believe both are true. It’s like staring into the abyss was said to drive one mad, except that we carry the abyss around with us wherever we go.
Yet, perhaps ironically, we are also already enlightened beings. We’re just on siesta. We’re napping and when we wake up we’ll be the enlightened beings we truly are yet again. In the meantime we look at our mind. We label it and categorize it just as much as we label and categorize and narrate the world around us. And sometimes we think to ourselves in frustration Shut Up Mind!
One day maybe it will, or not.