It’s been a great summer at least weather-wise. Don’t get caught up in the future. Enjoy the summer now while you still can. Sometimes it is our tendency to fantasize about the future or reminiscing on the past that makes us miss the present moment.
Just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another, so too, that which is called thought, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night.
— The Buddha
Have you ever caught yourself comparing yourself to others? If I am honest, I have to admit that I have. At least I can sense the impulse — the tendency — to compare myself to others. This is a form of conceit. I define conceit as that activity of the mind that compares itself with others because all forms of this of thinking — whether it is I’m better than or I’m less than or I’m just the same as — is rooted in a feeling of self, or the “I am.” This conceit is probably one of the most deep-rooted forms of conditioning we possess. In Buddhism this type of internal activity is called the monkey mind.
Many people mistake insight for change, but this is a faulty notion. For example, we may understand that conceit may be rooted in a concept of a self that does not exist, but the habit to compare persists. The one thing that many discover early on their path is that what we normally call reality is actually only one aspect of a larger reality. There is a deeper experience outside of our individual experiences in the ebb and flow of our rushed lives. If you practice Buddhist meditation, for example, you quickly realize that the stream of thoughts we take to be ourselves is momentary — fleeting and constantly changing. If we make the effort to experience this thought stream without identifying with it we realize very quickly that we definitely are not our thoughts.
The best antidote to conceit I have come across is to bring to it a clear awareness and focus on the fact that this stream of consciousness is constantly changing. I’ll give you an example of the monkey mind gone amok. While an undergraduate, I participated in an experiential exercise as part of a course. Part of the instruction was to in complete silence observe our thought-streams — the internal dialogue — without giving in to the habit of commenting or passing judgment. In effect, this was a form of meditation.
After a while, I noticed some people were jotting down notes in their notebooks. I quickly surmised that these people were doing this wrong. The instructions were clear: no communication, complete silence! After a while, I began to doubt myself and began thinking that maybe it was I who was getting it wrong: perhaps I was missing something essential that the note takers had grasped! Back and forth I went in this way until the exercise was over and I discovered that the note taking was neither right nor wrong. Some people were merely jotting down notes so that they would be able to relate the experience more accurately. Yet, I spent the whole time going ruminating over whether I had gotten it “right” in comparison to the others. LMAO!
I think what’s most useful is to begin to recognize that the comparing mind, the conceit of “I’m better than” or “I’m less than,” can be the source of a lot of insanity. It has the power to make us feel separated and apart from others and reinforces the myth of a separate self. I keep things simple and I follow the formula that love is an opening up, while fear is a contraction. The myth of a separate self is a psychological and physical contraction.
When we bring a clear awareness (not analysis!) to the monkey mind, we can begin to learn to be with it in a friendly way, without being caught up and identifying with it. When we experience the stream in this way, it simply becomes another empty thought, which we don’t have to condemn nor believe as they pass through the landscape of our mind like so many clouds. The mind stays free. Or as we used to say a long time ago: free your mind, your ass will follow.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…