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Lions Roar : September 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2013 50 Goodness Nose If you don’t like what you see in the mirror, says ELAINE SMOOKLER, you don’t know what you’re missing. “Does this nose look like it should be on TV?” That’s what I’m ask- ing as I view myself from as many angles as my two bathroom mir- rors will allow. I know the Heart Sutra clearly says, “No eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body...” and I get that I don’t ultimately exist. But someone forgot to mention that to my hips, belly, and the other body parts that come under increasing scrutiny when I use a mirror as the litmus test of my value to the world. Even after meditating for twenty years, there are many days when I struggle with difficult thoughts and feelings and I realize somewhere deep inside I’ve tucked away the thought: Meditation should make me feel a lot better than this! On those days, I sit down on the cushion and what bubbles up is a jumble of shaming self-talk. I squirm, wanting desperately to radiate beauty like the dharma teachers in magazines. My hips seem to scream, “Don’t make me laugh.” If someone had told me decades ago that there’d be no escap- ing unwanted thoughts and feelings, I might never have stuck with meditation...or even started it. Back then, I thought I was entering a magical world where problems and self-conceits would melt away into a bowl of brimming joy. Hah! So if meditation doesn’t give you a glow and erase all your confusion—and wrinkles—why do it? That’s a question I’ve asked myself many times. I am calmer, perhaps more resilient, and my sense of humor is better than ever, but dammit, I still have pesky, irritating, noxious thoughts and feelings that don’t feel joyful at all. This can’t be right! Can it? Breathing this in, I sit and say, “thinking.” I look down at my thighs, sigh, take another breath, and again quietly say “think- ing.” I have come to see that there is actually something magical about being able to acknowledge the dark, wormy places within, and come back to the breath. Sometimes life is this kind of meat and potatoes. And that’s okay. As I move off the cushion and onto the street, I see that what everyone wants is to be seen and appreciated, just as they are. I can do that. Open up to it all. Even with these hips and this nose. ELAINE SMOOKLER is a comedic performer and playwright, and the communications director of The Centre for Mindfulness Studies in Toronto. Good, Bad, or Blank? JOSH KORDA on three different ways we look at human nature. There are three separate views of the human mind that are prev- alent in our culture and spiritual practice. All are quite distinct from each other and virtually antithetical: • There’s an ideology surrounding what’s called “inherent good- ness.” This is the presumption that all beings have an intrinsically compassionate and sentient nature that’s been buried beneath a wall of coping strategies and unskillful defense mechanisms (lying, stealing, avoiding, addiction, and so on). In this scheme, spiritual practice is a matter of revealing the decency that’s been enclosed and held back by fear. Enlightenment is very attainable, as it’s simply a matter of disarming. • Another ideology maintains that the mind is selfish from the start, or bearing “an original sin.” We are driven by base survival instincts that lurk hidden behind even our seemingly benign actions. In this view, spiritual practice consists of overcoming or transcending the initial impulses that would drive us toward dangerous acts. Release and enlightenment in this view is quite an accomplishment, as we have to overcome our dark true nature, which is constantly under- mining our progress and leading us astray. • Lastly, there’s the tabula rasa view, wherein we’re born with few if any built-in behaviors or personality traits. Our charac- ter develops as a result of a lifetime’s experiences and interac- tions with others, especially those of our formative years. In this existential outlook, the choices we make are the determinants of happiness or suffering. Featureless by default, our minds are empty vessels waiting to be filled. The chances of enlightenment are certainly greater than the view that we’re deeply flawed, but certainly more difficult than the “inherent goodness” model.