Story-Mind

STORY-MIND

In my faith community story-mind consciousness is called the Parai mind.  Parai is a word meaning final in Sanskrit.  This is because once this portion of our consciousness has decided how to interpret an event, how it will be recorded in our memory, and what we will choose in future circumstances, or contexts that are similar…that decision is Final!  We know that our story is true!  We might even say, “This is my truth, the way it really happened.”

lucy-advice-boothStory-mind wants to do its job and its job is to observe, compare, interpret, discern, and recommend a course of action about everything!  The only time this inner helper might be silent is during meditation.  But even then it is only waiting eagerly to spring into action, at a moment’s notice, assisting us to assess our progress, equate this meditation sit to others we’ve experienced, and to offer an opinion on how well we’re doing compared to others around us.

Why do we need story-mind?  Because it can observe, interpret, discern, compare, remember, and make recommendations.  Without a fully functional story-mind we would be operating like an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient.  In fact these two unfortunate disabilities cause a disruption in the proper functioning of story-mind so that the sufferer can’t remember where they live, who their family members are, or how to perform even the simple tasks they learned as a child.  We need story-mind; however it’s important to understand its limitations and even its handicaps on the spiritual path.

When the Story-mind has been tamed it is a useful assistant helping us remember skillful means, creating a true observation of events (what could a camera capture), developing and carrying out plans for transformation and change. 9781444755732 It can remember the words to songs, remind us of happy events from our past, and assist us to find gratitude in the now.  Story-mind knows how to read, write, and develop compassionate forms of communication, and assist in explaining dharma teachings to ourselves and others.

When Story-mind is untamed, tempestuous, untidy, and undisciplined it holds us prisoner to our past experiences, both real and imaginary.  An undisciplined story-mind is constantly saying, “what if?” and giving us vivid and detailed conjurings of sorrowful, upsetting, and wildly dramatic possibilities- each accompanied by an appropriate emotional response.

 scoldingOur story-mind might just torture us with endless, cruel, nasty, and judgmental voices from our childhood.  These are called “hate voices” and they pretend to want to help us, but in reality they just want to keep us fearful, trapped, and helpless.

Can’t you do anything right?
You knew this would happen if you weren’t careful…
How many times are you going to let this happen before you do something about yourself?
You just had to open your big mouth, didn’t you?
What’s wrong with you…you big baby…buck up buttercup!
See, no one really likes you anyway…why even try?
With a nose like yours you should be in the circus!
Quiet!  If you don’t talk- you can’t get into trouble.
Stop being so needy…what’s wrong with you anyway?
If you had a brain, you’d be dangerous!

And on, and on, and on, and on…

Story-mind does not want to be tamed.  It is important to keep this in our awareness.  It has had free rein for as many years as we’ve been here and it doesn’t want to relinquish control at this stage of the game.  However, story-mind is only one part of us.  It is the “little self” or “ego self” the front man/woman for our fragmented goodness nature.

Taming-The-Mind-Through-Meditation-214x300But there is a Greater Being inside of each of us.  A boundlessly compassionate, abundantly forgiving, immensely powerful Great Self at the core of our Consciousness. 

Story-mind, body-mind, striving-mind, desire-mind, and habituated-mind are all in cahoots to keep us from learning about this Truth.  Every time we come close to believing, touching, or experiencing this Truth- the five minds gang up on us and try to make us afraid.  They tell us that without them to set us straight we would be awful, selfish, terrible Sinners- destined for hell…make no doubt about it!

But wait a minute!  Isn’t the hell we experience because of what those five minds keep insisting is the truth?  And isn’t story-mind the biggest tell-tale of all?  So what have we got to lose if we make the attempt to saddle, bridle, and tame this part of our consciousness? When it is tamed story-mind gives us information, but doesn’t dominate and control what we decide about that information, or belittle us when we become hesitant or confused.

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The following exercises will help begin the domestication process of story-mind.

  1. Ask yourself what are the things you’ve always wanted someone to say to you, but no one ever has?
  2. Make a recording of these things, include anything your inner child needs to hear in order to feel loved and appreciated.  Listen to the recording every day.  Add to it when you think of something else you want to hear.
  3. Think of at least one compassionate thing to do for yourself each day and do it.
  4. Create a set of mantras that go something like this:

When I make a mistake it doesn’t mean I’m a failure, it means I made a mistake.

When I feel sad it doesn’t mean I’m a cry baby or weak, it means I feel sad.

When I make sacrifices for others it does mean I’m a good person, it means I am a person who makes sacrifices.

When I am generous it doesn’t mean I’m a special person, it means I am choosing to be generous.

When I’m not generous it doesn’t mean I’m selfish, it means I chose not to give something away right now.

You get the idea.  We can tame the story-mind by stopping its interpretation of each thought, action, or non-action.  What happened is simply what happened it doesn’t have a meaning, some implication about us, nor is it a significant indication of our worth either good or bad it just is what it is.

 

Reducing Attachments

The goal of a monastic community is union with the Divine as expressed by Great Mother, Great Father, and Great Weaver.  This is only possible as we reduce our attachments to, and preoccupation with, personal goals, desires, wishes, fears, angers, resentments, and needs.  Attachment is defined as having a fondness, liking, or bondage to things, methods, or peopleenthusiasm_webSimplicity, the sought after goal of the spiritual path is the ability to realize we have enough.  It’s creating an uncomplicated life with a minimum of possessions and emotional attachments to self. We do this because we understand that having only what we really need allows us more time and energy to focus on prayer, meditation, and compassionate service.

All of us have attachments.  We have filled our life with connections to people, places, and things.  We do not want to give up most of these components of life.  We are emotionally committed to relationships, possessions, education, status, jobs, money, security, family, friends, and our pets.  Some of these attachments are desirable and have motivated us to do great things, such as become more compassionate, develop our intellect, or care for those who need our help.  However, it’s wise to acknowledge that certain attachments, especially to power (status), privilege (awards), and possessions (money), can make it difficult for us to maintain our core values and moral standards.  Even a life of service can have a hidden agenda- the desire for acknowledgement in this world or the next.

200-2The evidence is all around us.  Our fear of losing our job might prevent us from speaking out against unethical conduct in the workplace.  Fear of losing our independence can prevent us from entering a monastery or taking guidance from a spiritual teacher.  Clinging to financial security might lead us to remain in an abusive relationship or allow our children to be abused. As individuals it’s important to admit that our desire for comfort, financial well-being, our need to be in the know, have our voice heard, our opinions validated, and our contributions appreciated personal can create conflicts with an enlightened, spiritual life.  At some point we have to decide that we have reached an adequate stage of attainment (we have enough) only then can we truly live according to greater ideals and spiritual truths.

Reduction of attachments requires discernment.  And this discernment can be around simple, everyday objects that most people take for granted.  Let’s take cell phones for example – in the modern world such an object appears to be a necessity of life.  However, suppose that the monastery has a land line which can be used occasionally for personal calls and a cell phone that the monastics take with them if they must run errands away from the property.  newcellphonesSince Bill will not be required to travel far distances as part of his duties and will only sometimes be asked to run errands, he does not need a personal cell phone.  He might want one, find numerous reasons why it would be useful for him to own a cell phone, but he truly doesn’t need one.  In attempting to reduce his attachments Bill realizes he has been programed by advertising to desire something he doesn’t really need; so in letting go of this desire he is able to liberate a part of his mind to focus on things of spirit.

When we begin to focus on reducing our attachments the mind launches a series of urgings and arguments that seem perfectly reasonable, as well as justifications for the way we feel and what we desire to have happen.  These energies are Attachments.  Attachments can be positive or negative, affirming or rebellious, inspiring or discouraging- whatever form they take they are a seditious product of the five minds (body, desire, striving, storytelling, and habituated) and their goal is distraction.

Our five minds (little self) cannot imagine that we are seriously considering a disciplined spiritual life, especially a life that will change, reduce, or even eliminate its control.  Little self is that portion of our mind that thinks about SELF, and relate all things to self- “What will this mean to my job, my relationships, and my leisure time?  When am I going to get a vacation, time for my family, or an opportunity to advance at work?  I don’t know if I want to make a commitment it takes too much effort- what if I change my mind?”
When (little) self is terrified it will cease to exist (die) it begins to fight back with every weapon in its arsenal.

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Great Spirit Mother, Father, and Weaver

I bow to your wisdom.
I accept that if personal change were unnecessary I would already be just like You.
Help me, for I am prone to trusting in myself instead of Your Wisdom.
Many times I have come to the resolution
To leave old, bad habits behind and create beautiful new ones.
Many times I have failed.
But, together with you Beloved there can be no failure.
Together with you miracles are possible.
Together with you I can change and become just like You.

This is my promise to you, and to my Great Being who is waiting to be born.
When my little self is hungry, I will feed it with gentle Love.
When my little self is angry, I will seek refuge in your peace.
When my little self is sad, I will focus on my blessings.
When my little self sees lack, I will focus on your many kindnesses to me.
When my little self sees failures, I will remember they are the path to wisdom.
Today I will try to be the Master of my life
So it does not master me.

 

An Unexplored Country

The Buddha taught the principals of emptiness and interdependence as a way to free ourselves from suffering.  On the spiritual path and especially in a monastery it helps to have a basic understanding of these two principals.  Empty_bookEmptiness is not the absence of things…it is an understanding that nothing exists outside of a context.  We exist because we have a context: gender, age, family of origin, a job, an education, a set of beliefs about the world and how it works, and an environment in which we live, i.e. a town, a country, a geographical location.  All these things are the context in which we function.  Because we are not independent of existence outside of a context we are empty and interdependent upon that context.

In our context, our story of life, we have the ability to act and react, judge and respond, ignore what makes us uncomfortable and strive for those things that are pleasing, to avoid danger and create safety.  quality-friendsThis is what we are doing every moment of every day…acting and reacting to the circumstances of our lives both inwardly and outwardly. We become dependent upon controlling our outer or inner experiences so they will be what we need and want them to be. In this pattern we forget that we have a choice about how to think.

Another challenge that gets in the way of community living is when we feel responsible for the emotions of others and need to placate distraught individuals in order to be safe- but disaster is usually the result of this emotional enslavement.  Living the monastic life means that we will have ample opportunity to experience our gloomy, addictive emotions because we will be living with people who are likely to trigger our childhood memories and responses. vpc_clinging If we learn to accept what we feel- knowing it is only a feeling– not a truth- we can begin to free ourselves from suffering.  When we are not blaming those around us for adverse emotional experiences we can free ourselves from suffering.  This is a difficult journey.  It’s difficult because we are already addicted to our favorite childhood strategy and reach for it without thought.  But on the passage to enlightenment we discover that it’s our clinging and attachment to these tactics that cause our suffering- not the people around us.

To climb a mountain we must be prepared for reaching the top.  If we are climbing Mt. Rainier or Mt. Everest we can follow the pre-existing trails and reach the top with determination and planning.  But if we are climbing in unknown territory we must forge our own trail.  When we go trekking into unexplored country we have to assess what resources will be required- mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  As we begin this journey toward our compassionate heart we will need to assess our beliefs, values, survival strategies, karmic patterns, and unconscious desires. DSC09401

Every day, every individual has to engage in activities during which he is determining what he thinks, feels, and wishes to do about a situation or relationship.  Every action we take, every decision we make, and every thought we think consciously or unconsciously is based on our ideals, values, and beliefs.  We create our life story by these methods, solve our problems through these measurements, choose our friends and enemies by these ideals, and construct our karmic future with each decision we implement.  It’s essential that we are moving toward something, not creating another way to feel less-than, guilty about, ashamed of, or create new fodder for inner self-hate dialogues.   Let’s remember that karma is a core value- something we have identified as essential to our well-being.

Karma cannot bind us if we change our mind.  We learn to change our mind by examining our habituated feelings and our interpretation of what those feelings mean.  We may always have the same feelings when we are hurt, frightened, angry, upset, or stressed…but we can choose to interpret them in a new way. Earth-4039 We can discover what need is not being met and what values are not being expressed by ourselves so we feel that we have to react to outer circumstances. Instead of repeating old habits that lead to suffering we can give ourselves permission to acknowledge our values and find ways to express those values even in difficult situations. We may also discover that in attempting to seek out a special someone or place that seems to contribute, grant, or provide us with pleasant emotions will become unnecessary because we can allow ourselves to provide what we require in order to thrive.

Once we understand the responsibility we have for creating our emotional context we will have more energy, ability, and motivation to experience the reason we are in the monastery in the first place.  Remember we chose to enter a monastery to create a life of Prayer, Pohwas, and Peace for the benefit of all beings.  We understood that we wished to be the face of Great Mother, Great Father, or Great Weaver within the world.  We wanted to learn to respond as a Great Being would respond.

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Redefining Our Core Values

Because our life and our life circumstances change it is helpful to be in a constant stage of re-evaluation and redefining our core values, essential needs, and commitments.  However without a trained and committed conscience an individual will find it difficult to see the difference between having a moral standard and walking the slippery slope of expediency.  Doing what is right and not just what feels right is what keeps us on the true path of morals and ethical behavior.

Let’s look at a few examples.

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Jack had committed to visiting a nursing home to read to the elders twice a week.  In doing so he developed meaningful relationships with several of the aging residents.  But now he has an opportunity to take a part time job that will allow him to earn enough money to take the vacation he’s always wanted.  If he takes the job he won’t have time to fulfill his commitment to the people at the nursing home.  What should he do?

Dorothy has recently taken a vow of non-harm but her boy-friend Duncan wants her to go deep sea fishing with him.  img_0016Duncan doesn’t really understand Dorothy’s spiritual aspirations so she’s afraid to tell him about her new vow.  She decides she’ll just go along for the ride- she doesn’t have to join in the fishing after all.  But when they’re out to sea Duncan encourages her to take his fishing rod.  He puts his arms around her and tells her how much it means to him that she’s his special girl, someone he can share his life with. She’s been hoping to get closer to him.  What should she do?

Moral growth isn’t possible without regular evaluating discussions with others we trust.  This means developing a relationship with a spiritual counselor, teacher, or minister who can act as our spiritual guide helping us to remain true to our ideals.  Remember that to truly walk the monastic path or any path of spirit we must assess our thoughts and actions in terms of the spiritual values that form the community to which we belong.

spiritual-transformation-with-meditationThe journey of spirit toward a transcendent ideal never ends; there is always room for improvement. Probably the values of the society to which you aspire are idealistic, uncompromising, and perhaps impossible to fully realize, which is why they are part of a spiritual community.  This may seem discouraging at times; so it’s helpful to think of this as an opportunity to realize your full potential instead of a chance to measure your imperfections.

As you gain skill and even recognition as a spiritual practitioner staying on the path of discipline and moral rectitude gets harder.  The temptations of power and privilege are tougher to resist as witnessed in the story of Bart and Helen. Many are the spiritual leaders who have fallen into emotional entanglements with students, secret love affairs, and the fulfillment of impulsive desires because they felt they were above the common lot.  Constant vigilance is needed to train the unruly human mind to hold the course.

Since it isn’t easy to stay on the narrow way- we need assistance.  Therefore it’s important to associate with colleagues who share our commitment and idealistic values.  This doesn’t mean they are “perfected” beings who never make mistakes.  It means we are seeking to surround ourselves with people of like mind, like goals, and determined purpose.

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Great Spirit Mother & Father I Bow

I bow to those who have reached omniscience in the living body
and teach the road of everlasting bliss and perfect knowledge.

I bow to those who have experience self-realization of their souls
through self-control and self-sacrifice.

I bow to those who understand the true nature of the soul
and teach the importance of the spiritual over the material.

I bow to those who strictly observe the five great vows of conduct
and inspire us as role models to live a virtuous life.