Relationships are complex and intangible. I can stand next to someone and some sort of a relationship forms. We arrange ourselves spatially, use eye contact cues and follow rules of engagement that change constantly.
In one recent class I was teaching, I suddenly proposed: “What if you simply stopped judging the people you love? What if a person who loves you could look you in the eye and say, I completely accept you? What if that person was a co-worker, or a person next to you on the subway, or in this class?” It was shocking to imagine anyone, even a person who loves me, gazing at anyone else, even me, without judgment. In that moment my students’ eyes were fixed on me and their minds were full of reactions to me and my words. Maybe they picked up on the fact that even I, “the teacher,” was shaken awake to imagine this.
Our very nature is a reactive one. Stilling the waves of the mind, as Patanjali states in the second verse of his yoga sutras, means watching that reactive nature with awareness but not being subjected to its every wave. Can we actually function among others, doing our daily tasks without falling victim to our own stories and in essence blinding ourselves to reality? Reality is, in this case, the understanding that we are connected rather than separate in the realm of all living beings. Of course as long as we continue to think of ourselves as separate entities, our functioning will remain judgmental and attached.
I begin with the concept of patterns in my mental attitudes, behaviors, and judgments. Pausing to pay attention is my first line of inquiry; I can start with noticing whether I am inhaling or exhaling and that slows me down before my thoughts get hijacked by their attachment to a pattern. It is only with a pause long enough in which I can see the pattern that I can recognize it and make choices. In conversation I might literally press the tip of my tongue on the roof of my mouth before I speak in order to give myself time to notice what’s going on in my judgmental mind. The action doesn’t stop, but I can stop my reaction, and that makes it possible to imagine/see/choose a different course.
Buddhist teacher and author Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche speaks to seeing authentic emotions in a June 4, 2010 essay in the Huffington Post (www.huffingtonpost.com/dzogchen-ponlop-rinpoche/emotional-awareness-buddhism_b_598417.html) “If we're going to understand ourselves, much less another person, we have to look beneath our patterns and face our emotions in their natural, undisguised state. When we're stuck at the level of our habitual dramas, it's like going through the day half awake, barely conscious of the world's brilliance. Some part of us may like this half-asleep state, where nothing is too bright, too energetic, or too unknown. But another part of us can hardly wait to be free, to take a chance, to see what's on the other side of the mountain.”
One of the results of my yoga is that I can no longer see myself as a finite object. It is as though I have been transformed into something much more fluid. I can find old patterns, like the marks left by floods on the walls. There is plenty of evidence there of my past behaviors and reactions. Sometimes I repeat the same knee-jerk behavior, but much more often I see it like that faint stain mark and can let the waters out before they rise to that point again. Every now and then I totally surprise myself with something so wide open that I can hardly find any self there at all, just a sense of space and being. Staying in that essential state takes practice. Usually as soon as I notice it, I am out of it. In fact the separation it takes to see it happening, requires that I return to the witness chair. Asana and meditation, slow walks, silences, all help me with that work of staying comfortable while unattached.
So in starting out to think about seeing myself in order to catch my patterns and see others without judgment, I’ve practiced seeing the patterns and begin to understand that they are not me. Sure there are strings of attachment to the stories I’ve created about my life and the memories and the dreams and the forms of others who were around me, but they are my stories, and not me either. It may be that consciousness is even more vast than self-consciousness. This inquiry absorbs my intense, focused attention and helps me to get out of the picture at the same time.