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Neti, Neti (not this, not this)

Even after 20 years of teaching meditation and mindfulness at the San Diego Dharma Center, I still sometimes forget most feelings do not originate within me. At this stage, I feel everything, but what I am most aware of is a deep stillness and peace. When ripples appear on the surface, it’s prudent to investigate. Sometimes these ripples warn us of physical danger. I have a body to take care of, and there is a certain amount of fun to be had by interacting with people, and most importantly I want to take advantage of the opportunity to shine light into this world. So when there is a disturbance on the surface of my mind, if I want to keep my job of being a beacon, I must look and see what it is.

When things become tumultuous, there is the tendency within me, like most people, to want to hide. However, retreat works best when done with a plan to return.

This past week excessive worry about money flooded me. I assumed it was because of the $600 shortage in my monthly household budget. This made sense, since it is a logical conclusion that with less income, there will need to be uncomfortable adjustments. It also meant giving up the idea for now of moving to a home closer to the ocean with fewer stairs. I knew it was coming, and have done my best to prepare. Some generous gifts from my readers have made this preparation, at least in the short term, much easier, as has the release of my new book, Peace with Pain. Then came our tax appointment, and with it another blow to the budget. Not just our current month’s budget because of the taxes we owe for last year, but also to our future budget as a new tax law goes into effect requiring tax withholding on my disability benefits because of my husband’s income. Inside, I spun out.

My energy reserves quickly burned up as the worry filled me, and I became exhausted. At first, I blamed my chronic illness; sometimes it happens like that, where the body decides to call it quits for the day without warning. Usually when this happens, I whine and laugh at the same time and find a good video to watch or I take a nap. As I rested, I pushed the worry out of my mind, but it had found a hook. Whenever we find ourselves hooked by a lower mind state, we lose a huge amount of energy.

I pulled out my journal to write about the feelings coursing through me. I owned them. Instead of dissipating them which normally happens when I write, I cultivated them and made them stronger. The desperation grew thicker. I watched my mind from a quiet space, both fascinated and confused by what was happening.  The next day, I spoke with a friend, whose money issues make mine look like nothing in comparison. We encouraged each other, but still the worry kept creeping in, sucking away my energy and motivation. A part of me wanted to burst out crying.

When the depression and despondency hit, I examined the array of feelings muddying my mind even more closely. I didn’t really want to look, but I knew I had to face it. It felt different from the other times I’ve entered those dark mind states. In a way of speaking, it came towards me, rather than from within me.

With that observation, a laugh burst from deep within my being. “Neti, Neti” The mantra of “not this, not this” rang in my mind.

Instantly I knew the bulk of what I was feeling came from the people in the world. I would bet whoever sat in the tax account’s chair before me owed even more money than we did. We are both transmitters and sponges; we pick up energy wherever we go. Because my mind was already hooked on money worry, I quickly absorbed everything in that chair, and everything floating around in the air within 100 miles of my body related to money worries. Because my attachment to control created a hook, my small worry snowballed, and collected the worry of the entire world. I am too small to carry that much weight. No wonder I felt crushed by it.

Today I let it all go. Even the hook of control inside my mind dissolves. I remind myself, “Neti, Neti.” Not this, Not this. None of this is me.

There is still work for me to do to bring the budget back into balance, but I know it will be easier to see my options now that I’ve put down the weight of the world by relinquishing my attachment to trying to control it.

Before I could not see any options; now windows are opening. Taking care of this high-maintenance body is still my first job; without the body I can do nothing in this world. My volunteer work at Dharma Center takes the bulk of my remaining time, and I could change the structure we have created of a volunteer-based group and take money, but that would pollute our model of a place for pure selfless service. Everyone at Dharma Center keeps the place running as a volunteer, as a form of selfless giving. The money we collect from public classes and membership dues all goes back into the goal of sharing Enlightenment with as many people as possible. I don’t want to change that. This leaves the option of investing more time into my personal projects, which have always been intended not only to share even more Light, but also as a way for me to support my material needs. This website, my books, and the hundreds of MP3 recordings of my classes need to be processed and packaged in such a way that people feel comfortable supporting me through them. There is also the option of expanding my private student program.

I don’t know right now where this will all lead, but by letting go of the attachment to control the world, I am free to explore. I am reminded by the writings of Shankara that I am not and can never be Iswara, the personal God in charge of managing the patterns of existence. I am Brahman – pure Awareness, the very substance of all that is.

Everyone who lives in the world faces challenges, and it’s easy to get caught up in the web of energy built from the thousands of feelings flying around in the air. When we release the attachment those feelings hook into, we are free to work on building a bright, fun life. One way we can do this is to remember: Neti, Neti – not this, not this.


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Published inBuddha Lessons / MindfulnessMeditationPeace with Pain