Buddhist meditation does a good job of showing us that we are not our thoughts. Observing them come and go, we realize that they seem to have minds of their own. Maybe a better way of saying it is that they march to their own drum beat, or nerve impulse.
If you don’t keep those pesky thoughts in line, they start acting like they own the place, aka your brain, and they start forming ideas, opinions and, gasp, positions. A position is a terrible thing to have. OK, maybe that’s an overstatement. It’s not terrible to have a position every once in awhile as long as you recognize what it is — a position, perhaps based on a few opinions, which grew out of your ideas, which grew out of your thoughts, which you don’t control.
You are not your thoughts, your ideas, your opinions or your positions. A perceptive Facebook post today by the Rev. David Pyle, a district executive in the Unitarian Universalist Association and a military chaplain, had me thinking about that. Here’s some of what he said:
What I am sensing in this political season is a large number of people who have invested their personal identity in the opinions they hold. It means that changing opinions is near impossible, because it would mean changing their fundamental understanding of themselves….
It is also why people cannot accept that their opinions may be wrong, no matter the evidence that is presented… because to accept you are wrong means your “life is a lie.”
If our bodies are not the same from one moment to the next, why should out thoughts be? As Walt Whitman said:
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.
But Rev. Pyle’s second point is the more insidious one. When we see no daylight between ourselves and our opinions and positions, we become dangerous to ourselves and others, to the fabric of our interdependent web of existence. We stop listening to other views because we see them as assaults on who we are: If our ideas have little worth, then we don’t, either. That’s not a healthy place for a society to be.
The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing offer a beautiful guide for healthy living in community. The Second Mindfulness Training: Non-Attachment to Views explains how to avoid letting our opinions control us.
Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as guiding means that help us develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for. We understand that fanaticism in its many forms is the result of perceiving things in a dualistic and discriminative manner. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing in order to transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and in the world.
We and the world in which we live are more important than any idea.
–Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)
–Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine