My Dzogchen Buddhist practice emphasizes getting to know one’s mind. In his excellent modern-day, Western-world interpretation of the dharma, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind, the teacher Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche says we live with our minds but hardly know them.
He uses the metaphor of a neighbor you pass regularly on the street. You nod and say hello as you encounter each other on the sidewalk. Eventually, you pause and make small talk. But you never get beneath the surface with your neighbor, or with your mind. You never understand them, their motivations. their habitual patterns. Ponlop suggests specific meditation techniques to observe and understand your mind as you might observe and understand a close relative.
For example, I’ve been noticing how quirky my mind is about visual input. I used to think that I’m not a visual person. I can’t tell you the color on the walls of the room I just left. But I’m learning now how much visual stimuli influence my behavior.
- I finish my breakfast and feel satisfied. Then I notice a banana in the fruit bowl at exactly the stage of ripeness I prefer, so I eat it.
- After I take my morning medication, I place the pillbox where I’ll see it at dinnertime. If someone moves it, I forget to take my evening meds.
- I have two pictures waiting to be hung in the bedroom, but I don’t see them from the time I wake up to the time I’m tired and ready for bed. So they don’t get hung.
- Right now, I’m typing on a laptop computer in my living room, directly across from a Buddha statue. When I look straight ahead, I see it and pause to clear my mind.
- I’ve tried around a dozen to-do apps that all fail because I respond to what’s in front of me and forget to check the app.
You get the idea. Although my visual memory is close to nonexistent, in real time I follow my monkey mind, which responds to what it sees. But I am not my mind just as I am not my body. I don’t need to let a monkey lead me. Getting to know one’s mind, according to Ponlop, is a first step toward becoming free. Although I’ve used mundane examples, I hope you can see how the process can work in all aspects of life.
Now I’m off to the supermarket. Maybe I can stick to my list and not wander the aisles responding to the most interesting displays.
— Mel Pine (Urgyen Jigme)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine