I know that against the backdrop of Sandy Hook Elementary School and those dead school children, the murdered school staff, a dead mother and the dead shooter, the issues of one person seem inconsequential. With this in mind, I dedicate whatever increased awareness I may experience in my life to the welfare of all beings, and may my knowing and growing in awareness add good to the world and reduce harm.
A day or so ago, I found a short writing by W.H. Auden on page 121 of Charlotte Joko Beck’s Nothing Special, Living Zen. It’s part of the chapter “Experience and Experiencing.” It goes through me like electricity, and I have to do what I do with thoughts that resonate. I memorize them. These are Auden’s words: “We would rather be ruined than changed./We would rather die in our dread/Than climb the cross of the moment/And let our illusions die.”
For me to live with those lines skillfully, I need to alter the lines to read first person singular. And because I would not rather be ruined than changed, I say no to being ruined and yes to being changed. Then I tiptoe to the line that has me climbing the cross of the moment. There, I stay and feel deeply what it would mean to let go of these thoughts that have created the world I live in, a world not always the same as the world as it is. Auden’s last line “And let our illusions die” spells out the consequences of being present to reality rather than deluded by familiar patterns. This letting illusions die is scary.
To live free from illusions, I can’t just grab the nearest weapon and lash to the right and thrust to the left to kill them. What’s required are patience, awareness and kindness. Through meditation, I practice moments of each.
Auden speaks of illusion. I have heard dharma talks use the term delusion. By delusion Buddhists mean there is a real world, vast, amazing and terrific. And then there is the world made by thoughts. Unfortunately, people, myself included, tend to substitute what our minds have constructed. We rely on our own interpretations of what is real and it’s usually not what is truly real. I know this is so in my case.
When an experience fits a familiar pattern and arouses familiar feelings, no matter how uncomfortable, I know who I think I am. And when I am interpreting my current life from inside that world, created long ago, I am likely to cause harm. To myself or someone else.
Here is an example from a recent experience ushering the Nutcracker at the War Memorial Opera House in the top balcony, second aisle from the door on the odd number side. Instructed by the head usher when to seat latecomers, I held back some stragglers, but the usher at the door told the usher one aisle down to seat them in my aisle. I told her it was not the right time, but still she led the party down the steep, dark aisle. It’s my aisle, for which I am responsible. I, I, I. Yes, I am angry. So familiar. Who did she think she was? Who did I think I was or was not? Not takes precedent when the past repeats. Not enough, not regarded, not responsible. Not happy. So familiar. So many illusions.
What follows then are 10 illusions that help to shape my inner world. These are illusions I am willing to let die:
1. Beings are separate.
2. Self-stories define me.
3. Life as I know it requires hating.
(Maybe not hating but certainly taking an aversion to
anyone who hurts my feelings. This based on experiencing hurt feelings as meaning
I am of no-consequence.)
4. Comparisons are worth making.
5. Information equals wisdom.
6. Being wrong is wrong
7. Not knowing causes intolerable pain.
8. Only pleasant experiences need apply.
9. Being understood feels necessary.
10. Causing no harm is possible.
And finally, this illusion: Voices with small messages should be silent in view of the randomness, unpredictability and delusion that characterize much of this world. Thus, with humility, no Christ, I offer this small insight into one struggle to “become a mighty kindness.”