A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Small Mind, Big Mind

Worldly success is not a measure of how emotionally or intellectually mature we are.  Those of us who suffer from chronic or acute mental illness must not assume that we are not as rich in inner resources as someone who has reached a position of authority.  Inversely, it is just as important for those in positions of authority to not assume that their achievements mean that there is no inner work to be done.

The proper use of power is wonderful; it is the yang element in full bloom.  It gets good things accomplished.  It is strong and firm, yet balanced and just.  It allows for the open flow of communication. The improper use of power begins to erode the strong foundations of good intent.  That's where the real trouble begins, deep inside of us, in our hearts and minds.  Even before one takes any negative action, there is a shift away from the open mind of pure power towards the closed mind of tainted power.  This takes the form of anger, resentment, jealousy or just worry and insecurity.

In Buddhist terms this shift is an example of the preoccupation of "small mind."  This is our ordinary, discursive mind, also called grasping mind or monkey mind.  This is the place of ego which feeds the illusion that one's Self is solid, central, powerful and real.  This is the place where all of us fall into delusion, regardless of our history of mental illness or our various levels of external success.  All of us share in the common humanity of having egos.  The point is not to get rid of the ego, but to get to know it, understand it, befriend it.

Pema Chodron has said that ego comes down to "a slight misunderstanding of the true state of reality" that can lead into interpersonal conflicts, even wars.  This misunderstanding divides us from each other.  If we were to see clearly, we would see that we are all made of the same stuff, and beyond that, we are all interconnected.  Egos put us in the dualistic mindset of "good" and "bad".  Egos set up hierarchies like the caste system from the Brahmin to the Untouchables.  This is the core of the misunderstanding, the erroneous distinction that serves to keep us each to our own country or neighborhood or group.

I have written a little bit about the importance of building bridges between people of conflicting views.  If we can't do it in our daily lives with the people we meet, how can we hope to overcome global conflicts?  That's some of the power I see in taking a Buddhist perspective; it only works individual by individual, from inside out.  The more of us that take small stands here and there, the more of that good power, that Buddha Nature, gets spread around and the deeper the roots go.  It may take a while to see the fruition, but, with patience, I believe we shall.

Buddhist call Buddha Nature "big mind" or natural mind, wisdom mind.  It's the place of inspiration and insight.  It's the place where we can let go of our ego trip.  Small mind wants to "fix" situations and people; it is all caught up in itself.  Big mind lets go of the desires to control.  It goes with the flow of ever changing times and is, as Pema Chodron has often said, comfortable with uncertainty and "the fundamental ambiguity of being human."

Most of us stay somewhat stuck in small mind, but never permanently; there are always windows of opportunity, times of inspiration or insight.  It is up to us to recognize the difference between being all caught up and being in harmony with our surroundings and other people.  The first step is just to see it without doing anything about it.  Just look at yourself as you are and sit with it.  Learn to sit with the discomfort of realizing that you are closed off and stuck.  It is learning to accept yourself and others in the present that allows you to make the transition into big mind with its broad and balanced perspective.   Then you can relax with the uncertainty of things without needing to grasp onto anything to try and "fix" it.  Then you can accept even the people that cause you conflict.

I got caught up in some small mind thinking this past week, but then I realized that I was hurting myself and I opened up, let go into the gradual cultivation of lovingkindness for myself and my old friend.  To be compassionate and tolerant is the proper place for me and her and all of you.  Outer appearances can be deceptive and inner essence can be obscured.  The only way back to clarity is by letting go of superficial judgments and, let's face it, a lot of our judgments are superficial, especially when we measure people and situations based on success or failure.  It's not the judgments that hold us together, it's the purity of our hearts to forgive and be forgiven.  It's love.  What would the world be like without love?  Love is wise, hate is foolish.  Why do so many people proclaim that hate is wise and love is foolish?  It's a misguided, self protective measure that only escalates one's personal insecurity.

Bonds formed when we were young go deep, whether we like it or not.  But the depth of the bond is like pure, fresh water from a well.  It can revitalize and sustain us through hard times and easy times, but we have to go to the well and drink; it won't come to us.  My heart is open and receptive despite the uncertainty.  I drink from the well and hope others will, too.

1 comment:

Karen May Sorensen said...

Dear Kate,

Being comfortable with uncertainty for me boils down to one concept; fear. I fear what is unknown, what is not familiar. Is funny, my distrust of the new and different even extends to the restaurants my husband and I sometimes visit - I'm very reluctant to try a new place. And oh yeah, in restaurants that are familiar I like to sit in the same place.

I have so much fear that a couple of days ago I noticed in a coffee house that the hand that was holding my cup of coffee was weak. Not quite shaking, but still in danger of losing its grip on the cup. And I knew why my hand was weak - I was frightened of the new place and felt like a stranger.

Its odd how uncertainty can free one person and tie up another. After my husband lost everything, his job, his house, his wife, he went through a period of intense uncertainty and found that he discovered the golden moments of life that held value and significance. His world view shifted dramatically and now that he has back all that he had lost, a job, a home, a wife, (well, the home isn't his but he's promised it) he's happiest with the simple things in life. He doesn't need what he needed before and he seems certain that should catastrophe revisit he would survive it and be happy.

I at 19 lost my mind (my biggest life event to date) and now I view that nothing is safe, nothing is certain, and my demise, through unseen events, is only a hand's breadth away. But know what? I don't care. I like life (don't know if I love life because it is hard) and hope it continues but oh well, if it doesn't then that is that. I've detached from my life to a certain extent and view uncertainty as a powerful reality that can dramatically alter life in both positive and negative ways, but its the negative that I anticipate and fear.

I suppose that if I were better and truly detached then I could view uncertainty with less fear. If I was more sensitive to the unchanging core of myself, the healthy, loving, joyful core, I would be aided with an internal certainty in a life of flux. I think my husband's mid life crisis moved him closer to his core and that is why he has very little fear. When uncertainty struck he realized that he was unharmed, and safe even when he was living in a tent in the woods eating cans of beans.

I will admit that besides the fear, there is a small part of me that finds joy in uncertainty. Thats the part that feels life is an adventure. For instance, when I go to the new rather safe, predicable coffee house (every day I feel a little more welcome there) and sit in the same chair each time I never know what I will encounter on the streets of my home town. There is always some sort of interesting detail. The dog, the baby in the stroller, the man yelling, over the past several days each of these things has been in an unusual state, and surprised me, and tickled my sensibilities. I'm so grateful that I live life at a slow pace to notice them and be amused by them.

I think that living in the moment is the key element to weathering uncertain - and finding joy rather than suffering in uncertainty.

All my love,
Karen