At any moment in our day to day lives we can notice that there are three basic perspectives available to us. I think this is an important thing to reflect on because it can make the difference between suffering and not suffering. I use the term suffering as the Buddhists do. They say that pain is unavoidable and part of the human experience, and that suffering is a choice. Most of what happens around us is beyond our direct control and in our humanness we naturally feel pain when people leave us, when we or others are physically or mentally ill, when we witness behavior that causes pain to other creatures or the devastation of the natural world. Suffering however arises from the resistance of pain when we mentally push against what is.
So as I was saying at any moment there are three perspectives available to us.
The first is simply noticing what is. It’s opening our awareness to the details of this moment as they are. This includes sounds you are hearing, how your body feels, emotions that are arising, thoughts that are passing through your mind, how your breath is moving through you…
The second perspective is noticing the part of you that is pushing against the details of this moment as they are. In just about every moment if you are quiet enough, you will notice that something in you is pushing against it in some way.
The third perspective is the one that is capable of holding both other perspectives with gentle and loving attention. The spiritual path is about developing our capacity to live in this third perspective.
You may think that you’ve heard all of this before but recently I had some insights into where we often get stuck that created an opening for me and my attempt here is to convey that to you as best I can.
The first thing you can do is to notice for yourself these three perspectives as they move through your life. My encouragement is to make a practice of it. Find out for yourself. Use a situation that is causing you to suffer as an exploration ground of these three perspectives.
In the first perspective, you are simply noticing things in their raw, un-analysed state. As they are. Period. This takes great humility, as well as a deep willingness to cease cherishing our thoughts for even just one second! Beyond that we must open our curiosity wide enough to include everything: comfort and discomfort, thoughts we are proud of and thoughts we’re are not so proud of, challenging emotions as well as light and easy emotions, things we want to see and hear as well as thing we would prefer not to see and hear.
Enter the second perspective. If you are quiet and open enough you will notice that stories, interpretations, conclusions, arguments, are being generated at a frenetic pace! If you look a little closer you will see that the mind creates stories that somehow make what is happening feel more lined up with our conditioned view of ourselves, others, or the world. These stories also serve to protect us from pain. We choose a hopeful story to keep us from feeling the fear of the unknown. Or we choose a story that keeps us in a level of pain that is at least familiar, and therefore relatively comfortable. So sometimes we choose a sad story to avoid feeling the fear of lack of control that is beneath that. Or we choose a judgmental story to avoid feeling the self-hatred that is beneath that. Or we choose a rational story to avoid feeling at all. Also, if you watch closely enough you’ll notice that the same challenging situation will generate a variety of different stories that take turns surfacing depending on what our psyche needs to soothe it at that very moment. Finally, when none of the stories gives us lasting relief we turn to the many distractions we have available to us, and there is no lack of them in today’s world!
It’s helpful to really get familiar with this second perspective and to notice for ourselves that the mind is a busy little monkey! Spinning, spinning, spinning stories and explanations and plans. Poor thing! Where we get stuck, I believe, is that instead of seeing this tendency as part of our humanity, and a natural and innocent drive to protect the false self which we’ve worked so hard to create, we begin to judge it. We begin to now make stories about how we shouldn’t be telling stories, how we should be better at being present, how unaware we are, etc.
The third perspective is the healing perspective. It sees both what is happening as well as what the mind is doing with it, and it holds it all with affection and kindness. This is a moment by moment endeavour, not something you just get and then it’s done. It takes a certain amount of discipline, but this can actually be an effortless discipline that arises from a deep longing to liberate ourselves. You can ask yourself in any moment to notice the raw details, as well as what the mind is doing with them. And then lean back just a little and notice what’s noticing both perspectives.
As you gently fall into the third perspective you may sense a generosity, a spaciousness, a freedom, and a relaxation in the body, that is always there waiting to be rested into.