Sharda Rogell
Sharda Rogell

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021
What Drives Our Actions?
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This is an edited version of the Zoom talk I gave for the Wednesday Night Sitting Group on September 15, 2021 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

 

        I’d like to explore a question for us to reflect upon: What drives our actions, our choices? What motivates us into action?

 

Since the pandemic began, the shape of my daily life activities have changed drastically. For many years, my life revolved around traveling to teach at retreat centers in the US and internationally. I was home for only a short while before I would go off again. And now I’m home. I live alone. I have no pets. I spend time mentoring my long time students. I have much more unscheduled time that invites spontaneity, creativity and brings me joy in this newfound openness. 

 

I know that I am privileged in this way. I’m not an essential worker. I’m not on the front lines battling wildfires, or evacuations, or dealing with the surge in unvaccinated patients in hospitals, just to name of few of our current crises. So I don’t take this time for granted.

 

Yet, it allows for me to learn about doing and non-doing, to learn about how to be receptive, to be allowing, welcoming. Rather than being on the treadmill of my life — or sometimes I’ve called it, “the moving sidewalk” where I was doing what I had always done (and it often felt very repetitious), the pandemic pulled the rug out from under my feet. 

 

And now that everything has changed, I’ve become more interested in what’s driving my choices, my actions throughout the day.

 

All spiritual traditions are interested in this question. It’s foundational to what all religions and spiritual traditions are about. What drives us? What moves us into action?  We reflect on this question so we can be better human beings. We are usually pointed towards a God, or a higher power, or an intelligent nature, something greater than who we take ourselves to be. 

 

This question has been fueled by the past 100 years of western psychology brought to us by Freud, Jung, and other great psychologists. They have helped us to understand how the sense of self gets solidified into an ego and how this ego self becomes the driver of our habit patterns and obscures us from knowing this greater reality. A. H. Almaas has contributed greatly to my own understanding of this. 

 

In Buddhist psychology, we look directly at the patterns of greed, hatred and delusion as a way to begin to deconstruct our unskilful habits. This is the path to remove the veil of ignorance and puts us squarely on the path of purification.

 

In our path of practice, we draw on mindfulness to know these mind states well and how they obscure our clear seeing. We learn skills to cut through these patterns so we are not controlled and driven by our ego mind.

 

Without self-awareness our usual way of navigating our experiences is through the ordinary conventional or conceptual mind. We draw on reasoning, will, memory and emotions.

 

Our memory is where our images and ideas of ourselves, of others and of the world get stored. And these thought patterns shape our world view which then triggers our emotional responses. In other words, these thoughts or views filter our perceptions. Our emotions are then fueled by the way we perceive the world and as we know, this can lead to so much confusion, disorientation and harm.

 

Some one who is close to me told me what happened to her and her husband when she was at a music concert recently. They were obviously concerned about staying safe from Covid amongst the large crowd of revelers. They wore their masks at the concert and were shamed for doing so by some of their friends. It’s called mask shaming and it was hurtful. It makes no sense and is arising out of a confused perception about the way things are.

 

We start our practice by cultivating mindfulness so we can become more self-aware and to know how to identify these harmful mind states when they arise. Mindfulness is that which guards the mind from these harmful states. I love the phrase from the Buddha, “Mindfulness stands guard”. 

 

Mindfulness allows us to know the difference between our defensive ego strategies, on the one hand and impersonal mind objects that are arising and passing away on the other. One of my favorite reminders is Joseph Goldstein’s popular saying: “We see everything as empty phenomenon rolling by.”

 

When we first practice meditation and learn how to be mindful and concentrated, we practice quieting, pacifying or silencing the mind. And we discover quite early on how by doing so also quiets our emotional life too. We see our mind and emotions are intricately connected. Sometimes we are more aware of our thoughts and other times, we are more aware of our emotions. Either way, by applying mindfulness and concentration, we can pacify strong patterns that can feel unsettling. 

 

This brings more attention to our body and opens us to its wisdom where we can access other centers of knowing besides our mental faculty, traditionally known as the heart and the gut (or belly) centers. When we live in our head, we have little or no access to these centers.

 

When these centers begin to open in awareness, we feel less constricted, less rigid in both our body and emotional life. We feel more movement, more fluidity. We can feel more alive, even juicy. We can experience more of the wholeness of our being.

 

These are all initial stages. At this point you might feel like there is a path you are following that is guided by an outer authority, whether that’s a teacher or a body of teaching, a tradition. There is nothing wrong with this. They are tremendous supports. For most of us it’s how we arrived where we are now. But it’s necessary that they point you back to yourself to discover the true inner support of your being.

 

When you come back to yourself and your own authority, you start to feel more embodied. You can feel that your heart and gut are more involved, that you are more your own person. You might feel that you are starting to move out of the box, your own self-imposed box, or a box that you found yourself in due to circumstances.

 

You are not relying so much on your mental faculty —on reasoning, emotion, willfulness, or memory. Heart qualities begin to appear. There is more love, compassion, joy and these are supported by insight and equanimity. You feel a way of being that isn’t so attached to preferences. It’s less hierarchical. Things start to have one taste.

 

Now we are not so reliant on images, particularly self images that are often filled with ideals that depend on contrasting and comparing with others in order to know ourselves or to evaluate how we are doing — those, “how am I doing?” kind of thoughts that are often supported by whether we feel good or feel bad about ourselves.

 

Maybe we stop using lists to know what’s right and wrong. Rather there is a knowing, an intensity of certainty and confidence that doesn’t get imposed on others but you know is right for you; a knowing that arises out of an inner authority rather than outer one.

 

This is a different kind of knowing, a knowing from the goodness of our heart and the strength of our gut, where the thinking mind and intellect are in service of this goodness and strength.

 

Cynthia Bourgeault, a Christian mystic and one of the teachers I follow, calls this way of being, “an authentic transmission of knowledge.” She says it is experienced as a vibrational field that is direct; it’s an instantaneous knowing, subject to subject, face to face, which is pure intimacy. There is no intermediary, where the boundaries of two dissolve. No more separation. Just what it is. Now.

 

The wonderful Sufi poet says it like this:   To die into life is to become life. The wind stops skirting you and enters; all the roses, suddenly, are blooming in your skull.

 

Sounds like love to me, like true intimacy — where the heart, mind and body are unified into one loving field. This is experienced as an embodied presence. The dog is wagging the tail, not the other way around.

 

So then it brings me back to my original question —When we are here, what draws us into an action?  Let’s reflect on this together.

 

REFLECTION:

In your journal, I invite you to write down your own personal articulation as you feel into this question, “What draws you into action?, remembering there is no right or wrong. 

See if you can leave the mind behind, with it’s self-imposed ideas and ideals. We haven’t been here before so how can we get it right? 

See if you can let yourself be drawn into this conversation in a way that feels right for you, feeling into it from a unified field of an embodied presence as much as possible.

 

 

 

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