You Are What You Cling To
A Zen temple had a tradition. The Abbot, upon realizing he was dying, would put pen to paper and write a death poem, which the remaining monks found comforting.
The current Abbot became aware of his impending death.
He took to his bed, yet wrote no poem.
The monks became more and more agitated, asking, and then demanding that he keep with tradition.
Finally, with a weary smile, the Abbot wrote, and died.
After the funeral, the monks assembled to hear the poem, which went:
Life is thus, and death is thus.
Poem or no poem, what’s the fuss?
A new minister was in the choir’s preparation room. The Opening Music played. The choir entered the sanctuary. Following in a row, each walked two normal steps, then took a giant step, then resumed taking normal steps to the choir loft.
Later, the minister asked why they entered the way they did. He heard, “That’s the way we always did it.”
The minister, curious, asked the oldest member.
She laughed. “60 years ago, the church was drafty and cold. They decided to put in a furnace. They cut open the floor to run the ducts, and ran out of money for two years. The choir members had to step over the gap in the floor for the whole time.
To this day, they just can’t stop themselves.”
This book contains a mass of contradictions, which is difficult for the Western mind to accept. We naturally look for the ‘right,’ ‘correct,’ ‘true’ versions of pretty much everything. Much of what we accept as true or right is simply the endless repetition of an unreflected-upon process of learned judgements.
What do you cling to, and why?
While it might be said that “We are the sum of our experiences,” it is also ‘so’ that we are nothing more than our current experience. This can be a difficult concept to grasp.
At many workshops, people will check in with their stories, professions, experiences, and expectations. I recently participated in a small group. A guy checked in. When he finished, another participant attempted to check in by describing her memory of an experience she had earlier in the day —the experience being about the man who had just checked in.
The leader stopped her, and asked her to limit herself to talking about what was up for her right now—no story telling. The participant got quite indignant. She said, “No one ever listens to me! You disempowered me by stopping me, keeping me in check. People have been doing that all of my life. I want to make a contribution out of my experience and am thwarted. I am angry with you.” The leader encouraged her to continue.
She did, mostly in the same vein, repeating how she hated it that no one ever listened to and heard her. She talked angrily for some time, and then the leaders did some Breathwork with her.
As I watched and listened, I thought, “Her experience of not being heard in the past, (or perhaps her experience of not being heard the way she wanted to be) is causing her to miss that she is being listened to intently in this moment. Rather than her reporting a past event, we are seeing and hearing her as she is, right now.”
Living in the moment is blocked by clinging to the past.
The habit of clinging is so ingrained that we don’t notice we are doing it. People have a profound, life changing experience and perhaps notice a relaxation in their bodies. Then, they remember their past stories, their eyes glaze over, and they begin to re-describe themselves in terms of their past experience. They discount the present on the altar of the past.
They return to being what they cling to.
Bob says, “Mary does [this,] and I do [that.]” The intent is to convey an “a leads to b” relationship between the two events. This is odd.
First, thinking this way means that Bob sees himself as a helpless victim of Mary’s actions. This lets him off the hook, both for his behaviours and for his feelings.
Second, Bob acts as if this supposed causality is innately part of the system—as if there are no other choices available.
And the irony is that as long as Bob thinks this way, he’s right.
On the other hand, since it appears that Mary is not holding a gun to Bob’s head, Bob could do anything he wanted when Mary acts. Bob is not a helpless victim, without choice. Bob renders himself helpless by clinging to the story he tells himself, (the ‘a’ leads to ‘b’ story) as opposed to acting clearly, with no clinging.
In order for us to move past the things we cling to, we must let go.
That this is obvious does not mean that letting go is easy. I’m writing this in the Vancouver Airport. Most Canadian airports I fly out of have a booth, flogging ‘Airmiles MasterCards.’ I had the regular version of this card, so I’d walk past and ignore the entreaties of the nice people flogging the cards. You could say I was clinging to the idea that I knew what they would say, and had predetermined that I wasn’t interested.
Just a little data for you: My flight, round trip from Toronto to Vancouver, cost me 2800 points. I only had 2600, so I had to top up, at a cost of $110 dollars.
Today, I stopped to listen to the pitch about the GOLD Airmiles Card. I did so because I judged the woman doing the pitch was very cute, (so I thought I’d enjoy talking with her,) and because, for the first time (regarding Airmiles MasterCards,) I was curious as opposed to clinging.
Turns out, for $70 bucks, I collect Airmiles 4 times faster, and can fly on WestJet for 1600 points, anytime, anywhere they fly. Hmm. Want to guess what I did?
As soon as I forget that things are as they are in this moment, and then they shift, (shorthand: things are as they are, and then they aren’t) I create for myself the experience of being stuck and helpless. If I have predetermined (in advance and with no evidence) that there is only one possibility or one choice of behaviour, then there is only one possible way the present situation can unfold.
Notice that I said, “in advance and with no evidence.”
To ‘wake up,’ I must remember that past experience has no legislative ability. Just because I’ve refused to listen to Airmiles pitches for years and years, I don’t ‘have to’ this time.
Just because, in the past, you have chosen to think you were being invalidated, does not mean that you actually were. More significantly, it does not mean that you will be invalidated this time. However, if you expect to be invalidated, you will create that experience, no matter what is really going on.
In the past, I have made it difficult for myself to hear and accept warm compliments. Darbella laughs at me about this often (among other things she laughs at me about.) She says, “They all love you. They all hate you. They all love you. They all hate you. Or, you could get over yourself.”
I wanted to change my pattern, so I began a project of listening for compliments. I discovered that I was receiving what I was listening for. I can now say that I hear and accept warm compliments.
I do not minimize, write off, or limit the experience. I do not say, “Well, this won’t last. Soon, I will go back to blowing off compliments.” I say, “I heard and felt this experience completely, and I like this feeling.” I thus am opening myself to continuing to hear what is actually offered.
We are what we cling to.
Old habits die hard. This is why we experience what we expect to experience, despite what is really happening. The only way past this is to notice how clinging to “This is the way I’ve always done it,” gets us the same results.
If I do not like what I am getting, there is only one choice. I must let go of clinging to the old way, and shift what I do. Things shift when I do.