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A SUBSTITUTE LIFE


The literal intersection is in Kathmandu (Thamel), Nepal near the Everest Steak House. One of the reasons that we interrupt the momentum, one of the reasons that we label the thoughts thinking or ask the koan what is this? is to break our identification with the thoughts.

Now, this is one that I never could get. I think the best teachings are ones that you don't forget, but you don't get it. Because, the fact that you don't forget it, you keep trying to understand it. There's something in it that's haunting you. And this is one that I never got: breaking the identification with the thoughts. Not believing the thoughts.

Again, for me, it wasn't something sudden. But, gradually, as I realized just the very simple meditation technique of labeling the thoughts, it began to sort of dawn on me, in a very, very profound way, that I was a lot more than my thoughts. And that my thoughts were creating a whole false reality.

They were basically... what is it that Joko [Beck]" says? She calls it a "substitute life." Substituting this mind invented life for the crummy life you actually have [laughter]. And the interesting thing, it doesn't have to be feeling crummy. It can be just ordinary, just fine, really going smoothly. But, are you there? No way— you're not. Are the mind and body in one place? They aren't. That's the big discovery. They aren't. And then that's why it's so important, when you realize that, to be kind.

So, it takes a long time. I found that the most helpful thing that sort of jump-started this for me, after years and years of it being a koan itself— what does it mean to not believe our thoughts or identify with our thoughts?— was this practice of when I was unhappy not buying into not buying into what I was saying to myself.

Then you begin to realize that what's happening is just what's happening. Whether it's outside or what's being triggered in you, it's just what's happening. And all this other stuff is laid on top of it by the thoughts: the good and the bad, and the right and the wrong, and the should and the shouldn't.

So, what Dale [Asrael] said yesterday is "When you break the identification with the thoughts, suddenly there's space." And I wrote that down because that has been my experience.

That's a hard one, but it's helpful to know it as something that you just know, that when you label thinking and go back to the present moment, being with the breath or the body sensations or sounds, whatever— coming back to the immediacy of your experience— there's the possibility of the very real, that moment has the potential of connecting with space, or opening up the space. Choosing a fresh alternative.

When you don't choose the same old way, the same old stale story line, then there's the opportunity for something new and fresh to present itself to you. The world can open up in an unprecedented way.

Photo by Gregg Eller.
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