Excerpt from Shambhala Sun article “I want to be Insightful” by Sylvia Boorstein
The idea of no separate, enduring self – emptiness – is a peculiar idea until we have a direct experience of it. It certainly feels that there is a little “Me” living in our bodies that decides what to do, that sees out of our eyes, that realizes it has woken up in the morning. The “Me” has thought patterns that are habitual associated with it, so it feels enduring. If I woke up one morning thinking other peoples thoughts it would be deeply disturbing.
So it was a complete surprise to me, some years into my retreat practice, to be practicing walking meditation, sensing physical movements and sights and smells and heat and cool, and realizing that everything was happening all by itself. No one was taking that walk: “I” wasn’t there. I was there a few seconds later after the “uh oh” feeling of “if no one is here, who is holding me up? I thought, “This is wild! There really isn’t anyone in here directing the show. It is all just happening.” I understood that the arising of intention causes things to happen, and that intention arises as a result of circumstances such as hearing the instruction, “Do walking meditation.” Hearing the instruction was the proximal cause of walking happening. The habit of following instructions, developed since birth, was another cause.
In the years since, the understanding that everything anyone does is a result of karma – of causes and effects – has helped to keep me from labeling people as good or bad. Circumstances and behaviors can change, of course, but at any given time no one can be other that the sum of all of their contingent causes. A student in a class discussion about this topic once said, “when people ask me, ‘How are you?’ I always answer, ‘I couldn’t be better. Because, I couldn’t!”
It’s true. We couldn’t, any of us, be better. In our most out-of-sort days, we couldn’t be better. If we could, we would. Suffering happens, but no “one” decides to suffer.
As a beginning student, I wondered whether hearing about the thee characteristics of experience (impermanence, suffering, emptiness), rather than discovering them for myself, would diminish their impact – that thinking about them wouldn’t count as much as discovering them directly. Today, I know that thinking, pondering, and reflection on them count as well as direct moments of experience. Everything counts.