Noticing the strength of habitual self referencing, reflected in the show of excessive apologising during recent hosting of wealthy English family members visiting us for Christmas, I am prompted to make some resolutions for 2010. Clearly, I need further work on developing loving kindness, acceptance, compassion and equanimity – amongst many other qualities!
It was somewhat unnerving to notice – with the help of my 22 year old and 32 year old daughters – how frequently (read ‘impulsively’) I fell into what I had thought was an outdated habit of internalised ‘put-downs’, expressed externally as apologies for inferior sleeping quarters; inferior, squashed seating arrangements for eating and limited cooking abilities of ‘vegetarian-only’ food!
On reflection, I noticed that I had unconsciously slipped into judging and negatively comparing our simple country house, lifestyle and limited cash supply with the visiting family’s urban, up-market, successful-business-oriented lifestyle, house, clothes, possessions and ready cash.
On a conscious level, I was and am very happy with our values and lifestyle and have no wish to swap places. However, it appears that although we all got on very well together, in a warm, happy, celebrating, sharing atmosphere, at an unconscious level the material lifestyle differences between our two families triggered some of the defensive behaviours learned during childhood.
My childhood family were caught in endless financial struggle, trying to uphold their social place as their material resources relentlessly slipped further and further behind their peers. While my mother struggled to care for the five children and overly large house that was falling apart, my father’s snobbish ‘superior/inferior’ defence, angry criticisms and erratic behaviours became ever more marked.
However much I have always disliked the thought, some of these defences rubbed off on me! The endless criticisms became internalised and often unconscious. I have for many years been targeting for demolition the English, class-based, habits of endless judgement and comparison and so it was sobering to find, so recently, that these particular seeds of karma were still alive and well once watered with a strong dose of supportive conditions!
This brief reflection on one of my less attractive “little me” behaviours during the Christmas period, has provided a good launching pad for a set of new year aspirations. I need to further develop loving kindness and acceptance of myself and others, ‘warts and all!’ What is also needed is a good dose of compassion blended with effort to develop the wisdom to fully comprehend ‘anatta’, the essential emptiness of a self-existing ego-entity, or any other abiding substance. To put myself down shows as much pride and ignorance as comparing myself favourably, or even believing that I am ‘equal to’ the other.
There is no reason for me to despair in response to noticing the continued life in my impulsive self degradations and comparisons. Instead, it is much more useful to notice that I need to remain mindful of these karmic predispositions (or seeds of past action) and, as soon as I notice myself comparing, excusing, judging or criticising myself or others, replace this negative mind state with loving kindness and acceptance so that equanimity develops and the self referencing drops away. As is usually the case, self referencing (or putting myself centre stage and separate) is the root cause of these negative tendencies. The relative truth of the continually changing and impermanent form, socially identified as “me”, must be balanced with the absolute truth of the impersonality, insubstantiality and continual forming and emptying of all existence.
To increase my understanding of this central Buddhist doctrine of anatta is a lifetime aspiration that can be supported by the day to day development of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. The more I can develop these qualities during 2010 the less susceptible I will be to comparing, judging and criticising. What a relief that will be!
If any of you would like to share your new year resolutions, or any reflections or questions arising from this piece of writing, I’d love you to express them in the comments box below.
With very warm wishes for the new year of 2010,