On Being NobodyDownload
On being nobody; our situation consists of: nothing at the core, emotional reactions from roles, world of stories; tools: black box, middle way, interdependence; closing.
[Laughter] Rolling? Okay. What I want to do in this last period is introduce three tools to you. And I’ve titled this section On being no one, or living that way. Now, you may think this is a very strange thing. How can we live and function in the world and not be anyone? Well, the first thing is to recognize that all of the three views that we’ve looked at, who we are, who am I, all operate. And there is absolutely nothing you can do about any of that. That is like the ground on which we have to formulate our approach to life.
We live in a world in which people understand what’s going on through stories—stories about themselves, stories about us. We have our own stories about ourselves. We have our stories about them. We’re going to grow up with stories. The stories are always going to be there. We may dream of a day where we can have the story of having no story, but that will still be a story, etc., etc., etc.
The problem arises when we feel or believe—believe would be—that the story is what is. And that’s it. And now we only interpret things in terms of the story. The fact is that when there’s a story, there’s always stuff left out. And what doesn’t figure in the story—and this is very, very important, we covered this in the Money and Value workshop—whatever isn’t in the story is assigned the value zero. I misspoke a little bit when I said it’s left out. It’s not actually left out, it’s assigned the value zero, which means that it doesn’t get any attention. I want to give you two examples of this which affect what’s happening in this country quite deeply.
One of them, which we also covered, is the tendency to view everything through financial terms. We have the term gross domestic product. Gross domestic product is the sum of all economic activity, and it defines how well the nation is doing. This means that good parenting is less valuable to the nation than childcare. Why? Good parenting doesn’t generate any economic activity, so it has zero value in terms of the welfare, the well-being, of the country. Childcare generates jobs, so it has positive value in terms of the welfare of the country, or the well-being of the country. So by the very measure of the well-being of the country, we’re discouraging good parenting. That’s just one example. There are hundreds across the board, with healthcare, you name it, education, etc., etc., etc. That’s one example.
Now, what was the second one? I’ll have to come back to it. It’s slipped my mind. So this conventional experience, there are going to be stories. They’re there. That’s one. Second, but we don’t have to believe that they’re actually true. There are other ways of looking at things. And when you change the way you look at things, it leads you to do different things.
The second point is that when we really look, there is nothing at the core. Now, some of you may take issue with that. The point—one of the main features of Buddhism—is that one is encouraged to investigate this. And when you investigate this, you need to have three things to do so. You need to have the willingness to investigate it, you need to have the know-how to investigate it, and you also have to have the capacity. If you’re drilling a hole through wood, you not only have to know how to hold the drill, you also have to have a sufficiently powerful drill to be able to drive the drill bit. And one of the principal functions of a meditation practice is to build the capacity for attention that allows us to penetrate, or go beyond, our ordinary way of interpreting experience.
Whenever I talk about non-self, whenever I talk about emptiness, there’s always at least one or two people who get very anxious and resist really strongly. And I used to get into arguments with them, and get out all my logical guns and things like that, and eventually came to the point that that just didn’t work. Because what these two people were doing was actually expressing the fear and anxiety in the whole group about this. Because it’s very, very deeply threatening. “I don’t exist? What do you mean, I don’t exist?” Well, you don’t exist in the way that we ordinarily think we do. And when we develop what is primarily the capacity in attention to do that, then we begin to experience a very, very different kind of freedom, because we aren’t limited by the stories that I was just talking about.
The third point has to do with roles and emotions and so forth. That’s what we went through. Family conditioning is where an awful lot of emotional material is laid down. And I was really struck—I was not expecting it—by the switch that was experienced when we went from child to sibling. It was like, whoo [a sound like wind rushing through]. Who turned off the air conditioning there? And so all of that emotional material is right up. When we’re in different roles, people expect different things of us, and we expect different things of ourselves, so we move into very, very different kinds of behavior. And when we go through all of those different situations, we exhibit very, very different kinds of behavior, you know. And they come up unpredictably and so forth, and then we just, as it were, switch personalities. And that’s it.
So this means, now we’re going to function in different roles in the course of our lives. We aren’t always going to be in the same role. We have many, many different roles we function in, so we can’t do anything about that. And we can’t do anything about what actually arises in experience. We have this notion in these days that, you know, we can create our lives. Well, it’s true only up to a point. But one exercise that I often do is the light bulb game in which I have two people pair up. One explains to the other how to change a light bulb. And the other interrupts them with the phrase, “I don’t understand,” at the same point, five times in a row.
It’s a total simulation. Everybody knows what’s going to happen. But by the fourth or fifth interruption, the person who’s being interrupted always feels, “This person is stupid! What don’t they get? I’ve explained it. What kind of ignoramus are they?” And they’re getting angry and frustrated. And the person who’s doing the interrupting, by the fourth or fifth time, is always feeling, “Cool, I’ve got power here. I can drive this person nuts, and I don’t have to say a word.” [Laughs]
And these are emotional reactions. And it doesn’t matter how much detail I give on the set up—those two emotional reactions always arise. That’s how we’re constructed, in a way. So, we’re going to have emotional reactions. The thing is, how are we going to work with these three things: emotional reactions in different roles are going to arise; there’s nothing at the core, and there’s a whole world out there which lives and thrives and depends, to a large extent, on stories. Okay. That’s the situation we’re in.
So the three tools that I’ve found helpful are the black box, the middle way, and interdependence. Now to understand the black box, the first thing we have to appreciate here is that we live in two worlds. Okay? The two worlds here are the world in which we think we live and the world in which we actually live. Okay?
So I’m going to describe one of these, but I’m not going to say which it is, and I want you to tell me. Family, career, education, birthday parties, celebrations of various kinds, beginning and ending relationship, doing things with people, enjoying doing things with people. Which of these two worlds? You know, making progress in our careers, living to a ripe old age, etc.
Student: The world in which we think we live.
Ken: Yes. This is the world in which we think we live. What is the world in which we actually live? Hmm?
Student: The moment.
Ken: Can you be more specific?
Student: Right at that time.
Ken: The world in which we actually live consists of only three things: thoughts, feelings and sensations. By sensations I mean all of our sensory input, so touch, taste, smell, form, etc., sights, sound. Now, the world in which we think we live is constructed out of the world in which we actually live. [Drawing] So there’s the world in which we actually live. It’s in blue there. And you’ve got your camera?
Cara: I do.
Ken: Good. And here’s the world in which we think we live. Okay? We’ll put T for think, and A for actual. Now just an idle question here, what percentage of your time are you in this world versus this world?
Students: [Unclear] five percent…
Ken: Intentionally, yes. How many would say that you’re in this world more than five percent of your time? Okay. [Laughs] We spend most of our time in this world. Okay? There’s a very interesting feature that I should have touched on, okay. In this world we’re used to exchanging, giving, take, sharing things. Like we can share a book; we can share a CD, share a movie. You know, I can give you a book, I can give you a flower, or I can give you all kinds of gifts. You can give me things. In the world in which we actually live, is giving, receiving, sharing, or trading, or any form of exchange possible?
Okay. This is very important. The black box approach is based on living in this world. Please note, this world is included in this world. So you’re not leaving this world, but you’re actually living in a larger world in which you know your constructs to be constructs. And so you aren’t limited by them. Because when you’re in this world, that’s where you get limited by the stories. Are you with me? Making sense, Christine? Okay.
So what does the black box actually look like? When you have a difficulty with somebody, and you’re telling someone about this…talking about this with a friend, what is the dominant pronoun that you use?
Ken: They. “They’re doing this. They’re doing that. They’re doing this. They think this. They think that. I can’t get anywhere, because they’re doing this, etc.” All right? When you’re having a problem with someone and you’re speaking to them directly, what is the dominant pronoun that you use?
Ken: Yes. [Laughs] You know, “If you would just understand what I really want, then everything would be fine.” You, you, you, you, you. All right? That’s what I said to Cara at the beginning of this. You know, “If you just read my mind, probably everything would be fine. It’s all your fault.” Okay. Now, this is living in this world. And it’s actually living in a story about this, because do you actually know what is going on in the other person’s head?
Ken: No. You never know. So the black box…I’m sorry, just to step back, [turning page of chart]. So [drawing] they’re used to my wonderful artistry these days. So we have two people interacting. This person—[drawing] use different colors here—has one idea of the interaction—not yet—and just to make it very confusing, this person has another idea of the interaction. What is the relationship between these two representations? Pardon?
Student: The black box?
Ken: No, I haven’t got to the black box yet. What is the relationship between these two representations?
Ken: Yeah. They may be completely different. We have a wonderful case of this with the Dalai Lama, with Tibet and the Olympics. Because from the Chinese point of view, it’s a completely internal matter. This is their country. “Why is everybody kicking up a fuss. There must be somebody big behind this, because this could not be happening spontaneously, because they’re all actually happy Chinese citizens. Therefore there must be an outside agitator. It must be the Dalai Lama, etc.”
From the Dalai Lama and the West’s point of view it is, “You’ve occupied this country, and we’re doing our best to keep violence at a low level so nobody really gets hurt. But you’re coming in with all your goon squads and beating everybody up. And this is a horrible thing. And we want you to talk to the people that can help make it better, and at least talk to somebody.” Now, if I was the Chinese leader, and I got a phone call from Bush saying, “Please talk to the Tibetans,” I would say, “I’m happy to do that as soon as you talk to the head of the Sioux tribe.” And of course, Bush would say, “What?” But that’s, but that’s how the Chinese look at it. So they have two completely different views of this. There can be no rapprochement or resolution in these circumstances. And it’s very tragic. A lot of people are getting hurt.
The black box theory, or approach to things, is, “Get out of your idea of what is going on, because it’s a story that you’re living in.” Okay? What do you do instead? What you do instead [writing, drawing]…Here you have this interaction. Now, what’s over here, that’s in the black box. You cannot know it. It’s impossible. If you think you know what’s going on in there, you’re just living in a story. What can you know? You can know what’s going on in your own experience. That’s what you can know, is your own experience. And the way that you live being no one is you assume nobody else exists. You don’t exist, so let’s share the bounty, nobody else exists either. You only have your own experience. And what you’re doing is addressing imbalances in your own experience.
Now let me give you two—and this time I do remember both—instances of this. One you’ve heard me talk about many times before. Some of you have, anyway. There’s a duck sitting on a clutch of eggs. Every now and then, she gets up, turns all the eggs over, and then sits down again. And the result is that the eggs are evenly warmed, and they hatch properly. Question: how does she know when to turn the eggs over? Well, she knows when to turn the eggs over when she gets too hot. She turns the eggs over. Now the cool side is up. She sits down again. She’s quite happy. When she gets too hot again, she turns the eggs over. So this is paying close attention to her experience.
Several months ago, I was on a phone call with someone who’d called me up to consult about a business situation they were in. He’d started a business, and invited a couple of women that he knew into the business. And it had prospered. They’d done very well. He wanted to get out of the business, and was trying to negotiate a buy-out price which he felt recognized what his contribution was, etc. And they were getting absolutely nowhere. And he was very upset. And he was just feeling very, very unappreciated about this. You got the picture?
Okay. Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? So he spent, you know, half an hour with me going over and giving me all the details, etc., etc., etc. And here’s where I applied the black box approach. When he’d finished, I didn’t know what to say. There wasn’t a single piece of advice I could think of. Now, those of you who’ve consulted with me know I’m actually pretty good at coming up with pieces of advice. But I was a complete blank. That’s what I started paying attention to.
I just sat with that. And this is all on the phone, so after about three or four minutes, and there’s not much going on, I said, “You know, for the life of me, it just feels like I haven’t got the whole picture. There’s a piece missing here, I think. Do you have any idea what that is?” Long silence. “I had an affair with one of them two years ago.” Ah, now everything comes together. And we could resolve it from there. But that is an example of paying attention to your own experience.
So someone is expressing upset with you. What do you ordinarily do when somebody is angry and upset with you? Pardon?
Student: Get defensive.
Ken: Get defensive. As was it Kenneth Galbraith who said, “When we encounter a situation which is contradictory to how we are thinking, we either change our minds or present a proof of why we are right.” Most of us lose no time at all in preparing the proof. Or the argument or whatever. So that’s the first thing we do—we get defensive. What happens when we get defensive?
Ken: Yeah. We stop listening. What realm do we move to? [comments about microphone] Okay. What realm do we move to? The hell realm, okay? How well can you function from the hell realm? The only way you can see things is in opposition. Okay? How conducive is this to working out some kind of interaction? Okay. So, what happens when you are in opposition? You go into that experience, and you experience all of the stuff. Now as I said earlier, there’s nothing you can do to stop that from happening.
These are reactions. It doesn’t matter how appropriate or inappropriate they are, they just arise. That’s why I gave that example of the light bulb game. Everybody knows it’s a complete setup, and yet these reactions and these ways of viewing each other just arise every time. The same with those roles that I went through: tops, middles, bottoms, and customers. The same behaviors, the same things, just arise every time. There’s nothing you can do about that. What you can do is pay attention to your own experience and not be limited to the options that that particular story is presenting. And the way you do that is forget about all your projections. That’s the black box. That’s all ideas you’re putting on something. Pay attention—acute attention—to your own experience, and let that inform you.
Now I was giving a guest lectureship out at Claremont Business School—a friend of mine has a course in meditation in the business school there—and in one of them I’d given them a bunch of questions to use in interaction, and I’d asked for a couple of volunteers. And one person was saying, “Okay, I don’t know which one of these questions to use.” And they’d had some training in meditation, so I said, “Okay, go to your body, include your emotions, and be completely in your experience.”
And he went right there, [finger snap] and he picked the right question just like that. And then he looked completely bewildered. Why? Because I think it was the first time he’d experienced knowing without relying on thinking. And he was just like, “What happened there? How did I know that?” And he was really, really befuddled.
The kind of knowing that we’re talking about that you need to rely on here, is not the conceptual mind. You’re not going to be deducing what it is. Because once you move into deduction, you’re back into various stories. And they’re always dangerous. Because the stories select different things and leave out different things. And you have no idea. The idea with the black box approach is to open to the totality of your experience. Now some of you say, “Well this means you’re going to feel yourself.” Well, if you find that vocabulary useful, good. But you aren’t simply relying on emotion. You’re relying on your body sensations as well as your emotions, as well as your whole knowledge of the situation. You’re including everything. Not just any one thing. So it’s not just emotional stuff.
Other people say, “Well, you’re relying on intuition.” Well, intuition is a very vague term. And it’s used in different ways—NLP’s [Neuro Linguistic Programming] built a whole bunch of stuff out of it. But this is really relying on the natural knowledge that is our human heritage. And what you’re doing is learning to live out of that natural knowledge by just coming back into your experience, being in it completely, and seeing what arises. Now there’s a very important point here. How many of you enjoy the experience of opposition? I’m just using that. Some people, yes. [Laughter] Okay. What don’t you like about it? Anybody?
Ken: It’s separating?
Ken: Too much work. Too much energy. Sometimes. Sometimes engaging is actually less work than all the other stuff, but that’s another matter. Okay?
Student: If you’re…well, if you’re not into confrontation, it’s usually confrontation—
Ken: Could we have a microphone? You’re giving a longer answer. Right here.
Student: If you’re not into confrontation…I mean typically it involves some aspect of confrontation, and…which can…for me, is uncomfortable.
Ken: Okay. Now that’s exactly right. But being me—I have to be me—what is confrontation?
Student: Going against.
Ken: “Going against,” you say. What is confrontation?
Student: The construct.
Ken: It’s the construct of what?
Student: It’s a story that you build around a feeling.
Ken: A story that we build around a feeling. Actually more than a feeling. It’s a way that we’re interpreting our experience. And what I want to suggest is that we’re uncomfortable with confrontation, because there’s a very specific experience that we don’t want to experience. Okay? The point, and I could go into this in a lot more detail, but this is probably not the time and place to do so. All of the stories that we have about life—well, I won’t say all of them, but let’s say ninety percent of them—arise because they’re ways of interpreting life that take us away from feelings or experiences that we don’t want to experience. That’s why we construct it. Because what’s the one common feature of all of our stories? Who is the hero?
Ken: Whether we’re the victim hero or the successful hero, we’re the hero of every one of those stories. Isn’t there something suspicious about that? Okay. So all of these stories are carefully constructed to distract us, or deflect us, from a very specific experience. If you could actually experience that, what would confrontation feel like then?
Student: Not maybe good or bad, but just what it—
Ken: Please. [Requesting microphone for student speaking]
Student: Maybe there wouldn’t be the judgement attached to it, but it wouldn’t be good or bad. It would just be what it is.
Ken: It’d just be another experience. In other words, it’s just part of all of this. Okay? So this is one of the key abilities you need in order to use this black box approach. You have to be willing, have the know-how and the capacity to experience whatever arises in your own experience. That way you can open to the totality of it. And out of that totality—and this is actually Buddhist theory, but I’ve found it to be true in practice—a knowing arises in which you not only know what to do, but you also know how to do it. And it’s completely natural.
Okay? Any questions about this, this one very important tool? First off, does this make sense to you? Okay. Can you imagine doing this at all? Okay. Yes?
Cathy: I can imagine doing it if I had a TiVo that could pause things while I tried to figure out and get connected with what I’m doing. A lot of times it’s like in retrospect I can kind of—
Cathy: See it. But in the moment it’s really—
Cathy: Tough to connect to that experience.
Ken: Now, Cathy is raising a very, very good point here. One of the things that I do over and over again in my individual consultations is people come in with either something they’re anticipating or something that has happened, which they are not happy about. In both cases, we’ll play through, exactly as you’re describing, the TiVo version. Except if it’s in the future we’re just playing through it as…things like that. And what I’m doing is tracking exactly what they may or may not be avoiding in their experience. And when I detect that, then I say, “Okay, what’s that? Can you experience that?” And so many times first there’s like, “Ah, I don’t want to touch that.”
Which may be…sometimes it’s about being celebrated, and some people are really uncomfortable with being celebrated, you know, and all that joy, etc. And other people it’s like a bit of anger, a real deep anger or deep shame or something. And there’s all kinds of possibilities. But once they touch it, “Oh.” Then it’s very interesting what happens. The first thing is, almost always mind and body both relax. Even if it is very uncomfortable, mind and body both relax. And that’s what I’ve found when people touch what is true. Mind and body both relax. The second thing is, once they touch it, oh, eighty percent of the time, they know what to do. And it’s absolutely appropriate. The other twenty percent of the time we have to figure out something, and we do some more brainstorming together. But it is the significant majority that once they’re able to touch that experience and stay in it, then something in them knows what to do. And that’s how it is. Okay.
So this is the black box approach. Any other questions or comments before we move on? Frances. Microphone here.
Frances: Well, what I’ve found to replace the TiVo—because I work from home, and I do most of my calls over the phone—is the mute button, and [laughter] I have found that actually I…because I realize that when certain people call I can see it, and I…automatically in my head I’ve got a picture of how the meeting is going to go.
And I have one client—and I’ve been consulting for eight years—who’s without a doubt the worst client I have ever had in my career. And I’m the third consultant on this account, the other two having quit, and so they’re a very difficult client. And now I try, like when I see their number come up, it’s like my automatic reaction is, “Oh my god, not again.” But you know, I try, like…and if I feel really irritated, I hit mute, and I take a few deep breaths. And then I go back from mute, and I’m like…and when I…I actually have yelled at the I.T. department once, and I realized then, “I’ve gone over the edge.” Because I view confrontation like…I avoid it like the plague. But when I…I’ve only yelled in my entire career three times at someone, and then I know I personally have gone over the edge, and I need to step back.
Frances: And just your other comment. I did visit a company a few…a couple of months ago which we were selling to. I’m the consultant. I’m supposed to help them with their business. I sat with the marketing department for two hours. And I walked away and my intuition was telling me, “It’s over. We can’t help this company.” But I’m the consultant, and I don’t want to go back to my boss and tell him that. Because I think, “I can’t help them.” But my intuition says it’s over. And I was never so relieved when two weeks later they filed bankruptcy and they closed down. But, you know, it was my intuition that that was what was going to happen. But I couldn’t tell anyone in my company, because they were like, “What do you mean you can’t help them?” Because we couldn’t! But—
Ken: Beyond, beyond hope at that point. Okay.
Frances: It was [unclear].
So as Frances and Cathy both pointed out, to learn this seize every opportunity to buy yourself time if you need it. And there is nothing like closing your mouth. It does two things, I’ve found. When you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. The worst thing you can do is start thinking out loud. Because that’s just going to give them all kinds of projection material and things like that. But what happens, and this is just a very practical thing, what happens when you close your mouth and you go [unclear]? One, you’re buying yourself time, and you’re just allowing yourself to think. It’s what I did on that phone call, I just went, “Okay.” The second thing—this is not part of your intention, but it happens—the other people feel that you are really listening to them, and you’re really thinking about what they’ve said. So it actually acts as a net positive. Okay?
One of the techniques you can use—and I strongly recommend you to do this to help you stay in touch with your experience moment by moment—is when you are talking, listen to the sound of your own voice as if you were listening to another person. Because you will hear so much. One of my students in Newport Beach, it was a group, I gave them this assignment. They didn’t do it, so the next week I growled at them.
And the following week this woman came in early, and I said, “So what was it like doing this?” I said, “Did you do it?” And she said, “Oh yes.” “And well, what was it like?” And she just looked at me like, “She never shuts up.” It was the first time she’d actually heard. She’s a very talkative person. Once she started talking, she’d just go on. She actually heard it. So, this was useful.
All of these things are facets of being completely in your own experience. Most of us, when we’re talking, are not listening to ourselves. We’re too busy thinking about what we’re going to say next. We’re not actually in our experience. And if you only do that, that’s going to be huge.
Okay. Second tool. [Writing sounds] Now this is very important in terms of opposition, in terms of imbalances in relationships, and whenever you encounter things that seem to be in conflict—and I want to emphasize the seem to be in conflict. The middle way is formally defined in Buddhism as not falling into an extreme. It arises, or the situations arise, because we consistently tend to think in terms of either/or. And one person once reduced the middle way to the following aphorism, “The tyranny of the or versus the inclusiveness of and.”
Now, over and over again, if you replace or by and, you’re going to get a completely different result. Several years ago—I mean about 20 years ago now—I was faced with a situation in my spiritual practice and the framework I was working in where either I had to go along with what I was being asked to do or compromise my values, my personal values. That was a classic either/or.
And somebody said, “Well, don’t do the or.” And I went, “Huh?” Because I saw these things as absolutely opposed to each other. They were mutually exclusive. It was either this or that. And this person said, “Just say those are the two things. One: you’re not going to do exactly what they want, because it does compromise your values…” Oh, sorry! Compromise values or rupture the relationship. Sorry, I didn’t frame it properly. So that was either compromise my values or rupture the relationship. And so the person said, “No, you’re not going to compromise your values, and you’re not going to rupture the relationship. Now what do you do?”
Well, when you have things that are seemingly in conflict, and you have that either/or thing, and you put and there, you’re now presented with a new world which you couldn’t conceive of before. Because the way that your world was structured was either this or this. But when you put the two together, now you’ve got a different world. To put it this way, you had one [writing sounds] world, A, and one world, B, which were irreconcilable. But by crossing out the or and putting and there, you now create a third world, C. And that challenges you to think, “Okay, what, how do we operate in that world?” And in this situation, I came up with a strategy which actually allowed me neither to compromise my values nor to rupture the relationship.
So, this is the technique of the middle way. You include both extremes all the time, so you don’t fall into the story of one or the other. In a larger sense, it’s staying in your whole experience. Because both poles are always in your own experience. And if you go to one pole, then you collapse into only part of your experience, because you’ve ignored the other.
Now, Julia raised something earlier, I think this morning. When you were doing the success and failure thing and you said…oh, as you went through the realms. That was this afternoon. And you were saying how with each one you had the…you saw yourself as having two possible reactions.
Ken: Yeah, okay. The second aspect of the middle way is that when you have two things that seem to be in conflict, one way to get at that third world C is, What is the common principle that A and B are expressions of? Just to give you a very simple example, black and white. Everybody familiar with seeing things in terms of black and white? Okay. What is the common principle of which black and white are both expressions?
Ken: Color, okay. Now if you look at the world in terms of black and white, how does that compare to looking at the world in terms of color?
Ken: Well, the black and white are there. Are there more possibilities in the world of color?
Ken: Yeah, the whole spectrum. Okay? So if you can move away from seeing things in terms of polarities and come to discern the underlying principle, you’ve now opened up a whole spectrum. So if you look at it this way…sorry, you’re going to have to take another picture here, so I’ll move it. Here we have A, and here we have B. And this is one pole, and this is the other. But if you can see the underlying principle, [writing] now you’ve got the whole spectrum between A and B, and there are so many more choices. Actually with color it’s not only one dimension, it’s about three dimensions that it opens up.
So it’s a hugely greater number of possibilities that have opened up there. They’re not always quite as expansive as that. But now you can be anywhere along this line. What this points out is that when you’re considering things in terms of polarities, you have said, “This is this, and that is that, and never the twain shall meet.” You’ve actually reified and made things fixed. Which is completely contrary to your own experience of this one where when you look and tried to see what you are, you couldn’t find anything. That’s the same with everything. When you really look, there isn’t anything there; there are all of these different moving parts.
Another situation from my business consulting. There was a problematic employee in a company. And the head of the department was totally against removing him even though he was not a team player. And he’d become isolated, both from his staff and from all of his colleagues. He happened to be brilliant at what he did, but he was becoming increasingly isolated. And there were more and more compensating behaviors for that, and it was becoming increasingly disruptive. And various interventions had been tried without success. And the person that was consulting me said, “So I’ve got to go up against the head of this division.” I said, “That’s not the best way of looking at it. The problem is much more precise than that. The problem is the head of the division’s belief that this person is essential.” Which is very different from going up against the whole person. It’s breaking it down. Do you follow?
So when you view things as a whole, they can seem insurmountable. But every whole is made up of many, many parts, usually only one or two of which are actually problematic. So if this part [drawing] is the problematic one, we tend to associate it with the whole thing. We view the whole thing as problematic. But if we investigate and identify that one problematic part, then all kinds of other strategies open up. And so the way that this person presented it to the head of the division is, “Inevitably this person is going to be leaving the company one day, because nobody works forever.” He was close to retirement age anyway. “So how are you going to replace his skills in the department?” And that got him thinking about it in a completely different way. Opens up many more possibilities.
So these are all ways of moving away from the idea that things are fixed entities. Rather between all opposites there is a spectrum. And being able to find that spectrum and work with it opens up many possibilities for you. To do this, of course, you can’t be anyone. Because we regard things as fixed entities. Because that’s how it works in one of our stories. And to give up the idea that there are those fixed things out there, means that we’re going to have to let go of certain fixed things in ourselves. And that’s often why people find this challenging, because they may have to give up very, very deeply held beliefs. But if you’re no one, you don’t have any beliefs. So this is another…you don’t believe in anything. You only know your own experience. You getting the connection here? Okay.
Last tool, which is somewhat related to this one is interdependence. [Writing] Okay. Now one of the characteristics of the self that we talked about was that it sees itself as independent. Okay? This is how we approach the world. I’m going to touch into some very deep waters for a moment. Where do you ordinarily locate consciousness?
Ken: Here. Okay? Now we can have a long dispute about where it is in the body, and I don’t want to go into that at this point. It’s sufficient to say that we associate consciousness, or we locate consciousness internally. Okay, trivial question of the week. How does a material object interact with a non-material consciousness?
Student: Could you repeat the question?
Ken: How does a material object interact with a non-material consciousness? Basic philosophy, right? This is the kind of thing that the neuroscientists typically ignore. Okay? The answer is there’s no bloody way. It’s impossible. So that’s where our location of consciousness inside us leads us. And it leads us into further deeper waters. If consciousness is here, what is outside? Again, in terms of my experience, if consciousness is here, inevitably what is everything else in my experience?
Ken: It’s an object. Okay? How much consciousness does any of it have?
Ken: Zero. Okay? So if I locate consciousness in here, I have to look at the world as dead. It has no life, no consciousness, things like that. It’s an extreme polarity there. The fact is—and I won’t go into the details of this because we haven’t got time—back to the spectrum. We have subject, and we have object. Can you have a subject without an object?
Ken: Okay. And yet that’s exactly how we view ourselves. We’re a subject, and we don’t need the objects to exist. Can you have an object without a subject? No. It makes no sense to talk about something existing if it isn’t perceived in some way. Right? So what is the underlying principle of which subject and object are expressions?
Ken: Yeah, interdependence. There’s a connectedness there. One of the ways you can get at this is touch the back of your hand with a finger. Okay? Now, do all of you feel something there? Okay. Trivial question number two of the week. Getting used to my trivial questions? Okay. What experiences the touch? What experiences the touch?
Student: The skin.
Ken: The skin?
Ken: Well is it the nerves on the back of your hand or the nerves in your finger?
Ken: Not the nerves in the finger that you’re touching it with?
Student: There’s actually a tingling in this hand.
Ken: Just stroking it, can you tell which experiences it?
Student: The interaction of the two.
Ken: Yeah. Can you tell which experiences it?
Ken: Okay. So how separate are subject and object here?
Ken: Not at all. Now that’s a very simple example. Everything else is exactly the same way. We are intimately connected with our experience. There are other ways of approaching this, but that was just a quick analogy. So when anything arises in your experience, number one—and this sounds totally tautological—the number one thing is, it’s in your experience. Okay? So if somebody’s upset with you, or somebody’s creating problems, or somebody needs something from you, because this is in your experience, can you ignore it?
Ken: No. What happens if you do ignore it? Creates imbalances which come back and bite you later, right? At least that’s my experience. Anytime I just say, “I’m not going to deal with that,” then it has this nasty habit of coming back. And—
Ken: Yes, usually with interest. So this is the principle of interconnectedness, or interdependence. It arises. Now it’s on your plate, so you have to work with it in some way. And the way you work with it, you go back to the other two tools. You open to it and, “What is my experience here?” Rather than, “What is the story I’ve made up about it?”
That’s…the first tool, the black box…so rather than talking about, “You, you, you,” and, “If you’d just do this then everything would be fine,” you’re going, “What is my experience here?” And the other is not to fall into either of the extremes.
The other implication in interdependence is that nothing exists in and of itself. Things are only defined through relationships. Okay? One of the ways one of my teachers illustrates this is that he takes out three pieces of paper. One’s a very small square. The other is a medium square. And the other is a large square. And he holds up the very large one and the medium one and he says, “Which is big and which is small?” And everybody says, “Well this one’s big and this one’s small.” And then he holds up the medium one and the very small one and says, “Which is big and which is small?” Okay?
So what we forget—because we’re so used to categorizing things and saying, “This is this, and that is that,”—is that everything exists in relationship. So when you’re stuck on a problem—[drawing sounds] there’s the problem, okay?—andyou can’t figure out where to go from there, look at what is related to it, all around it, particularly in yourself.
How many of you have experienced blocks in your life? Okay. What is a block from this point of view? Well, [drawing] there’s a block. Okay. Is this the whole picture of a block?
Ken: What’s missing?
Ken: Okay. Well a block always has two components. This is one of them. The other component is this. [Drawing] This is my way of drawing something which wants to move and something which doesn’t want to move. Okay? The experience of block comes from identifying with the part that wants to move and seeing as other the part that doesn’t want to move. That’s what we call a block. Now what if we, on the other hand, identified with the part that doesn’t want to move? What would we call it then?
Ken: Well, no. We’re this part now. We would call it unwanted influences. That’s what this part would look like, right? Irrelevant, unwanted influences. That’s just the other side of block. If you’re no one, which of these do you identify with?
Ken: Neither. You’re not either of them. You’re not both of them. You’re neither of them. That way you can experience the totality. You can experience the part of you—or the part of your experience—that’s trying to move and the part of you that doesn’t want to move. This again goes back to the spectrum [unclear]. Now you have the two poles, and if you experience both of those, it opens up a lot more possibilities.
Now I’ve been describing this all conceptually, mainly in the interests of time. I have various exercises which would illustrate the two, and a lot of them could be done at the level of the body. But we actually don’t have enough time, because I want to leave some time for closing here. But these are the three tools that I have found particularly helpful. So I’d like to take up any discussion, any comments, any clarifications, any questions. Yes. Right here.
Student: I thought I was following what you were saying until the very end. Actually when Cathy was saying with the…aren’t you experiencing both of those: movement and your resistance to it? I mean isn’t that part of the totality rather than neither. I didn’t quite understand—
Ken: Yeah. What I was saying. You don’t identify. You experience both of them—
Student: Okay. Okay.
Ken: And absolutely it creates…that way you experience the whole system. But what I was responding to was Joe’s point. You don’t identify with either of them. Because if you identify with either of them—or even if you identify with both of them—if you identify with both of them, then you shrink your world down. Anytime you identify with something, we shrink our world down. Open to the whole experience, exactly as you were saying, yes, that’s the approach that I’m suggesting.
Student: Okay, thank you.
Ken: Okay. Randye.
Randye: Between number one and number three, the black box and the interdependence, there seems to be a bit of a paradox. Because initially you said we can only pay attention to our own experience and act as if no one else exists. And in the third one you said we can only have experience in relationship.
Ken: No. Things only exist in relationship. But all of those relationships and interconnections and interdependence are in your own experience. So you have one piece over here and another piece over here in your own experience.
Randye: It almost sounded as if you were saying initially treat others as objects.
Ken: No. We don’t even get to treat others as objects, because there are no others. There’s only what we experience. Right now I don’t experience anybody in this room. I experience a bunch of shapes, sounds and energies, etc. That’s my experience. If I move to, “There are other people in this room,” that’s something that I’ve constructed out of that experience.
Randye: Okay. And in a different setting you’d have a different experience in relationship to that setting.
Ken: Yeah. Now, but in this experience some people are short and some people are tall. But the concepts of short and tall only exist in relationship to each other. There’s nobody who’s absolutely short or absolutely tall. You follow? Okay. Some people ask difficult questions and other people ask easy questions, but it’s only in comparison with each other. From another point of view, they’re just questions. [Laughs]
Randye: It’s just my job. [Laughter]
Ken: Any other comments or points? Okay. Is this intelligible? Okay. Can you see uses for this in your life? Okay. I do want to emphasize here something I said earlier. This isn’t a case of remembering this. You actually have to train yourself, so that it becomes part of the way you function. That’s where your meditation practice comes in. Because everything that I’ve talked about—the black box, the middle way, and interdependence—are all things your meditation practice is going to teach you.
When you meditate, you’re working with the black box, because you’re only dealing with your own experience. Everything—any sense of other—is irrelevant to the experience of meditation. And if you regard something as other, you inevitably get into a fight with it in your meditation, and now you’re totally distracted. So you lear very, very viscerally not to regard anything in your experience as something other. So that’s very helpful.
The middle way? How many of you have found yourself struggling with a polarity—either this or that—in your meditation? What happens when you shift and say, “Okay, I’m just going to let them both be here?” And something relaxes and, you know, they sort themselves out somehow. And meditation is a wonderful way to learn interdependence. Because how many of you are able to control your experience in meditation so it is whatever you want it to be on a particular day? [Laughter] Okay. Things happen all over the place. So you learn that things are interconnected and related often in ways that you can’t possibly discern. And the only possible way of working with it is to open to everything and meet it with that kind of openness.
Okay. What I’d like to hear from you, and just take a couple of minutes. We’ll sit silently or quietly. And, what have you got out of today? What are two or three…I don’t want a long list, because we don’t have time. We have to end in ten minutes. Just a couple of things that you have found helpful and that you can see taking into your life and working with after this. So, I’ve tried to give you a fair amount of information here, but also some of it on an experiential level, so it isn’t all conceptual. So just look over your notes, reflect on your experience, and pick a couple of things that you’ve found helpful and that you’d like to work with more in the future. So you’re…this is a mixture of what you got out of this and your intention.
If you regard yourself as someone, what is your relationship with the world of your experience? Necessarily it is somewhat separate. There’s a someone experiencing things. If you regard yourself as no one—if you’re actually able to live that way—what is your relationship with the world you experience? Well, you are that world. It’s a possibility you might consider. Okay. Can we have the microphones handy? Joe, let’s start with you. We’ll go around that way. Just a couple of sentences.
Joe: I probably have a deeper understanding of the difference between reaction and response.
Joe: Actually experiencing that.
Ken: Very good.
Student: That was basically what I had. Just really focusing on staying present in difficult situations so that I really respond and don’t react.
Student: I found the tools helpful.
Ken: The last three?
Ken: Okay. Let’s get Frances behind Pat back there.
Frances: Yeah, I found the tools helpful. I’m hoping I can take that into the work environment with the relationships I have with my colleagues. And [I] realize that I am a changing person and that I need to recognize that and stop sort of being attached to my childhood which…where I was in survival mode all of the time and continuing to live in that experience, whereas I don’t need to anymore.
Ken: Okay. Pat.
Pat: I like the concept of being no one. It takes the pressure off living up to my expectations of myself and others. [Laughter]
Ken: Steps right out of that story, doesn’t it? [Laughter]
Student: I like the functional view of who I am—that was very useful—and the tools.
Ken: Okay. Cathy.
Cathy: Yeah, I think the tools, especially this interdependence thing. I think there are some specific situations that I’ve put neatly outside the circle that I want to bring back in. And the silence piece was very handy.
Student: I am going to leave here feeling like I can stop worrying so much about the story. And also, I think that I have a better insight into emptiness, actually, which I’ve struggled with—with the whole Buddhist thing. But I think…I think I have an inkling with what we talked about here.
Student: Out of the tools there was…I think the black box really resonated with me. And somewhere along the middle of the day, there was a realization that the curiosity behind who I am, or trying to establish what that identity is, or even an identity of someone who knows that they are no thing, or something like that, there was an underlying foolish, misguided sense of control with that. [Laughter] That once I know that then I can, you know, if I am this, then I can control that. That will happen, or that won’t happen, or I can make this happen, and things like that. And there was a realization that there was sort of a control there that was driving that.
Ken: A desire for control?
Student: Yeah. [Laughter] The illusion of control.
Student: First is remembering what a complex little bundle of aggregates I am, none of which is permanent or stable. Recognition that when…when I’m in that space of no self as best I can, is when I’m helping others. And my own ego has kind of stepped aside and in the background. And that’s the space in which I’m happy, is when the ego is in that background.
Student: I really got no self. What that means. I’m starting to understand that: being nobody and kind of letting go.
Student: All that self. And the other piece is the hen turning over her eggs part of the black box. That really resonated—
Student: For me as a way to, you know, just really be coming out of your own experience rather than everything else.
Ken: Rather than starting all of those stories and projections and everything, yeah.
Student: I really liked the What is it like to be nobody? meditation.
Ken: What did you like about that?
Student: Well, my first reaction was utter gut wrenching panic, “That can’t be!” And then once that settled a little—and I just gave up on all the stories about it and went back to the breath—I felt it a little bit. When I’m just resting in the breath, I’m nobody, and it feels really good. And there was this real sense of spaciousness and openness and freedom and elation. And I had a similar feeling in the first workshop we did about money when you asked the question, “What would happen if everything you had just disappeared one day?” You know, some big bank screw up. Same feeling, this horrible, like, “Oh no, this can’t be!” And then opening and freedom. So I…and also I liked the tools.
Student: I would say the black box also, and the eggs. And that really trusting my own experience in that.
Student: I would go with the black box. Because that’s something that I really struggle with is making up a story for somebody else to explain why they’re being mean to me. Not really, but with getting into other people’s space. But I think that over all that this really complements what we’ve been working on in Tuesday night class a great deal.
Ken: Yeah. Christina, would you hand that mic to [unclear].
Student: I learned that chocolate-covered espresso beans wake me right up. [Laughter] But also tying into just the work that we do, there was a lot of…a little of…well, a lot of…a moment of clarity about how really a sense of identity—and clutching to that—is intimately connected to just an infinite amount of stories. And they’re…and if you take that away, there probably are still some stories. But they’re not very effective and they don’t really stick. I really saw that connection and felt it today.
Student: What I hope to take away from this in my daily life is to remember that…to tune into the body before I respond. And that’s actually the response that fits the situation, rather than all the stories that we’ve talked about today. So I hope to take that into my daily life more.
Student: Yes, I found the explorations very useful and informative—and the tools. But I certainly think that waiting [unclear].
Student: I hate these summaries at the end, because I can’t process six hours worth of information all that quickly. But I think what I’m thinking about right now is about storytelling, a lot. And this requirement that you said that, you know, that we live in a world where storytelling is our way of communicating. And how you fit a genuine response into a world where in many cases people really are looking for a story. So how do you kind of…how do you kind of work that out. So I think that’s something…that’s the piece of business I want to process.
Ken: Okay. We’re actually right on time. Two minutes. So, thank you very much for your attention. The next program in this series is June 8th, Living Awake. I haven’t decided on anything, so if any of you have areas of interest—things that you’d like to explore—please let me know. That’s how this one came about. Actually the last two have grown out of the one before. First there was Money and Value. And from there we went, Making Things Happen. And then from Making Things Happen, we moved to Who Am I? One could argue that we’re moving in the wrong direction, but [laughter] the other way we’re going progressively deeper.
My intention in these programs is simply to take Buddhist ways of practice—ways of approaching the world—and show you how they operate in actual life. So that your life becomes part of your practice, rather than something that you try to mess with from…and you have this tension between your spiritual practice and your life, which is a perspective that I just deplore.
All of these are very, very powerful ways—and were intended to be ways—in which you could approach life so that in each moment you are ending the reactive process of suffering, which is what the whole objective is. Several of you seem to have taken that from this. I am very, very happy about that.
I thank you for your attention and participation. My thanks again to Randye and Steve and Cara and Julia for taking care of all of the logistics. And I look forward to seeing you in June or in the Tuesday class or at the retreats or whenever. So, thank you very much.