Identifying yourself as a role
Think of all the roles you play in your life, from mother or father, provider, democrat or republican, atheist or christian. May be you are a student, doctor, lawyer, policeman, drug dealer, psychiatrist, software engineer, accountant, salesperson, American, Indian, Chinese, South African, Brazilian, Canadian, or Italian. Whatever you think you are you have over the years created this way of identifying who you are by one of these roles or associations. Our sense of self is often all wrapped up in what we do, the roles we play, and who we associate with. This sense of self is of course impermanent as life changes and results in changes in your roles.
Clinging to these roles
Clinging to a sense of self and then creating an ego based on your roles makes for a very limiting existence. Are you really one of the roles you play everyday? I know people who have been crushed by the loss of a job or a spouse because their whole identity was wrapped up in that job or person. There sense of self was all about some external factor and their life seemed over when this association was broken. Carrying around some false sense of ego and self only limits your happiness and separates us as human beings. You are not what you do for a living, you are not a political party affiliation, you are not where your ancestors came from, and you are not a culmination of all the roles you play each day.
Fruits of selflessness
I was reading the Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield this morning and there was a quote by Dipama Barua “In my mind there are only three things: loving kindness, concentration, and peace”. These are the fruits of selflessness, not of someone burdened by the self. As you approach each day think about the times your behavior and thoughts are tied to this sense of self. Does this false sense of self result in happiness?
A role is a role not you
As someone who has lived too many years thinking that my sense of self is what I did for a living; I’ve begun to realize I was terribly wrong. The more you can separate the roles you must play from who you really are, the more joy and openness will permeate your life. Being selfless doesn’t mean you don’t have a sense of your own value as a human being, but it does mean you can now focus on thinking for yourself and you can be more open to valuing others.
The last step in the Eightfold Path is right concentration. Once we use right mindfulness to become aware of what is going on around us, we can then use right concentration to focus on whatever we desire. We can use right concentration to focus on any object which gives us an understanding of the object as it actually is not what we previously perceived it to be.
Use right concentration to focus on things, with the benefit that you are now living in the present, freeing you from worries of the past and future. Practicing right mindfulness and right concentration is essential to meditation, awareness, and focus in your life.
To practice right concentration you might spend a few minutes focusing your eyes and mind on:
- A full or half moon
- The stars
- A candle
- Water as in a river, lake, or ocean
- A plant or tree
- An animal, reptile, or insect
- A figurine of the Buddha
These are just examples, really anything that appears interesting to you could become a target of your focus. In this act of concentration you are in fact meditating. Later on you might turn your attention from an object to a concept. You might focus your concentration on:
There are really no limits to using right concentration, other than you should use right concentration help you see things as they really are, and there needs to be a positive intent.
The seventh step on the Eightfold Path is Right Mindfulness. Right Mindfulness is about being aware of the world around you and focusing on the present. For most of us this is very difficult to do, as we are always obsessing over what happened yesterday or what we need to do tomorrow.
Through Right Mindfulness we are looking to create a greater awareness of everything around us, not hiding from it, but fully absorbing it. We are seeking to understand our true nature by being fully aware. Right Mindfulness then also implies focus and concentration. Maybe you have found this through playing an instrument, writing, or playing sports. This was a time when you were totally focused on one thing, in the zone if you will. The question for us is are there ways we can cultivate Right Mindfulness? Let me give you a few examples of simple ways that at least might set the stage for it:
- When you go to a meeting leave your phone at your desk.
- When you are talking with someone, stop and listen to them instead of formulating what you want to say next.
- If you are reading at home turn off the television.
- Turn your phone to silent mode, and stop looking at it every 5 minutes.
- Turn off email notifications.
- Go take a walk and use your eyes and ears.
- Stop worrying about the future, it will soon be here, and worrying is pointless.
- Seek out a hobby or activity that requires concentration as this will help you focus on the present.
If you like to worry about the future, remember there is no better preparation for the future than to be completely focused on the present. Great things are accomplished now, not yesterday, or tomorrow.
Right Mindfulness can lead to an uncluttered mind and this sets the stage for the ability to focus on the present. In my next post I will write about Right Concentration.