Turning the Mind Into An Ally – Excerpts


Reading Sakyong Mipham’s Turning the Mind Into An Ally and noticing how it reminds me in many places of Girardian thought, especially concerning the ephemeral quality of the self as well as the damage that we do in the name of peace, which is sometimes another name for comfort. … These bits (from the first two sections, Why Meditate? and The Art of Peacefully Abiding”) seem to me worth mulling (later sections deal with contemplative meditation, insight, compassion, etc.):

“There’s an element of emptiness that we keep trying to assuage. We want to find something that feels good and makes sense, something solid that we can use as a permanent reference point. Wisdom might tell us that we’re seeking something we won’t ever find, yet part of the reason we keep looking is that we’ve never quite been satisfied. Even when we feel great happiness there’s a quality of intangibility … ” (p. 10)

“Coming together and falling apart is the movement of time, the movement of life. This is as obvious as our own face, and yet we imagine our self as solid and unchanging. We stick up for it, we protect it. We feel angry when someone challenges the opinions we hold dear.” (p. 15)

“The bewildered mind is weak because it is continually distracted. It’s distracted by the overwhelming need to maintain the comfort of ‘me.’ … When the unexpected occurs, it reacts from the limited perspective of wanting to stay happy in a small place.” (p. 19)  I love this: “wanting to stay happy in a small place.” That seems to describe me and most of the people I know so well!

“We spend our lives constructing a personal Goldilocks zone where our solid sense of self feels comfortable and protected. Everything’s just how we like it and we work to keep it that way. Perpetuating this zone involves worrying. Many different aspects of our life must align in order for us to be happy.  If they don’t come together, we’re going to suffer. Our mind chews on hopes and fears because it’s unable to relax. We’re afraid of what will happen if we lose our grip on ourselves. So we continually spin a web of concepts, beliefs, opinions, and moods that we identify as ‘me.’ … We work to draw in what will make us happy, fend off whatever causes pain, and pretty much ignore the rest.” (p. 20)

“If our goal in life is to give ‘me’ a good time, it won’t work out. Why? Because the lay of the land is birth, aging, sickness, and death. That’s the game plan for ‘me.'” (p. 22)

“Generally we ingrain the tendency to follow distractions — which is the opposite of stabilizing the mind.” (p. 30)

Our root fantasy is that ‘I’ am real and that there’s a way to make ‘me’ happy. The reason we meditate is to let that fantasy unravel. After a while we notice that much of what we took to be real and permanent about ourselves isn’t so solid — it’s a string of thoughts we hold together with tremendous effort. We’ve built an identity out of a thin web of concepts. It can be as simple as thinking that we’ll be happy if we just get what we want.” (p. 68)    Girardian thought concurs; getting what we think we want turns out to be not what we really want, and it won’t make us happy for long, partly because of this misunderstanding about the self’s originality, stability, permanence, and autonomy and our lack of understanding about from whence our desires derive.

“When we contemplate our emotion, we begin to see that the person or object is not the reason for what we feel. We’re the reason. The emotion is a creation of our mind.” (p. 71)  Again reminds me of Girardian thought, and the idea that the thing we think we desire is not actually the cause of our desire; the cause of our desire is that someone else wants or has the thing or attribute first.

“‘Life is more difficult if you worry. It’s better to deal with things as they come up.'” (p. 101)


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