This months LabWork is to begin to notice our habit patterns around where we think things come from.
Notice superstitions or views we might have.
For example do you hold a superstition around "knocking on wood" after saying something like "I hope I dont get covid"? Do we believe that things like knocking on wood can protect us from pathogens or bad luck? Do we believe in bad luck or omens. Do these come from God like or demonic like forces outside of us?
Or perhaps we think our mind controls things. For example does the mind have the ability to control the circumstances for pathogens to come into the body or not or to be affected or not? If we find we hold a view like this just note how far it goes? Do we think our mind can control others fates? Would this also apply to wealth as well, or finding a romantic partner? Do we think we can control these factors with our mind.
Notice if there are other things we believe are chance. Like traffic. Can we manipulate traffic with our mind or if we get stuck in traffic is that just chance.
Or perhaps we might think God created the traffic just for us. Perhaps to prevent us from a car accident we might get into if we hadn't hit that traffic. Or did God create that traffic just for us, to help us slow down a bit. Etc.
You get the idea. You may also notice that these ideas and beliefs can become particularly strong and reified in our minds. We dont like people challenging them. As opposed to being defensive and unwilling to explore these mental assumptions we make about the world, just go into the exploration very gently. Just gently note your own assumptions. Note when you feel a bit defensive. The idea here is gently noting as opposed to having to defend our worldviews. Note assumptions we've had about why things happen and begin to become more familiar with those assumptions. The idea here is to live an examined life and to begin to see inconsistencies in our habit patterns and beliefs.
Of course we really dont know where things come from or why bad things happen to good people and why good things happen to bad people. So we can have a little humility and playfulness as we examine our own worldviews.
A 2 min. video of Luke Skywalker hitting the Marma Hata (Sanskrit for "crucial point").
In Buddhism one of the main Marma Hata's is Avidya. We translate Avidya as "universal misunderstanding" or mis-knowing, or delusion. One of the main footprints for avidya that we discussed is mistaking the sense of "I" as a thing as opposed to a happening. And in this case a happening that is dependent on a variety of causes and conditions. i.e. interdependent.
This month we are exploring two things in relation to our discussion of Karma.
- Thinking Bigger - Play around with orienting ourself with an outlook to the year 3523 a.c.e. (1500 years from now). Again Im not asking anyone to believe in reincarnation or anything like that. Instead Im saying just try it on for a month and glean what you can from it.
2. Random Acts of Kindness - Try just playing with the old cliche bumper sticker of doing CONSCIOUS acts of kindness throughout the week. This could be
- Noticing good things about someone and mentioning it to them.
- Smiling at someone with warmth
- Trying to make a little more space in your day so you arent rushing and thus able to be a little more present for people.
- Sending a thank you card
- Buying a book for someone at a local bookstore
- Giving a large tip to a waiter
- "Today I am going to cancel this appointment so I have more space in the day so I can be more present with the world and the people in my world today"
- or just "More present"
- or before you leave a big tip write in your phone "leaving a big tip"
- Or mumble to yourself "leaving a big tip"
- And then think to yourself, may this act of generosity help this person with whatever burdens they are carrying.
This month we are doing a deceptively straight forward practice of again trying to simmer in our goodness at the end of each day. Khen Rinpoche a famous old school Tibetan Lama use to have his students make a cup of hot coco and sit down on the couch at the end of the day and put their feet up and appreciate their virtuous work that day. In our reading this month there is a line about a powerful kind of training that one cultivates in their lives related to this simmering in ones virtue. “As the bardo-of-rebirth arises before me, I must with one pointed attention concentrate my mind, and absolutely connect with the residual potency of my virtuous past actions.”
from - Root Verses of the Six Intermediate States (Bardos) So this is what we are practicing this month, simply trying to connect with the potency of our goodness. Notice how hard it is, how much resistance most of us have doing this!
This month we are re-visiting the 3 flavors Practice from Month 2. In considering our own deaths the ability to experience phenomena with out being pulled into , and reifying narrow narratives is considered one of the most powerful preparations one can do.
We are also practicing an old and very powerful Lojong practice. This practice was kept secret and only taught to advanced students until it was made public in the 14th century. The specific aspect of this Lojong we are exploring this month is deceptively simple.
Try to 1-3 times a day dedicate an unpleasant experience to the welfare of others.
- You have some unexpected expenses arise; traffic ticket, car repair, medical bill, late fee, etc. As you pay make a small dedication, may this payment absorb someone else's unexpected expenses so that they are not burdened by it.
- If you are having insomnia - make a dedication - "may my awakeness burn away others insomnia and may they sleep peacefully.
- If you are feeling irritable or overwhelmed with craving or feeling stressed, dedicate it by thinking, "may my experience with this unpleasant emotion burn others feelings of ... (anger, craving, stress, etc) so that they dont have to experience it.
This month we are gently working with ethics and moral behavior. Explore the website thevowmuseum.com
or consider the ten virtues and 10 non virtues discussed in the reading and class and pick one or two you'd like to improve on. Get a small note pad or use your phone and check yourself three times a day for both the positive and negative around whatever you are working on.
For example if you are working with divisive speech:
Three times a day pause and write down any divisive speech you engaged in.
(-) Made implication to Fredrica that Tony is incompetent.
(+) Praised Jerry in front of peers for his efforts.
(-) Told one brother that my other brother was a flake
(+) Caught myself and followed it up with an acknowledgement that my other brother was under a lot of stress right now.
2 practices for this months LabWork
- Begin to notice and try and play with upward and downward moving energies. Notice when either the upward or downward flowing energy feels useful or when it feels unbalanced. Explore techniques to balance it. I gave the example of when I was having a depressed downward energy embodying the posture and regal type of movements of dressage horses or tarantulas. For the human body this would be all of the typical instructions in yoga asana; shoulders back, chest lifted, spine straight, heart open. For ungrounded upward energy I gave the example of laying on the earth and gazing at the sky, or eating heavy but nutritious food. Singing can also help ground us.
- Begin to pay attention of our moods as fluctuating between attraction and aversion; between wanting and not-wanting. See if you can label a rising negative emotional state as either a left hand channel (wanting, grasping) or a right hand channel (not wanting, irritability) phenomena without reifying it and getting pulled into the narrative.
The Three Flavors - a review of the lab work this month:
When an emotion arises we pause and try and feel three things:
- Somatic - What is happening in my body? Can I find 1 or 2 data points, 1 or 2 things happening in the somatic body and simply name them. (ex. clenched jaw, raised shoulders, etc)
- Emotion - Can I identify an emotion. You may not be able to name a single emotion or you may be able to name multiple emotions. Just explore and see if you can find a presenting emotion. And then if possible see if you can find what might be underlying that emotion.) (ex. you may identify anger, and then you may be able to identify fear underneath that anger)
- Storyline/ Narrative - Lastly can you name one or two repeating storylines that you are telling yourself.
- Try to do this a minimum of three times a week. If you can do it three times a day, the impact and benefit will be quickly tangible.
- DO NOT try to fix any "problem" that you uncover. You can fix stuff later, but while doing this practice we are trying to train our equanimity/ intimacy muscle by just allowing and being with what is coming up for you.
- Try it in negative emotional states but also try it when there is no real strong emotion present. Have fun and be curious and ask yourself "I wonder what is happening in my emotional body right now?" Check the physical body, see if there are any storylines playing out, see if you can find an emotion lurking in the shadows. And of course you can also try it in positive emotional states.
- Dont worry about "getting it". Rather we are only working on practicing.
- Be intentional! Actually name it when you are doing it. "For the next minute or two Im going to do a 3F Practice".
- Put a reminder somewhere to remind your self to do this. And try and do it every day or a few times a day for the first few days.
- A Three Flavors practice usually takes between 40 seconds-2 mins.
Try this week to get this all in place for yourself. It might at first seem like a lot but you'll soon see its really not.
- Morning Gratitude - Come up with a gratitude quote to say to yourself every morning when you wake up.
"Im grateful to be here"
"Here I am waking up again in this world with so many opportunities to open to love"
"May my 'flesh and blood tabernacle' keep me strong in this world, may my heart keep me engaged, and attentive and may my own struggles make me sensitive to others struggles."
"Im grateful for the people in my life, especially this morning......"
Author Grace Paley writes how her elderly father taught her to every morning put her hands on her heart and say, "Heart, little heart, beat softly but never forget your job, the blood."
2. Daily Rejoicing - At some point in the day consciously practice rejoicing for someone else’s good fortune.
Its easy to do this half consciously. The hard part in all of these practices is in remembering to do them daily until they become a habit. The benefit of this practice really comes when we do it very consciously. You can tie it to a daily activity, like before dinner or when you get home before you get out of your car.
Think of some good fortune that a friend or enemy has had happen and just try and bring up a physical or at least a mental experience of rejoicing. You can begin to explore what this actually feels like in the body. See if you can find one or two data points of physical sensation as a fun way of getting more acquainted with the sensation of rejoicing.
3. Defensive Patterning - Begin to identify three common defensive patternings you use and write them down and begin to try and watch them arise and become active. (Remember we are not trying to stop doing this we are just trying to become more equanimously conscious of what's actually happening.)
You might be surprised just how difficult this is. Have fun with it make it a little bit of a game. Sometimes I find myself already triggered and defensive and then I mentally back track and see what my reaction was to that trigger. But the cool thing is when you are triggered by someone and a part of your mind suddenly remembers this practice and gets excited about being triggered.
Some examples of ones you might want to look out for:
Control - victimization, striving, perfectionism
Avoidance - busyness, laziness, cynicism
Disengagement - fantasy, sleepiness, focusing on problem solving or ideas as opposed to being present in the discomfort.
Consumption - addictive patterning, media consumption, mind-altering substances
4. Evening Rejoicing - End each day with a feeling of accomplishment and appreciation for some good deeds you have done. (Which at the very least are the top three points)
You'll see its very very easy to not do this or to skimp on it. This is a mental retraining and it takes dedicated initial effort.
5. Daily Meditation - A minimum of three mins a day. Let yourself try a couple different practices this first week and then stay with one practice for the entire 9 months. The important thing is to not get too uptight. Let yourself be curious. A daily and at times boring meditation practice helps us see all kinds of subtle mechanisms at work. Relax, patiently stay with it and feel free to bring any questions to class or post them on the chat.
Reading for Month 1
There are three levels of engagement with this reading. I would ask us all only to commit to the first level, which will take only about 2 – 6 mins. of your life and literally consists of only 6 sentences: (when was the last time you got a reading assignment of 6 sentences. J)
- Read this paragraph (six sentences) 3 times and see if you can sum up what’s being said in one sentence. (See #1 below) (Feel free to share this on slack if you’d like)
- If you’d like to go deeper I have pulled out a slightly longer section to explore. This is totally optional. See #2 below
- Lastly I am enclosing the entire paper, which, while being academic and dense, will establish you nicely in beginning to delve into the depth of the concepts of reification and dereification. Again totally optional and I don’t recommend it unless you are drawn to it. If you are not drawn to it, it can make the idea seem a little more daunting then it is. But for those of us drawn to it, it’s a wonderful resource. See pdf link here or on slack.
- By studying sunyata philosophy students may learn to abandon their dogmatic reified views of the world that prevent the perception of the world as a constantly changing whole. Mumon (1183-1260) states that when one directly realizes emptiness, "you will be able to slay the Buddha should you meet him and dispatch all patriarchs [Zen masters] you encounter" (Kapleau 1965, p. 76), in other words, to dereify all Buddhist doctrines, including sunyata philosophy itself (Kapleau 1965, pp. 85-86). In this way, Buddhist theory can be translated into sociological terms. According to Mahayana Buddhism, the consciousness of the normally socialized individual is an alienated consciousness (Bell 1979, p. 59) in which the individual projects linguistic distinctions and commonsense categories onto reality (Watts 1957, pp. 40-42) and then reifies them. Becoming enlightened involves, at least in part, dereifying perception of all phenomena. Furthermore, the enlightened individual still uses abstractions (or objectifications) in everyday life but does so without reifying them.
- Henceforth, when I use the term "social world," I will be referring not merely to the world of social institutions and relations but to all aspects of the world as it is experienced through the categories of commonsense knowledge. This refinement is necessary because, according to Zen Buddhism, people reify not only social institutions but all kinds of objects of their phenomenal experience that they define using commonsense categories. Burke Thomason (1982) offers a Schutzian definition of dereification that explicates, more clearly than that of Berger and his colleagues, how dereification occurs phenomenologically and that accords more closely with Maynard and Wilson's conception of reification. Thomason (1982, p. 90) writes: Our " . . . objectivities . . . [are] always capable . . . of being 'unfrozen' and brought back to their original active state" [Schutz 1932, p. 77]. Schutz is saying in effect that we can de-reify our experiences, i.e. recall the subjective constituting processes out of which they originally arose. Any thing that is perceived as existing independently of the perceiver can be dereified by recalling the subjective experiences out of which the object was constituted and by apprehending the reflexive connections of the object to its context, Finally, a truly dereifying perspective is "radically reflexive" (Pollner 1991), in other words, one that, while it asserts that all social objects are constructed through human activity, also recognizes that its own assertions possess this same characteristic and, therefore, are vulnerable to reification. For example, Melvin Pollner (1991, p. 370) describes "radical reflexivity" in early ethnomethodology as the appreciation of the accomplished character of all social activity, including ethnomethodological work. In other words, while they were analyzing the detailed practices in and through which people accomplish the accountable features of social settings, the early ethnomethodologists also analyzed the detailed practices in and through which they themselves accomplished the accountable features of their ethnomethodological analyses. In a similar way, dereifying perspectives in religion recognize that their own doctrines, even the doctrine that the empirical world is a conventionally sustained illusion, are conventionally sustained illusions. Such recognition causes doctrines and theories to lose any "absolute" authority they may appear to possess when taken for granted and reified. The result of this radical reflexivity in dereifying religions is the total abandonment of representation as a means of realizing "ultimate truth." Thus, instead of characterizing conversion to Zen Buddhism as "desocialization," this conversion process is better characterized as resocialization in which the initiate learns to perceive the social world in a dereifying manner. I will develop this concept of dereification in religion, both theoretically and empirically, and at the same time explain some of the more enigmatic aspects of Zen Buddhism. THE MAHAYANA CONCEPT OF "EMPTINESS" Zen Buddhism is a Sino-Japanese form of Mahayana Buddhism, and it is with the Mahayana conception of "emptiness" (sunyata) that we can begin to understand dereification in Zen Buddhism. Buddhism originated in India around the sixth century before the common era, as a reaction against the religious and social order of the Brahman establishment (Gomez 1987, p. 52). The primary goal ofliberation from the cycle of birth-and-rebirth (samsara). According to the Buddhist theory of samsara, sentient beings are continually reborn into several realms after they die. The law of karma asserts that when one performs virtuous actions, one is reborn into the higher, more pleasant realms, and, conversely, when one performs nonvirtuous actions, one is reborn into the lower, more unpleasant realms. Sakyamuni (563-483 B.C.E.), the historical Buddha ("one who has awakened"), taught that the individual can attain liberation (nirvana) from the cycle of birth-and-rebirth by eliminating all attachments to the things of this world. All attachments are eliminated when one directly realizes the fact of "no-self" (anatman)--in other words, that the self is an "illusion" (maya) and, therefore, that there is no real basis for evaluating things as desirable or undesirable. The Mahayana ("greater vehicle") school of Buddhism, which emerged in India by the first century B.C.E., extended the notion of no-self to all phenomena with the conception of "emptiness" (sunyata): not only is the self an illusion, so is every discrete phenomenon, and therefore, there are no real objects to become attached to in the first place and there is no real self to do the grasping. Thus, while the ordinary consciousness of the normally socialized individual is in a state of "ignorance" (avidya) of the truth of emptiness, "enlightenment" consists of the realization of emptiness. Nagarjuna (150-250 C.E.) systematized the concept of "emptiness" (sunyata), which first appeared in the Prajnaparamita Sutras (100 B.C.E.-200 C.E.), and founded the first philosophical school of Mahayana Buddhism (Madhyamika). Rather than establishing a fixed dogma of his own, Nagarjuna refuted all dogmatic views by showing how their initial propositions lead to unwarranted conclusions (Hajime 1987, p. 230). In other words, Nagarjuna's sunyata philosophy unfreezes all fixed and frozen (i.e., reified) concepts and extreme dichotomies and is a "radically reflexive" perspective that, like ethnomethodology, "unsettles" any version of reality, making visible the work of settling (Pollner 1991, p. 376). One of several ways Nagarjuna explains emptiness is by identifying it with "dependent co-arising" (pratitya-samutpada): "Since things arise dependently . . . they are without essence of their own; as they are without essence, they are void (i.e., devoid of the thing itself), and hence empty of 'own-being' "(Hajime 1987, p. 230). Nagarjuna's interpretation of dependent co-arising is very similar to Maynard and Wilson's (1980) "reflexive determination." According to the concept of reflexive determination, a thing is what it is only in the context of the other parts of the whole context in which it appears (Maynard and Wilson 1980, p. 293). T. R. V. Murti (1955, pp. 137-138) explains Nagarjuna's interpretation of dependent co-arising in a very similar way: "Any fact of experience is not a thing in itself; it is what it is in relation to other entities, and these in turn depend on others. . . . There is no whole apart from the parts and vice versa. Things that derive their being and nature by mutual dependence are nothing in themselves; they are not real." Understanding emptiness involves an appreciation of the mutual dependence of or reflexive connections between any phenomenon and its context and the ability to perceive "true reality" or "suchness" (tathata), in other words, reality just as it is without the duality imposed by conceptual categories (Hajime 1987, p. 223). Being "radically reflexive" (Pollner 1991), the sunyata doctrine recognizes itself, as well as every other Buddhist doctrine, as a relative construction and, therefore, as incapable of capturing "ultimate truth," or emptiness (Gomez 1987, pp. 79-80). Instead, emptiness can only be "directly realized" or experienced, and this experience comes with the practice of Buddhist meditation. For example, Zen Buddhists consider "sitting meditation" (zazen) the only necessary practice for directly realizing "ultimate truth"; sunyata philosophy is only considered valuable to the extent that it is useful as a complement to a student's meditation practice (Kapleau 1965, p. 30).