I have had the great good fortune this week to be teaching at Samye Ling with Choden on the new Access to Insight retreat. During the retreat, it was a great chance for me to practice along with the participants. We practiced acceptance, self-compassion, the four immeasurable qualities of loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity and then explored the operation of the observer and undercurrent model of mind within our own experience.
These are the foundations of practice that create the causes for insight to arise. Many insights arose during the retreat for myself and for the participants and this was beautifully shared in the evenings over the course of the week. Each insight exposes a little bit more of the truth and sheds light on the myriad lies we tell ourselves and others about our experience. Not that we are lying on purpose. The myriad lies are unconsciously told. I expect you will recognise this within your own experience if you are a practitioner of mindfulness.
Many of the lies are very powerful and painful and impact all areas of our life and experience. One big lie that many of us tell ourselves is that we are not good enough. Some participants exposed some of this lie within themselves over the course of the retreat last week. Good enough for what! Rob Nairn always used to say that we should love the person that we are because we don’t have a spare version of ourselves hanging up in the cupboard!
It is because many of the lies we expose are painful and give rise to strong emotion that we need a foundation of self-compassion and joy. We need to understand from an evolutionary psychology perspective that these crazy brains evolved for survival rather than happiness, and the conditioning we have been subject to from our culture and family are not our fault. We did not choose them. We just find ourselves in the flow of our lives – but we can start taking responsibility and take steps to uncover the lies and get more in touch with the truth of our experience.
I am very fortunate in that I was brought up not to tell lies. This is a strong conditioning within me. On the few occasions as a child that I did tell lies I was caught out. Thankfully, I haven’t had an awful lot to lie about. My belief is that every time we tell a lie we split the mind. Part of the mind has to remember the truth and part has to remember the lie. My observation is that if we lie a lot then this splitting can become quite chaotic, especially if we kid ourselves into believing the lies. Then it becomes increasingly difficult to remember what the truth is.
However, just like everyone else, I have a lifetime of whispering lies to myself about my self and my experience. Unconsciously done, but lies nonetheless. My practice of compassion based mindfulness gradually exposes the lies and moves me closer to reality as it is. My experience is that the reality is so much better than the lies!
We now live in a society where many people in power seem to tell lies or perhaps have themselves forgotten what is the lie and what is the truth. The truth is often complex and nuanced and takes effort to locate and comprehend. Lies are often a lot easier. Some politicians are thinking of putting forward a law so that there are legal consequences when politicians tell lies. A sad state of affairs, but necessary it seems. We can see where the inability to tell the difference between lies and truth has led our politics.
So we can each take responsibility for telling the truth, rather than blindly believing what suits our opinions. We can find any opinion to buy into on the internet and on social media, so it’s our responsibility to check the underlying facts and do our best to tell the truth. A lot depends on it.
Just one final word this election week. On Friday morning if things haven’t gone your way, don’t despair. Giving up won’t work. As compassion practitioners we need to find a way to understand our opponents and communicate with them, rather than ‘othering’. A difficult practice, but the only way to find some healing.
Good luck this week and whatever your politics please do make the effort to vote on Thursday. Think of the working men and women of this country who protested in the past to ensure that we all have the right to vote. Some gave up their lives to enable this. Think of Peterloo and the suffragettes.