we will always be a mystery, especially to ourselves


If I Were Buddhist But Couldn’t Tell Anyone


What would you do even if you couldn’t tell anyone about it? Would that vacation or that degree still interest you if you couldn’t tell anyone?

Since retirement, I have some time on my hands. I will tell you about my current fancy: Would you still become a Buddhist if you could not tell anyone you were?

If it is true that we will always be a mystery, especially to ourselves, then I think I already know the answer.


Already Free

An important book that discusses Buddhism for the Western-trained mind is Already Free. It describes how you can work through the mystery of the human experience using both Psychotherapy and Buddhism. Though they are irreconcilable, both have roles to play.

Western psychology starts by looking for a problem. Its origins are in psychopathology; thus, normal nor supra-healthy functioning is not a goal (aside from humanistic or positive psychotherapy). Instead, a problem prevents you from feeling happiness—something that must be addressed to be happy.

Buddhists, however, sense that how we relate to the problem is more important than the actual problem. After all, there are no problems; only our expectations (or cravings, desire that things be other than they are) lead to suffering.

Rather than trying to improve, accept. Be willing and fully able to relate to any experience.

Like Ants and Bees in the East and Grizzlies and Wolverines in the West, they are irreconcilable ideas but still may be part of the human mystery.


“Enlightenment is an accident, but mediation makes you accident-prone.”

Baker Roshi



If I Were Buddhist

If I were a Buddhist, I’d demand a good state of mind regardless of life’s circumstances. Why wouldn’t you want to experience your life in the most satisfying way possible? (You only have one or infinite chances to figure it out.)

You know that this cannot be permanent after you have good health, financial independence, safety, and a purpose. Something will happen. Life, usually. Buddhism promises to cultivate a good state of mind regardless of life’s circumstances, all while obtaining enlightenment and ignoring external goals.

Life feels like a bobber in the waves responding to circumstances. There are infinite ways that the bobber can right-side itself, all as a response to the stress and stimulus. That’s like life; you can try to generate as many positive and equal reactions to the conditions of your life. Or you can let go, and the bobber will right-side itself because of physics (right thinking).

Yes, we want success in life to generate positive conditions around us. But instead of trying to control everything, cultivate an open attitude towards any condition. The attempt to control places your amygdala front and center in your experience of the world. You aren’t in control; your neurobiochemistry is.

Instead, engage as fully with every moment, whether you like it or not.


The Goal of Buddhism

So, what is the goal of Buddhism? It is the “mind trained into an attitude of unconditional appreciation.” It’s a good state of mind. Spontaneous, flexible, resilient, present, confident, openhearted, vulnerable, and unconditionally appreciative. A good mood regardless of circumstances.

One practice is to dig deep. Do the thing you fear every day. Participate fully in a vulnerability. Experience instead of avoidance. Enter each moment without a formula for success, no reassurance that you will even have fun, but fully participate in whatever you find.

Personally, my emotional immaturity involves the pathological fear of abandonment (Ross Rosenburg describes co-dependency as “Self-Love Deficiency Disorder” and a pathological fear of being alone as the core wound. It’s an interesting idea; let’s work with it for a bit).

Since I fear it, I need to dig deep: I permit myself to feel lonely (abandonment trauma) off and on for the rest of my life. When I sense that I will feel lonely, instead of panicking and numbing the feelings with food/sex/alcohol/work/whatever, I choose to feel it. To be with the experience. After I feel the feelings, I ask: Did it harm me in any way? Am I damaged by feeling whatever “bad” feelings I’d otherwise avoid? Once I learned that I could feel lonely and be ok (not die), I could break the trauma bond with the narcissist and leave.



Being Present

The work is being present with the experience, in the moment. No interrupting, no telling yourself a story about why you feel that way. No explanation. No attributing cause. Just what is most true right now?

What is the work we do to participate in our life consciously? Ignoring is pretending not to be aware of what you already know is true. That’s most of the suffering in life. Ignoring isn’t a mistake or stupidity; you must be aware of something to ignore it. It is intelligence about yourself before you gain the wisdom to participate consciously.

Cultivating a good state of mind means dissolving your self-absorption. Those fantasies about yourself that you’ve had since middle school? Remember that what you remember likely has very little truth, and you are just inventing it to continue the story you are telling yourself. Why not tell yourself a better story?

“As we develop an attitude of nonbias, we are increasingly able to see life as it is, rather than through our self-referential, and thus distorted, filters.”


It is less about me and more about the experience itself.

It is possible to be ok despite the world falling around you. To have a good state of mind while simultaneously feeling uncomfortable feelings, not blocking them. Feeling it all, everything life has to offer without any blockages.

“The path of waking up is the experiential investigation of this question: how can we stop pretending not to be aware of what is already true, of what is always present in every moment?”

The goal is to develop a good state of mind regardless of external and international conditions.

We are already free, and nothing needs to change.


The Content of Your Mind

The monkey mind is the content. We want to be aware of the content.

It’s not about improving the content but how we relate to it and the experience. The goal is to increase our capacity to be aware of awareness.

The work is to relax. Recenter. Then, relax again and again into what is already there. No comparisons are possible until we introduce the interpretation.

Most have the goal of an unexamined yet happy life.

In Western Psychotherapy, we identify emotional immaturity in our parents and figure out the inherited wounds that must be healed before we can become not unhealthy. Because we identify them as a “problem,” we feel they must be improved.

Self-improvement doesn’t make you better; just more aware of the problem.

The unconscious is the “unworkable” or shadow part of us that is disavowed, disowned, or repressed. Psychotherapy attempts to bring the unconscious to consciousness (awareness), but why does it matter if it is conscious or unconscious? It is still there, and it is ok that it is there. Remember, you are already okay, so you don’t need to move your “problems” around in your head. Just be ok with them.


Everything Happens in the Now

Frankly, most people are heavily invested in their problems. They don’t want to improve because they must give up the drama.

Some find the idea that being present in the moment dissolves the problem anxiety-provoking. Those out-of-date defenses become a form of entertainment if you are willing to experience them and note that you did not die from feeling the underlying feelings. Freedom comes when we see our own dramas as pure entertainment.


“we will always be a mystery, especially to ourselves”

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