Before listening to this talk, we suggest you do this Loving-Kindness Meditation.
«People are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied.» So writes Screwtape, a high-level demon, to his nephew, Wormwood. Screwtape is teaching Wormwood how to keep his “patient” – meaning, the human being he has been assigned to torment—lost in egoic delusion and behaving unskillfully. This letter comes from the book, The Screwtape Letters, written by well-known Christian author, C. S. Lewis, which I was surprised to find in the nonfiction section of my local library.
Quick reminder: The Boundless Love Project is nonsectarian, and we value, appreciate, and welcome the wisdom from all religious and secular wisdom traditions. When we share information from different traditions, it is not to convert you to this religion or that belief system. Rather, it is to share with you a truth which the quote or paraphrased words (which we use «» to denote) expresses well, so you may lead a more loving, peaceful, joyful, compassionate, and wise life, regardless of if you are religious, spiritual, or a free-thinker.
Let’s return now to Screwtape’s advice to his demon-in-training nephew.
Time is a gift from Life
Screwtape continues, «The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often she will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered. Now you will have noticed that nothing throws her into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which she reckoned on having at her own disposal unexpectedly taken from her. It is the unexpected visitor (when she looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative spouse (turning up when she looked forward to a tête-a-tête with the friend), that throw her out of gear. Now she is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on her courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger her because she regards her time as her own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in her mind that curious assumption ‘My time is my own.’ Let her have the feeling that she starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let her feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which she has to make over to her employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which she allows to religious duties. But what she must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, her own personal birthright.
«You have here a delicate task. The assumption which you want her to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defense. The person can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to her by pure gift; she might as well regard the sun and moon as her personal property. She is also, in theory, committed to a total service of the Enemy; [Note: “Enemy” is how demons refer to God, Life, Source, or whatever word you choose to use to refer to the Great Mystery] and if the Enemy appeared to her in bodily form and demanded that total service for even one day, she would not refuse. She would be greatly relieved if that one day involved nothing harder than listening to the conversation of a foolish person, and she would be relieved almost to the pitch of disappointment if for one half-hour in that day the Enemy said ‘Now you may go and amuse yourself.’ Now if she thinks about her assumption for a moment, even she is bound to realize that she is actually in this situation every day. When I speak of preserving this assumption in her mind, therefore, the last thing I mean you to do is furnish her with arguments in its defense. There aren’t any. Your task is purely negative. Wrap a darkness about it, and in the center of that darkness let her sense of ownership-in-Time lie silent, uninspected, and operative.»
The road to misery
Screwtape makes a very good point: when we mistake time as being ours, we set ourselves up to suffer. The suffering usually happens because two major delusions are operational:
The delusion of self-view
Self-view is mistaking that which is not who we are to be ourselves or our property. In this instance, it is mistaking the gift of time we’ve been given as being “mine.” When self-view of time is operational, we take minor inconveniences, delays, and disruptions personally, and this allows them to cause us to suffer.
Let me repeat Screwtape’s words of wisdom, «People are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury.» Self-view is what allows the misfortune to be conceptually conceived in the mind as an injury.
If a family member asks for help, and you do not identify time as yours, you can calmly and skillfully either agree to help, refuse to help, or ask clarifying questions about what they need from you from a place of love and peace.
If the family member asks for help, and self-view is present because you identify your time to be yours, a concept like “I don’t have time to spare!,” or “I have to get my own work done!” is active in the mind, and it will cause anger, frustration, or a similar emotional disturbance to arise. If you are not mindful of these emotional disturbances, you will also identify with them, or mistake them to be who you are.
These identified with emotional disturbances then react unskillfully to the request causing you to agree to help, refuse to help, or ignore the request. But the flavor of your ego’s reactions in you is way different than for that of the mindful person. If you agree to help them, you do so grudgingly, with resentment, or with plans to use your “help” against them in a future argument. If you refuse to help, the ego in you does so with anger, hostility, and ill-will directed towards the requester. If ignore the request, the ego in you triggers thoughts such as, “nobody respects me,” “my life is so hard, I just can’t take it anymore” and fear, sadness, overwhelm arise as the body crumples on the floor and begin crying. Each of these ways are start from a place of ego and self-view, but you can see how that delusion quickly recruits additional delusions to its aid.
To be free of self-view, we can be mindfully grounded in the present moment, experiencing reality directly through the senses, and not giving importance to the incessant stream of conceptual and conditioned thoughts of the mind. When we are free of self-view, we are not angered, upset, or emotionally disturbed with misfortune.
This is why the Buddha said, "All of my teachings can be put in a single sentence: Nothing is to be clung to as I, me, or mine." Rather than personalizing, or identifying with the impermanent objects of mind, body, material reality, or our conceptual view of time, we can simply see it all as nature unfolding lawfully due to various causes and conditions.
The delusion of fixed-view
Fixed-view is when we mistake the thoughts in our head as being a truthful representation of reality as it is or “should be.” When we think a simple and seemingly harmless thought like, “I need to buy groceries today,” we can fixate on that thought, allowing it to over-ride all other priorities, including being calm, peaceful, joyful, and skillful.
For example, if our employer requires us to stay late after work, but we had already fixated on the thought, “I need to buy groceries today.” Then that thought will arise again, metaphorically screaming at us, causing stress, worry, anxiety, and a proliferation of thought around the subject: “Will the co-op still be open after I finish all this work? Will there be any fresh lettuce left this late in the day? If not, I’m going to have to shop again tomorrow, wasting even more of MY TIME…. Why does God let me suffer like this? I hate this job. I hate my life. I wish I could retire. I wish I was dead!”
Paradoxically, the more we are able to let go of our fixation to the thought of “I need to buy groceries today,” the more likely we are to buy them in a timely manner. When we cling to thoughts, it causes us great misery, and distracts us from doing the task that life has put in front of us to do. On the other hand, if we mindfully are mindful, we can see the thought, “I need to buy groceries today,” arise. Seeing it arise, we recognize it as impermanent and impersonal, and we can either take it or leave it. Given our need to do work, we recognize that the though is neither helpful nor useful right now, and let it go. Then we calmly focus our attention on the work at hand, doing it efficiently and effectively, finishing it quickly enough that we can go buy our groceries before the co-op closes and while there are still fresh, healthy greens to purchase.
Fixed-views cause the arising of denial
Fixed-view actually distorts and clouds our perception. If you fixate on the view that, “climate change is a hoax,” no amount of evidence will convince you otherwise. Firstly, this delusion will actively steer you to avoid learning any evidence that contradicts your view. Secondly, if any evidence sneaks around your avoidance strategy, the delusion will immediately discredit and ignore as “propaganda.” Finally, the delusion will readily and uncritically accept any and all information that “proves” your view, regardless of how biased, weak, or disreputable the sources of that information are.
The delusion in you thinks that clinging to a view such as “climate change is a hoax” is a source of peace and ease, because you no longer “need to worry about it.” However, in reality, in order for denial to work, the delusion has to build walls around the mind and heart which takes a lot of energy and effort to erect and maintain. Denial severely limits our freedom in an effort to keep us from seeing the truth that reality is showing us. It takes effort, causes suffering, and destroys relationships in an effort to fight off all of those who disagree with or threaten your fixed-view. So make no mistake, denial is no walk in the park.
As meditation practitioners, we seek the truth. To see the truth clearly we need to let go of all fixed-views, regardless of the content. Whether you think, “climate change is a hoax,” “climate change is real, but there is nothing we can do about it,” “climate change is real and there is something we can do about it,” or “climate change is real and is going to kill us all,” let it go. Don’t let it become a fixed-view. Hold it lightly, but don’t cling to it as the truth. Instead, be open and receptive to all views. More importantly, try to see reality without the conceptual mind, and be committed to discerning the truth directly as it is. This will serve you well, because ultimately reality wins, regardless of what views we hold.
The earth is hurting
How is this discussion of denial and fixed-views relevant to our topic of being generous with our present moment? Because the planet, on which our lives depend, is telling us, not so subtly, that she needs some tender loving care. Hurricane Harvey is the latest example. As I write this the loss of human and animal life is unknown, but the category-4 hurricane caused unprecedented flooding, damage, and destruction.
For decades, the overwhelming majority of scientists from various fields have gathered evidence, done research, and then used their findings to warn us and our leaders that global climate change is happening and human behavior is causing it. “Hurricanes will become stronger and more intense,” warns the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Climate Facts website, adding, “The intensity, frequency and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes, as well as the frequency of the strongest (Category 4 and 5) hurricanes, have all increased since the early 1980s…. Hurricane-associated storm intensity and rainfall rates are projected to increase as the climate continues to warm.”
The consequences of climate change are dire, and will continue to worsen if skillful and appropriate actions are not taken to lower our global carbon footprint. The Environmental Defense Fund summarizes some of the consequences in this way:
“Heatwaves are stronger. Storm surges rise higher. Blizzards bring more snowfall. The number of natural disasters has doubled in the past few decades – 90 percent of them are weather related.
“These intensified episodes can cause greater destruction to property and loss of life.
“Such changing conditions have consequences. Coral reefs are dying. Forests are crumbling. Arctic animals, such as polar bears, are losing the sea ice they call home.
“We, too, feel the effects. Climate change threatens our agriculture, health, water supply, infrastructure and more.”
This leads us to wonder, what are we to do?
What is Life Asking of Me at This Moment? (Part 1)
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Millions of people have volunteered or sent a donation to the The American Red Cross and The Humane Society of the United States to help the disaster relief efforts for the humans and animals who are lacking basic essentials. This outpouring of love and compassion is wonderful and must continue.
Helping those who are hurting is skillful. Also skillful is recognizing the wisdom that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The earth who lovingly provides for us and our families, is hurting and needs our help. Consider doing some of these things to help heal the earth’s ailing climate:
- Get informed. If you don’t feel informed on the issue, read NASA’s concise, science-based Climate Change Facts pages on their website.
- Call, email, or write the mayor of your city, the governor of your state, and your state and federal representatives. All of their contact info can be found online. Fully addressing climate change is going to take collective action. From a place of love and compassion, tell them, “I am a constituent who is concerned about climate change. I am calling to ask you to implement a plan of action to make our [city, state, country] powered by 100% wind and solar energy by 2050 so my children [and grandchildren] can live on a healthy planet that continues to provide for them. Thank you for your time and your attention on this issue. May love and wisdom protect and guide you always.” Feel free to adapt and change this message as you see fit.
- Reduce your carbon footprint. Here are several ways to help:
- Eat more plant foods and fewer animal foods. Download Mercy For Animals’ free Vegetarian Starter Guide PDF for great recipes and ideas to help you boost your consumption of plant foods.
- Drive less; bike, walk, carpool, and take public transit more.
- Fly less; replace needed airplane flights by using the bus, train, or driving (hopefully carpooling) to your destination.
- Be energy efficient. Turn off lights and electronics that are not in use. Use energy efficient appliances.
- Support wind and solar energy. See if your power company allows you to purchase your energy from wind and solar sources, and consider doing so.
Our task, as people committed to awakening, is to be committed to discerning the truth of reality, beyond the words, the concepts, and the delusions. Our task is to see reality as it is, and then lovingly respond with skill and compassion.
When we are present and mindful we have an amazing ability to know the truth directly and skillfully address the reality of whatever is arising. We can know directly the evidence of climate change—rising temperatures, shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels, more erratic weather patterns, and more frequent and more intense storms and droughts. We can also know directly the harm that droughts in Syria and the U.S. cause, the harm that storms like Katrina (2005), Sandy (2012) and Harvey (2017) cause, and we can collectively and individually take skillful, loving action to learn more and make a difference.
What is Life Asking of Me at This Moment? (Part 2)
All this month we have been working with the slogan, “What is life asking of me at this moment?” This slogan is to encourage us to be generous, and give from a place of love for ourselves and others. Buddhist nun and author of Start Where You Are: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, writes, “The essence of generosity is letting go. Pain is always a sign that we are holding on to something - usually ourselves.”
So this week, let the slogan remind you to be generous with your present moment and conceptual time. You can do this by asking these questions:
- Am I letting go of “my” time? Am I seeing time as a gift and a blessing? This will help you to notice when self-view is present and when it is not. Notice the feeling tone of each mental state, and try to discern the distinctions between both of them. In this way, your innate wisdom will grow. Wisdom will see how self-view causes needless suffering, and better understand how to live free of self-view.
- Am I letting go of the thoughts, stories, agendas, and “shoulds” in the head? Am I able to be calm, flexible, and skillful with the present moment as it is actually unfolding? This will help you to notice when fixed-view is present and when it is not. Notice the feeling tone of each mental state, and try to discern the distinctions between both of them. In this way, your innate wisdom will grow. Wisdom will see how fixed-view causes needless suffering, and better understand how to live free of fixed-view.
For the next week, let the slogan remind you to investigate your relationship to time in this way. Let it help you notice when the delusions of fixed-view and self-view are operational. You will know they are not operational when you are calm, peaceful and patient with whatever is arising, and you respond to what unfolds with skillfulness and ease.
Be generous with your present-moment because it is not “yours.” It is a gift from Life, so use it how Life asks you to use it, given the way the present moment is unfolding. Life will show you what you need to do. Let go of your plans and judgments, and mindfully show up to give life what it requires of you in the moment.
- Reflect on the past week or month and list five to ten situations which have caused you to become impatient. List them in your journal.
- Of those situations you listed, choose three of them that happen routinely in your life. One at a time, remember the situation and try to get back into that head-space of what you were thinking and what you were feeling when it happened. Then notice if either self-view or fixed-view were present. If so, what were the associated thoughts and feelings that were arising? Which thoughts were you mistaking as the truth?
- For each thought you mistook to be true, write down that thought, and then a calm, reasonable, and more honest response to it. For example, maybe you felt impatient doing the dishes and you remember mistaking to be true the thought, “I don’t have time to do these dishes.” Write that down and then write a calm, levelheaded, truthful response to it, such as: “Life has given me enough time to do what’s important. Doing the dishes serves my family and me. We all enjoy having a clean kitchen and dishes, so when we prepare meals, we can do so efficiently. In this way, doing the dishes promotes harmony in our family and helps make all of our lives more wonderful.”
- The next time you find yourself in these situations, become very mindful. Look to see if self-view or fixed-view is operational, or not. If so, notice their delusional nature and feel how they cause you to suffer. Pay attention to the thoughts in your head, notice what they are, and know they are not the truth (because there is no such thing as a true thought). Then respond to them in a calm, reasonable, manner based on what you wrote in your journal. Stay mindful. Does this diminish or extinguish the feelings of impatience, stress, or anxiety? Does it help you do the dishes, continuing our previous example, as an act of love for yourself and family, allowing it to be done effortlessly and with joy? It may be that the habit pattern is so strong, that nothing really seems to change. Just keep mindfully watching it for as long as it lasts. The more you see it, the less power it will have over you both now and in the future. Depending on how deeply ingrained a habit pattern is, you need to mindfully see it operating approximately 5 to 5,000 times in order to remove it, or purify your heart and mind of it. Even though the road may be long, every time you see it mindfully, with equanimity, and without acting it out or pushing it away, you remove some of its power over you.
We are here to serve, so let us know how we can make your life more wonderful! If you are having and problem with the site, audio files, or so on, let us know. If you have a comment or question about the content, let us know. Thank you! May you know your deepest essence to be boundless love, peace, joy, and compassion.