A Window is Where the Wall is Absent

The life impulse to express and to connect arises in me and in all of us. This blog is a celebration of these life impulses. Please feel free to join in the conversation or to just visit. There is a Family Photo Album beneath the posts so you can "meet" my family and I. Welcome!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Distinguishing interpretation from actuality


               The drawing is either two faces or a candlestick, depending on how we look at it.

     Yesterday I sat in a room with a few hundred other people as Eckhart Tolle intertwined his fingers and said something like this, "Often people think that their interpretation of an event and the event itself are the same thing.  There is no such thing as a dreadful event.  All events are neutral.  'Dreadful' is an interpretation that is added to the event."  Eckhart disentangled his fingers, saying, "Waking up is when we see that the interpretation is not reality."  Eckhart held out one hand to represent the world of the mind, with its interpretations, judgments, opinions, and painful stories.  The other hand represented actuality, the event without any overlay of thought.  Presence is awareness freed from identification with mental forms.  It is who we are beneath our stories of who we are.

     Eckhart was talking with a woman with health problems who had lost her job.  "There are no dreadful events," he reiterated.  "There are only events, which can be challenging.  Challenges are real.  Problems exist only in the mind."   Eckhart's comments to this woman may sound unsympathetic, but they were the opposite. "Freedom is not dependent on pleasant conditions but on clear seeing," he said, and the woman looked as if a load had been lifted off her shoulders.

     For decades one of my worst fears has been the possibility of becoming obese, as obesity runs in my family.  Eckhart also pointed out that what we fear, we tend to attract into our lives.  When my husband and I became engaged to be married seventeen years ago, I said to him, "Promise me that you will divorce me if I ever get fat."  He smiled and replied, "Okay, I promise."

     Around the time I turned forty I went through four pregnancies in six years (three Cesarian sections and one miscarriage).  Gradually my fear of gaining weight became reality.  My sweet husband has also put on a few pounds, and thankfully he broke his promise to divorce me if I gained weight.  For years now, every day there is the relentless march of shameful thoughts in my mind for being overweight.  Every day there is a ready-made excuse to complain and hate myself and obsess over myself, etc.

     Can I distinguish between the interpretation and the actuality?  The actuality is the body weight.  According to a medical definition, I am overweight.  This actuality is neutral.  Further actualities are that I am physically fit, I am pain-free, and I enjoy walking.  I have a higher risk for weight-related health problems and I would like to lose weight.  None of these actualities produces suffering.

     The suffering comes in from the agony of thoughts of embarrassment, shame, unworthiness, and separation from others.  The suffering comes from the judgments, "This shouldn't be.  Things should be different.  I am a failure." etc.

     I am learning to distinguish reality (body weight) from the mental interpretations (this is a problem, this is unacceptable, this makes me miserable).  I am beginning to feel more at peace in my body right now just as it is.  I am in fact grateful for this body with its capacities of sight, hearing, taste, touch. I am grateful for the unfathomable mystery of this body that has been the doorway into this world for the three human beings I love most-  Chris, Mary, and Jack.

     Problems disappear when they are seen to be nothing more than mind-waves.  The actuality remains, but it is what it is, and it is non-problematic.  Even when the mind-waves reappear (habitual thoughts pop up again and again) they can be seen as innocent mind-waves rather than as a source of distress.

     This is similar to the shift that can occur when looking at a picture such as the one above; nothing actually changes, but there is a transformation in perception-  where there had been two faces there is now only a candlestick.  Actuality bathed in transparent awareness free of judgments emanates the peace that passes understanding.

(Addendum: Please see comment # 7 on this post for information about a subsequent talk where Eckhart speaks of dreadful events in the world.)

~

34 comments:

Colleen Loehr said...

I was having a little trouble with blog settings today and inadvertently deleted a comment that someone had posted that I had not read. I don't know who posted the comment, but I apologize for this error and hope you will re-post your comment. Thanks, Colleen

Alton said...

"Often people think that their interpretation of an event and the event itself are the same thing."

With myself I not only interpret events, I imagine events as if they are really going to occur.
What a waste of precious attention and a diversion of who I am into who I believe I am.
At least I now know, because of my sage teachers, that what appears on the consciousness screen cannot be me, or the rather the stable me. My meditation practice got a lot simpler the last week.
I only have to do one task. I notice when the attention is on thoughts and not on the space between the thoughts.
When the attention is on the space between the thoughts, I am no longer Alton the person who experiences
existential discontentment, or as some teachers characterize it, Suffering. When the attention is caught up with thinking,
I notice that and redirect it again and again to the space.

Colleen, I was hoping that you shared with us about your retreat.

Mahalo,
Alton

Colleen Loehr said...

Hi Alton,
Thank you for your comments, and I'm glad to hear that your meditation practice has gotten simpler. It's wonderful to be aware of space. Eckhart spoke about how much intelligence there is in this thought-free awareness. The existential discontentment or suffering is in no way suppressed or avoided, it's just that your attention is no longer glued to it. Your awareness softens and opens to notice the space between thoughts that had previously been unnoticed and considered insignificant. But this "least thing" of open space turns out to be a treasure. Eckhart spoke about this too, saying the least shall be most and the last shall be first.

I appreciate your comments Alton.
Mahalo, Colleen

Alton said...

I appreciate your blog Colleen.

During the first part of todays retreat I noticed that what I thought was space was filled with concepts. That is not the Real space. The last part of the day the thoughts got a lot quieter and I had some peace like a person on Valium.

Aloha,
Alton

Susannah said...

That is so true - "Often people think that their interpretation of an event and the event itself are the same thing. There is no such thing as a dreadful event. All events are neutral. 'Dreadful' is an interpretation that is added to the event."

Events just are, it is our interpretation of an event that causes the issues. People can get into a loop of looking at things in a certain way - looking for problems, or looking for beauty - both habits. ;-)

A shift in perception can be life changing - it literally changes what we thought 'reality' was.

Most people have things that press their buttons and cause reactions, so it is the response to the situation rather than the situation that causes the issues.

I am 'obese' and have been for most of my adult life. I am also a vital, attractive woman who feels good about her body and feels at home and beautiful in my skin. I haven't written a negative story around it.

But my 'thing' was always losing my teeth! :-) My Grandmother had hers removed at an early age due to a genetical predisposition to gum disease, my father suffered from it too - AND I have issues with my gums - eek! ;-)

It is such a gift when we are able to separate the reality from the story - one that I am so thank full for.

Another lovely post Colleen, thank you for sharing Eckharts wisdom. :-)

Colleen Loehr said...

Hi Alton,
I'm glad your meditation is going well and that you had a sense of the space in which thoughts occur. To sense the space around thoughts is to not be totally caught up in the thoughts, which is freedom from the mind. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Colleen Loehr said...

Hi Susannah,
Thanks for your great comments and for sharing some of your own experience.

The mind is a filter, like rose-tinted glasses, that colors everything we see, often without our realizing this. I was often at war with the rose-tinted appearances (so to speak), trying to get them to appear differently while I continued to look through the same mind, the same filter of "rose-tinted glasses." After I posted this blog entry I read pages 114-115 in A New Earth, where Eckhart describes this process very clearly. Fighting appearances is an exhausting approach that ultimately fails when we're stuck in the same mind-structures. Stepping outside of identification with thought, taking off the rose-tinted glasses of our concepts, is the nonviolent approach that is effective.

Incidentally, I am listening to Eckhart give a series of talks, and the day after I quoted Eckhart as saying, "There are no dreadful events.", he spoke at some length about all the "dreadful events" in the world, such as violence and starvation. "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," wrote Emerson, and I was not bothered by the seeming inconsistency of Eckhart saying "There are no dreadful events." and "There are many dreadful events in the world today." From a conventional view point there are many horrific conditions that people on the planet are enduring, and this need not be denied or belittled. When I am less hypnotized by my own supposed "problems", energy is freed to make a positive difference in the world.

It's always a joy to read your comments Susannah, thank you so much! Colleen

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