May 23, 2011
In “Applying the Practice: Adaptation and Surrender” (Week 4 of his Tricycle Retreat, “Selfless Practice”) Rodney Smith says: “The effect of an unconscious life is suffering.” How can we live a conscious life? The beginning of Smith’s retreat this month has been about identifying the primary obstacle for living a conscious life (the belief in a separate self), and now, building on last week’s teaching, he’s discussing ways to overcome that obstacle.
One strategy in particular that Smith explores—one that we often use for dealing with problems that we have—is adaptation. While adaptation is a valuable human talent, it has some limitations.
Our sense of self is an adaptation process. The sense of me, the sense of my story, or my narrative, is the ongoing adaptation of the different influences and experiences I have in my life coming into a finality of who I am and what I can do—my values and limitations, strengths and weaknesses, those are our comfort levels. Even maladaptation, even those qualities of ourselves that we don’t like become part of what were comfortable with. And we will defend and protect even what we don’t like about ourselves because its familiar to us, and what were familiar with we we've adapted to, will defend and fight for.
This sense of adaptation is really the basis of how the old paradigm—the paradigm of separation—changed and modified and became what we see today. One of the ways that old modifying paradigm changed was in terms of one's attitude. We thought “OK, all we have to do when things are bad is to change our attitude.” In fact, my niece once told me, when I was in line at a swimming event where there were these rides and I was kind of grumbling about having to stand in these lines, and she says, “Uncle Rod, all you have to do is change your attitude.” I was humbled by my niece, and I understood exactly what she meant and I did change my attitude and perked up. But the point is that we go to this sense of changing our attitude as an expression as the culmination of dharma. We think "I'm feeling miserable, if I just…" At a certain sophistication of dharma you realize that thoughts are keeping you oppressed. You realize you can release oppressive thoughts and encourage uplifting thoughts. You have an ability to uplift yourself whenever you really want. For many of us that’s dharma. Well there's nothing wrong with changing ones attitude and I'm not sitting here decrying that as an application, but it's limited. It's really in the old paradigm. We're adjusting to something. Its not movement into the new paradigm.
To participate in this retreat you must be a Tricycle Community Supporting or Sustaining Member. Below is a preview of Week 4 of the retreat.
Also, when you become a Tricycle Community Member, you can join a Special Community Discussion with Robert Chodo Campbell and Koshin Paley Ellison, the founders and co-executive directors of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care.
Image: from the Flickr photostream of Maggie Osterberg