what is lacking?
Episode 7: "What in this moment is lacking? And to answer, look, don't think." The words of my Zen Master spoken to me some 30 years ago continue to serve me and my students in profound ways. Join me in this episode and learn how they can help you reconnect with the nourishing simplicity present in each moment of your life.
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What in this moment is lacking?
Welcome to this perfect moment, a podcast dedicated to helping you use ancient wisdom to unlock your life of radical happiness, connection, and meaning right here, right now. I'm your host, Eric Walrabenstein and I'm glad you're here.
Right now, in this moment, if you have a problem, it is only this: how you feel. It's not the balance in the bank account, it's not the friction in the relationship, and it's not the diagnosis about your health. That is true in this moment and it is true in every moment.
Now, I'm fully aware that this is going to at first ring as untrue.
Of course, the bank account balance is a problem. Of course the friction in the relationship is a problem and of course the diagnosis is a problem, the mind will tell you. The mind will tell you, and you might argue, well, the mind is right though.
Let's not forget that the so-called you arguing that the mind is right is really just the mind arguing that the mind is right. A convoluted but interesting conversation for another time.
But the critical question here is, are you more interested in being right or in being happy?
I mean, consider this. You could be sitting on a deck sipping a cup of tea and watching a breathtaking sunset with a loved one. And if you feel overwhelmed by anxiety, it's a problem.
You could also be relaxing at the beach with the sun on your face, and the warm sand in your toes. And if you feel beset by sadness and despair, it's a problem.
And you could also be $57,286 in debt, in the midst of a breakup, and have just gotten the news that you need surgery. And if you feel happy, it's no problem.
How do I know? Well, simply it's because I've lived each of these.
Here's what I used to believe. I used to believe that I was worried because I didn't have enough money. And I used to believe that I was stressed because I had 67 hours of work that I needed to accomplish in the next 10 and a half hours. And I used to believe that I was angry because my girlfriend forgot to pick me up and left me standing out in the rain for an hour.
In other words, I used to believe that if it was possible for me to be happy now with these circumstances that I'm in right now, well, then I would be. And since I wasn't, it must be that these circumstances are somehow at fault.
That's what my mind told me and I believed it.
You see, my mind had me living in my mind's story instead of living in the moment, in reality. And as it turned out, my mind's story was a living hell as compared to the simplicity of what was happening in the here and now. But of course, because I was consumed by the story, by its dramas and its frictions and its problems, I didn't have the eyes to see the truth.
I remember sitting my very first meditation retreat at San Francisco Zen center. This was way back in the late eighties if I recall, and I think it was day three or four of a seven day retreat. And to be honest, I was struggling.
As many of you know, meditation retreats in the Zen tradition are, well, they're no joke, not to be confused with a meditation or yoga vacation where you do a bit of yoga, you meditate for a while, and then frolic by the ocean before throwing back a few Mai Tai's. These sesshins as they're called, are serious work.
You're up at 5:00 each morning, meditating by 5:30 and from there on out, it's hardcore meditation and ritual and practice until 9:00 at night.
So, as you can imagine, my back was aching. My knees felt like they were on fire and my mind was spinning with every conceivable excuse to get the hell out of there. I literally couldn't take it anymore.
Now to be clear, I can take a lot. I was an infantry officer. I went to airborne school, I went to ranger school, I'm very familiar with and I'm very comfortable with extreme levels of discomfort. But this, I was, like, done.
So, on this particular morning I was scheduled for dokusan. Dokusan literally translates as going alone and it refers to a kind of one-on-one student-teacher conference that's held most typically in the midst of a meditation retreat. So, at the appointed time I was sitting on my cushion bolt upright in what looked like a deep meditation, but truthfully it was more like me silently scheming about how I was going to get out of this torture chamber.
Anyway, sitting there in the cold and darkened meditation hall, I felt a tap on my shoulder and that's how I knew it was time. So, I put my hands in gassho or prayer position. I bowed, I turned around on my cushion, stepped off the meditation platform, straightened my cushion, and then I bowed. It's a lot of bowing involved in these things in case you hadn't noticed. And then I walked mindfully toward the docusan room. I can still hear the echoey flip flop of my sandals and the smell of the aroma of sandalwood incense. As I walked down that sparse corridor arriving at the door, I stood quietly awaiting the ring of the bell from my teacher inside. And after a few moments, the bell rang.
I entered, I bowed, I sat, I bowed, and I waited.
My teacher spoke first. "How can I help?" he asked.
And to be honest, I wasn't really sure. I didn't know where to begin or even what my question was, and then it all just kind of came out. "My back was aching and I feared that it would only get worse" I told him. "My knees were on fire and I was afraid I was doing permanent damage". "My nerves were shot". I didn't think I could stay there for three more days. My mind was racing with all of the things I needed to do at work and I feel like I am orders of magnitude more agitated, stressed and frustrated here in this meditation retreat, and I can ever remember being out there in the world.
I wasn't sure that I wanted to share all of that, but there it was.
Now, my teacher looked at me, he smiled lightly and then nodded his head as he closed his eyes. Were we meditating now, I wondered. Was I supposed to close my eyes? But what if I close my eyes and then he opened his, how would I know to open mine? My mind took off again with more of this in consequential nonsense and in just a breath or two later he opened his eyes and leaned closer to me.
"Eric," he said, "I have, but one question". I nodded. "What in this moment" he asked "is lacking?".
Are you kidding me? My mind said. Didn't he hear what I just said about my back and my knees and my mind and my nerves? I was just about to open my mouth. When he held up his long index finger and looked me in the eye
"Before you speak", he said, "look, don't think". So, I took a breath and I did just that. I looked.
I looked at my knees. What in this moment is lacking? I looked at my back. What in this moment is lacking? I looked at my mind and at all of the things it told me were wrong and at all the things I needed to get done and asked, what in this moment is lacking?
And then in that moment I saw something. I saw that all of these things that I had to get done, all of the problems that my mind was telling me needed to be fixed. None of those things were here.
There was no evidence of a job. There were no deadlines. There was no damage to my knees, there was no pain in my back. All of it in this moment was a story in my mind. My mind would argue it was a true story. Of course it would, but nonetheless, when I looked directly independent of my mind's hallucination, this moment was permeated by a kind of nourishing simplicity and resembled the story that my mind had spun in almost no way at all.
What in this moment was lacking? Strangely, when I looked, nothing at all.
And this is the key, look, don't think. Or we could also say, stay put in this moment. Stay put in your experience.
As we talked about back in episode two, most of us believe our minds to be our greatest allies and in many ways that's true, but there are times, and these times are more frequent than you might want to believe, our mind can also be our worst enemies.
What is so easy to forget is that the feelings we feel, they're not part of our objective reality. The anxiety, the fear, the worry, the stress, the overwhelm, all are creations of the mind and to blame them on our circumstances is like, well, it's like blaming the baker for what we do with the pie or blaming the brewer for what we do with the beer.
Now I realize blame is popular and that's because it's easy. It's easier to point fingers than it is to take responsibility, but here's the thing that most of us don't get. It's also more dangerous. Much, much more dangerous.
You see, when you blame your circumstances for your dis-ease, you're turning yourself into a powerless victim. When I say that I'm having a bad day because of the rain, what I'm really saying is that every time there is rain, I have no choice but to have a bad day. And when I say I'm miserable because I didn't lose the weight I wanted, what I'm really saying is that every time I don't get my way, I have no choice but to be miserable.
We turn ourselves into victims of our circumstances, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Your happiness, your joy, your wellbeing are not contingent upon a particular circumstance. You're not a victim of your circumstance. You are a victim of your mind.
Remember, in every moment of every day, your brain is manufacturing your thoughts and feelings and it's using the raw materials of your circumstance to do so. And remember too, that raw material means just that-raw. It could be anything in the same way that my brain manufactured a living hell from the experience of sitting quietly in a sacred meditation center, your brain can manufacture impatience and frustration out of sitting in a comfortable seat and listening to music, also known as sitting in traffic.
But here's the important part, just as easily, both of our brains can be trained to manufacture something different from the very same circumstances, but that simply doesn't occur to most of us all because of the same confused belief that I once had.
The belief that says, if it was possible for me to be happy now with these circumstances, I would be, and since I'm not happy now, it must be that these circumstances are to blame.
And once again, to be clear, this grave miscalculation is the thing that seals our fate, turning us into victims of the hidden tendencies of our minds. Or we could also say victims of the dysfunctional manufacturing process that lives in our minds. And as a result, we are thrown into unnecessary conflict with just about everyone and everything around us. And because we make no effort to change these hidden tendencies of mind, this is where we live forever.
We all know people who are bothered by almost nothing. The kids are going to be an hour late, no problem. The game is rained out, no biggie. The company is going through layoffs again. Is that so? These people are unflappable miracles of mother nature it seems. And too many of us write this most precious of gifts off as a kind of a fluke of DNA. That's just how they are. I'm not like that. The mind tells us yet another story.
But the truth is that we can all be more like that. In the long term, our recognition that the brain can be changed is the key that unlocks this kind of freedom. And of course, repatterning our brains and nervous systems is what the practices of yoga and meditation are all about.
But it does take time and it does take effort, but even so, it's something that can literally change your entire life.
But there's also something that can be done now, something that can provide us relief starting today and it's this--don't let your minds stories about this moment, distort your experience of this moment. Don't look at reality through the story that your never satisfied mind has spun. Don't look at this moment from the perspective of your mind's hallucination. Instead, look at this moment directly, see it as it is, and then ask yourself: what in this moment is lacking?
Well, that's all the time we have for today. As always, I so appreciate you for listening. Keep your comments and questions coming by, dropping me a note from my website at ericwal.com.
Also, if you could do me a favor and help me spread the word about the life changing power of these ancient teachings by sharing the podcast with those who are sincerely interested in living happier, healthier, and better, I'd be forever grateful. And don't forget to hit subscribe so you don't miss out on future episodes.
Thanks again and remember, you're the reason I'm here, so if there's anything I can do for you, please don't hesitate to get in touch. I'm wishing you a week brimming with unexpected blessings and I'll see you next time.