It is said that the Buddha became enlightened when he sat beneath a bodhi tree for 7 days and 7 nights. He is said to have thought to himself: *I will not get up from here until I have awakened.*
He recklessly disregarded his need for food, for water, and for the bathroom. He put aside all concern for suffering, of looking like a fool, and of failure. He essentially said: let wind, rain, insects, hunger, the constraints of the body, and whatever else kill me–but I will not move from here until I am enlightened.
If you pierce the teaching of Jesus’ story, you can see a similar disregard for the flesh in pursuit of ultimate redemption. Jesus allowed himself to be crucified in order to “save the world,” which we might understand to be about bringing an enlightened teaching to the world which instructed us towards a radical acceptance of all that is. Hence Jesus did not contest the circumstances of his world, but went with the flow of events even to his own death. His ascension, after having acted only out of love without regard to pain, death, or suffering–is a metaphor for his enlightenment.
The lesson for us, as practitioners, is to move recklessly towards suffering as opposed to away from it, to “bear a cross,” as Jesus did, to face Mara as the Buddha did.
I have used the word “reckless” here though I could have used the word “courage.” But reckless works better because “courage” seems a heroic principle that we often judge ourselves to lack. But we are all capable of deploying recklessness! Recklessness is the everyman’s courage.
So let’s look closely: A feeling comes up, a thought comes up, an urge comes up and we immediately recoil from it. “I don’t like this,” is our immediate response. Then, we begin to attach a story to it. “I don’t like this feeling/thought/urge because it means I have no will power; it means I am weak; it means I am a bad person.” So then we are entrenched in negativity, which is an experience of cognitive trauma (in Buddhism it is sometimes called a “defilement), and we produce a low vibration, a harmful affective state ensues, and we walk around polluting the environment with that low, traumatizing vibration.
But this low vibration, the cognitive trauma, is not caused by the thought/feeling/urge itself. It is caused by our attempt to stop the sensation (affective or cognitive) of the event. On the deepest level we are saying: “I don’t want to experience this.” This is, therefore, the opposite of radical acceptance.
So we dam back the sensation in an attempt to get rid of it. But it doesn’t work. It’s like pressing down on a wound hoping it will go back into your body and disappear. Obviously, it will not. If you press down on it and try to push a wound into your body so it will disappear you will only infect the wound more deeply and hurt yourself more deeply, delaying your healing.
If you let the wound out to air–do not expand the wound, do not pick at the wound, do not obsess over the wound–but simply let it out by observing it, then, slowly, it will heal. Over time, it will disappear entirely.
Everyone has disturbing thoughts. The degree to which those disturbing thoughts impact your actual behavior is directly related to how much you suppress those thoughts. Again, not suppressing isn’t the same as wallowing or encouraging. It’s simply observing.
So–a thought arises. You simply notice: “Ah the thought has arisen that I want to trip my boss as he walks down the hall.” Notice the thought. *Do not trip your boss*
In fact, in general, do not act on thoughts and feelings *at all.* What is necessary to do is obvious: you must eat, sleep, take care of your body, avoid conflicts with others, avoid harming others, and avoid projecting your thoughts, desires, and feelings onto others. So please understand that the observation of thoughts and feelings, the radical acceptance of thoughts and feelings, does not translate into a radical acceptance of harmful behaviors that could be the result of those thoughts and feelings.
The power of this observations is to demonstrate to yourself that your thoughts and feelings are ephemeral things that need not have any control over your actions *at all.
Do not say, “I am an awful person. I am thinking negative thoughts. Why am I this way? I really need to do a mantra. I need to do more yoga. I need to…to cure myself of these horrible thoughts.” When you do that, you have invested the thought with so much energy and ownership, you are solidifying it.
Instead notice: ah, a thought about tripping the boss. See how long it stays. See how it produces body sensations (if it does): a constriction in the chest? A light-headedness? Simply observe the experience of the thought. And, because it arose, it will pass away. Notice it pass away. And then, let it go entirely.
Recklessness comes in here because we can say to ourselves: no matter how much a thought/feeling/impulse feels bad, scary, unwanted, negative, or whatever–I will not run from it. I will not try to explain it. I will not make a story about it so that I can feel it less. I will not move away from it–but no matter what, I will stay here and I will look at it and see it for what it is. I will not allow it to move me–to make me act, to seduce me into maintaining it through my own disgust and attempts to “cure” it. A wonderful writer once wrote, “To oppose something is to maintain it.” If you oppose the thoughts you “don’t like” in order to get rid of them, you will only strengthen them. So just recklessly decide that whatever thought comes up, you will not react. You won’t even move into a place of “like it” or “disliking it,” because to even identify it as “bad” or “wrong” is to oppose it and hence to maintain it.
Recklessly tell yourself: I don’t care if this emotion cuts me to shreds. I don’t care if this thought destroys me entirely. I will let it arise and I will observe it. I will not strengthen it but I will not run from it, no matter how painful, how weird, or how unexpected.
This is the courage, this is the recklessness, of confronting suffering that awakening requires.