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Healing The Relationship Between Mind And Object

July 22, 2012

When we practice meditation on breathing, we place our attention on the breath.  In the language of meditation, we say that our breath becomes our object of meditation (that is, our breath is the object upon which we place our attention during our meditation practice.) The Tibetan Buddhist scholarly tradition has a technical definition for the term object: an object is “that which can be known.”  So an object of meditation is something that we can get to know by placing our attention upon it during our meditation. (This is reflected in the language used to describe our practice. The Tibetan word for meditation, gom, means “familiarize.” The English word “meditate” stems from an ancient  word that means “measure.”)

The Bad Lama likes to ask his classes, “Which is more powerful, mind or object? Is your mental and emotional reaction to any object due more to the characteristics of that object or more to the character of your mind?”  Many of us would say that we believe that the mind is more powerful than objects. But when we examine our experience, we find that we act as if objects have an extraordinary power. We feel as if we are pulled by some objects and pushed away by other object. Objects seem to control our mind! But objects are not intrinsically powerful, says the Bad Lama: we give power to objects. We create addictions to some objects and allergies to others.

Reflect for a moment: which objects have power over you?  Which of your possessions possess you? Which objects attract you? Which objects repulse you? Do you believe that you would be happier if you possessed certain objects? Do you believe that you would be happier if certain objects were banished forever from your experience?

We develop abusive relationships with objects. We try to keep some objects trapped in cages so we can play with them whenever we want. We don’t want to give them the freedom to leave us.  We heap abuse on other objects.  We call them bad names and try to make them go away.  We may even try to destroy them.  And there are some objects that we simply neglect; we never pay them any attention at all. And, just as in abusive relationships, we blame the victims – we claim that it is the object, not ourselves, that is to blame for our reaction.  “I didn’t want to get angry and yell at that stoplight.  It made me do it.”

The Bad Lama says that the ultimate goal of Buddhist meditation practice is to heal the relationship between our mind and the objects that it perceives. We may think that the goal of meditation is to become calm and settled, but that’s only a step on the path.  True calmness comes about because of a healthy relationship between mind and object. If we try to become calm and settled by pushing away certain objects and clinging on to other objects, our calmness will not last long

We begin the process of healing the relationship of our mind to objects by simply being present with our object of meditation. When we place our attention on an object of meditation (such as our breathing), we try to let go all of our projections about that object.  We notice when we have thoughts about the object.  We let them go. We notice when we have strong feelings about the object; if we feel that the object is somehow especially good or especially bad.  We let those feelings go, too. We just try to sit with the object, to get close to it, and to learn to experience it free of all of our projections, all of our hopes, and fears.

When we’re no longer scheming about what the object can do for us, or fearing what the object might do to us, then we can simply appreciate the object as it is.  We become free! This freedom is not freedom from an object.  We don’t have to make an object go far away or place warning signs and cages around the object in order to be free.  Instead we become free with respect to an object.  That object can come into our experience or leave our experience without freaking us out. When we have that kind of equanimity, then we can appreciate whatever comes into our experience. Then all objects become part of the richness of our lives, and we may begin to experience a vast happiness (which thrives in freedom) as opposed to a limited happiness that creates dissatisfaction as its shadow.

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