15. The Circle

March 24th 2020, Tuesday

Dear Blog,

Yesterday was anticlimactic. After studying for the entire weekend Hanson did the exam online, which was somewhat frustrating. You need to log online at 9 AM to access the word file, download it, put in your answers, and upload it at 11:05. The problem was Hanson mistook the deadline to be 12:05 after printing out his exam in excitement. The natural result was that he would not be graded and he would have to retake the exam in October. He would probably forget what he had learned so far by the time October comes, but here we are. That is what he meant by anticlimactic, a disappointing end to the useless sufferings that he had been putting himself through, just to suffer again in the next 6 months. Yet he is hopeful. By then he would have become someone different, someone much wiser, more compassionate, and more capable of observing his feelings and thoughts with objective eyes.

During his preparation for the exam he had discovered that his inability to focus was largely connected to the unawareness of his feelings, feelings that he was trying to run away from.

The problem of losing focus starts to seem more like a problem of managing my feelings.

Ordinarily, if you were determined to stay focused on your work notwithstanding a strong desire not to stay focused on your work, you might respond to the thought of researching smartphones with a reprimand: No, don’t think about smartphones—get back to writing! But if you take the mindful approach, you say: Go ahead, think about smartphones. Close your eyes and imagine how it would feel to search for the latest review of the latest smartphone. Examine the feeling of wanting a cool new smartphone and wanting to search online for one. Then examine it some more. Examine it until it loses its power. Now get back to writing!

— Robert Wright, “Why Buddhism is True.”

This goes back to the previous blog post on Buddhism which mentions the module model as one of the theories of the mind that seems to connect psychology with core Buddhism principles. These modules generate thoughts and are activated by feelings. Once the thoughts are recognized then they enter the conscious mind and take root.

Case in point. After reading the prompt of a question that he did not understand he got quite agitated and started to fuck around in his room with distractions. Then he remembered Robert’s teachings and sat down on a chair to observe his feeling, trying to see where exactly in his body did he experience the sensations. It centered around his chest, yet with a closer observation, he could also feel it in his back, his shoulder, his cheekbone, and around the eyes. Because feelings are never just in one place but rather all over the body, with closer examination one could see how feelings are always changing. And instead of trying to shut down his self-pitying voices, he allowed them to come to mind and listen to them with as much compassion as possible.

“You are a loser. You are terrible at studying. You are so stupid. Why can’t you manage your time better? What are you doing here?”

The more he allowed these voices to bubble up the more he could see the feelings behind them, an image of his younger self appeared with tears coming out his eyes, cursing himself and the world in frustration. Instead of trying to use words or intellect to talk to this child, Hanson simply imagined his current self hugging his younger self, pressing his cheeks against the youngster, feeling the tears dripping on his face.

I know you are hurting darling. I know. I am here. I love you so much. And I will never leave you. Never.

The youngster continued to cry and curse, and Hanson made his grip even tighter.

I know baby. I know it hurts. You are okay.

Different past selves and future selves of Hanson also appeared. They centered around the crying child and hugged him so very tightly. They all knew his sorrows. They all loved him. That was the only certain thing.

After a while, the child started to calm down, and when he did, all the thoughts that came along with him dissipated. Against this circle of love, there was simply no room for mistruth.

When Hanson returned to his study, problems that seemed hard was no longer hard, because without the shadows behind them they were just words on a page.

The majority of people are prodigal sons and daughters who fritter away their strengths and efforts on doing pointless things. They stray further and further from their “father’s house”, feeding, like the prodigal son, on husks or whatever they can, until, finally, their poverty of spirit compels them to return to their “father’s house” and then, like little babies, they have to begin to find their way along the path of true life all over again.

—Lucy Mallory

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