I posted this on a message board where there was a discussion about the notions of an essential self behind personality traits etc. It was clear that there was deep confusion and difficulty with these ideas so I posted this message. It is very pertinent to the MindMusing approach so I am reprinting it here.
I want to offer a possible way out of the dilemmas we face with conflicting ideas of self, morality etc. Please understand that it took me a very long time to come to this point. I am still working on it as we all are, so that what I offer here is just what I have learned so far.
The concern with the essential self, the virtues, the values to maintain and the ones to reject etc. is all the product of thoughts. The experience of confusion is the result of contradictory thoughts. We think one way and then another about the same topic. For example, sometimes it makes complete sense to think on oneself primarily and at other times to think of others. It depends on the situation. Yet if we try to impose a universal moral concept such as “selfishness is bad”, we will experience confusion and anxiety because this contradicts the situation (for example, being attacked – physically, emotionally etc.) The instinct for self-preservation will override the idea of “selfishness is bad” and we are left deeply confused.
I’ve heard some who practice meditation say “I will meditate on that”, but it actually means thinking about it in order to understand it intellectually. This comes from our desire to control everything so we will feel safe. We believe that if we understand something in our thoughts, we are therefore in control of it.
The genius of the Chan (Zen) masters was that they saw the essential problem and went directly to the solution. The problem was the contradictions that can be created by thought and the solution was to sit quietly until thought became quiet. In that quiet, all contradictions are resolved simply because thought is not functioning at that moment.
So try this: When you are sitting quietly, start noticing what is actually happening. A thought will come and go; another will follow and sometimes overlap. This process gets quieter, softer, until at some point you will notice a “space” between the thoughts. Here is the question: Where is the worry and anxiety at that moment?
Let’s be clear – I am not suggesting we should never think. That is just silly. But I am suggesting that we need to balance it with the practice of simple, silent meditation. That silence resolves our conflicts, at least momentarily. And if practiced regularly can resolve some of them permanently as one sees through the contradictions.
It always comes down to practice for its own sake. Silence for the sake of silence.