Good day to you, folks!
I wonder if you’re having the same experience as I am as you travel through the world and interact with people in various ways: have you noticed how self-absorbed people are?
What do I mean by ‘self-absorbed’? I mean unable to see beyond their own thoughts and feelings; I mean unable to detach their attention from the flow of experience and the unceasing narrative stream that accompanies their experience. Do you see that also? It’s a rare person who possesses self-awareness enough to see beyond the contents of their own mind.
And then on the other side there are those who give others attention reflexively as a form of self-defense. I would put myself in this category, karmically speaking. This is somewhat rare in comparison to the more obvious form of self-absorption, but this is self-absorption, just the same.
Have you ever had the experience of being in the presence of someone who is not self-absorbed? These are people we tend to remember for their capacity to hold other people’s experience in compassion and kindness. My teacher was like this. Last night I visited with an old friend who trained along with me at the monastery, and I remarked to my friend that it was our teacher’s capacity to fully and completely give other people her attention, without, it appeared, any portion of it siphoned off into self-referencing thought, that attracted me from the beginning, and that caused me to study with her for so long. I felt that she could see me in a way I had never been seen before. I felt that she understood me, and that she could see all the way into my essence. Looking back, after having practiced the way she taught for decades now myself, I understand that the experience of feeling seen understood in her presence came simply from the complete freedom of her attention–that and her vast understanding of the human mind, of our most intimate human needs, of all the ways that we are, and all the ways that we deceive ourselves. Whenever I talked with her she was simply there with me, present with me, and that moved me. I wanted to be able to do that, too.
It has been my experience that spiritual practice offers a way to escape from self-absorption. In my own case, I can’t say that that work is complete, but I believe I have made some progress in that direction, and I’m profoundly grateful for whatever steps I’ve managed to take. It’s no good to live only in the tiny self-referencing bubble offered by conditioned mind. Beyond that bubble is another world–of beauty, openness, space, and peace. That’s the world we’re naturally equipped to inhabit, it seems to me. But in order to live there we have to let go of our self-absorption, and we have to learn through hard and dedicated work how to give our attention to that larger world.
Practice as diligently as you’re willing to, friends. Not because you should, but because of all the practice offers. There is a way to joy and peace. Let us follow this way.