Life Is Verbing.

Via Benjamin Riggs
on Feb 10, 2011
get elephant's newsletter

Discovering Meditation In America- Part Three:

Life Is Verbing.

Spirituality is an internal inquiry into the causes and conditions that give rise to our dissatisfaction.

Let’s begin our inquiry into the causes of suffering by mentioning the backdrop of impermanence.

Everyone and their mom knows intellectually that the whole lot of existence is in a state of endless revolution. On the other hand, few people go through life truly conscious of this fact. We simply ignore the way things actually are. So the point of this discussion and the practiced introduced in the video below, is not to explain impermanence to you, but to point it out; to wake you up to the truth of change.

Alan Watts use to compare life to music. The point of music is music. People enjoy listening to music for the rhythm, the stream of melody. No one is listening to music to hear it end. If they were, then, as Watts suggested, their favorite songs would be the ones that ended immediately, with one single uproar of noise. Life is the same way. The point of Life is Life, to participate in the melody or live. The only way to participate is through simple awareness.

The problem is that we see ourselves as some permanent thing apart from the music, so we are all the time trying to pause the song so that we can relate with it. We are far too busy conjuring up fantasies, and trying to impregnate reality with them, to experience “one-ment” with the music, to actually hear the song.

Before we can begin to discuss how ego repeatedly tries to pause the music, we must understand the need in solidifying space. In order to do this, we must develop some general idea of what is meant by the ego. The ego is nothing more than a concept, a mental formation. In and of itself, this concept has no meaning; it is just a collection of thoughts swirling around an empty center. This empty center is what thought perceives as the poverty mentality or missing mentality described last week…

The ego derives a sense of purpose or direction from its interactions with “other.” It seeks to ignore the empty center by stuffing it full of expired experiences. It is the ultimate hoarder!  The ego constructs meaning or identity through its associations with “everything else.” So the ego is not only a concept, it is a concept which is defined by things that are other than ego…

The ego is dependent upon relationship or entertainment, which is dependent upon separation… So, the ego has to experience itself as distinct and separate from life. As a result, we are discontented or feel lifeless.

Upholding this segregationist stance is necessary if any sort of relationship or interaction with life is to be possible. It is through this relationship with “everything else” that the “ego” receives a receipt, a proof of purchase so to speak. Based on the vouchers ego has managed to stockpile throughout its many lives a type of identity is formed. It is this relationship with the “everything else” category that defines the ego, but in order to have this relationship there must be some-thing other than ego, and therefore distance or space between the two. The ego’s very existence is dependent upon freezing or preserving this contrived unit of separation…

Through the medium of ignore-ance, thought is perceived to be the representative of some mysterious figure known as the self. So, there appears to be someone who owns and manages all of our experiences. We imagine ourselves to be a solid thing with intrinsic characteristics. Now imagine for a moment the problems one is bound to experience if they view themselves as a solid thing in a fluid world…

Things change. If we think that we do not, we will always feel ill-equipped or out of place, like a foreigner in our own skin. Take for a moment the transition between being single and in a relationship. When you are single you develop a lifestyle that that doesn’t have to take into consideration another person. You can wake up in the morning drink your coffee, read the paper, have breakfast, go to work, go to the gym, hang out with friends, etc. When you bring another person into the mix you cannot continue to operate on the same schedule. The situation has changed, so your old schedule is outdated. This is not a problem. We assume it is, but it isn’t.

We think it is a problem because, we experience ourselves in a particular way, as a static entity that does certain things. A situation that doesn’t allow for us to do those certain things at specific times threatens our sense of self. This is because our sense of self is nothing more than a snap shot of the past. We experience ourselves as if we were portraits.

Now many people say we should not have to give up who we are in order to be in a relationship. This is our way of saying that from where I sit there is a problem with change! The problem being, the present moment will not allow me to be who I am so long as who I am is based on past information. This more or less always the problem; intimate relationships are just the most obvious example of this dynamic.

I say, if you do not have to give up who you are, then you are not in a serious relationship… In fact, if you do not have to give up who you are every moment of every day, then you are not in the moment! Changing situations should affect my behavior. That is sanity; allowing new information to affect my behavior. Lets’s say I am at a bar talking with friends, and a man walks in holding a shot-gun and says, “Next son of bitch who says a word gets shot in the head!” I am not going to hold fast to the belief that I should talk because that is what I was doing! Rather, I will allow the new information to affect my behavior.

Allowing thought to be a reflection of change is sanity. From this point of view, thought is always fresh because, life is always changing. This is original thought. We are not other than life. Thought is not other than life. Everything is an expression of life, and life is change.

We have to accept the fact that we cannot wrestle happiness out of this world simply by putting life in a head-lock, and forcing it to play with us. We have to see that life is change, change is life; that they are one in the same thing. Furthermore, we are not somehow other than this change, we are Life. Confusion and discontentment arise from the mistaken belief that we are a solid entity. Happiness, peace, and contentment are by products of the recognition that we are a verb.

Please Watch the video below (audio is fixed, Yay!) There is a basic practice meant to initiate the restoration of sanity.

Now let’s get some discussion going:

How do you relate to change… With grace? Or resistance?

Do you feel as though you are somehow other than change? Like you are a static entity that does not participate in change but observes it?

Can you recall any instances where, perhaps not intellectually but in practice, you were literally trying to freeze life? Stop the unceasing flow of change?


About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the author of Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West. He is also the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA and a teacher at Explore Yoga. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist and Christian spirituality on Elephant Journal, and his blog. Click here to listen to the Finding God in the Body Podcast. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


28 Responses to “Life Is Verbing.”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Refuge Meditation, Red Fox. Red Fox said: Life Is Verbing. […]

  2. Sarah says:

    Brilliant Ben… I love it… I always like to say "let it go and let it flow"….
    Thank you for sharing…

  3. Chris Randall says:

    wow i just realized that i have been fighting change and trying to force change for the past 40 years the past year and a half ive been getting better slowly and i am starting to be less resistant but i do find myself with remnants of the spiritual materialism that kept me down for so long i find myself wanting and instead of letting my life progress as it is meant to i attempt to force myself and others to conform to my desires and beliefs. thanks for the new thoughts good stuff to flow with

  4. Stressless says:

    I feel the only time I notice change for the most part is when it is difficult.. and I notice that the difficulty brings forth a basic feeling of FEAR. Of course I'm afraid of fear.. or hurt.. physical and mental.. so I resist change.. and yet if and when I do decide that I've had enough of this loosing sleep or obsessing about it.. or looking away from it (straining), well, then i look directly into it with courage (as fleeting as that sometimes is), and if I can sustain the concentration on it without flinching then it becomes less and less powerful, letting go of its hold on me.

  5. BenRiggs says:

    Can we work with change… Not try to control it per se, but participate in change. Climate does change, but does it change for no reason? Or are there things that set the course of this change? Is it possible that we are affecting this change?
    I have no idea!

  6. BenRiggs says:

    Rohini, thanks for your comment…

    I do not think that change has a point… I do not think there is a lesson installed for us in change. I do not think it is going anywhere. It seems to me that change is just that— change! Failure to realize that I am a dimension of change… That is the problem!

  7. BenRiggs says:

    Oh great comment… Isn't it curious how fear lets go of us when we let go of our expectations… Our static ideas and quit resisting change. It is counter intuitive, but nonetheless true!

  8. TamingAuthor says:

    One line gave me pause: "Furthermore, we are not somehow other than this change, we are Life."

    Do you perhaps see how this contradicts the basic teachings on cessation of attachment to the aggregates? In the teachings, we look at all phenomena and we see that all phenomena are constantly changing. We see that the nature of fabricated phenomena is constant change.

    At the same time, we see that we are not those fabrications. We are not that which changes. All that changes is not self. And the task, in the practice, according to the teachings, is to cease attachment to that which is not self, that which is fabricated phenomena, that which changes.

    Do you see how that might contradict the idea that "we are not somehow other than this change"? It appears that we are exactly somehow other than this change, as we are not fabricated phenomena, but rather a Buddha, one who has Buddha Nature, which is unborn, unconditioned, unchanging, timeless, and formless.

    Is there a need to qualify or detail the idea further? Is there a way we can bring these aspects of the teachings into a consistent relationship?

  9. yogi mat says:

    Standard nihilism masquerading as dharma – nothing to see here people – we are nothing – life is process – yawn yawn – lets all enjoy it – group hugs – don't forget to smell the roses – yeah yeah – we got it 2500 years ago. Now wonder people backslide into God when all they have is flakey Dharma like this.

  10. […] For more on change and our relationship to it, check out, “Life is Verbing.” […]

  11. BenRiggs says:

    If I am not other than change, then self is no self because it is not a thing… It is spacious. Change. Without space change would not be possible. Could you imagine a car driving down a road that had no space??? HaHa! A road is space.

    From this point of view attachment is an irrelevant term… It would be like my hand trying to grab itself!

    Life is "unborn, unconditioned, unchanging, timeless, and formless." The Buddha did not become those things, he realized he was a dimension of life.

    We have to be careful not to cling to emptiness either, wouldn't you agree?

  12. BenRiggs says:

    There is ABSOLUTELY nothing (haha) nihilistic about this article… It is about complete and total fulfillment… It blows right by clinging to emptiness, and falls into totality— Luminosity. Life as fulfillment.

    You want to ignore the fact that I am saying beyond death life persists!

  13. TamingAuthor says:

    Not sure I am tracking with what you are saying. A Buddha is other than change. So we are other than this change. Right? Were you agreeing?

    Fabrications change. They are temporal. Transitory. Changing. All that changes is not Self.

    A Buddha, Self, is not change. It is not a thing. That does not mean it does not exist. (As in the mistake of saying no Self.) The error we fall into is assuming only things exist. We fail to understand the No Thing, the Self, the Buddha, that is pure being without Thingness.

    This is the dividing line between ignorance (which gives rise to fabrications) and enlightenment (pure consciousness without Thingness).

    A Buddha is not space either. Space is also a fabrication. It is created by a Buddha. Attention extended brings about space. The visualization exercises bring about awareness of the creation and destruction of space through attention. This universe is only one possible space. There are other spaces, other universes.

    Change requires space and something that changes position in that space. (That could even be the boundaries of the space. Space expanding or contracting is a change.) This is not the identity of a Buddha, but rather that which a Buddha brings into existence.

    Attachment is never an irrelevant term once one has fabrications and change. Attachment in its core form is simply saying I am the form. This identification with form is total attachment. The cessation of attachment is a vital cornerstone of Buddhism, without which the whole discipline crumbles.

    Not sure where the idea "he realized he was a dimension of life" comes from. The Buddha eschews all attachment/identification with dependently-arisen form. This, once again, is the basic foundation of all that he taught. The enlightenment of which he speaks is a realization that Self is "unborn, unconditioned, unchanging, timeless, and formless." That is an understanding of Buddha Nature, the nature of Self, the nature of a Buddha.

    While one can cling to the idea of emptiness, to some written symbols, one cannot cling to emptiness for emptiness is simply the nature of all fabrications. It is simply awareness that ALL fabrications, all phenomena, do not have stand-alone existence. They are empty of inherent and independent existence. Another way of saying the same thing is that all fabrications are dependently-arisen, they dependent for their existence on something other than themselves. Another simple way to say the same thing is that all appearances arise from Buddha Mind. All Things are simply mental projections, or as Trungpa once noted, all dharmas are as though a dream.

    These concepts are not mere theory or intellectual discourse. They are vital to the practice. They have very powerful roles to play in the practice, and if a practice does not rest upon them as a foundation, it will very quickly hit some dead ends and adverse results.

    Most of the Buddha's teachings revolve around these basic concepts. He stated the same thing in many different ways, in many different sutras, always circling back to these very fundamental concepts.

    Is there a way in which this begins to make sense or is there something or anything about it that seems unclear or inaccurate or confusing?

  14. TamingAuthor says:

    Ben, I see why the two apparently different responses. The idea that we are not somehow other than change implies we are that which changes which can be read as nihilistic. It can appear to support the view that beyond all fabrications there is nothing, no self. That would be nihilistic.

    The idea that there is no observer, no one who experiences, also implies nihilism or a collapse into identity with fabrications.

    Maybe you could explain the idea that there is experience without one who experiences. I believe this is problematic but am curious how you come to that idea. Not sure this idea of empty is consistent with the Buddha's use of the concept. Seems like there might be some confusion here.

    Perhaps introducing the twelve nidanas would help. It appears to me the confusion centers around the nature of the aggregates, the fabrications, and aggregate consciousness versus Buddha consciousness. You may be reflecting on the idea that aggregate senses are not self, thus IN THOSE AGGREGATES there is no Self that is an observer and one only has one fabrication imprinting another fabrication and all those fabrications are without an observer IN THEMSELVES. This observation of the nature of fabrications and aggregate consciousness is accurate but fails to include the Self, the Buddha, who is the observer of all fabricated or aggregate existence.

    In other words, it seems the analysis is correct within a specific limited and bounded framework but is not an all inclusive overview of all in play. Does that make sense?

  15. TamingAuthor says:

    I did not get where in the argument the idea that one survives body death comes in. Missed it.

  16. BenRiggs says:

    When I say 'things' I mean the attempt to freeze or frame up certain aspects of life with conceptual boundaries… From an experiential point of view, the self is the uber-boundary. Life is bigger than these boundaries. Buddha nature is uncreated. Life is uncreated or unborn. I am certainly not using the word Life as just another thing, or as I often say, Life is not some- thing we do! I would say I may be using the word life in the same way some mystics might use the word God!
    We are talking about the same thing, just from from two different points of view.

  17. BenRiggs says:

    Yes… I agree. There is an awful to left to be said… We are in week 3!

  18. BenRiggs says:

    "Things' die… Life does not. It was my way of differentiating between the conceptual framework of perception and the pure experience of non-dual awareness.

  19. TamingAuthor says:

    Okay, starting to track. The language is always problematic. I try to write in non-jargon terms, as you do, and it can become challenging. And then I find myself triggering off certain uses of language, so I have to check and double check that I have not found disagreement where there is none.

    Some terms, like Life, imply numerous concepts and I am not always certain what the specific implication might be.

    For example, my experience is that a Buddha transcends attachment to a specific body. There is a continuity of consciousness from attachment to attachment, from moment to moment, but that continuity becomes obscured and obfuscated.

    The term Life seems more generic. Not sure if it includes the view of a Buddha having continuity of Self and awareness. It seems to imply a reification, an amorphous blob of Being "out there." ??

  20. BenRiggs says:

    "The term Life seems more generic. Not sure if it includes the view of a Buddha having continuity of Self and awareness. It seems to imply a reification, an amorphous blob of Being "out there." ??"

    I think 'life' is much like any other term that attempts to point out non-dual nature… It is both exacting and vague. There is a precision when considered from the point of view of some physicists & biologists that I have come to appreciate… Take for example the quote in this post from Schrodinger:

  21. TamingAuthor says:

    This seems to wander into reification of a "monism blob out there." Also the language of "non-dual nature" has become Wilber-speak and is not very helpful. Seems to be jargon that lacks precision.

    What do you think is meant by "non-dual nature"? You would agree that samsara, the world of fabrications, the dependently-arisen world, is dualistic top-to-bottom, right?

    Is this another way of pointing to Buddha Nature? Or does it try to skirt around the discussion of Buddha Nature and point to something else? Just not sure. It seems to be used often in a context that doesn't fly.

    There seems to be an effort afoot in many quarters to escape the first-person path of a Buddha out of obfuscation and attachment and replace it with vague jargon that seems to seek some scientific cred. Basically a way to say "Hey, I'm down with you materialists so don't dis me. Let me have my spirituality while retaining my status and cred as being a scientific dude."

    We see the worst possible example of this approach in the work of Stephen Batchelor. Wilber suffers a milder case of science envy. I am always amused when readers write, "Batcelor, what's wrong with Batchelor?" It is just so not Buddhism that rather than cry one must just laugh. The problem is the attempt to take that which is false (philosophical materialism) and incorporate it into the opposite — Buddhism.

  22. TamingAuthor says:

    Right. I agree that monism and out there would be logically incompatible. But it is a concept that is trotted out frequently. Sometimes inadvertently.

    A realm of No Thing relates to non-dualism. The term is frequently used in other ways, as if non-dualism could be a property of samsara. Often used to simply mean non-adversarial or non-contention.

    Would love to probe more at the idea of no "me" in the transcendent Buddha experience. Maybe you are making a distinction I am not seeing. You do not mean that there is no Self, no conscious I, do you? You are not suggesting it is a reified other rather than simply our most basic state of awareness… being aware of being aware without objects?

    Not sure I agree with the identification of samsara, the realm of fabrications with Nirvana. Seems likes apples and oranges. Maybe you were thinking of this in some way I am not catching.

    Buddha Nature, the nature or properties of a Buddha, should be accessible. Not sure the practice goes anywhere without it. Not sure what you mean by too much ground for ego to stand on. Are you saying a Buddha does not experience? Are you saying a Buddha has been unconscious and without experience? Not sure what is wrong with owning an experience. That does not seem problematic unless one makes the error of becoming attached to the experience or identified with the experience. Otherwise, a Buddha should be conscious moment to moment, definitely conscious and aware of experience and observing and being. Am a bit confused where you were going with this one.

    I did not assume you were seeking scientific cred. Was referring to Batchelor and to a lesser degree Wilber. Now here we find ego gaining a strong foothold.

    I, too, find a very strong common ground between Christianity and Buddhism. They cover very similar ground. Language differences. Cultural differences. But the same view "from the top."

    On a Facebook page today I encountered confusion about Buddha Nature. I responded with what I believe is a vital factor to be considered. As aggregate self we can never bring about liberation. An aggregate self (false self, attached self, ego self) can never liberate itself as it has the nature of fabrications, the nature of a lie. Only a Buddha Self, only one who views from this vantage point can bring about liberation. Therefore, the practice is all about bringing about those moments when we can view as Self, for it is only in those moments that we purify affliction, obfuscations, and break the bonds of attachment. Therefore, we risk failing to achieve liberation if we make mistakes regarding self and Self, even at the entry level of the practice.

  23. […] Impermanence now appears, not as unified stream of energy, but as a million different things happening to us… […]

  24. […] centralized observer- the ego- created the concept of time. Time, then transformed impermanence- the unceasing ebb and flow of life- into millions of events swarming around us all at once… Life seemed to be attacking us from […]

  25. […] and individual awareness—the enlightened mind—underlying this eternal revolution. ~from Life Is Verbing by Ben […]

  26. […] Three: Life Is Verbing. Excerpt: “Allowing thought to be a reflection of change is sanity. From this point of view, […]

  27. […] Life as Meaning and Life Is Verbing by Benjamin […]

  28. […] the internal challenges run rampant. The “shoulds” weigh on my shoulders and the self-imposed guilt when I decline invitations and remove myself from generalized “busy-ness” of happenings, […]