How Not to Take Things So Personally.

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*Notes from a talk by Michael Stone at Centre of Gravity on July 15, 2012 on day seven of a twelve-day intensive, as transcribed by Mike Hoolboom.

Thoughts Without a Thinker

If someone comes to you with spiritual teachings that lie beyond the six sense doors and they have a shaved head and they’re a man, best be careful.

You can hear the Buddha’s earthiness in this teaching. And see how typical this was for his approach:

What does it mean to taste food?

I tried this out on my eight-year old son, Arlyn, at lunch hour today but he wasn’t impressed.

What does it mean to taste food?

You need a tongue, you need saliva or moisture, you need food and a knowing around what taste is.

Oh, that’s taste. If you take away any one of these conditions there is no taste. If there is no food there is no taste. If there is no tongue, there is no taste. It only arrives in conditions. There’s nothing eternally tasty that’s waiting behind these conditions.

A student asked Shunryu Suzuki: If a tree falls in a forest, and no one hears it, has it fallen?” He replied, “It doesn’t matter.”

In meditation you can see that thoughts come and go but you don’t create them. You contribute to the thought field, call it brain gas. And while sitting in meditation, you can watch the gas come and blow away.

But you are not the thinker. You can have thoughts without the thinker.

Similarly, the sense organs can have sense consciousness, can come into contact with a colour or a smell but there’s nothing behind that colour or smell. Though the mind has a tendency to make patterns, to make the colour and smell into something that happens “to me.”

But consciousness is conditioned, it occurs in conditions, not to some eternal, everlasting “me” that lies outside of conditions.

This is the big difference between what the Buddha taught and previous Indian philosophies. The “me” that the mind tries to impose that is “behind experience,” or that the experience is supposedly happening to, is just another mental formation.

Photo by Andrea de Keijzer

There is no personality behind your personality that is going to gain something.

We might think that behind our senses there’s someone whose yoga practice is getting better or who is becoming more spiritual, gaining spiritual air miles. I listen to this dharma talk and it’s like getting my spiritual air miles card swiped. Every month, I get an email from God telling me how many spiritual air miles I have.

The sense organs are often called sense doors. Imagine a house with six windows. There’s an ear window, a nose window, a tongue window…in one second you run 64 times around the house. In mindfulness practice, you slow this process down and try to stay at a single window, you stay with your experience of taste, for example.

And then, you understand that you can have an experience of taste before it becomes your taste. You can have an experience of pain in the knee before it becomes your pain in your knee.

Photo by Andrea de Keijzer

The only way not to take things so personally is to know yourself.

To open to the feeling that the sensations flowing through us is the whole world manifesting in this moment. We become more generous and accepting if we don’t recreate/re-form experience so that it fits into some idea of myself.

The Heart Sutra is saying: it’s not your fault. Give yourself a break. Even when things are hard, there can be some ease.


Editor: Bryonie Wise

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About Michael Stone (Centre of Gravity)

Centre of Gravity is a thriving community of Yoga and Buddhist practitioners integrating committed formal practice and modern urban life. We offer weekly sits, text studies, yoga practice and dharma talks. Retreats, guest speakers, online courses and audio talks deepen the feel. Each week Michael Stone dishes a talk, often on primary texts by Dogen, Patanjali, and the Buddha, that are collaged with today's headlines and psychological insights to produce an engaged shape shifting dharma, at once historical, personal and political. Notes on these talks by Mike Hoolboom form the heart of this blog. Michael Stone is a yoga teacher and Buddhist teacher. He travels internationally teaching about the intersection of Yoga, Buddhism and mental health. He has written four books with Shambhala Publications on ethics, yoga's subtle body, inner/outer pilgrimmages, and the sometimes uneasy blend of social engagement and Buddhism. Please check out the website at .


15 Responses to “How Not to Take Things So Personally.”

  1. […] Being here, being open, touching the calm beneath the reactions and judgments allows the meditator n… […]

  2. fran weller says:

    blah, blah, blah, blah! This article is confusing. Had no meaning for me. EMPTY!

  3. Marcia says:

    I COMPLETELY agree. Confusing, wordy, made absolutely no sense.

  4. Jane says:


  5. Bodil says:

    LOVE IT! 🙂 We become more generous and accepting if we don’t recreate/re-form experience so that it fits into some idea of myself.

  6. Emma says:

    I like the random concepts and thoughts but I think it is quite philosophical to directly relate to the title.

  7. Asia Yogi says:

    not helpful – too difficult to follow. Why are such random musings posted on EJ? Notes taken at a workshop!

  8. mark says:

    I'm not a deep thinker or enlightened one but thought this was an interesting post. Anyone who attempts to meditate, dealing with chattering monkeys can now see them as "mind gas". I like the description! This too shall pass…

  9. Shabkar says:

    If there was something in these remarks about why men are more suspect than women, I missed it. Switching the sexes is often a good test for sexism. Could he have gotten away saying, "And if it's a woman…"?

  10. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    This is so beautiful. Thank you so much, Michael.

  11. […] How Not to Take Things So Personally. […]

  12. Me2 says:

    I liked this and find it helpful!… Thank you!

  13. […] good meditation article. How Not to Take Things So Personally. by Michael Stone (Centre of Gravity) via Elephant […]

  14. ReasonTatters says:

    I've just listened to audio of the lecture off which this post is based and it cut through to me very deeply. Thank you, Michael.

  15. Reader says:

    Loved it and connected strongly with the insight!!… Thank you!