[Note: this article is a continuation of How to talk to the voices inside your head]. The approach I am about to describe, attempts to make the very tricky balance between compassion (empathy) and wisdom (or discernment, accurate and sober self-perspective, ultimately emotional intelligence). I would call this approach, simply Buddhism.
I view Marco’s 3 Noble Truths as a modern-day — some might call over-simplistic, but trust me, it works — reframe of Buddhism. And lest it sound trite, I want to assure you, that it took me almost 30 years to understand this, to understand Buddhism, as I see it now. The “catch”, the thing that had me stumped, was the practice of meditation (which I am truly awful at, it’s some kind of torture) and the presumed goal of “non-attachment”. How, I thought to myself, could we ever achieve non-attachment? It seemed to me an absolutely fruitless endeavor (I tried during four 10-day meditation retreats in four different lineages); and furthermore of dubious value. Would anyone really want to be completely non-attached to pleasure or pain? Surely, the quest for pleasure and the flight from pain, drives a great deal of beautiful and creative and fun endeavors?
What I finally realized — after 30 years, call me stupid — is that non-attachment is not an end-point, exactly; and that complete non-attachment is neither possible nor desirable (complete non-attachment would be called sociopathy). I now view “non-attachment” as the process of gaining self-perspective that happens to most (not all) people as they get older. It’s partly becoming more comfortable with uncertainty (that the optimal outcome may simply not be known to us), and partly increasing emotional intelligence (gaining more perspective on our emotions, specifically in terms of our reactivity to people or situations):
“Pain is not a punishment, pleasure is not a reward… good and bad, happy and sad, all thoughts vanish into emptiness” — Pema Chodron
In essence, as we get older and wiser (many of the new breed of young people do this as well), we surrender our attachments to our personal agendas in favor of group (or global) agendas and needs. We tend to start to value other people’s success and happiness… not ever entirely as much as we value our own, that would go against our genetic code… just let me say that we tend to value it more, than we did before. And we start to engage the question (the infinitely deep question), of what we can do to make other people happier, by doing things that make us happy as well (or at least, not more unhappy). Because the truth, is that if we are doing things that make other people happy and ourselves unhappy, there is always a price to pay. Other people will actually hate you for it, because they will feel beholden, and they will hate themselves too for sucking the life out of you — even if they are not aware of it. People don’t want that kind of relationship with you. It’s a constant negotiation to make ourselves happy in a way that doesn’t make others unhappy, and vice-versa. The key there is communication, which is itself a much larger question, of course:
“You don’t need to get what you want if you can express what you want” — Strephon Kaplan-Williams
But if you have tried communication and it has failed, you can try non-attachment.
From this frame came Marco’s 3 Noble Truths, as follows
- My thoughts, feeling and needs don’t matter that much. Maybe not even to me.
- This is a lucky thing for me, because nobody cares about my thoughts, feelings and needs anyway.
- But there is even better news, which is that nothing is at it seems. Meaning that: 90% of thoughts, feelings and needs are sourced from karma, sometimes known as “dependent origination”. In modern-day language, we might call this developmental trauma, some of which is personal but much of it ancestral and/or cultural. As such, most of our thoughts and feelings don’t really belong to us, rather they happen to us. They are, in essence, the surface expression of love. They arise from “love seeking to know itself”. But they are not, in themselves, love.
Let me unpack this a bit more, and then call it a day.
1. My thoughts, feeling and needs don’t matter that much. Maybe not even to me.
In the universal scheme of things, my life doesn’t matter that much. I can choose to focus on my personal needs, or I can choose to be “a force of nature”:
“There is the true joy of life; to be used by a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one…” — George Bernard Shaw
2. Nobody cares about my thoughts, feelings and needs anyway.
This is self-explanatory. It is entirely fruitless to hope that others will care about me as much as I care about myself. Perhaps parents have that experience of caring for others more than themselves, or saints; but being neither, that feeling will probably elude me in this lifetime. Furthermore, it is strategic to approach other people with care and curiosity and no expectation that they will return it:
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” — Stephen Covey
3. 90% of thoughts, feelings and needs don’t actually belong to us, rather they happen to us
That’s the best part, from my perspective. Why? Because I can stop obsessing about needs fulfillment (the search for happiness) and start looking for love, instead. I can start to look for love beyond the veil of my thoughts, feeling and needs. Once again: thoughts, feeling and needs are a veil. Behind them, hides love. At root, love is the dual process of (1) aligning with people and (2) getting them on your side, also known as giving them an opportunity to love you. You get people on your side by letting them know what you need and inviting (not commanding) them to align with you, or support you. This increases the chance that they can win with you and/or feel closer to you. They probably want this [Note 1].
To fully understand and live into this truth of the relativity of needs, is to be enlightened — if such a thing exists. I am dubious. I suspect that many supposed “enlightened” people are actually dissociated. This state has value, but I don’t know how useful it is to the rest of us, so long as we are just trying to superficially imitate it. These people are what Saniel Bonder calls “spiritual athletes”. I would love to be Michael Jordan, but I am not. I am Marco, and my job is to be the best Marco I can be. That’s surrender and the key to both happiness and personal power: “play the hand that’s been dealt to you“. Also, we are moving more and more towards collective modes of enlightenment. Buddhism is not dead, but it is only one piece of the puzzle.
A final comment here (this is still a source of confusion for me): Why “90%” rather than 70% or 99% or even 100%? Because a certain number of thoughts, feelings and needs — probably, honestly, a tiny number for most of us as we go about our busy days — ARE actually love-in-action.
Share your thoughts? Do you agree? If so, what is YOUR number?
 In Landmark Education this is called “enrollment and registration” and is, to my mind, the key empowering idea of their whole “technology”. “Enrollment” is the process of sharing yourself in a way that generates excitement in others (“touched, moved and inspired“). If you are successful in this, you gain power, even if they don’t take any action on it. Once the other person is “enrollment” — and not before — then you ask for the sale, also known as “registration”. This idea was originally framed as a way of getting someone to sign-up for the Landmark forum, but it works in any area of life. As I see it now, “enrollment and registration” is simply asking for empathy, by first creating the conditions in which empathy can show up. It is very important to not demand that either the enrollment or the registration happen, or take it personally when it doesn’t. That would entirely break the power of this idea.
There are more details of this idea at Transformation, Possibility and Enrollment: the Landmark Forum Source Document.