I sometimes find a thought arising that is silly, recognizing that it is silly on some level, and then proceeding as if it were serious. Frequently it starts with "oh, that thing that I did, what if someone reacts to it badly?" What if, that's how you know we're getting off to a good start. There's a sense of "oh, bad things, terrible things. What if everything went bad because of that?" Then there's a variant of "and therefore I'm a bad stupid foolish person for doing that."
Similarly I sometimes find myself noticing that I'm doing something a bit silly, but there's a motion of mentally sweeping it under the rug. Like: I was editing a poem last month and wrote a couplet or two that sound forced. I remember feeling at the time like, oh, I don't know if this couplet I added works, it feels a little off, it doesn't quite sound right. But I worked hard on it and I'm proud of how much work I put into it, or... something. So I'll just keep it in there. When it went to the critique group — guess what lines people pointed out as feeling forced? And I appreciate them doing that. Still, I noticed this at the time I was editing, so I ask myself: How did we get here?
These two things feel related. They each involve a kind of tricking myself or trying not to notice that I'm doing something silly, even though I have actually already noticed that.
It reminds me of two meditation books I read recently: Rays of the Sun (a partial reread) and The Myth of Freedom. Ngak'chang Rinpoche writes, in Rays of the Sun:
I could ask, “Where is your fingernail-biting habit when you no longer bite
your nails? Where is your smoking habit when you no longer smoke? Where is your depression habit when you are cheerful?” Where is our dualism habit when we find the presence of awareness in the dimension of
whatever arises in Mind?
In terms of Buddhism, ego—if we were to use the term—would have to be a verb rather than a noun. According to Buddhism, ego is a verb trying to prove its ’noun-ness’ – along with the ’noun-ness’ of everything else perceived. Ego in this sense is wilful illiteracy. Being is a verb, whether nondual or dualised. When I discuss the issue of the I-dentity therefore, I’m going to use the term distracted-being. Distracted-being is a process rather than a product. It is not a thing. It is ’du-chè which means predisposition, or gom’dri which means conditioning. It is the predisposition or patterning of this conditioning that is known as lé or karma.
... (much later, in a different chapter) ...
Our relationship with the external Lama is the interplay of our nondual mind with the nondual mind of the Lama. It is a Vajrayana game of ’hide and seek’ in which the Lama is trying to persuade us that we are not dualistically deranged. The game has been going on for so long that it should be tedious – but the Lama remains as playful as ever. It is this playfulness that is known as compassion.
Willful illiteracy sounds like exactly the kind of thing that I find myself doing in these situations. It does feel like a doing in retrospect.
I feel confused about how "the Lama is trying to persuade us that we are not dualistically deranged." I think this must be at a procedural or experiential level, because at a conceptual level the job seems not that difficult. But what does that look like at a procedural level?
This is an interesting frame, but I'm not sure what it changes or enables.
There's also this idea of "a verb trying to prove its 'noun-ness.'" Abstractly that looks like trying to prove oneself "solid, permanent, separable, continuous, and defined." That's a central idea of Spectrum of Ecstasy, with each element relating to a neurotic focus on proving one of these qualities in particular. For example earth neurosis is about trying to prove oneself solid, rather than insubstantial.
How would that relate to the two examples from the beginning?
The first example kind of fits. I can kind of see how it would relate to taking seriously the thought of "and therefore I'm a bad stupid foolish person for doing that." Bad stupid foolish person constitutes a kind of definition. "I am" connotes solidity, permanence, continuity, separability. But it seems to me that taking the what if seriously is where things started going wrong, and it's not clear how that would fit with this idea. Where is the proving? Maybe it is in the way this leads up to and supports the conclusion "and therefore I am a bad person"? That could make sense...
The second example — I'm not sure? Maybe it arises from trying to prove something like the opposite, roughly "I am good at poetry." There's this wanting to prove that I am a certain way, and ignoring the bad couplets serves to justify by absence of acknowledged mistakes the idea that "I am good at poetry." Again we have the "I am" and the definition.
This feels like it could go deeper. I've drawn a correspondence between these situations and the concepts, but why does that matter?