What to be dissolved
is not the self,
but the sense of self,
by realising it is not there
in the first place.
Suzuki Roshi… had a very helpful way of describing the relief that comes from getting over yourself. He used the expression “mind waves” to describe the turmoil of the ego’s struggle with everyday life. Waves, he would always insist, are part of the ocean. If you are trying to find peace of the ocean by eliminating the waves, you will never succeed. But if you learn to see the waves as part of not be bothered by the ego’s endless fluctuations, your sense of self as cut off, separate, less than, or unworthy will shift.
This is a very particular way of dealing with the human sense of personal inadequacy, one that is strikingly different from the Western psychotherapeutic approach that seeks to uncover neurotic emotional patterns and excavate early childhood experience. In the Buddhist system, change comes by learning to shift one’s perspective. Self-occupation, after enough practice, gives way to something more open. The ego’s instinctive favoring of itself is eroded by a sense of the infinite.
Suzuki’s point is that, know it or not, we are already equipped to meet whatever befalls us. Life’s challenges are challenging, but there is room for faith, for confidence, even for optimism. The Western approach, seeking to strengthen the ego, focuses exclusively on the wave. Suzuki was always favoring the ocean. Buddhism often counsels meditation practice as the primary vehicle for awakening this shift in perspective, but at some point it becomes clear what is meant by the word “practice.” Meditation is not an end in itself. It is practice for life…
When Suzuki Roshi said not to be bothered by the waves’ fluctuations, he meant it. And one thing we can say for sure. Life gives us endless opportunities to practice. Mostly we fail. Who can say they are not bothered by anything, really? But when we make the effort, the results can be astonishing.
Advice Not Given: A Guide To Getting Over Yourself
Mark Epstein M.D.