“[Crickets]…when their faces become covered with dirt, become disoriented and muddled and bite each other until they die. We humans, when our faces become covered with dirt, when we are subject to all sorts of delusions and desires, become so bewildered and disoriented that we act contrary to how we would if we could see under ordinary circumstances…”
Delusion is considered one of the Three Poisons in Buddhism. One of the three mind states that gets in the way of our ability to see the truth of things. While we can train ourselves to see greed, and hatred (the other two poisons) fairly easily, delusion is quite tricky. How can we see clearly through a mind clouded with delusion?
When I read this passage by Achaan Buddhadasa I was quite moved. It made me reflect on how I’ve been covered in dirt, bewildered, and acting contrary to how I would like. I can see those times where it feels like I’m a cricket, fighting for my life, and as the delusion clears I look back and think “why the hell was I acting that way?” As I reflect on my relationship with delusion, I’m really asking the question: “Where are the places where I get lost or stuck in my mind, and how do I even see that?”
Delusion can be a big word; it may conjure up images of mental illness or totally spacing out. But really delusion is any time we are not seeing clearly, and guess what?, that happens all the time. Take a moment to reflect, in the last week, has your mind been caught by something that on reflection did not need to take up that much of your time or thoughts? That’s delusion, when our mind takes over, rather than us fully experiencing our direct experience.
The first step for me in seeing my delusion has been a daily meditation practice. Taking time to clearly look at and explore the patterns of my mind has been essential. I didn’t even know I was deluded for so long because I wasn’t interested in taking the time to truly know my mind. But as I started to see I was repeating patterns in my life I became more interested in wanting to understand how my mind works and developed a daily practice. And I began to see when my mind is deluded.
In order to clearly see when I am lost in delusion I’ve had to find the signs that indicate that I’m lost in a deluded mind. Once I do this, and see I’m lost, I don’t have to do much else. I can choose to stay lost, or chose to move out of the thought pattern, but just by recognizing it it loses some of its power. These are some of the signs I am lost in a deluded mind:
Any time I have a thought that tells me there is something that needs to happen RIGHT NOW, it is a sign there is some delusion present. While there are a few moments in our lives when things are truly urgent like, don’t step off that cliff, or move away a car is swerving at you, in general we can always take time to reflect before we take an action.
I will be looking for an apartment in a new city in April. (That’s TWO months away.) But at times, when I’m meditating my mind tells me I NEED to deal with this, and that I need to get up from meditating to deal with this RIGHT NOW. Because I see this sense of urgency I know that this is a delusive thought, so I stay in my meditation practice; I don’t let myself get up. I think about the crickets with the dirt on their faces, they don’t wait for rain to wash it off, or for the dirt to slowly blow away, they act out from this sense of urgency. And I don’t need to be a cricket.
These are the thoughts that point to only one way of being. Currently there is this idea in my mind that I MUST have some sort of full-time year-round structured career, I can’t just keep piecing things together. The thought feels like a fact, there is no wiggle room. When I get stuck in these thoughts that there is only one way, and it is the RIGHT way, I can be sure I am deluded. The important question to ask with these thoughts is: “Where is this coming from?” or “Whose voice is this?”
When I reflect on that I see the the importance of a traditional career doesn’t come from me, but comes from my conditioning and my family. Yes, I want more structure in my life, and I am clear it doesn’t have to look a certain way. I see through the delusion because I see these fundamental thoughts for what they are.
Black and White Thinking
If I want to make something all good, or all bad, I can be sure I am lost in delusion. I have made the choice not to have children. This is the right choice for me for many reasons. And I still feel sad about missing out on that aspect of life. Do I allow myself to feel that sadness? No, because my delusion tells me I can only be happy or sad about my decisions, I can’t feel the gray. (Umm, guess what delusion, life happens in the gray.)
If I notice myself vilifying or praising something or someone, I can recognize that is most likely delusion. While the oldest part of our brain feels there are only two categories of experience: safe and unsafe, as we have evolved as humans we have begun to be able to hold nuance, subtlety, and paradox in our experience. So seeing something as black or white is an old pattern of thinking, and a sign that I am not seeing clearly.
Earlier in the ski season I was convinced I had to take these tests to get a higher level of certification so that my boss would be happy. I would cry every time I practiced for these tests and knew it wasn’t the right thing for me to do. But my delusion was telling me IF I did it, THEN my boss would be happy. And when I took the space, and talked to some trusted friends, I was able to see that my boss is happy with my work, and I am happy with my work so I’m not taking the tests.
I fall into this type of thinking often throughout my day: IF it was warmer, THEN I would be happy, IF I had those sandals, THEN my posture would be perfect, IF she would stop talking, THEN she would hear how smart I am. And on, and on. It’s such a good place of awareness for me, if I start to think that something needs to happen in order for me to be happy/good/accepted/seen/etc. then I know I am deluded.
We are all going to find different ways of working with delusion and different patterns in our own mind that we can use as a signal that we’re in delusion. Any time we have a sense of urgency, or fundamentalism, or polarization, or if/then thinking, it is a good moment to ask ourselves “Am I seeing clearly in this moment?” Or “Is holding onto this thought helping me to see clearly?” We may have to do it again and again, but the more we practice with it, the more we have the opportunity to see our present moment experience clearly. And that is what this practice is all about.