Fingering “me”

I saw him again this morning on the sidewalk with his dog on a leash. Last week, he gave me the finger as I drove by. It is the memory of my reaction to that hand gesture, that I write about today.

As I drove down the street that morning, there was an awareness of their presence ahead—a man and a large golden dog with a red bandana around its neck. It was a cold, cold morning, 12 degrees or so I think. The quick movement of his arm stole my attention from the intention to get home to the refuge of warmth. His middle finger was straight up as we made eye contact.

Whew-ee! Immediately a cacophony of thoughts and emotions arose. Me? What did I do? Why is he upset!? I heard the roar of my accelerating engine in the memory of my most recent, but previously overlooked experience. I had been so focused on my intent to get home, that I hadn’t realized how my actions had manifested in the pressing down of the gas pedal. I may have been going too fast. Dang it, I may have been speeding! Am I a speeder? Maybe he doesn’t realize my car has a loud engine. Sometimes I think my car sounds like I’m taking off on a runway at MSP; that could sound like speeding. Maybe the guy is just overly sensitive…

It’s difficult to be completely responsible for what we do when we are attached to an identity. We spend our whole lives building ourselves into a particular “self.” We believe we are the sum of amalgamated experiences, reactions to those experiences, and the conclusions about them. When others believe us to be someone different from the particular “me” that we have fabricated and identified with, we take offense. At times, we may attempt to change how they’ve characterized us, by explaining our behavior as unusual. “We are acting out of character,” we say. We try to “correct” their views of us in order to feel settled.

But who we are in any particular moment/situation is completely dependent upon the moment/situation, including our current emotional state, life’s experiences, the reactions, conclusions, and recollections (more accurately termed recompositions). Recomposing is constantly in flux. Assessments and emotions are constantly in flux. Even defining where an event “begins” or “ends” can give us a different take on whether a situation is “good” or “bad.” Reality is complete and total fluidity. Suffering arises when inserting a “self” to this fluidity. Once attachment to “who I am” is in operation, the whole of our life’s actions is aimed at pleasing, preserving, and protecting that held identity.

When someone gives us the finger or gets angry, or a situation isn’t to our liking, we look to blame someone or something “out there” because we want to be relieved of the pain. But we forget to look right here. We forget about the self-defense mechanism. It is there, in our expectations that “life should bend to our desires,” that we find pain. We don’t look for blame right here, but we have the opportunity to, at once, discover our folly and find clarity.

Back to our story, as immediately as the habitual, defensive thoughts had arisen, they ceased. In the same way that a daydream suddenly vanishes, all that mattered was to carry on with life as it was appearing now. The thoughts and emotions had been seen through—as empty, illusory manifestations of reality. Having been caught by them, life had been lived defensively. Now liberated from their seeming hold on my actions, life is carried out without a trace of self. Actions no longer emanate from desire.

The mechanism of grasping at a self (which ultimately cannot be found) is ever possible. When in operation, the fluidity that is the present unfolding, is being overlooked, and life is painful. When we are caught, we don’t know being caught. But any noticed sensation (sensing is only experienced now) can be the release from the grasped concept of “me” and its drama. Any realized sense can be the gateless gate of Awakening.

© Bev Forsman and Letters from Emptiness, 2010–2012. If you decide to share this material, please include direction to the original content. Thank you.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “Fingering “me”

  1. Your comment: “But any noticed sensation … can be the release from the grasped concept of “me” and its drama” helped me to more fully appreciate the story of Kyogen Chikan awakening at the sound of a pebble striking bamboo, something that I have always found confusing. Thank you.

  2. Greetings from south in Oklahoma! I was just looking at the different courses offered on Dharma Field Zen Center’s site when I saw your blog; really glad you are doing this! I will certainly ‘follow’ your blog.