Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mine—No Take

It’s an education to watch young children learning the social skill of sharing (or not). It’s an unnatural skill. The ordinary way is to not share but rather to possess. One of the very first words a child learns is “mine” and another is “no”. The other day while waiting in the doctors office I watched an encounter between two small children—one a girl, the other a boy—both younger than 2 years of age, competing to possess toys available in the waiting room.

The boy was there first having complete reign over the cache of toys. Then the girl arrived and the challenge began. He noticed the threat to his exclusive possessions and immediately sent out body language which said in effect “mine, stay away”. She wasn’t hearing this message but instead began to carve out her own share. He responded by taking back what he had lost. She responded in turn, “no”, “mine”—back and forth it went, with occasional interventions by the parents demanding sharing, which was largely ignored.

As I watched this exchange I saw their futures as grown-ups still engaged in the same struggle, now being played out in the market place and relationships. “Mine” means “not yours”. It starts early and continues throughout life until we come to see that taken to an extreme this simply doesn’t work. THEN we are motivated to share but always begrudgingly. We don’t like to share, regardless of the social skill compromises we learn. There is a part of each of us which harkens back to our earliest memories of possessiveness and fear of loss.

Underneath the motivation for this behavior lies another human dimension which also begins to function very early—an imagined, independent self which fuels attachment with actions of clinging and resistance—“Mine”, “No take”. Left unimpeded this behavior creates unending suffering and until we go to the heart and address the underlying imagined self, no learned social skill will survive for very long. During times of stress we revert back to early behavior and throw aside learned compromises—fearing threat to our sense of self and demanding an increase to insulation from jeopardy (monetary and emotional). The perceived risk rises and we hunker down.

What is the answer to something so imbedded? Risk is endemic to living and this perception is always at odds with the idea of “mine” . The tides rise and they fall. Nothing lasts as “mine” and to depend upon permanence is a prescription for suffering. Sooner or later the little girl or boy will come along and want their share and we’ll be confronted with an unending struggle with no solution, except one: To eradicate the mythical and imagined self which fuels this dynamic. When this eradication takes place we become aware that beneath independence is interdependence; beneath imagined there is the real and beneath the limited fuel we find an unending supply. Down deep, beneath the every-day struggle we find bedrock—The One we have always been which has no center called “mine” or “no take”. At this level there is neither a me nor a you. Just a unified “us”. Every religion of significance cautions about being self-centered but only Buddhism provides a concrete way to vanquish this center. Telling someone “what” to do without saying “how” accomplishes nothing but frustration.

This eradication and discovery doesn’t happen by itself. It is the fruit of dedicated and focused practice which may seem excessive and unnecessary. But the alternative is a life of the suffering which comes along with “mine” and “no take”. We all have the same opportunity to either live with the myth of an imagined and independent self or to be free of this pernicious demon and experience liberation.
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