In the last dharma-post, we explored the tendency to get tangled in the idea of being a separate self, and how there is a gender gap as boys were raised to be the center of their own universe and many girls were raised to be the pretty charm on some man’s arm and/or a satellite orbiting a husband, father, boss, etc. If we weren’t raised that way by our parents to be an object or subservient, the culture soon stepped in to try to correct our “misunderstanding” of the “natural order”.
That reminded me how when I first came to study Buddhism, there seemed to be one important topic missing for me, and missing for many of the women I knew: How to be the subject of our own lives. So I just went back to my book, Tapping the Wisdom Within, A Guide to Joyous Living, to find it.
Here is a little backstory for those of you who don’t know it. For those who do, feel free to skip ahead to the excerpt:
The book evolved from my nine-month “horizontal retreat” as I call the period in the early 1990s when I meditated many hours a day because I was too ill to do anything else. The book is a record of the words that came up from meditation, from asking in, from trying to figure out how I’d ended up being so ill. I felt so separate from myself that I attributed the words to “my higher self”, so it wasn’t written “by Stephanie Noble” but “from the meditations of Stephanie Noble”. People would say, oh so you channeled it. But I was very uncomfortable with that. Eventually, that same inner wisdom answered the question, saying that when I was feeling so lost, I didn’t trust myself and was only taking advice from others. So I created an ‘other’ I could turn to and attributed all the naturally-arising insights of meditation to her. I gave her a name, Stefalie, and she was my dearest companion through a difficult time. If I didn’t have a question for her, I would say, “Tell me what you want me to know.” And she would always begin with “I love you, I have always loved you, I will always love you.” Though I had lost my mother the year before, it never crossed my mind to think it might be her spirit speaking! Probably because though my mother did love me, she was not introspective and if I ever said I was feeling a certain way, she would simply say “Well, don’t.”
One time when Stefalie and I were exploring various aspects of self, I asked her if she too was one of these aspects, and she said no, that I was an aspect of her! I was her earth-plane sensor and she was my higher self.
Being the earth-plane sensor of a higher self is quite a calling. Suddenly this business of living takes on new meaning. If you have ever lost a loved one and felt the need to go on living for them because they were missing out on the beauty of life, you know how I felt. It made me grateful to be alive and kept me even more present in the moment.
I wrote down all she said, and I shared some of it with the meditation class I took at College of Marin, and students said, “Oh, it’s like she’s talking directly to me.” The teacher took home my collection of notes to read through and then insisted that I publish them. So I organized them and got rid of redundancies, but I didn’t change a single word.
After publication, readers asked me to teach, so I led an online Meditation Tips & Techniques folder on AOL and had a local meditation group. One day on a field trip to the newly opened Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA, I knew I had come home. Home to the land in all its natural beauty. Home to the friendly community of students and teachers who honored wherever I was in my own inner journey and had no agenda to promote. And home to the teachings of the Buddha. I remember feeling all my insights to date were not only validated (When Sylvia Boorstein read my book she called it “jargon-free dharma”.) but that this fellow Siddhartha Gautama had organized a useful system for seeing how all the insights related to each other, and a logical way to determine where I might focus next.
So I stopped teaching and dedicated myself to being a student of the dharma, attending weekly classes, reading extensively, and going on retreats. After a decade or so, I was asked to teach. Now I taught not just from my own experience but with the grounding of a 2500-year-old tradition of being present in this moment, as alive today as it ever was, with each breath of each meditator.
And because writing is my go-to form of expression, soon after I began teaching again, I also began this dharma-blog, and eventually several book-length manuscripts that might come out of the drawer one of these days if I ever work through whatever stops me from submitting them.
I can understand that the Buddha would not have addressed this issue of being the subject of our own lives. He was a man teaching mostly men. He challenged his students to let go of seeing themselves as the center of the universe, as separate from all being. He didn’t have to stop and consider that for women, there is an additional challenge, because many of us have never been the center of our own universes. And it feels like we’re being asked to let go of something we never had.
So I’ll share an excerpt from the book here, and see if it resonates with you.
BE THE SUBJECT OF YOUR OWN LIFE
If you are not the center of your own universe, who is? And why? Of course you are the center of your own universe. Each person, animal and plant is the center of its own universe. You must hold that perspective, or no one will. That is the perspective allotted to you in this life. That is where your consciousness seeded and grew. To pretend that you are not the center of your own universe is to go against nature. And who will thank you? Who are you expecting to fill the void you have vacated? Where have you put your consciousness? And isn’t it crowded over there? Is that person thanking you for moving in on his or her space? Of course not.
To be in a subject mode does not exclude developing empathy and understanding. Quite the contrary. It gives a piercingly straight connection to others, a direct line into their hearts. When you are subject, you are residing where others expect to find you. It is like having an ‘Open’ sign on the door to your heart. When you are object, your sign reads ‘Out to Lunch’ and no connections can be made. Because you are out trying to guess what others are thinking of you. Always of you. The object mode spends a lot more time thinking about the self. The derogatory term ‘self-centered’ refers to people who are being objects, always looking from the outside in, imagining what the world thinks of them, and adapting themselves to suit.
Climb back inside yourself. Explore who you are, what you like, what you care about. Learn what activities and experiences replenish your inner wellspring, and take the time to give that to yourself.
Then, from that centered grounded position, that great sense of belonging and completion, look outside yourself, tap into that infinite bounty within you and share your talents with the world.
Only as the subject of your own life can you function effectively in the world.
An excerpt from Tapping the Wisdom Within, A Guide to Joyous Living
As important as it is to recognize there is no separate self, and that believing there is causes suffering, our unlimited consciousness rests in this body at this time. So let’s be here now, lightly, radiating compassion from the center out, blooming for the benefit of all beings.