a couple of years ago

The insidious belief in personal power

I remember learning about Buddhist monks creating intricate mandalas out of sand…only to then destroy them.

I got it on one level. But on another level, it felt strangely threatening. Why put so much work into something without capitalizing upon it? It ran counter to my very Western, very capitalist upbringing.

Because, dammit, I want to have a legacy. I want to achieve something great and lasting.

At the very least, I want to take satisfaction in seeing the fruits of my labors for years to come. Or at least days. Or at least hours.

Now, I see the wisdom in the practice.

No matter what I do, it seems that I quickly succumb to the insidious belief of personal security, personal achievement, personal legacy, and personal power.

The most divine, mind-blowing, heart-opening revelations and realizations…soon become claimed by this insidious belief in mine, mine, mine. My revelations. My realization. My power. My life. My immortality. My security.

And that’s suffering.

It’s not that it’s bad or morally wrong. I’m not suggesting that some God somewhere condemns us for that or that we earn bad karma from some totally indifferent force of reality.

It is just that that insidious belief in personal power is in and of itself suffering. Not cause and effect. Just as plain and simple as possible: belief in personal power = suffering

I’m not saying that everybody should start making intricate sand mandalas and destroying them. The mere act of doing that isn’t a guarantee of anything. In fact, like all things, it can be used in service of the belief in personal power. As in, “Look at me, look how important and enlightened I am making all these awesome mandalas and then destroying them. Boy am I amazing.”

Rather, here’s my question: Am I willing to let go of the belief in personal power, personal accomplishment, personal merit, personal worth? And am I willing to do that right now? And then again and again and again. And if I become deluded again, am I willing to let go again? And can I let go even if the belief that letting go will earn me anything? And that I will be special for letting go?

See what I mean about it being insidious?

It leaves through the front door and then comes in through the back door. I let go, but then there’s a secret belief that I’m doing the right thing by letting go…like it is a way to prove my value, my worth, my specialness.

Letting go in the way I’m talking about is so ordinary. It’s not getting anything. It’s giving up everything. What if I die right now? What if I have failed to achieve my aims of being a successful person? What if I don’t get to be right and good and just and respected? Can I still let go? Can I let go as if there’s no more chance of getting it right?

Can I be totally ordinary? Totally raw? Totally transparent?

And can I do that without expectation that it will give me anything?

Can I allow this present experience totally without expectation that it will become something “better” as a result?

Can I let go of the idea of progress or evolution?

And can I let go of the idea that letting go of the idea of progress or evolution means that there can’t be progress or evolution?

Can I just stop trying to figure it out? Can I just stop trying to be right? Can I stop trying to protect myself against being totally found out?

That’s what I’m talking about.

Joey Lott

Joey Lott is the author of numerous books, including The Best Thing That Never Happened and The Little Book of Big Healing. He lives in southern Vermont with his wife and children.

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