We all have personality disorders. There are times when we experience a ‘disordering’ of our so-called functional self. The core of the disorder is a fixation, a conditioned habit of mind, upon which we have built our ego identity. In daily life, we manage the habit so as to do our work, love our friends and families, and help others according to our capability. But the fixation lurks beneath the surface and usually without our noticing unless we do some work to recognize the condition.
When we are stressed, we often lose our capacity to skillfully manage our habits of mind and they surface with a vengeance. For instance, in this current “snowmageddon” event where we are experiencing a record amount of snow, I notice my core fixation emerging in response to a rather deep and frigid white blanket. I tend be a worst case thinker and this storm gives me a wonderful opportunity to watch my mind move into disorder. I watch myself repeat a very old conditioned pattern.
I switch into mental obsession, worrying about the snow load on our roof and the inevitable ice dams. I worry about my neighbors and strategize how to help them dig out while also having the strength to dig out my own home. Moving into physical mode, I clear the sidewalk and driveway, rake snow from the roof, experience the frustration of a broken snowblower, shovel, shovel, shovel—and it takes its toll on me. At times, I lose motivation to help others as my physical energy wanes in dealing with my own situation. Add to that my conditioned habits of mind and we have another record storm in the form of raging thoughts.
When our imagined sense of order becomes disordered, we may discover the strength (or lack thereof) of our spiritual practice. If I did not have some mental stability rooted in consistent practice, I think I would curl up in a ball under all the snow and that would be that. But I am aware of my tendency to sequester all my energy into a tight fixation when I am stressed. I am also aware that this habit has no substantial existence. So, I visualize the rage as a fierce but compassionate archetypal image (Vajrayana Buddhist deity image), the liberated face of anger, and place my trust in that energy. There is no miraculous release, but I experience a more graceful way of dealing with storms, both literal and metaphorical.
In moments of doubt, when we feel are not capable of skillfully dealing with our habitual thinking, the stability gained through consistent practice becomes our savior. On an absolute level, it seems silly we experience these core issues as they are intrinsically empty of substance. But, as I am not completely enlightened, I aspire to simply transform the less than helpful aspects of my personality into skillful action. I also notice channeling my energy into helping others activates the best of me and overcomes the tendency to descend into the worst.
So, as always, it comes down to generating bodhicitta, the heart/mind of compassion for all beings, and applying one’s spiritual tools with skill. With diligence, our habits of mind tend to become liberated over time. They spontaneously liberate in moments. They may be liberated now. They are empty from the beginning. Snow doubt about it …