This reflection is excerpted and adapted from “Running Away from Phantoms,” a Dhamma Talk offered by Ajahn Sucitto at Abhayagiri in 2007 —
“What if I get it wrong?”
“What if it doesn’t work?”
“What if I’m left here alone?”
Just look over the edge of that. Look over the edge of ‘what if’ and let your mind open up and realize that we’ve been running away from phantoms. Examine the attitudes you have, like ‘What if I get it wrong?’ You’ve been getting it wrong all your life — it’s no big deal! Everybody’s getting it wrong. Everybody’s making mistakes. Everybody’s losing it. Blundering. Not noticing. Not being respectful, polite, kind, talking too long, not saying enough… Everybody’s getting it wrong. Why don’t we just practice forgiveness instead and get out of this trap? You forgive me and I’ll forgive you, okay?
And yes, everything is breaking down. But we can get through that, we can be bigger than that. We can be bigger than getting it right and getting it wrong. We can be bigger than success and failure. We can be bigger than praise and blame. We can be bigger than gaining and losing. What a relief to get out of the game. There’s going to be some pain, and I might even cause pain. Maybe the way we can get out of it is being just a bit more relaxed, a bit more at ease, a bit more broad minded, a bit less concerned about being right, perfect, on time, prepared, defended and approved.
Just go down in your belly, relax, breathe out, open up and trust that as a human being you’ve got what it takes to be a human being. You can learn from that, and you can learn to not make a big deal out of it. You can learn to not get confused by it, not to expect miracles out of it. And then you can learn to let go of it, to come out of it. Come out of the agitation and self-consciousness that arises up in these forms. This is really important to learn, isn’t it? This is noting esoteric, nothing high-minded. Just basic sanity. But the wonderful thing is that although it is very ordinary, it is also extremely profound, because it starts to dismantle all those reflexes that seem so ingrained and out of control; reflexes that grip us and push us around and make us flustered and say things we wish we hadn’t said; reflexes that make us feel bad. Just start to dismantle all that stuff. Dismantle our hold on being something and proving something and getting somewhere and all that need. Until we can be, miraculously, right here, in a place that doesn’t have a location. Because it doesn’t have a location, we never leave it. Because we never leave it, we can’t leave it. There’s not that kind of grief and sadness, ups and downs, holding on and worry.
In the ongoing truthfulness of our practice, it is really important to sift through all the static and white noise that the emotions and psychologies are setting up — to really see, to get a handle on, what intention feels like in our nervous system. And the quality of attention — how big, or narrow, or tight we feel, how bound we feel when we’re really occupied with a whole series of thoughts, how our attention bunches up — we start to sense this is, in the bodily sense; we get a real sense of the feel of this and the release of that. This is what we practice. This is the dissolving.
Dissolving involves the dissolving of one’s controls, self-image, one’s self-territories. So for that it’s got to be a comfortable ride. And we can feel in the breathing in and breathing out, in good friendship and moral living, in the sense of ‘It’s okay. It’s okay to be here.’ That gives you the ability to trust the process, to trust the practice.