We can imagine that we are limited by where we are born, what family we are born into, our social status, how we look— that these things determine who we are. Of course, they will have a big influence on our lives. But it’s what we do with our minds, our bodies, our speech—how we live in the world—that both influences the world around us and shapes who we are. Our six senses are eating the world all the time. So, what are we consuming? What are we becoming?
In the early years of practice, we might want to get rid of our sense of self. We might have a difficult history that we want to get away from, and so the teaching on not-self can feel like an escape from that. But the Buddha’s teaching on anattā is pointing to understanding person as process. It’s not that we will ever get away from our history—that is part of us. We can’t change our past, but we can change the direction our life takes. Even though we may feel stuck at times, really we are never stuck. It’s only our thinking that keeps us stuck…
When I first started to meditate, I didn’t feel like I had what it takes. I was overwhelmed by old habits of negativity. So, I began keeping a journal. On one side of the page, I would write all the things I had done or said wrong that day, and the things about me that I felt were wrong. On the other side, I would write down the things that I had done well and the things that I saw that were good about me. On the ‘wrong’ side, I could get a good, long list going every day. On the ‘good’ side, I might squeeze out one or two things—three on a good day. I began making a special effort to try to notice what was good, what I did well. I also started doing things to make my ‘good’ list a little longer.
As I kept going, the ‘wrong’ list started to get shorter, and the ‘good’ list kept getting longer—because I was spending more time doing good things and less time ruminating on what was wrong. I was also training my mind to see what was good, which before, I had completely missed. Gradually, I was changing the way I lived, and my life was becoming more joyful.
This reflection by Bhikkhunī Ānandabodhī is from the book, Leaving It All Behind, (pdf) pp.11, 12-13.