The Second Dharma Seal: Nonself (2 of 2)

(In this post, anything in quotation marks will be from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh, as I’ll be referencing it throughout this post.)

This is part 2 of a two-part post.

“The Second Dharma Seal is nonself. Nothing has a separate existence or a separate self. Everything has to inter-be with everything else.”

My husband Mike and I recently had a conversation on whether/how nonself differed or was synonymous with interbeing. He came up with a great metaphor (no surprise – he has a true gift for creating metaphors.). He said: Nonself (aka a separate self) is what our cup is empty of; interbeing is what it’s full of. Brilliant!

My own working definition of nonself, as it differs but is related closely and is inseparable from interbeing: the more I come to see clearly my nonself nature – that I am a collage of an endless stream of causes and conditions – the more my insight of interbeing blooms and flourishes.

“Nonself is not a doctrine or a philosophy. It is an insight that can help us live life more deeply, suffer less, and enjoy life much more. We need to live the insight of nonself.”

“Nonself means that you are made of elements which are not you.”

Once again, how do we practice with this Dharma Seal so that we aren’t at risk of intellectualizing this teaching to a detriment?

Here’s what I came up with for myself.

How I practice nonself:

  1. Sitting meditation practice. Interestingly, and paradoxically, in anchoring my attention and focus on my own breath and body sensations, I am put into relationship with my connection to a greater/bigger sense of self. I think it has something to do with sitting meditation being a practice to help shift us out of the thinking/ever-active intellect and into a more spacious heart-centered place. Sitting meditation changes the lens through which I see and engage the world.
  2. Gratitude practice. The more intentionally and deeply I connect with gratitude, the more conditions I grow in tune with in regards to all that supports me and helps me to manifest in the world in all the ways that I do. So: the more I practice gratitude, the more elements I see to be grateful for. My current gratitude practice (I’ve done various ones over the years – I like to switch things up, foster creativity, and keep my practice feeling fresh and alive!) involves three prostrations to the earth after my morning period of sitting meditation. With each prostration, I say inwardly to myself: I bow down to the earth in gratitude for _______. I then fill in the blank with something different each day, which results in three different something’s each day, since I do three prostrations. Then I stand and finish with a standing bow while saying inwardly the same closing verse each morning: In gratitude for this one more opportunity to live today, may I be useful, may I be kind.
  3. Reciting a meal verse. Before I eat a meal, I recite a short verse. I have a longer one I created for myself to say at breakfast time and a short-hand version I say at lunch and dinner. Typically, I simply say these words inwardly. And I’ve gotten so accustomed to the practice that I can recite the verse quickly and discreetly when I’m having a meal with a friend who is not familiar with my practice and doesn’t know me well enough to offer me a bit of space and time to connect with my food before we launch back into conversation. My short-hand version comes from the Five Contemplations in the Plum Village Tradition: This food is the gift of the whole universe; the earth, the sky, and much hard work. This one sentence is enough to connect me – however temporary – with the reality of how my continuation is made possible through the many many people and factors involved in the food in front of me.
  4. Fostering connection with my parents, grandparents, and ancestors. Through the display of photos, regularly inserting the aforementioned list of my family heritage into my morning gratitude practice, reflecting and writing about the qualities I share with my parents and grandparents, and being interested in learning more about my blood ancestors stretching back into the past, I make an effort to stay consciously connected to all those who came before me and made my life possible.

My practice verse for nonself:

There is no such thing as an insignificant moment.

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