But if I were to give details, I’d risk starting a flame war so let me not.
I watched my mind as I framed my response. I rehearsed using irony, sarcasm, innuendo, inference, etc. I enjoyed my own wry humor and watched myself vanquish my opponent – all of this in my mind. I might as well have been strutting in front of a mirror admiring myself for all the puffery that I did.
Each time I considered addressing the accusation, I saw myself strutting, becoming self-righteous, drawing myself up like some of the animals I watch on Nat Geo Wild, warbling, going into my threat display, etc.
In the end, I didn’t respond at all.
As far as I can see, we aren’t going to be able to escape such things as self-serving thoughts. But for me anyways, it works best, as Jesus said in “The Third Way,” (1) to observe those thoughts as they arise, rather than react to them, identify with them, project them, or even suppress them. Painting them with awareness hastens their departure.
To try to control our thinking, it seems to me, is to cause the self-serving ego to continue to direct us. To simply observe the thoughts and watch where they go, where they lead to, and then to watch that as well works much better than projecting or suppressing.
Nevertheless, all is not smooth sailing even in our field of lightwork. As I see more often than I’d like, we have disagreements, some of wild variance. And we do tend – or perhaps I do tend – to estimate things self-righteously. My side is right. My side has God on it. Etc.
Ajahn Sumedho said that, instead of trying to be the Buddha of the world, we might try instead to be just an earthworm, letting go, letting go, letting go. (2) An earthworm is silent in the face of provocation. It simply keeps moving forward. And it doesn’t mind living in conditions that the rest of us might not like and in fact converts those conditions into fertility by aerating the ground.
The wish to be the Buddha of the world is itself an expression of the self-serving bias, I think. I’m sure that Gautama did not hanker to be the Buddha of the world. He went for it because it was the purpose for which all of us are here and to serve the world as a teacher.
Initially he wanted to leave the world, because he didn’t think there were any who might understand him. But he was shown that there was in fact a small number of people in his region of the world who had just a wee bit of dust on their mirrors and who could hear him. And so he stayed. But he had no desire to be seen as a master of enlightenment.
It’s such a strange paradox that we have to let go of things that we and the world generally hold in reverence in order to be or attain them. If we want to be a Buddha, the last thing in the world to do is to hanker after it. The only worthwhile reason to move towards that goal, I think, is to serve. Otherwise, why court the bother? Why not sail the Pacific instead or find a nice ashram to settle down in?
But to polish the statue, as Plotinus said, day after day, (3) to simply concentrate on perfecting our estimations and responses, to let go of all thought of attainment, and simply be….
To reach the goal we seem to have to let go of all notions of “reaching,” “goal,” and anything similar. This is such a strange journey.
(1) “Jeshua: The Third Way” at http://goldenageofgaia.com/on-processing-vasanas/jeshua-the-third-way/.
(2) “The practice of ‘letting go’ is very effective for minds obsessed with compulsive thinking: you simplify your meditation practice down to just two words—’letting go.’ Rather than trying to develop this practice and then develop that, and achieve this and go into that; … just let go, let go, let go.
“I did nothing but this for about two years—every time I tried to understand or figure things out, I’d just say, ‘let go, let go’ until the desire would fade out. So I’m making it very simple for you, to save you from getting caught in incredible amounts of suffering.
“There’s nothing more sorrowful than having to attend International Buddhist Conferences! Some of you might have the desire to become the Buddha of the age, Maitreya, radiating love throughout the world – but instead, I suggest just being an earthworm … who knows only two words – ‘let go, let go, let go.’” (Ajahn Sumedho, Cittaviveka. Teachings from the Silent Mind. (Great Gaddesden: Amaravati Publications, 1992; c1984, 44.)
(3) “Let him who can arise, withdraw into himself, forego all that is known by the eyes, turn aside forever from the bodily beauty that was once his joy. He must not hanker after the graceful shapes that appear in bodies, but know them for copies, for traceries, for shadows, and hasten away towards that which they bespeak. …
“Withdraw into yourself and look. … Do as does the sculptor of a statue that is to be beautified: he cuts away here, he smooths it there, he makes this line lighter, this other one purer, until he disengages beautiful lineaments in the marble. Do you this, too. Cut away all that is excessive. straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labor to make all one radiance of beauty. Never cease “working at the statue” until there shines out upon you from it the divine sheen of virtue….
“Have you become like this? Do you see yourself, abiding within yourself, in pure solitude? Does nothing now remain to shatter that interior unity, nor anything cling to your authentic self? Are you entirely that sole true light which is not contained by space, not confined to any circumscribed form, not diffused as something without term, but ever immeasurable as something greater than all measure and something more than all quantity? Do you see yourself in this state? Then you have become vision itself.
“Be of good heart. Remaining here, you have ascended aloft. You need a guide no longer. Strain and see.” (Plotinus in Elmer O’Brien, Essential Plotinus, 40-3.)