One cold evening this week, a group of us stayed up until midnight repairing a lot of headlamps, which were all apparently dead after only two years. They had been on the point of throwing them away and buying new ones, but instead decided to investigate to see if we could find the problem with them (and got a class of soldering from Eric at the same time.)
In one evening, they fixed sixteen headlamps. With almost all of them, the problem was so simple it was almost ridiculous – a little wire that had come loose and had to be soldered back again and glued; and the lamps worked again.
It’s quite amazing how very easy they were to fix! And yet they almost threw them away. 99% of people would have thrown them away, because it does not occur to most of us to take the first step of opening up the device and looking at it to see what is wrong, what we might be able to correct.
That’s also why it’s so easy for the people who make headlamps to make them stop working at a certain point so people will be forced to buy more; they know that nobody is going to look into the problem and see how to fix it.
It’s the same when it comes to working on ourselves: we all think that we are fixed in nature, that it’s impossible to change ourselves in any real way. We really love to put ourselves in boxes and call ourselves by names: “I Am An Introvert.” “I am Depressive.” I am this, I am that. Whenever anyone is unhappy with the way we are, I always hear people saying “You have to accept yourself just the way you are. You are the way you are, you’re born that way and you have to just own it and accept it.” In French, they say “On est qu’est ce qu’on est.” We are as we are.
The problem is that we see all of our problems as part of us, as belonging to us. They become a comfort zone and we call it “Me. Just the Way I Am.” We don’t see the possibility of removing them, one by one, just like it doesn’t occur to us to open up a broken machine and look inside to see what can be done to fix it, to be a mechanic of the mind.
When you meditate, you see that we are not born with some fixed nature; on the contrary, precisely nothing about us is fixed. Every instant every one of our cells is changing, dying, new ones being born. Every instant we create new memories, make new decisions; every split second we are not the same as we were a moment ago. If doubts, insecurities and fears stay with us, it’s only because we keep them.
There is the possibility of removing them, one by one, and that is what we are doing here, working towards this path. If we want to be on this path of wisdom, we have to remove everything that blocks us, whether it’s big or small. Like going through the gate at airport security; if you have just one little piece of metal on you, even just a gold tooth, you don’t pass. You have to find each piece one by one and take it out.
A number of years ago, Ajan’s niece named Gita came to do a ten day’s course in meditation. She was very concentrated and worked well, but one day when she was sitting cross-legged in front of Ajan, he noticed that she kept shifting around on the floor. “Why do you do that?” he asked her. She looked down to her right and he saw that there was a big cockroach standing still and minding its own business. Even as he looked, she moved slightly to the left to get further away from it.
“Ah-ha! So you’re afraid of cockroaches, eh?”
Reluctantly, she admitted that yes, she had a big fear of cockroaches ever since she was very young.
“Okay,” said Ajan, “You will have to remove this fear. Can you take the cockroach in your hand?”
No, no, no; this was unthinkable. She had been this way ever since she was young, how could she suddenly stop being afraid now? Her fear might even well be genetic; her mother had been so afraid of cockroaches, she told Ajan, that every night before going to sleep she had to check all over her bed before getting into it, just in case there happened to be a cockroach there.
Ajan told her this was nonsense, all fear could be removed. He told her to take the cockroach in her hand, using the technique of meditation that he had taught her, and the fear would go away by itself.
Hold something in your hand and see what the hand knows and what the mind knows. The hand does not know aversion, dislike or fear. The hand knows simply hot, cold, smooth, rough and other textures. It’s the mind that takes all this bare information and makes dislike, disgust, and fear out of it. When you see this as it’s happening, the fear can’t keep hold of you.
Still she said that she could not do that, it was too much to ask, it was nothing important anyway.
Ajan told her that the course could not continue until she could hold the cockroach in her hand. She went away at that point silent and unhappy, but the next day she came to Ajan with a huge smile on her face.
“I have a gift for you!” she said. She had her hand held behind her back, and now she brought it in front of her and opened it to show him the cockroach there. She could not stop smiling.
In the end, removing her fear was easy. She just had to decide to do it and to trust the teaching she was given. It was not unlike repairing a broken headlamp – it just required opening the device and looking inside.