I was visiting this past week with my dear friend Venerable Puntsok Chodron, from the Gawa Ling Mindfulness Meditation Center, and we were discussing sections from the book I have been reading, The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh. I had asked Ven. Puntsok Chodron to comment on the five aggregates discussed in the book. The subsequent conversation explored a number of things but one thing in particular that caused me to pause and contemplate was the notion of naming something. In this week’s blog, I thought I‘d will share my brief contemplations for your consideration.
Our discussion focused around the topic of subject and object. Thich Nhat Hanh had written in his book, where there is a subject there is an object. Conversely, where there is no object there cannot be a subject. For a meditator this contemplation is deeply insightful. As you know, the mind never stops thinking. It is constantly creating subjects around the objects it encounters. We are always naming things from moment-to-moment. “Oh, that is my car and these are my keys and this is my home”. Our thinking creates a sense of comfort in being familiar with the things, objects and people in our life. We are trained to name things from childhood. Our parents ask us what is this and what is that. What is not so evident is that in the naming we attach feelings, emotions and thoughts to things.
We like to name things. Naming an object provides us with a sense of comfort and familiarity. If we can name it, we KNOW it and are not surprised by its existence. If you think of a young child who doesn’t know what everything is, they can ask so many questions about the most insignificant things in order to know, to name it. We on the other hand, are so familiar that these same things become unimportant and common. We have named them and we know them.
Naming things does serve a valuable purpose in that it creates a common language and understanding. We are able to communicate easier with each other when we all know what a dog is or the blue colour above us is called the sky. By using a common language we can communicate our thoughts, stories and discoveries. Yet, in the naming of things we are constantly creating a subject and an object. When we encounter an object we have a name and we simultaneously have created a subject to the object. The subject is what we tell ourselves about the perceived object. It is the feelings, thoughts, stories and identifications we have with the object. We attach meaning to everything we encounter based upon our prior experience of the object. In naming something, we are also saying what it is not. For example, when we are thinking about a relationship, the meaning we have placed upon the relationship tells us what kind of relationship it is. It may be a friendship, a lover or a colleague. The meaning we place upon a relationship defines that relationship. We have categorized it into something we can understand and in doing so we have created a sense of security (solid ground) upon which we can stand. We know it, we can name it and we understand it. But in doing so, we are also limiting it to our subject/object interpretations. We have defined it and its boundaries.
In creating subject and object understandings we are simultaneously creating duality in our life. We are seeing things as separate from ourselves. The tree standing in the forest is separate from me. It is an object and I am creating the subject about it. Yet, the tree is made up of sun, rain and earth just as I am. We may physically look different but it has taken the same elements to make each of us. On an atomic level the atoms and molecules within a tree are similar to the atoms and molecules within me. In fact, scientist have discovered that there is a constant exchange of subatomic elements between all living things. In the same way as trees produce the oxygen that we breathe from the carbon dioxin that we have given off. We are not so separate. There is an interdependence of everything. The duality is only in our perception or thinking because we see ourselves as separate from all and everything.
There is great awareness that comes from not naming things, by not creating subject and object. Without an object there cannot be a subject. The mind is left only to experience the truth of what is without interpretation. We become unattached and open to what is unfolding, there is no commentary that defines or categorizes everything. The meditator’s journey is similar to this. One is constantly observing all that comes up without labeling or becoming attached. As soon as one attaches meaning to something there is a subject and an object, there is duality. Meditation is about simply observing the coming and going without judgement, commentary and the creation of a story. It is the observation of what is.
So I have a naming story for you. Today, June 30, is a day of silence for me. I have created a day with no talking or entertainment devices to distract me. I have purposely created a day for myself of silent reflection. As part of my day, I wanted to go for a silent walk. No ear buds or listening to a podcast by a spiritual teacher. Just me walking, the natural sounds around me and contemplation. As I prepared for my walk, I noticed my neighbor outside doing something with his car. I began to get stressed as I would have to walk past him to go on my walk and it would be rude to not say hello or chat. Luckily, he drove off and I was saved from having to make the choice to speak. As I was walking I noticed others. Oh no, I would have to pass them and say hello. What was I going to do? Hmmm… keep my head down, just smile or maybe just put my hands together as if saying Namaste. This created stress and tension within me. How was I going to keep my vow of silence today? It would be rude and unconscious of me to pass without acknowledging the other person. As I passed each person, some ignored me, some said hello and I just smiled in acknowledgement. I passed them all without having to speak – what a relief. As I was walking down a hill, a large moving van was turning at the intersection and was coming towards me as if to stop for directions. Oh my GOD, what am I going to do now? How will I keep my vow of silence? I can’t ignore them, it would be unconscious of me to ignore them. They stopped and the passenger rolled down his window. I couldn’t hear because of the engine noise, so I stepped up onto the steps to get closer and said “SORRY” to indicate that I couldn’t hear them. Then the driver, looking at a map in his hand, said “oh its right there. We are on the right road.” Ugh…. I had spoken a word unnecessarily and broken my vow. I walked on in frustration. Then it occurred to me. The silence I was keeping today was within myself. The noise around me was the noise going on within myself. I had named what my silent day “should” be. I had categorized what the object and subject were going to be for my day and I was not being open to what is. I chuckled to myself and continued on my walk. Somehow I felt less stressed about being silent and more focused upon inward silence than the silence around me.
If we can be more of the witness to whatever is unfolding without commentary and interpretation, without naming it, we will experience life with less stress and more bliss. Notice throughout your week how you are naming things, how you are categorizing things and try to create fewer smaller sandbox for yourself to play in. It might be scary to have less secure ground to stand on but there will definitely be greater bliss.