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A 9-Year-Old's Hidden Self

--by Jacob Needleman (Apr 12, 2011)


The quality and strength of Lobsang's inner being was also brought home to me through an event that took place in my home.  After one of his weekends working with our translation group, he stayed for a few days as a guest in my house in San Francisco.  One morning at the breakfast table we were discussing this and that, I don't remember what.  My nine-year-old daughter, Eve, was present.  Ordinarily, she tended to be shy, especially when strangers or guests were present.  But at one point in the conversation, during a brief pause, she looked up at Lobsang and without any preamble she asked him: "What happens when people die?"

I was startled and a certain warmth rose up in me.  It was obvious she had been keeping this question for a long time inside herself, without letting anyone know.  My own attempts to make room in our relationship for this kind of question had not gone anywhere, or so it has seemed to me.  But now, suddenly, I felt her hidden self and felt that strength of its need.  How would Lobsang respond?  I set myself to listen to him with as much eagerness as my daughter.

Lobsang turned toward her with his warm, brown face and his lucent black eyes and began talking to her as though she were, like him, simply a normal human being for whom such questioning was as natural and as important as eating, a human being who was, like him and like all of us, someday going to die.  I don't remember the content of what he said to her; I do remember thinking that what he said was not extraordinary -- things that any serious adult might say to a serious, inquiring child.  But what I do remember as vividly as though it were yesterday was the "resonance" of his voice, the stillness of his body and the warm attention in his face.  I remember sensing the vibration of a certain kind of energy passing between Lobsang and my daughter that served more as answer to her question than any words by themselves could have.  I saw her eyes deepen as though they were seeing something strong and new -- not outside herself, but inside herself.

Perhaps she did not realize what was happening inside herself.  Maybe she still doesn't know.  But I saw it.  A quality of attention was passing between Lobsang and my daughter that is becoming more and more rare in our common world.  And it is this "something" that desperately needs to pass between people.  It is the mutual flow of this special quality of attention between human beings that all people, whether they know it or not, are starved for.  Not all the praise, touching, words, teaching, smiling, sympathizing, serving good causes -- not any or all of it can do what this quality of shared attention can do.  Its lack is more of a threat to our world than anything else -- or, rather, its increasing absence in human relationships is at the root of all else that now threatens to destroy or degrade us beyond recovery -- the internecine hatred and egoism and immorality that is crowding out not only our ancient, traditional ways of life, and the life of nature itself, but which is also crowding out the human memory of what mankind is, and is made for.

--Jacob Needleman, in What is God


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23 Previous Reflections:

 
On Jun 2, 2011 Dan Duncan wrote:

Why is it so hard to remember the taste of not knowing as a child?  If I'm lucky, a child's question may strike a chord of real communication such as you describe between Lobsang and Eve.
Is it enough to NOT prepare an answer to that innocence?

The faces of small children in supermarket shopping carts strike me with their seeming wonderment about all that surounds them.  They do not ask, they simply wonder, and occasionally I tune in to that wonder and am nourished by it.

 



On Apr 27, 2011 Rabbi St. Laurence wrote:

I have not read this book as yet Professor Needleman; but I must, and I will.

I will like to know the Child's response, as well as his knowledge or and wisdom on the subject of eternal life, the essence of the meaning of life.



On Apr 17, 2011 jacob wrote:

What a beautiful story.



On Apr 15, 2011 rahul wrote:

The first thing this passage brought up for me was presence, and that with a given quality of presence always comes permission to respond in harmony its energy.  The neurological basis of this is what are called ‘mirror neurons’ which essentially pick up on the mental states of those around us and cause us to replicate their inner states within ourselves.  Research has shown that you’re much more likely to be happy if you have happy friends.  Not just that, but if a friend of your friend is happy, your chances of happiness go up.  A different study even showed that having an obese friend increase your probability of being obese. This continual exchange between you and the people around you, puts high importance on the type of people you surround yourself with .  Emerson said, “Show me who a man’s friends are and I will show you the man.”  Yet many of us have mixed communities with different kids of friends that hold a  See full.

The first thing this passage brought up for me was presence, and that with a given quality of presence always comes permission to respond in harmony its energy.  The neurological basis of this is what are called ‘mirror neurons’ which essentially pick up on the mental states of those around us and cause us to replicate their inner states within ourselves.  Research has shown that you’re much more likely to be happy if you have happy friends.  Not just that, but if a friend of your friend is happy, your chances of happiness go up.  A different study even showed that having an obese friend increase your probability of being obese.

This continual exchange between you and the people around you, puts high importance on the type of people you surround yourself with .  Emerson said, “Show me who a man’s friends are and I will show you the man.”  Yet many of us have mixed communities with different kids of friends that hold a range of sometimes conflicting values.  Maybe there’s someone in your family who clashes with your values, or maybe there’s not a complete alignment at your office, or maybe you have problems structural violence in your society.  How do you impact those energies positively instead of being impacted in a negative way?  We're often seduced towards big:  talking louder, faster, on a larger scale, in more media—and this may have some short term impact, but I suspect it doesn't last.  Who will remember an insensitve, loud politician or media personality after they're gone?

Is there another answer?  I think it may be the power of attention towards the subtle that helps us respond to negative influences.

Last week something I said triggered an attack-like response from my boss, and I noticed unpleasant feelings starting inside of me.  So I watched those for a second, wondering what I should do and I decided to see if I could disarm the attack.  As my boss was proceeding on his annoyed monologue, I cracked a little smile and took a tiny step towards him.  I noticed a little change in his expression, but he kept going on his rant.  So I smiled bigger, and took one more tiny step towards him.  I noticed a little bit of confusion in his face, but he kept going.  So I smiled even bigger, and took another little step toward him.  His rant turned into just talking, and in another few seconds, he just ran out of steam.  I was still smiling and just kind of nodded my head, and he kind of had this flash of ‘what’s going on here?’.  Next minute I said something and he laughed, not knowing what hit him.  The whole experience seemed to feel like loudness wasn’t the answer; that tuning into the things most subtle within ourselves and being able to smile at whatever is happening there gives us the best chance to influence instead of being influenced.  This feels like that quality of attention the author was talking about that mankind is, and is made for.

 

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On Apr 15, 2011 Dinesh wrote:

Few audio clips from our circle of sharing last Wednesday ...  



On Apr 12, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

This passage reminded me of a chat my wife and I had with a monk. We expressed a desire to meet with spiritual teachers and film Q&A with them so others can also benefit from it. The Dalai Lama came up, and this monk said, "The Dalai Lama says a lot of insightful things, but that is not what is really important about it. What is important is that he says it." In the spiritual and intellectual realms, two opposite standards apply. In the former, the purity of the individual and the presence is what connects and makes all else irrelevant. In the intellectual world, I remember the distinction my professor made between a regular bow and a crossbow. An opinion is like firing an arrow from a regular bow. The distance the arrow goes depends on the personality who shoots it. Whereas, an argument is like a crossbow. Even a child can fire it and it will go the same distance. An argument lives on beyond the personality. Is there any contradiction between these two? I don't think s  See full.

This passage reminded me of a chat my wife and I had with a monk. We expressed a desire to meet with spiritual teachers and film Q&A with them so others can also benefit from it. The Dalai Lama came up, and this monk said, "The Dalai Lama says a lot of insightful things, but that is not what is really important about it. What is important is that he says it."

In the spiritual and intellectual realms, two opposite standards apply. In the former, the purity of the individual and the presence is what connects and makes all else irrelevant. In the intellectual world, I remember the distinction my professor made between a regular bow and a crossbow. An opinion is like firing an arrow from a regular bow. The distance the arrow goes depends on the personality who shoots it. Whereas, an argument is like a crossbow. Even a child can fire it and it will go the same distance. An argument lives on beyond the personality. Is there any contradiction between these two?

I don't think so. The same professor always had great presence when decimating my argument, and I never once felt humiliated. Rather, there was so much gratitude for the new clarity gained. Ironically (or not), I have noticed that those who develop spiritually also end up purifying their intellect of noise, and it is not surprising that many great spiritual teachers have also been great logicians.

And then of course, there are the saints, in whose presence I forget my questions (or, to put it more accurately, my questions are rendered irrelevant). :)

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On Apr 12, 2011 Dr Venkat Pulla wrote:

being human - we forget, being caring we forget, being there in that moment with that person we forget. grateful fo these wonderful reminders. may God bless you all.

 



On Apr 10, 2011 Ricky wrote:

I am so grateful to have read such a precious story about a parent who really gets it...about who our 'teachers' are on this journey we refer to as our life...in this case, his daughter.  What most enchants me about this beautiful writing is that it touches what I know to be true in my deepest inner core-my soul-the Self.  At a very young age, as I looked out at the world around me and tried to make sense of it all by making observations and asking questions, I was greeted by 'unconscious' adult rhetoric by adults who had lost that connection to what is, in their own effort to make sense of everything.  As a youngster I believed the rhetoric.  Confused for a very long time (at least 50 of these years), and dealing with the consequences of not being true to what I know to be true about my life and others around me, only when I began to teach and practice yoga did I offer myself peace and grace.&nbs  See full.

I am so grateful to have read such a precious story about a parent who really gets it...about who our 'teachers' are on this journey we refer to as our life...in this case, his daughter.  What most enchants me about this beautiful writing is that it touches what I know to be true in my deepest inner core-my soul-the Self.  At a very young age, as I looked out at the world around me and tried to make sense of it all by making observations and asking questions, I was greeted by 'unconscious' adult rhetoric by adults who had lost that connection to what is, in their own effort to make sense of everything.  As a youngster I believed the rhetoric.  Confused for a very long time (at least 50 of these years), and dealing with the consequences of not being true to what I know to be true about my life and others around me, only when I began to teach and practice yoga did I offer myself peace and grace.  His daughter was shown that peace and grace through the soul connection-the universe connection-the heart connection that occurred in this story.  And he was present enough to  recognize and reconnect to his deepest inner core, his inner child, as he focused not on what was being said, but what was real about the encounter.  I teach children, and know them to be much closer to the Self, and listen to them to connect each time they speak, look intently,  express themselves in dance, and their limitless artistic and problem solving talents.  I teach high school.  I am present every day for these moments described in the story.  The 'something' referred to in the story is the 'everything', and the 'only thing'.

Much love, Ricky

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On Apr 10, 2011 Kinjal wrote:

Beautiful passage. I am glad that the author does not remember what Lobsang said to the child, because that would have distracted the reader. The following words hit me the most:

"the mutual flow of this special quality of attention between human beings that all people, whether they know it or not, are starved for"

We all have been there at some point or another, at least I have been there. Infinite amount of praises and kind words can't do what true compassion conveyed by warm attention put in by the wholeheartedness of being in that moment shared with the other person(s).

For me, it also ties in with NOT multi-tasking, even in our thoughts.

 



On Apr 9, 2011 KT wrote:

Human-kind has more ways to communicate with one another than one could have ever imagined, and while It is probably true that people are communicating MORE due to technology, the communication is LESS due to the quality. You see it every day.  As an English teacher my job is to teach students how to communicate through speech and writing. What I have found is that I often spend the most time on teaching them the art of "tone." They have no idea how their choice of words combined with their tone of voice, body language, and facial expression can impact their experience with another person. They don't really know how to connect to their listener and understand that this connection and the tone of that moment is what will make the conversation either continue or end. I think that this "tone" is the presence described above. Since I teach troubled teens in an urban setting filled with gang violence, drug abuse, and absent parents (either physically, mentally, or  See full.

Human-kind has more ways to communicate with one another than one could have ever imagined, and while It is probably true that people are communicating MORE due to technology, the communication is LESS due to the quality. You see it every day. 

As an English teacher my job is to teach students how to communicate through speech and writing. What I have found is that I often spend the most time on teaching them the art of "tone." They have no idea how their choice of words combined with their tone of voice, body language, and facial expression can impact their experience with another person. They don't really know how to connect to their listener and understand that this connection and the tone of that moment is what will make the conversation either continue or end. I think that this "tone" is the presence described above. Since I teach troubled teens in an urban setting filled with gang violence, drug abuse, and absent parents (either physically, mentally, or emotionally) it is very hard to teach proper communication (often times even harder for me to simply communicate with them!). They often  have not had people in their lives give them the type of gentle and genuine attention described above. It seems that they are even afraid of it. They are afraid to trust; they are afraid that this attention comes with strings attached. It is very sad. I realize that the more time I spend communicating with them in a certain way, the more they respond. For these kids it is not effective or practical to spend a lot of time on sentence structure, vocabulary, and grammar. Instead, they need to just practice speaking. Pick a topic and just them just go for it. I listen and when appropriate I put in comments and thoughts, but I try to just focus on them and allow them this space. It is very hard at times. What I have found is that the more time I spend with a student listening and being present, the more that she wants to talk, and the better her communication skills become. The girl who used terribly foul language and yelled and flung her hands violently starts to sit still and make eye contact and wonder aloud. She begins to understand how to give genuine attention to her listener due to the fact that he is being still and attentive, giving her the gift of his own presence. It's as if she knows she can be calm and be vulnerable enough to take her time and think and examine because she feels safe. It's as she learns how to speak with purpose and presence because she has learned what it feels like to be heard with presence. It's a beautiful thing. Even though we should never try to feed the ego (that ravenous beast!), I recognize how crucial it is for people to feel important, to feel loved and accepted. I think that when we are present like Lobsang was with the child that we are showing the person that we are communicating with that they are important and, therefore, they are loved. 

Be present while speaking. Be present while listening. It's like holding hands when it words out right. :-)

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On Apr 9, 2011 Edit Lak wrote:

A truly beautiful and inspiring passage. This reminds us all ,that, our interactions have meaning and true purpose. The comfort and safeness of a child to ask a deep question from her own growing, learning and inquisitive mind, As important as the question is, more importantly is the reply, not so much in the format explained, but to have the respect and care to answer the child the best one can, to be as one with the child without ego or mental nature running wild, Instead there was a responsibility, a stillness, a calmness and pure value and worth shown to the child, allowing the child to follow the answering story and to grow and understand from that.. The mother also practiced stillness and great self, by allowing a universal growth to occur.. Lobsang spiritual graciousness shows us that, we are all child and adult working as one... learning and growing together, that inner soul connecting.... And that’s a beautiful lesson....  See full.

A truly beautiful and inspiring passage. This reminds us all ,that, our interactions have meaning and true purpose. The comfort and safeness of a child to ask a deep question from her own growing, learning and inquisitive mind, As important as the question is, more importantly is the reply, not so much in the format explained, but to have the respect and care to answer the child the best one can, to be as one with the child without ego or mental nature running wild, Instead there was a responsibility, a stillness, a calmness and pure value and worth shown to the child, allowing the child to follow the answering story and to grow and understand from that..

The mother also practiced stillness and great self, by allowing a universal growth to occur..

Lobsang spiritual graciousness shows us that, we are all child and adult working as one... learning and growing together, that inner soul connecting.... And that’s a beautiful lesson....

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On Apr 8, 2011 Derek wrote:

 What I enjoy about this delicate passage is it's emphasis on the power of subtle meanings. Many adults today have gotten caught up in the day to day "static" of life, missing the intentions behind words. Young children, with pure minds absorb every nuance in movement and tone in communication. They are Watchers of life. They can see, feel and absorb what some might say are messages of transcendence.  As adults, children can be great teachers for all of us. They can guide us back to a reality and learn to listen to what is not spoken. Recommendation - I would edit the last few sentences "Its lack is more of a threat to our world than anything else -- or, rather, its increasing absence in human relationships is at the root of all else that now threatens to destroy or degrade us beyond recovery -- the internecine hatred and egoism." There is no good or bad, it just is. Life is perfect. Let's focus on solutions. Give us goals to strive for... Keep up the  See full.

 What I enjoy about this delicate passage is it's emphasis on the power of subtle meanings. Many adults today have gotten caught up in the day to day "static" of life, missing the intentions behind words. Young children, with pure minds absorb every nuance in movement and tone in communication. They are Watchers of life. They can see, feel and absorb what some might say are messages of transcendence. 

As adults, children can be great teachers for all of us. They can guide us back to a reality and learn to listen to what is not spoken.

Recommendation - I would edit the last few sentences "Its lack is more of a threat to our world than anything else -- or, rather, its increasing absence in human relationships is at the root of all else that now threatens to destroy or degrade us beyond recovery -- the internecine hatred and egoism."

There is no good or bad, it just is. Life is perfect. Let's focus on solutions. Give us goals to strive for...

Keep up the great work!

Well Wishes, Derek

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On Apr 8, 2011 Ganoba wrote:

 when we drop the ego, which is after all just an image, a fragmented one at that, what is left is the nameless I. this I is one with the whole universe. It is pure compassion and a loving wisdom.To this I age, titles, gender etc don't mean a thing.



On Apr 7, 2011 madhur wrote:

 This passage brings up an opening like perhaps the conversation did. The idea of treating the question and the enquirer as perfectly normal, in sync with self and giving profound attention, has so much to learn and practice in everyday life's moments. This has potential perhaps to make deep relations, connect and express or change for good which otherwise may be extremely difficult.

Thanks so much for bring forth a strong message from such a simple incidence. 



On Apr 7, 2011 xiaoshan wrote:

"We sat together, holding hands. No words were said...that was a perfect moment in my life."



On Apr 7, 2011 Rajesh wrote:

A most wonderful passage. One gets a hint of the quality of conversation that Needleman is speaking about. When that quality happens in an intearction with a friend or a stranger, one feels like one's heart has opened up to the whole world and that everything is blessed. I find that such interactions have become rarer in my own life and I long to create such deep connections more often.



On Apr 7, 2011 susan schaller wrote:

This needed story reminded me of when I first moved to Berkeley many years ago.  I wondered how I was going to relate to all the panhndlers.  I couldn't give everyone all my money, but I hated the idea of looking away and rushing by as so many people do.  At that time, I often stopped for a cup of coffee after I dropped my kids off at school.  I decided to befriend two women who were outside of my coffee stop.  I chatted with them, got to know them, and considered money for them as part of the price of my luxury coffee break.  Then for the rest of the day, I could look others in the eye and say, I support C_____ and C______ at Shattuck and _____.   I discovered the truth of this story: everyone thrives when authentic attention is given.  I got more smiles and lit up faces than any monetary donation ever got.  Since then, I practice looking people in the eye and greeting them as I pass.  I've noticed how much nicer people have becom  See full.

This needed story reminded me of when I first moved to Berkeley many years ago.  I wondered how I was going to relate to all the panhndlers.  I couldn't give everyone all my money, but I hated the idea of looking away and rushing by as so many people do.  At that time, I often stopped for a cup of coffee after I dropped my kids off at school.  I decided to befriend two women who were outside of my coffee stop.  I chatted with them, got to know them, and considered money for them as part of the price of my luxury coffee break.  Then for the rest of the day, I could look others in the eye and say, I support C_____ and C______ at Shattuck and _____.   I discovered the truth of this story: everyone thrives when authentic attention is given.  I got more smiles and lit up faces than any monetary donation ever got.  Since then, I practice looking people in the eye and greeting them as I pass.  I've noticed how much nicer people have become over the years!

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On Apr 7, 2011 Kate wrote:

What a passage - thank you for posting.  This story reminded me of a piece of being-human that I forget - of how we give attention to each other when we don't have answers.  That quality of attention, of holding each other and the things we are scared or unsure of, is an amazing gift.  This story reminded me of times and people in my life who have shared that gift - and held me in their attention, when the unknown was overwhelming.  How fabulous it is, that as humans we have that ability to support each other and ourselves, in this way.  A good thing, too, given how much is still unknown!  :)  And, how exciting and human it makes us - to be able meet that together.



On Apr 7, 2011 Conrad Pritscher wrote:

I was touched. Normally I respond to what you write by saying my name is Conrad. Today, I gave my full name partly because of Lobsong's open expression. First, I thought I might respond by saying something about how death is natural and everything, including people, are impermanent  (dealing more with the content rather than how the content was expressed). After reading more, I thought what is important is not only what I say but how I say it. Kindness in expression says more than what is expressed. I believe there was a recent charityfocus.org comment which quoted Adous Huxley as saying something like, after all his years of learning and writing, the one thing he might say is: "Be kinder." I'm also reminded of William Penn's idea: "I shall pass this way but once, any good therefore that I may do, or any kindness that I may show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglected it for shall not pass this way again. I am also reminded of  See full.

I was touched. Normally I respond to what you write by saying my name is Conrad. Today, I gave my full name partly because of Lobsong's open expression. First, I thought I might respond by saying something about how death is natural and everything, including people, are impermanent  (dealing more with the content rather than how the content was expressed). After reading more, I thought what is important is not only what I say but how I say it. Kindness in expression says more than what is expressed. I believe there was a recent charityfocus.org comment which quoted Adous Huxley as saying something like, after all his years of learning and writing, the one thing he might say is: "Be kinder." I'm also reminded of William Penn's idea: "I shall pass this way but once, any good therefore that I may do, or any kindness that I may show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglected it for shall not pass this way again. I am also reminded of the St. Francis of Assisi prayer. I was told that the Torah says: "The highest form of wisdom is kindness." Thank you Viral for giving me the opportunity to respond to a beautiful writing. You have my gratitude.

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On Apr 7, 2011 Pratibha wrote:

Hmm, it would be interesting to know what Lopsang actually said to the child.  I agree that the communication as described was surely significant between the two, but the actual words to answer her question would be important too. 

What happens when people die--would we like to have that discussion?  I think it could be very  interesting. 

Pratibha

 



On Apr 7, 2011 Prasad Kaipa wrote:

 I was touched by the quality of listening that Needleman and Lobsang brought forth to Eve's question. Considering that Eve is his daughter, Needleman's ability to be open to her the way, he describes makes me long to be the kind of father he is. Then Lobsang's attention and willingness to be with Eve and engage her with his own response -- not to answer it so that the question goes away, but to answer it in a way that there is more curiosity, certain confidence that one is on the right path and overall sense of appreciation for him to have listened to Eve that way -- all of them are beautifully described.

I am asking myself: When have I listened to like what is described -- like what awakes the sleeping or hidden part of one self? When did I feel like I was listened to in a way that I was totally honored and respected and at the end of that conversation, I really came alive...



On Apr 7, 2011 Aumatma wrote:

This passage reminds me that maybe it is not in the words that we convey, but in the presence that we share, that is most significant.  



On Apr 7, 2011 Richard Whittaker wrote:

Beautiful passage. The whole book is really worth reading, by the way. Somehow Needleman captures the essence of a precious quality of exchange. I think what's most amazing is the quality of Lobsang's tone in addressing this 9 year old as a being in her own right and not someone it's necessary to "speak down" to. I'm sure Logsang's response was made with full awareness that he was speaking to a child, but also another being in herself. So the content, the words, no doubt were chosen with this in mind [not too abstract or technical, for instance] while the tone was this other thing which Jacob captures so well, this authentic and real response to a whole being from another whole being. Really wonderful.