Recycling Karmic Trash

Shinzen Young

Reading by Liz Helgesen (Download file)

Awakin FeatureIt’s very common for people on a meditative or spiritual path to develop a kind of sensitivity to the poison and pain of others. Sometimes it’s formulated with the phrase “I pick up all this negativity.” Sometimes it’s formulated with the phrase “People drain my energy.” A closely related perception runs something like this: “Now that I've developed some spiritual maturity, I find it difficult to relate to old friends/family/ordinary people; they so cluelessly cause themselves unneeded suffering; I no longer have much in common with them.”

Regarding such sentiments, there are several things to keep in mind. First: They represent a temporary stage that the practitioner eventually grows out of. Second: When you do grow out of it, it’s replaced by its exact opposite: the more clueless and messed up people are, the more you enjoy being around them. You can make the transition from that temporary stage to its opposite by realizing this:

When we’re around other people, we pick up on where they’re at. If they’re in a bad place, we pick up on that. One might refer to that as exogenous discomfort. It's discomfort whose origin (genesis) is from the outside (exo), i.e., you’re feeling uncomfortable because of what is going on in someone else. The term exogenous contrasts with the term endogenous. Endogenous discomfort is discomfort due to our own stuff. The main point to remember is that the discomfort, endogenous or exogenous, typically comes up as some combination of mental image, mental talk, and emotional body sensation. To the extent that one can experience that sensory arising completely, to that extent it does not cause suffering. It doesn't matter one bit whether the source of suffering is exogenous or endogenous or some combination of both. By “experience it completely” I simply mean experience it mindfully, i.e., experience it in a state of concentration, sensory clarity, and equanimity.

When the discomfort is endogenous and you experience it very mindfully, it doesn't cause much suffering, it “tastes” like you’re being purified. When the discomfort is exogenous and you experience it very mindfully, not only does it not cause suffering, but it tastes like you and the other person both are being purified. In other words, how your consciousness processes another’s pain subtly teaches that person’s consciousness to do the same. The other person may not be aware that’s happening, but you’re aware of it. You’re aware that you are nourishing that person, and that subtly nurtures you. That’s why you eventually come to enjoy being around clueless messed up people. Paraphrasing the Blues Brothers, you’re “on a secret mission from God.” You walk through life like a giant air filter picking up the psychospheric pollution and automatically processing it, extracting from it energy and then radiating that energy as positivity. You know your job and you love it: recycling the karmic trash.

Needless to say, it may take a while to work up to this, but everyone on a path should aspire to this perspective.

This situation contrasts in an interesting way with the goals of psychology. In certain therapeutic approaches, the goal is to get the client to the point where they can distinguish “what’s me” from “what’s them.” In contemplative-based spirituality, the goal is to get to the point where you no longer care about that distinction!

Sourced from hereShinzen Young is an American mindfulness teacher and neuroscience research consultant. 

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that experiencing discomfort mindfully causes purification? Can you share a personal story of a time you felt nurtured by mindfully experiencing discomfort from an exogenous source? What helps you to stop caring between 'what's me' and 'what's them'?

Add Your Reflection:

8 Previous Reflections:

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    On Apr 25, 2018 M wrote:

     This is so very timely. Yesterday someone asked me how I can "get along with everyone " ? I told her that I felel that everyone has their own suffering and passion. When you look closely and listen with an open heart, you will see and feel it. She told me I was beyond this time. I replied with the "Secret Mission from The Future" 

    But I also told her that her own emotional boundaries are so very important and that to notice who's feelings she is feeling and why. 

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    On Apr 24, 2018 Bill Miller wrote:

     Thanks for this reminder! I'm kind of an "HSP" (highly sensitive person) who can feel burned out by overly resonating with the plights and problems of others. As the article suggests, that probably happens when insufficiently mindful -- so there's some additional incentive to stay on it!

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    On Apr 24, 2018 Paul wrote:

    We have to be very carful and though the author is attempting to assist us in seeing a different view. There is a huge play on the ego that should not be ignored. The ego giving us yet another form of ignorance to attach to. The idea that we are somehow different (and especially superior) is a fallacy (and one that I am still suck in mind you). If we find ourself in this type of conversation we have moved into a material and fabricated "spirituality" and are now developing our ego further. 

    "Spiritual" growth has humility as it's best friend, a humility that sees everyone and thing as a teacher to learn from to discern but not to judge, condemn, or differentiate. Step back and take a bow to all that is in front of you, dwell in gratitude and take another step in the direction of healing.

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    On Apr 23, 2018 K wrote:

     “Recycling Karmic trash” - finally found the words to describe the feeling. I LOVE how we have ALL actually been appointed as janitors here on this particular divine planet 😊 😊😊😊🙏🙏🙏🙏

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    On Apr 23, 2018 david doane wrote:

     We are constantly interconnected with all that is, so we are constantly affected by and affecting all that is, living and not living, human and not human.  Life provides pain.  Pain is part of life, and we are constantly affecting and affected by pain.  We provide suffering.  Suffering is how we carry and deal with pain.  Experiencing the sensory arising can be suffering of pain, be it endogenous or exogenous, in a way that doesn't add to or create unnecessary pain.  We are individual and one -- not one, not two, one and two.  It is important to know what is my responsibility and what is not, as the serenity prayer points out so well.  Knowing that is a valuable part of my spirituality and doesn't detract from it. 

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    On Apr 21, 2018 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

    I and you, mine and yours, us and them -such differentiations are created in mind by conditioning.As we grow with an open mind and open heart, we experience deep connectedness, intimacy , harmony and oneness in spite of apparent differences. This happens to us as we walk on the path of contemplative-based spirituality. Living mindfully is my contemplative-based spirituality. Both exogenous and endogenous discomfort, pain and suffering have helped me to purify my inner self. Living mindfully has created equilibrium and peacefulness in me. There are times when I miss the step of living mindfully. Such experience helps me to nurture my mindfulness practice. Accepting pain coming from outside sources as well as from inside sources compassionately has helped me to look within to work on myself. Such a journey becomes a pilgrimage.

    Jagdish P Dave

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    On Apr 20, 2018 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

     The word which immediately came to my mind was Compassion. When we sit in compassion for self and others there is less "judgment" and we can move through the discomfort with more ease, at least that has been true for me. Compassion also serves me to stop caring if it's "me" or "them" and sees it more as "us" <3 

    1 reply: Me | Post Your Reply

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