Transformation as Opposed to Change

Excerpts from a conversation between Charlotte Joko Beck (March 27, 1917 - June 15, 2011) from "Life's Not a Problem," by Amy Gross, Tricycle, Summer 1998:

New students usually learn to experience their body and label their thoughts. I don’t mean to analyze thoughts or pick them apart...I like people to just recite their thoughts back. If you do that for three or four years, you’ll know a lot about how your mind operates.

“Having a thought about Mary...Having a thought that I really don’t like Mary...Having a thought that I can’t stand the way she bosses everyone around.” That’s the way we think, right?

In time, as we watch our thoughts our thinking becomes more objective. But most people, instead of just having a thought about Mary, go further: “Gosh, I can’t stand her; she really makes me mad.” Now they’ve got an emotion. What we need to learn to do is to see the thought as a thought, and then feel the body tighten. The body is going to tighten if you’re angry with somebody, right? So just be the tightening. Forget the thinking at this point, and just be the anger, the tension or vibration. When you do that, you’re not trying to change your anger. You’re just being with it, totally. Then it is able to transform itself.

That’s transformation as opposed to change — a critical difference. Religion always is trying to change you: you know, “You’re not a good girl; be a good girl.” But here, in labeling and experiencing, you’re learning to be less emotional, less caught by every passing thing that goes on in your head. The anger gets a little weaker, a little less demanding, and at some point, you begin to notice the difference. Something that would have made you jump with anger — you can watch it. The observer is beginning to grow. And in experiencing the bodily tension, you’re not suppressing the emotion; you’re feeling it. You’re transforming the dualism of self-centered thoughts, opinions, and emotions into the non-dualism of direct experiencing...

I don’t think you see [emptiness]. You have to be it. Emptiness simply means an absence of reactivity. When you relate to somebody, there’s not you and me and your little mind running its little comparisons and judgments. When those are gone, that is emptiness. And you can’t put it into words. That’s the problem for people. They think there’s some way to push for an experience such as emptiness. But practice is not a push toward something else. It’s the transformation of your self. I tell people, “You just can’t go looking for these things. You have to let this transformation grow.” And that entails hard, persistent, daily work. I simply wouldn’t let an irritable thought go through my mind without noting, “Oh, that’s interesting. What’s going on here?” I don’t mean analyzing it, but just stopping. There has to be that ability to stand back and say, “Yeah, interesting that I do that.” Right there. I may go back to it if I’m busy talking to you. But it’s been registered. I’m not going to let that one go by; it’s too interesting. It’s not good or bad. It’s just interesting to note that you do that...

What primarily concerns me is the necessity for a student to learn to be as awake as possible in each moment. Otherwise it can seem as if the point of practice is to have breakthroughs. The usefulness of these openings exists only if they clarify life and our ability to live it and serve it. But until mind and body - usually through years of patient practice — cease to want an ego-centered life, the openings and their teachings cannot be distorted into ego successes. Only when mind and body are mostly free of reactivity can a true understanding of what life is become possible — not through a momentary breakthrough, but through an open and compassionate living of life.

Read the entire interview here...