Ordinary Mind as the Path VII (Excess)

In the last post on discovering “The Way” in our experience of ordinary mind, I shared the idea of a “great dialectic” described as Expansion and Contraction by meditation teacher, Shinzen Young. In that post there was some description of how something as ordinary (and seemingly negative) as laziness could be experienced as an example of a Contractive force — “Nature exhaling”, as it were.

It makes sense that a follow-up would address the opposite (complementary) force of Expansion: in this case, exemplified by the experience of excess.

What we might mean by the term excess in this instance is any example of “too much”, and everyone has experienced this “too-much-ness” in life:

Too much effort (trying too hard);

Too much wanting (addictive desire);

Too much consumption (insatiable appetite);

Too much concern (obsessing).


When Too Much is Too Much

Deconstructing the Experiences That Lead to Excess

What makes up the drive that propels excessive behavior and what can be done about it?

One of the “bread and butter” meditation techniques of Unified Mindfulness (UM), the SeeHearFeel technique, is aimed toward untangling the different components of our sensory experience: unraveling all the pieces that make up everything our attention can be drawn to moment by moment. This process of sharpening the clarity with which we experience our surroundings (the “world”) and ourselves (thoughts/emotions) can lead to an amazing freedom.

Again, going with the UM model of mindfulness, an experience of “too much” can be said to be made up of some combination of visual experience (seeing physical sights or mental images), auditory experience (hearing physical sounds or mental talk), and somatic experience (feeling physical or emotional body sensations).

This is good news.

What this implies is that the flood of urge that can lead to excess or the overwhelming drive to relentlessly pursue can be broken down into its parts — it is easier to carry ten 100 lb weights than it is to carry one 1,000 lb weight.

Deconstructing experience by steadily acknowledging its components moment by moment (in an open and interested way) allows us to fully experience the moment without losing ourselves to it.

Try it right now:

Notice what is happening around you and in your thoughts and emotions;

Every few seconds, note what is happening by using a mental label (See, Hear, or Feel) without getting caught up in what you notice.

[you can use label-aids if it helps: “there is See/Hear/Feel” or “See/Hear/Feel is like this”]

Do this again and again and again…

Letting your environment be what it is and letting thoughts and emotions come and go without fighting or following them is like practicing being the sky instead of being the clouds: letting the show of the sight and sound and thoughts and bodily feelings play itself out without being controlled by compulsion and habit.

There is plenty of room in the sky for any weather, and the open sky is not damaged by any of its contents.


The Propensity of Things to be Perfectly What They Are

Excess is Excess

What is the experience of excess?

We’ve already answered that, right? A combination of See, Hear, and Feel.

This is true.

It is also the case that excess is just excess… just like water is wet; just like rocks are solid.

Things in our experience have the AMAZING tendency to be exactly what they are. Things do this so perfectly — there is no need for water to try to be wet and rocks to try to be solid: they just are (perfectly). Excess is the same.

The expansive flavor of reality arises just as particles collect to become a planet; just as the ground swells into a mountain; just as words of the deepest care are formed in the mouths of our loved ones.

Ok, this could seem a little out there or abstract (or just a stretch)…

But, experimenting with this throughout the day (treating each moment of experience as though it were a taste of a perfect arriving) can lead to substantial change in one’s relationship with even the compulsions of excess.

Don’t mishear me as saying that there is nothing to do or nothing to change — I am only saying that (in greeting the experience of a moment of excess) there is nothing to do and nothing to change… the next moment of action, however, may require significant behavior alteration.

Enigma is not my naturally preferred way of describing things like this; but this seems to make the most sense to me: in treating the arrival of THIS moment as though there is nothing to add and nothing to omit gives us the space and patience (over time) to nurture and care for ourselves in an adaptive way in the next moment of action.


So… sounds nice — how do you do this?

One of my favorite authors, Thomas Merton, has described contemplative prayer by saying that he doesn’t “have a program for this [type of] seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”

“Everywhere”?!

In excess? Regret? Mistakes? Laziness? Irritation? Anger? Compulsively? Depression? Worry? Meaninglessness?

“Everywhere”.

Happy practicing.

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