Have you started at the beginning? Have you read any of my other posts on the 5 precepts of being a compassionate companion? If you haven’t seen the my introduction, take a few minutes to read about the other precepts before moving on (see the links below this post).
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I think most people who know something about mindfulness, Buddhism, or Zen have heard Shunryu Suzuki‘s famous saying from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few. And this is exactly what Frank is teaching about in the 5th Precept, Cultivate Don’t Know Mind.
There is something so comfortable in thinking we know something or thinking we’ve had some mastery over something. It’s not only about self-importance but also about the need to feel in control to squelch our anxieties. And where might we have more anxiety than sitting by the bedside of someone who is dying.
When we are saturated in expert mind, we have all the answers. There is no room for growth, creativity, or newness. We might find ourselves thinking I’ve been through this before or I’ve dealt with this diagnosis before (whether medical or psychological) and we immediately cut ourselves off from the present experience.
Cultivate Don’t Know Mind.
One of the things I have learned in my training as a humanistic/existential/phenomenological clinician and researcher is to be open to what’s in front of me. To let unfold what is before me. It’s about being non-directive and truly honoring what another person’s experience is and learning to bracket all of the “stuff” that I bring to my experience. Having learned this way of being has helped in being by the bedside of a dying person or in the consultation room or group room with the bereft.
There is something so wonderful about a situation being new to us. We are open and receptive and have a sense of anticipation and limitless possibilities. When we encounter a situation we think we know, there is a deadness or closed-ness to our relationship with it. It’s easy to go in with an agenda (I’m going to teach this family how to grieve properly. I’ve seen this kind of cancer before and I can tell them what it will be like and what they need to do. This person is [add a religion or ethnicity] and they will act like this or that).
With this closed-ness, there are no rooms for miracles, no room for people intimately sharing the experience of being alive. Frank describes “not knowing” as being intimate. Do you remember when you first started to date someone and you hung on their every word? Or the first time you saw your child? Everything was amazing, new, and fresh. Everything, every word, every gesture made you fall in love with that person or your child. Surely, we can be as open to those who are grieving and dying, no?
Imagine another person with you, a companion. Not a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, or a psychotherapist but someone who was there to hold space for you. They didn’t have all the answers. Didn’t rely on techniques, slogans, or theories. Imagine that the starting point of the relationship was that they were there to listen to you, learn about you, and their whole reason for being was to be a witness to your unfolding. Imagine if we could have such open hearts to someone who was laying dying the way we do with that newborn baby or with that first date.
There is room for possibilities when you can stay flexible and receptive.
Cultivate Don’t Know Mind.
Note: Thank you all for reading these posts on the 5 Precepts from Frank. He is an amazing teacher and it is teachers like Frank, Roshi Joann Halifax, The Levines, John Welshons, Sameet Kumar, Ram Dass, Sogyal Rinpoche, etc. that have informed my passion for continuing the lineage of Buddhist practices not only at the deathbed but also in the presence of those grieving.
Thanks for taking this journey with me. I honor you, a buddha to be.
- Five Precepts: “Find a place of rest in the middle of things” (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- “Welcome Everything, Push Away Nothing” (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- “Bring Your Whole Self to the Experience” (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- “Don’t Wait.” (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- Attention, Attention (namasteconsultinginc.com)