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Continua of Practice: Construction to Deconstruction

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Teacher: Rodney Smith
Date: 2016-06-07
Venue: Seattle Insight Meditation Center



When we begin practicing, mindfulness starts to reveal our blind spots, and we are forced to acknowledge the full range of our behavior. At this point we greatly over-exaggerate our character flaws since they are catching us by surprise. We are no more of a mess than anyone else, but we see ourselves relative to our ideals, and from that perspective we do not fare well. It is like purchasing a house that we visually thought was in good shape, but when we open the door we realize there is a lot of work that needs to be done. We appear to be a fixer-upper, and everywhere we turn we see rusting pipes and exposed wood. It is helpful to know that we did not suddenly become rotten, but have been living so far away from direct self-knowledge that we have glossed over the damaged person we now find ourselves to be. With mindfulness at our back we realize we have work to do, but where to begin? We may be fearful that something even more treacherous lies under the surface of our persona. Perhaps we sense outrage, or unmitigated lust, uncontrollable terror, or latent rage. We may believe the best way to keep these demons at bay is to build layers of offsetting states of mind to smother their fury. Seal it off, so to speak, with kindness, gentleness, or whatever else we think can counter the energy of this old conditioning. But what happens when we apply such effort is that instead of their submergence comes their reemergence, and a deep lesson in dharma integration is learned. We cannot discard our dislikeable selves by resisting or denying their presence. We have to dive into this mess, honor what is there, learn the ways of self-kindness, and salvage what we can.

It takes humility, courage, honesty, and integrity to move forward into the deeper layers of our conditioning. These are qualities of our character that serve us throughout our journey and are the foundation of our development, driving the changes we seek. Character is our template for living, and the more honest we become, the firmer and more resolute our temperament. Humility, courage, and integrity make it possible to face the difficulties and see what is there. With support of these and other qualities of mind we realize that constructing another layer of conditioning on top of what is already here just makes us more resentful of what lies underneath. We are asked to examine what is there without flinching and to see if it is as personal as we believe it to be. We deconstruct ourselves through attention and love. When there are options, we choose heart instead of hardness, compatibility instead of isolation, and connection in place of projection. As we grow more tender and less fearful we learn not to create an ideal self or to weigh our progress toward perfection. Perfect is our present condition as long as we are free of our self-image.

Seeing that we are not what the mind seems to say we are, begins to unravel the confusion of what we are. When something is seen objectively (thought, emotion, physical sensation, or narrative of self) we cannot also be, subjectively, that experience. The repetition of seeing that truth over and over again begins to wear away the beliefs that we are what we think and feel. It is a little like following all the dead-ends of a maze until we blunder upon the exit. Stubbornly we keep going down the blocked pathways hoping for a new way out. The quicker we learn what we are not, the smoother our spiritual lives unfold.

Deconstruction requires the faith of letting go into a deeper abiding. We cannot progress spiritually by constructing new layers of personality, but instead we see what we are not and let it go. We have faith that whatever is left will be much richer and more fulfilling than our current state of struggle.


Reflect upon Trungpa’s quote: “There is no such thing as spiritual advancement. There is only stepping out of self-deception. Stop your struggle to get hold of spiritual states. Just give that up, other than that there is no spirituality.”

Sit quietly for a few minutes and sense yourself being mindful and aware of your surrounds. In this moment it seems as if you are being aware of your environment. You are at the center of the awareness, taking in whatever awareness touches. You can direct your awareness toward a particular object or open it up toward a more spacious and universally attentive. Now we are going to switch the subject and object. As you sit, can you sense that there is something around you that sees you and sees the environment at large? This seeing does not have a center from which the seeing is derived. Sense it all around you like the air you breath. Can you intuit that awareness is having the experience of you rather than you having the experience of awareness? From time to time throughout the day, allow that shift to be sensed by calling it forward and asking, “Whom does this experience of awareness belong to?”


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