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What follows is part of a talk given by Cheri Huber, a Buddhist practitioner and teacher. This talk is transcribed in Sweet Zen: Dharma Talks from Cheri Huber. Her words are so straightforward and simple, they are really pressing me to embrace Buddhism again. It's much less threatening than before; I had been sitting faithfully for a while and had to give it up. Too much pain, too many voices in my head.

If I walk into the kitchen and smell gas, I know what that smell means, and I know what can happen if that smell is not attended to. Before I knew what that smell was, I could have gone to bed one night and not gotten up in the morning. In the same way, it is important to know the signs and potentials and movements of egocentricity, to recognize them for what they are, and to take steps to deal with them. If I smell gas in the kitchen, I open the doors and windows, find the leak, get it fixed. Within ourselves, similarly, there are steps we can take to protect ourselves from the suffering caused by egocentric conditioning.

Let¹s examine one conditioned process, guilt. Guilt is a process that does not require specific content. As long as you maintain the internal process of feeling guilty, guilt will always be there about something. But awareness of that process of that process can stop it.

You can be just going along, and a voice in you says, "You're lazy." When you hear that message, you feel guilty, just like Pavlov's dogs salivating when a bell rings. That is conditioning. The two events have nothing to do with each other, but, quite predictably and automatically, hearing "You're lazy" produces a feeling of guilt.

How could you break that pattern? You might notice exactly what happened and write it down on a little note and stick the note on the wall. "The voice says "You're lazy," and then I feel guilty." It could be a cartoon: "You're lazy" is in a balloon above the head of the person. Next panel: person feels guilty. There you have the conditioned pattern of response. From now on, when you hear that message inside your head, you know what the result will be. It is like knowing what it means when you smell gas.

"When that happens, this is how I feel" applies to all sorts of conditioned reactions. It takes so long to work through even one of those patterns because ego is very resistant. We try to deny what our conditioning does to us; we hide out, hoping it will forget about us. But go right on in there. "A voice says I'm lazy, then I feel guilty." There it is. You diagram it and put it on the wall, and you check in with it every day. You actively listen for that voice.

Pretty soon you will hear another voice, presenting the other side of the issue. "But you are too tired to work hard." Then watch what happens: you believe you are too tired, and you feel inadequate, overwhelmed, depressed. Lay all that out. "The voice says this, I feel that." What happens to you emotionally? What happens to you physically? What happens to you mentally? Chart the whole thing. Pretty soon you will have seen everything there is to see about that particular piece of your conditioning.

An essential ingredient in this is a sense of adventure and fun. If it is as grim as life and death, you have lost before you started. It has to have that light tone to it. On the one hand, it is serious business, because what motivates us is being sick of having our experience controlled by forces we do not understand. But our approach to that is more in the spirit of play: we are going to put on our boots and our six-shooters and head down Main Street, and we are going to confront those culprits. And from now on, we are going to have a different relationship.

Once you have seen everything there is to see about guilt, you can tackle another conditioned pattern. Next! You take on the next piece, and then the next. There is a tremendous sense of well-being that comes with that. You are no longer ducking and hiding through your life. Everything is right out there, and you are actively dealing with it head-on.

It can sound laborious to have to do this with every one of those patterns in our lives. I assure you, though, it is no more laborious than living with them.

As with the Buddha's image of the knots in the scarf, you untie each knot of conditioning, one at a time, until they are all gone. Nothing is left unfinished, nothing is left undone. Then you can lay the scarf out on the ironing board and press it out so smoothly that there is not a wrinkle left.

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