In our sangha, our services end with this chant: Caught in the self-centred dream, only suffering. Holding to self-centred thoughts, exactly the dream. Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher. Being just this moment, compassion’s way.
Note that the first line does not specify the circumstances. It is not, “Caught in the self-centred dream and not getting what you want, only suffering.” It is just “Caught in the self-centred dream, only suffering.”
The circumstances do not matter. For as long as we are self-centred, no matter what is happening there is only suffering. Not getting anything we want - only suffering. Getting some of what we want—only suffering. Getting everything we want—only suffering.
When we do not have what we want, we suffer from greed as we long for it. When we do have what we want, we suffer from fear of losing it. When we are admired, we suffer from attachment to pride, the fear of losing the admiration that we crave. When we are despised, we suffer from shame, and the greedy desire for admiration.
The desire to stop being self-centred is another self-centred desire.
So, how do we practice? When we are asleep and dreaming, and we realise that we are dreaming, no matter how scary the dream, it no longer has power. So it is with the waking dream. We just see what is going on, without getting caught up in a belief that we have to do something about it. As self-centred desires and reactions arise, just note them. “And then what?” people often ask me. And then nothing. Just let them be, neither fighting them nor welcoming them. Just see them for what they are. Does this sound simple or easy? Try it, and you may find it is the hardest thing you have ever tried—and the most beautiful and the most liberating. You may find that, over and over, your life begins anew.