Cultivating a Pronoid Mind

This is the sign you've been looking for

Excerpted from Finding the Freedom to Get Unstuck and Be Happier, by our Guiding Teacher, Ven. Douglas Cheolsoeng Gentile (Penguin, 2021, pp. 14-16).

My definition of an enlightened being is one who trusts that the next moment will be workable. She/He is not anxious about what might happen, nor ruminating over past errors and injuries. This person feels a sense of calm even when life’s turbulence is roiling. This person can act with true free will—aware of, but not controlled by the impulses and feelings that come from our past conditioning. Because the enlightened being trusts the next moment, she feels a sense of balance. Balance is not a singular stable place, but a dynamic center that allows an action to emanate in any direction. Much of the time we find that we are leaning in one direction, preferring a specific outcome. That makes it difficult to go ‘with the flow,’ because we are already off balance, leaning one particular way. When we are truly balanced, we are equally able to move in any direction in reaction to the demands of the situation. This is another aspect of free will. Free will isn’t simply getting what you want—it’s being free to go in any direction. When we are balanced at the center of the chaos that life presents, we not only stop feeling victimized by it, we become more available to others, and more able to engage fully and deeply with our lives.

This deep trust in the next moment may sound difficult to achieve, but it shouldn’t be. In fact, it has been the truth of almost your entire experience on earth. Our real-world experience can be summed up this way (it’s an oversimplification, of course, but it is nonetheless generally accurate): Every moment of your life, the universe has given you enough.

 Take ten minutes and contemplate all of the millions (literally!) of things that have to keep going exactly right for you to stay alive one more minute. Some of these are at a microscopic level, such as your body continuing to break down proteins and amino acids in just the right way, your immune cells dealing with all of the parasites you come into contact with, and the bacteria with whom you are symbiotic maintaining the correct balance with your digestive tract cells. Some of these are at an interpersonal level, such as no one shooting you or running their car over you, and others growing and processing food for you to be able to eat. Some of these are at an environmental level, such as having sufficient oxygen, water, heat, and not too many pollutants. Some are at a cosmic level, such as the sun continuing to shine and the earth continuing to turn. The literal truth is that millions of things must go exactly right for you to live one more minute. The odds of all of these things continuing to be just right seem astronomical, and yet, your entire real-world experience is that all of your life, they have. It’s as if the universe is conspiring to make you happy!

Unfortunately, we spend much of our time feeling anxious and upset. Why? Every moment is giving you exactly enough. It might not be what you want, you might not be enjoying it, you might be in pain, but it is still enough and always has been. Rather than trusting our own experience, we become paranoid—worried about what was, what is, and what might be.

The word paranoid has Greek roots. Para means ‘around, against, contrary to, irregular, or issuing from’. Noid—a form of nous —means ‘mind’. Thus, we generate a mind that is contrary to reality, that is irregular, wanders around, and creates an alternate version of reality. What if we worked to generate a frame of mind that is pronoid rather than paranoid? Pro—from Latin—means ‘before, forward, taking care of, just as, or favoring’. Thus, a pronoid mind would be one that is forward thinking, looks forward, takes care of us, and sees something just as it is.

The universe, and almost everything in it, is conspiring to make you happy. It is doing it very sneakily, so we don’t usually see it, but that just means that the conspiracy is wide and deep. How can we learn to abide in this pronoid mindset? There are several methods.

A method you can use right now is to meditate on a koan by 9th century Chinese Zen master, Linji (Jp. Rinzai). Take a stable seat, where you are not rigid, but are nonetheless holding yourself up (note the inherent meaning in this posture). After settling into your breath for a couple of minutes, bring to mind this question and try to answer it in as many ways or as much detail as you can. ‘What, in this moment, is lacking?’ Spend ten to twenty minutes on this question for a few days, and you may be surprised to find that you can relax your paranoid and anxious mind.

As we learn to trust that we can work with what arises, we gain some clarity and space to see our karmic momentum—the pushes and pulls of our past conditioning that maintain our reactive and anxious minds. This is a first step toward getting unstuck.