Last week I shared a quote from spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti: “Do you want to know my secret? I don’t mind what happens.” Then we looked at the differences between an absolute spiritual truth and the relative perspective of most humans. When we encounter an absolute view that we haven’t personally realized and experienced, sometimes it doesn’t make sense or it even has the opposite effect of what was intended.
If we imagine “I don’t mind what happens” to mean “nothing bothers me,” this contradicts most people’s daily experience. But it fits right in with a common perception when we’re evolved or enlightened we’ll be imperturbable. So, without having realized the absolute truth, we might apply it to our relative experience in a way that amounts to denying our humanity.
Buddhist psychologist and author, John Welwood, who coined the term “spiritual bypass,” explained that we have a tendency to use absolute truths of spirituality to dismiss “relative human needs, feelings, psychological problems, relational difficulties, and developmental deficits.” He believed we need to recognize “two different tracks of human development— which we might call growing up and waking up, healing and awakening, or becoming a genuine human person and going beyond the person altogether.”1 Thus, it’s possible to resolve all our psychological problems without achieving a spiritual awakening, and it’s possible to wake up spiritually and still have a highly dysfunctional personality.
So, what is the place of such statements of absolute spiritual truth? In my opinion it’s still useful to expose ourselves to them. We shouldn’t confuse the destination with the path, and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to be able to embody them at will. But they can still serve as a messenger to the soul. When we encounter a statement like, “I don’t mind what happens,” perhaps it’s like a key that unlocks something within us. Maybe it stirs a place in us that remembers this, beneath the slumbering mind, and begins to initiate an unraveling of what has caused us to forget. Perhaps it inspires us to understand what this means, to experience it directly for ourselves. Perhaps it makes us ask, “What would my life be like if this were true for me?”
Meanwhile, what can you do when you find ourselves minding what happens? You’re in good company. Virtually everyone in the world has times when they mind what’s happening. People in pain, people who are afraid, people who are lonely or grieving, people who can’t fall asleep, people witnessing violence or injustice . . . most of them mind what’s happening. So here are some options.
Option one is to suffer. Highly unpleasant but very popular.
Option two is to change something external. Sometimes this is possible and useful, other times it isn’t. If you mind that you’re getting bitten by mosquitos, you could put on bug spray. If, on the other hand, you mind that your government is corrupt, you may not be in a position to significantly improve it, especially if you have a busy life and don’t plant to change careers.
This is where the famous Serenity Prayer by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is useful – “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” If you can recognize what cannot be changed by you, it may be easier to let go of the belief that they are your business. If you’re not currently engaged with it, don’t mind it. That is, don’t give your mind to it.
Option three is to change something internal. There are several sub-options here. The first is to deny that you mind what you mind. The main way we do this is through willful ignorance. We often employ willful ignorance as a coping mechanism simply because we can’t take care of all the things that concern us in the world.
For instance, I have a 60-year-old truck that I take out occasionally to get bales of hay for our alpacas, and the exhaust stinks. I know I’m putting carbon emissions into the atmosphere, and I haven’t yet found a way to fix it. So I have to put it out of my mind (i.e., willfully become ignorant of how I am contributing to climate change) in order to lessen the amount of guilt I feel about it. It’s a mediocre way of dealing with minding what happens.
Another way to deny that you mind what’s happening is through spiritual bypass. That is, you employ a spiritual ideal you haven’t actually achieved as a way of falsely transcending your issues. Welwood explained it as using “spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.”
I think we can agree that denial isn’t the best answer. As a band-aid, it never truly resolves the unsettled feeling that erodes your peace and infringes on your presence.
Another way of changing something internal is to consciously, sincerely explore your relationship with what you mind. Don’t say “I don’t mind” when you do mind. Be honest with yourself. And don’t say, “I shouldn’t mind” when you do mind. Consider this alternative: I do mind, but I am determined not to argue with or depart from reality.
Here we come to what I believe Krishnamurti actually meant by “I don’t mind what happens.” I don’t believe he meant that nothing could bother him. I think he meant that, regardless of what happens, he doesn’t see reality as wrong or feel it should be different. If someone were to come at him with a knife, perhaps he would have found himself knocking the knife out of their hand. This wouldn’t mean that he “minds what happens,” only that he chose to act. Whether he acted or remained entirely passive to an attack, either one would affect the course of events, so neither constitutes “minding” more than the other.
But let’s bring this back to an application for someone who hasn’t yet realized the absolute truth of not minding what happens. First, there is a difference between minding what is currently occurring here and now versus minding something that is neither. The latter is what I mean by “departing from reality.” If it’s not currently happening, see if you can bring yourself back into the present experience.
There is also a difference between minding something but accepting it versus minding something and insisting that it shouldn’t be happening. “Shouldn’t be happening” is an exercise in futility. It’s an argument against reality. Removing your resistance from the equation (to something that cannot be changed by resisting it!) reduces your suffering; and it doesn’t mean you don’t care or that you’re giving up.
Jesuit priest and author Anthony de Mello defined enlightenment as absolute cooperation with the inevitable. This is the opposite of resistance and a necessary first step before diving deeper into your relationship with what you mind.
Diving in is acceptance in action. Generally, you must set aside time and space for this. It entails meeting the inner discord with sincerity, being willing to see, hear, feel, and understand it in its entirety. It also entails a willingness to recognize how the conflict degrades you and limits your freedom. Try to maintain an attitude of openness and innocence throughout the process. This work can unravel long-held beliefs and patterns of constraint. It can enable you to move forward with constructive action, if that’s what you choose. And it can facilitate an expansion from your relativistic thinking about the issue to a more transpersonal perspective. This may not always get you to a place where you can honestly say, “I don’t mind what’s happening,” but it will bring greater clarity and peace to your experience of it.
1Fossella, T., 2011. Human Nature, Buddha Nature: An Interview with John Welwood. [online] Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Available at: <https://tricycle.org/magazine/human-nature-buddha-nature/> [Accessed 27 April 2022]. Welwood cautioned, “When we are spiritually bypassing, we often use the goal of awakening or liberation to rationalize what I call premature transcendence: trying to rise above the raw and messy side of our humanness before we have fully faced and made peace with it.”