I recently rediscovered a valuable lesson in my mental attic that begs to see the light of day once again.
I have big trouble with pronouns.
My Zen teacher at the time pointed this out to me last year.
Whenever we spoke in dokusan, a formal, private, one-on-one interview to check my understanding (or lack of it), she would stop me before I could get more than a few words out of my mouth.
Every time I answered her questions about why I felt a certain way or what I thought was motivating me, I would use the pronouns "you" (in the generic sense) or "we," when I really should have been saying "I."
It would go something like this:
Sensei: Michael, what do you think it means to express compassion?
Me: Well, when you act ...
Sensei: You mean, "When I act ... "
Me: Yes, when I act ...
What she was trying to get me to learn is that taking responsibility for my actions begins with using the right pronouns to reflect MY behaviors, observations and motivations, not yours or anybody else's.
Her point was that when I use generic terms to refer to things associated with myself, I separate myself from my actions, and the cycle of dualistic thinking continues unbroken and with all the consequences associated with it. In other words, it's a subconscious way of foisting responsibility for my actions on someone or something else through subtle disassociation.
Thus, I need to speak for myself, and from my heart, when I'm talking about me.
Just semantics? Maybe.
I know that in conversation, I use the generic "you" all the time. It's simply a matter of convenience.
But I'm trying to catch myself when I do this, and to be extra vigilant in my writings, which don't usually require the spontaneity of conversation and allow more time for reflection.
Of course, a primer in pronouns and a change in vocabulary isn't going to stop my dualistic thinking.
But by being more mindful of how I represent myself, I can then begin to see the me in you and the you in me, and how there really is no "I" after all.