Peeling the onion

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person walking on snowfield

When I’m not doing this, I run a little web agency, and it struck me recently as I was redoing my own website that you typically have to go through the process of breaking existing systems before you can rebuild them into something better.

As ever, I started to push this idea around a bit and it made me think about the Buddhist idea of peeling the onion – that concept that we don’t learn anything in our practice but instead “unlearn”. We slowly peel away the constructs we’ve created, the things that we think we are and hold on to so tightly, and return slowly but surely to something that is closer and closer to our “original nature”.

As Sam pointed out to me – we shouldn’t any of us be attempting to “break” anything at all, and he’s right – but the concept of having to pare back a complex system into something simple, to return to the place it was previously before you can properly understand how it all fits together is I think a useful analogy.

Our modern lives are so often about growth or development or accretion that it sometimes feels very counter-intuitive to head in the opposite direction. As modern Westerners, we go to meditation classes or retreats to learn or to come away with something useful; but often it’s the taking away, the stripping back which is actually what is required for us to come to an understanding of what’s underneath.