• June 19, 2017

    The world appears to be moving towards greater disorder, socially, politically and economically. This is observable within one’s own lifetime. It is always suspect to try to make judgments about times and places we have not ourselves inhabited. But if you leave aside your assumptions and preferences and consider your experience and that of your friends and family, it is not difficult to see the growing disorder of our lives.

    I do not wish to present you with a critique of our current situation. Rather, I wish for you to consider what is required for you to navigate it.

    First, consider the possibility that the reasons we come up with to explain the problems we see around us are likely to be entirely wrong. Typically, we confuse symptoms and causes. When I get up to cross the room and close the window because I am uncomfortable, did I assess my state, recognize that I am cold, notice the open window, connect that with my discomfort, decide to get up and cross the room and then close the window? Or did I find myself getting up and crossing the room and then ‘decide’ to close the window?

    We need to understand the nature of sleep. In a sleep state, whether personal or on a larger scale, we invent the reasons for things, we fantasize about causation but we do not see the governing patterns. Just because I think something as it happens does not establish causation. My reactions of anger, my expressions of delight…are they not most often in progress before I recognize them and ‘intend’ them? This is what we mean by sleep.

    The macro level…the behavior of crowds…surely parallels the behavior of individuals. As individuals, we charge and discharge as we go through the day. Objectively observing self uncovers the fact that much of my experience is simply the ebb and flow of unconscious reactions to my environment. Is this not even more likely at the level of the mass? This is why our social analysis and planning come to nothing.

    War follows peace, poverty follows wealth, fear follows greed, confidence follows insecurity, ebullience follows remorse, as night follows day. Political movements come and go, social norms rise and fall. The process is largely mechanical, independent of what we think, like the tides.

    Does this mean we should dismiss the social and political context we live in? Not at all. Should we see all developments as equally mechanical? Again, not at all. Discernment is needed. Just as my behavior is occasionally motivated by the blessings visited upon me by unseen grace, so too the behavior of others, even the mass. Can I be there to participate? Or will I be caught in my dull, practiced cynicism, assuming I am awake and above it all?

    The political environment I live in, the atmosphere it creates, have immediate consequences for the success of my endeavors. If I am able to observe the surrounding atmosphere objectively, I can perhaps find the way to maintain my sanity and protect what is dear to me, avoiding unnecessary reactions and stepping between the raindrops. At the very least, I can avoid swimming against the tide when no amount of effort will suffice.

    This is a path of sobriety and skill.

    Emotion is extremely contagious, mediated not only by words but also by gestures and even perhaps the very air we breathe. But when an emotion has passed through its human medium, a wave with peak and trough, sobriety can have its turn.

    To be sober, to be objective, does not mean to be free of opinion. It does not mean that all phenomena are the same to you. Some of the developments around me are more dangerous than others. I need to be alert to the shifting tides. To be objective is to set aside my assumptions and prejudices, look at the evidence as objectively as I can and decide where to place my attention. Attention has force. This does not mean choosing sides. The only point of view I belong to is my own.

    The sure sign of a wrong turn is to lose self-awareness. When I no longer challenge the irrational and incongruent quality of my speech and actions, I know I have fallen asleep. Knowing the dangers, I can perhaps find my own path.

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  • May 15, 2017

    I find that I am fighting depression a lot of the time and it makes it impossible to do this work.

    Depression is the end point of a chain of causation. You may think that you know why you are depressed but the reason that you repeat to yourself in the thought loop at the end point of depression may be more the result of the depression rather than the cause.

    There are always completely rational reasons to be depressed but we are not always depressed. So, my point is that you need to get behind the obvious reasons you give yourself for depression states and observe the chain. Noting the beginning point is one key.

    Perhaps for you the beginning is some form of self-judgment or criticism. Perhaps there is a particular situation you are unable to respond to effectively and this failure sets you on a downward path. At the end point, you may be saying to yourself that life is not worth living but you probably did not start there. When you have reached the end point, you will probably not be able to find a reason that would make life worth living because the state of depression is sufficiently closed and lacking in energy that your thoughts are not reliable.

    It seems to me that depression is inextricably linked to expectation. It reflects an inability to accept what is. It’s a triumph of “woulda, coulda, shoulda” over the possibilities of the moment. I failed in the past and I will fail in the future. I am a failure. This is depressing, is it not?

    In our work, the method of dealing with these fixations is impartial observation of our postures, gestures and sensations. Perhaps this is not yet possible, due in large part to judgmental thinking. So, let’s start with that.

    An old business acquaintance once advised me: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Many of us hold ourselves and others to a standard that cannot be met. Too many expectations. We do not accept good. Good is not good enough.

    My Buddhist teacher once said that, without respecting samsara, the world of confusion, one cannot possibly discover the awakened state of mind. Samsara is the entrance, samsara is the vehicle for nirvana. In the words of our work, my ordinary life, my sleeping life, is the means of my awakening. Therefore, Rinpoche said, one can say that a violent character is good. It is a wonderful thing, it is something positive. Although at first I may be perplexed and wonder what is good in it, if I somehow get beyond the fascination part of it, I begin to feel good; I begin to realize that I am not just a “sinner” but that there is something good in me.

    It is exactly the same thing when one practices meditation. A person may begin to detect his own weaknesses. It may be in a mild form, such as a wandering mind or planning for one’s future, but do not oppose what is occurring, accept it, see it as good, as though one were sitting precisely in order to think these things over rather than to practice meditation. Seeing it as good provides a wonderful opportunity.

    If I am meditating at home and I happen to live in the middle of a busy street, I cannot stop the traffic just because I want peace and quiet. But I can stop myself, I can accept the noise. The noise also contains silence. We must put ourselves into it and expect nothing different from outside, just as Buddha did. I must accept whatever situation arises. As long as I do not retreat from the situation, it will present itself as a vehicle I can make use of it. It says in the Buddhist scriptures: “The dharma is good in the beginning; the dharma is good in the middle; and the dharma is good at the end.” The dharma is not a vehicle for self-criticism.

    It is the same with our work. Observe what is, not to find fault or to improve upon it, but just to see it. Good will come of this.

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