Sunday, December 1, 2013

where practice takes you

Many of the responses in my previous post reflect a perspective that pervades how people generally think about practice these days, namely, that the point of practice is to help you in your life or, in this case, help you to find a way through a difficult situation.

While many practices can help you in difficult situations, the help usually takes the form of seeing and not being trapped by the reactive mechanisms operating, both yours and others.

However, when you take the aim of practice to be able to meet difficult situations, you are close to adopting a transactional relationship with practice. In transactional relationships, you are primarily interested in what you get out of the relationship. If you find something that is more helpful, you take up that. The focus on what you get out of the practice inevitably reinforces the sense of self that keeps you from experiencing life without that sense of separation.

Perhaps there is a progression here. You may begin to practice with the idea that it will help you in your life, but as time goes on, you realize that you have become more interested in what you can accomplish through the practice (awakening, presence, whatever you want to call it). But as still more time goes by, you come to appreciate that any kind of goal, any kind of objective, prevents you from being present in your experience and, increasingly, the only thing to do is experience whatever is arising as completely as possible.

That kind of effort is often extremely challenging. In the case of being falsely accused of cheating, your effort requires you to experience the emotional pain of social humiliation and approbation, the pain of the loss of friends and human connection and/or the pain that comes with the recognition that, despite your best efforts, you may never be respected or appreciated the way you would like to be. On the other hand, there are joys, too, the joy of freedom from conventional notions of success and failure, the joy of the peace that comes when you know you can experience whatever life throws at you because you know, experientially, that there is no "you" as such, and the joy that arises naturally when there is no separation between you and what you experience. But these joys are not the same as the joys that arise from human connection and affection.

Yes, mind training and other practices may help you in difficult situations, but the aim of the mind-training instructions is not simple utilitarianism. They give you a way of being in your experience, whatever it is. Not everyone wants to live this way, but if you are taking up mind-training, taking and sending, mahamudra or any of many other practices. that is where you are headed.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Responses to Mind Training in Difficult Situations

Many people responded by email with their responses to the questions I posed in Mind Training in Difficult Situations. Excerpts from the responses are posted below in no particular order and with permission of the person writing. 

Gerhard writes:
When the bird and the book disagree, always believe the bird,” I like that quote. In the circumstances you describe, it can apply to all the people involved. Everything is illusion or like writings and illustrations in a book, reputation is just another chapter. The problem is we tend to  "live by the book" and get rather inflexible about it. When I get caught up in the drama, it seems the only way i can cut through the illusions, the fears and anxiety, is to allow compassion to rise and turn my awareness to how generation upon generation of beings have struggled the way I am struggling and how we all suffer for it. If there is a bird, compassion will find it.

Paul writes:
I've had a very similar situation happen to me in my life. There was a point that a number of people in my sangha thought I had done something wrong and no longer treated me as a friend. It was very similar to the scenario you outlined in that, at the time, the sangha was almost my entire life.  When this happened I thought "wow, this is very painful.  Why is it so painful?". It became clear I felt the pain of separation from those that I cared about. I had to take responsibility for these feelings somehow.  I looked and realized that I had based my entire life and support network on the sangha, and that I had no other support in my life. I was somewhat dependent on the sangha. And most relationships were not friendship based, but more mentor/mentee based, so I was wanting something from those relationships that they could not provide. This is what led to the rift in the first place.

I realized had no other support because I was so afraid to go make friends elsewhere. I was afraid of other people and social situations and rejection. My response was to work to mend the relationships in the sangha. But more importantly I threw myself into practising with those feelings, fears, and situations. Meeting new people in highly chaotic environments, meeting many different personalities with vastly different viewpoints, understanding what drives people's behavior. I did this for a couple of years and developed social abilities that I never knew existed. Eventually I even came to understand how I could have upset people in the sangha with my behaviour. And because of the changes within myself, I knew I would never do that again because those actions were based on the dependency I had had with the sangha. My life has become infinitely better as a result of that practice.

Kathleen writes:
Ken - This was just posted today and was a great response to this email.

When facing any demanding situation, it is important to stay cool! Here are three ways to calmly deal with occasional life hiccups, beginning with keeping calm yourself.
1. Breathe
It can be difficult to address any problem, minor or major, unless you are feeling relaxed (or at least, a little less tense). Before diving into pressing situations, give yourself a few moments to breathe and re-center. Remember– “Man cannot conquer, before conquering the self.”
2. Adopt Optimism
Most of us look at personal problems or upcoming professional challenges and ask – what’s the worst possible outcome, and how can I avoid that? Simply try changing your vocabulary, and look at each new situation like this – what’s the best possible outcome, and how can I make that happen? You may not be able to change the circumstances, but you can always change your attitude.
3. Use Logic
Now that you’re calm and you’ve eliminated (or taken the edge off) negative thinking, you can begin addressing this particular challenge. Break down the problem, step by step, using paper and pen if you have to. Once your difficulties appear in black and white, you can begin to formulate specific steps to address your immediate needs and long-term goals for solution.
After all is said and done, what is a problem? It is the chance to grow stronger and improve ourselves through challenge.
- See more at:

Pat writes:
What to do about what other people think about me is a problem contained wholly within my mind. What others think is completely beyond my control, as your example shows. Even when I am completely innocent of any wrongdoing, others are free to think and believe anything they wish based on their conditioning...

One of the phrases in the “37 Practices of a Bodhisattva” is “May I experience the world knowing me just as I am.” The practice of training with these verses allows equanimity, loving kindness, compassion, and joy to arise spontaneously in my heart, along with a deep knowing that this is the nature of everything.

I can’t imagine a better resting place when falsely accused of anything.

(The line Pat refers to here, “May I experience the world knowing me just as I am.” can be found in some verses I wrote for the practice of the four immeasurables.)

Miheala writes:
The way others think, speak, act, etc. is their Karma. The way I feel, think, respond when I am engaged in a situation is my Karma. I view the mind as a field, in which every thought, feeling, act leaves a seed. So when faced with adversity, like you described, my aspiration is to act, feel or speak in such a way, that I would leave the most wholesome seeds in my mind-field and in the mind-fields of others.

Louise writes:
The enterprise of developing and maintaining a reputation resonates with the Titan Realm in which we always fail in our efforts to become gods.  Mind training subverts this delusion by reminding us to drive all blames into one, the recognition that what creates our own defending is our sense of self.

Dave writes:
The taking in of pain/slander and sending out of love and compassion frees us of the need to defend ourselves and the need to respond/react in a vengeful manner. Sitting with the emotion of slander when we have done nothing wrong enables us to experience the physical manifestations of hurt and anxiety and the dissipation of those manifestations during each practice and over time we free ourselves.  It enables us to let go of reactive patterns that will not help the situation.  It is hard work and takes a lot of time and is a step on the path to understanding that experience and awareness are the same. 

A different Pat writes:
In this situation mind training might help me feel the experience without believing any of the defensive/angry reactive thoughts.  Thus I would hurt less than otherwise...
This doesn't sit well with me in practice because I am addicted to acceptance….mostly.  Hence the experience would be crushing to me.

Flo writes:
Taking in the pain and giving away what I would like to hold onto serves several aspects. Allowing me to feel the pain deeply, letting the pain take me over and being the pain allows me to own my projections. Thus I don´t have the need to act in ways to better the situation, to make the pain go away. There is pain, I feel it. That´s O.K. That allows me to see the situation less distorted and clearer. It allows me to come back to the present.
For me, trying to restore my reputation would be clinging to what is no more and the only thing I can do is to open to the situation as it is now and to do what I feel as appropriate in the current situation.
I also feel considerably softened and humbled by the pain.

Nancy writes:
This resonates with me. In my profession( I am a veterinarian) I have learned to be as unattached as possible, to what others think of me. I do my best, and I cannot control what others think of me.  Mind training helps separate out your sense of self from who you really are. You see they are 2 things. It feels lonely. It makes social situations, for me, an adventure into the unknown.

Dona writes:
I had a similar experience this year to the “poker example” you offer. I could not get the selected others to hear my view point; they were committed to their view of me, and that view was not a pleasing one. It was a very painful time. I came to face a sober reality. I had spent my life trying to present and perfect an image of me in the other’s mind.  I had failed miserably.
        Because of this experience, I came to see that my own experience of my life was what truly mattered . I began to be in a ruthless relationship with myself: cutting through beliefs, patterns of clinging, avoiding and ignoring. Moment by moment more or less, I paid attention to my mind, my behavior, my conduct, my experience. I began to feel compassion, respect and acceptance of myself, and from that arose compassion, respect and consideration for the other.

Sharon writes:
What does doing mind training accomplish for me, for the social situation?  The practice is a ready reminder of where I am in my own attachments - how much do I have invested in being respected, approved of, liked, etc?

Gregg writes:
I find that taking and sending tells me how I'd wish to be, if I found myself in that situation. The subject loses his way at the moment he "starts to protest." Taking and sending might, if sufficiently embodied, enable one to avoid being triggered. The requirement is steep -- after having been in a mindset of winning, and then being unfairly accused, and so wanting to win in another way -- "winning" has to be immediately and gracefully replaced with taking/sending. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Mind Training in Difficult Situations

Imagine that you are an avid poker player. You hang out with a circle of people who enjoy playing poker, a circle that extends not only through your home town but to other towns within easy driving distance. One night you are playing with a group of friends and the dealer drops the cards. Everyone helps pick them up and the dealer deals the next hand. You end up with really good cards. The betting begins, and it's quite exciting. The stakes rise. It's by far the biggest pot of the night, but you are confident in your cards. When the dust settles, you are the winner. Big winnings! And then someone at the table says, "You cheated. When the cards were dropped, you picked up a couple of good cards and that's why you had such a good hand."

The silence around the table is deafening. You start to protest, but before you can do so, another person says, "Let's check the deck." The deck is found to be two cards short, and then two cards are found on floor near your chair.

Nobody says anything. They just look at you and quietly leave. You know you didn't cheat, but what can you do?

The next day, your Twitter account and Facebook page are filled with postings about the card game and what happened. Your friends won't speak with you and your colleagues keep their distance. Your relationship with your circle of friends has changed dramatically. Yet moving away isn't an option for you.

What does mahayana mind training have to say about this situation?

In Mind Training in Seven Points, it says, "Make adversity the path of awakening" and "Don't make practice a sham."

In Mind Training in Eight Verses:

When scorn and insult become my lot,
Expressions of some jealousy,
I alone accept defeat
And award the other victory.

In The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva:

Even if someone broadcasts to the whole universe
Slanderous and ugly rumors about you,
In return, with an open and caring heart,
Praise his or her abilities -- this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

In all these instructions, you are encouraged to work with taking and sending, taking in the pain of being falsely accused from others and sending your own good fortune, happiness and well being to them.

Obviously, the practice of taking and sending is not going to help restore your reputation among the poker players or how your friends and colleagues see you. There may be a way to change all that, but that is not the purpose of taking and sending practice.

Reputations and how you are regarded by others are strange beasts. You don't own your reputation. Most people think they do, but the reality is different. Your reputation is the accumulation of what other people think about what they think you have done or said. In other words, your reputation consists of other people's projections. You don't own that and you don't control it. You can influence it, but only up to a point. We see this clearly in the lives of politicians.

The questions I would like you to consider are:

What is the purpose of the practice of mind training in such situations? It doesn't help directly with the situation of your relationship with your friends and colleagues. What does it do? What does it do for your social relationships? How does that sit with you?