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?


Ellen Fishman said...

Since I can only know my experience, it is easy for me to believe that is the only experience out there. Yet when I encounter others, practice has taught me that such duality is limited. So how do I move into non-duality? I combine various practices along with taking and sending to feel. If I don't feel that which arises it is hard to connect with others for they can trigger me and I avoid, shut down etc. But when I use taking and sending I create an opening in that field of duality. A crack that can widen. I create space where there was once a locked door.

Kate Harper said...

Very timely article. I think it's easy to spend too much time worrying about other people's minds (and what they think) when I should just pay attention to my own. Otherwise it is just a rambling dialogue with an invisible person.

Wendy said...

In my experience, I do the practice of taking and sending most frequently when I am struggling, in pain or suffering in some way. For me this practice opens something up inside me. It expands my awareness to include more than my personal issue. At the same time this expansion significantly reduces the size, scope and impact of the struggle I am facing. I become in touch with a bigger picture of the world around me instead of being trapped within my suffering. In times of pain, my personal pain becomes just a drop in an endless sea. In times of emotional distress, my emotions no longer take center stage in my mind. I can see beyond my distress and it becomes minuet compared to the larger perspective. Thus, I have more room for compassion for myself, more room for understanding of self and others.

This practice helps me to take a step back and view the experience with larger eyes. It does not directly help the situation between me and others. What it does is put me in touch with my higher self, my responsive self....rather than my reactive self. I can view the situation with a more positive outlook. I can more easily see where the lessons are for me learn, how to heal my own hurts and perhaps even how best to continue to relate to the others involved. More often than not, when it involves other people it is highly beneficial for me to do forgiveness both on myself and others. The practice of taking and sending opens space within me. Space to heal my own experience and to continue in my relationships with others. My own struggles and suffering become smaller and I am able to more fluidly process through the experience. The events may still create unease and disturbance within me, but more often than not I am able to see a clearer path out of the turmoil and suffering.

Tobey said...

I would say mind training helps to achieve a spacious and deeply felt view of the whole situation that accommodates both my pain and others' reactions, especially understanding how and why the reacted the way they did. That said, social standing IS important in some ways, and while you can't control others' perception of you, there are usually things you can do to enable a ripple effect that may counter the negative views of you going around. Mind training helps to come to a wise (as opposed to rash and heated) decision on how to react to such a situation.

Thanks for your work btw. It is very helpful.

Tobey said...

To me, the purpose of mind training in such a situation is to completely open up to it and feel it in its entirety. This includes my own pain as well as an empathetic understanding of how the others arrived at their erroneous conclusions (the old adage of "There, but by the Grace of God, judge I").

That said, social standing IS important in some ways, and while we can't control others' perceptions of ourselves, we can flick some pebbles into the social waters surrounding us and see if we can create some beneficial ripples. In this regard, mind training takes the heat out of our emotional recoil so that we can make a helpful decision on how to react, instead of a rash, destructive one.

Emma said...

I have been mulling over this thought experiment since a few read it several weeks ago…trying to figure out what was hitting me funny about it. But today I realized that if I dropped the question about how mind training specifically helps with this situation, this is how I would advise a friend in this case:

- For everyone to move on, including you, you have to give up the whole narrative of being falsely accused.
- Like saying “You know you didn’t cheat”—just let go of that—it doesn’t really matter.
- Accept that your friends would look quite naïve for accepting your version of events.
- Life is random and terrible things happen for no reason all the time. But take the opportunity to learn something about yourself and how you relate to people anyway. It is very rare that an entire group of people will stop talking to you over one incident. People want to connect, and the history of human relationships is filled with many more cases of people who stuck around in bad situations than people who abandoned healthy relationships for no good reason.
- At the very least, learn that it’s good to count the number of cards in a deck after you drop all of them.
- Practice fast forgiveness. Not all feelings are important.

pondside said...

Is winning, being right, and/or the money more important than the relationship with your poker playing friends? If not, then why not return the money? If you missed the chance to do this on the night of the game, how can this be done at a later time? Why are you asking about the potential benefits of a spiritual practice instead of asking about how to restore the relationships?