January282012
“The Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?” The student replied, “It is.”The Buddha then asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?” The student replied again, “It is.” The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.”
As long as we are alive, we can expect painful experiences- the first arrow. To condemn, judge, criticize, hate, or deny the first arrow is like being struck by a second arrow. Many times the first arrow is out of our control, but the arrow of reactivity is not.
Often the significant suffering associated with an emotion is not the emotion itself but the way we relate to it.Do we feel it to be unacceptable? Justified? Do we hate it? Feel pride in it? Are we ashamed of it? Do we tense around it? Are we ashamed of how we are feeling?
Mindfulness itself does not condemn our emotions. Rather it is honestly aware of what happens to us and how we react to it.The more cognizant and familiar we are with our reactivity the more easily we can feel, for example, uncomplicated grief or straightforward joy not mixed up with guilt, anger, remorse, embarrassment, judgment, or other reactions. Freedom in Buddhism is not freedom from emotions, it is freedom from complicating them.” Gil Fronsdahl, “The Matter at Hand”
1PM

"Dearest Beloved in Christ…"

When you get an email with that subject line, do you keep reading it? 

I get at least twenty or thirty spam emails a day. I know damned well that if a message begins with “Dearest beloved in Christ,” I don’t need to read it too carefully. (Who falls for these things, by the way? Especially after you’ve already gotten a thousand of them, what makes you answer the thousand-and-first?)

It’s a scam. It might not be obvious the first time you see one, but by the thousand-and-first, you know it’s not anything important. You hit “delete” and you press on to the next message.

What about the spam you send yourself, though? Your brain sends you these same repetitive, pointless messages all the time. If you’re depressed, it’s probably something about how bad your life is and how worthless you are. If you’ve got problems with anxiety, it’s about how something terrible is going to happen. If you struggle with anger, it’s about how unfair everything is and how other people aren’t giving you the respect you deserve. There’s nothing new there, but we get sucked in again and again, trying to figure out what to do with that message.

But, you know what? Maybe there isn’t any deeper meaning. Maybe it’s just noise.

The thousand-and-first time you get that email about winning the Nigerian lottery, you ignore it. The thousand-and-first time you start thinking about how someone treated you wrong, though, you dig in and obsess about it as if it were really important.

And, hey, sometimes maybe it is important. If someone’s genuinely messing with you, you need to take some action. if you really are doing something wrong in your life, notice that. If something horrible’s about to happen, get the heck out of the way.

But next time your brain sends you one of these messages, take a minute before responding to figure out if it’s signal or noise. And if it’s spam, just delete it.

November172011

mothernatureendlesslove said: what do you know about soulmates and you know, groups of soul that reencarnate together? dont know what its called. i'd like to know what i have to learn about my familyu relationships and friends relationships, but dont know what tipe of lesson it may be.

Actually, all I know about reincarnation is that it’s not a universal belief among Buddhists. Some sects have a very strong orientation towards reincarnation (eg, Vajrayana), others are more inclined to see the next life as either heaven or heaven-like (eg, Jodo). Other sects (eg, Zen) don’t spend a lot of time and energy worrying about what happens after you die, but focus instead on what happens here and now.

I’m with the latter guys. I’m not sure whether we reincarnate or go to heaven or hell or whatever. I haven’t seen any real evidence that there’s any continuation of the soul after death, so I’m disinclined to worry about what happens then.

What I know for sure is that we are here right now, and that what we do and think and feel right now is all we can ever really know for sure.

So, hey, why wait until the next lifetime? If you want to be with your family and friends, don’t worry about whether you get to hang out together after you die. Go spend more time with them right now.

November162011
“Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.” Chuang Tzu
November152011
November102011

Anonymous said: what do you know about the atraction law? i was wondering if i can use it, cause im inlove with one friendofmine and i dont know if anything'sever goint to happen. but i love him and wouldlike to know if i can do something mentally to make it happen. namaste

As I understand it, the Law of Attraction is the idea (popularized in “The Secret”) that you can get things you want by keeping them in your consciousness. You visualize yourself having something, and if you do it right and enough, eventually the thing you want comes to you.

Honestly, I can’t see how to reconcile this with Buddhism.

From a Buddhist perspective, the response to craving something is not to try to get the thing you crave (either by physical or metaphysical means), but to work on the craving itself.

The second Noble Truth is pretty clear on this point: the cause of suffering is attachment. The problem is not that you’re not getting what you want, it’s that you want what you don’t have. The fallacy of the conditional mind is that we think we’ll be happy once we get the next thing, but the reality is that there’s always another thing we will need once we get the thing we thought was going to make us happy.

Taking off my Buddhist hat for a minute and putting on my therapist hat, I’d suggest that if you want a relationship with this guy, you’re much more likely to get that by talking to him about what you want than by visualizing the two of you being together.

However you pursue this project, I wish you happiness, with or without him.

Namaste!

October292011
October202011
10PM

mothernatureendlesslove said: answer if you want/can: what is someone supossed to do when being mocked of or provocated? (as someone who looks for peace) should one ignore it? defend him self? i feel like if you let them do it you're not loving yourself. i just dont know what to do in those cases, so i stop being passive and become restless and distress cause i dont like hurting others but i dont like being hurt either. Namaste :)

Disclaimer: I’m not a Buddhist monk or priest or anything. I am just a psychologist who deals with conflict a lot and does much of my counseling work from a Buddhist perspective. Within that context, here’s what I can say.

I don’t see non-violence as the same as passivity. If someone is actively doing something to hurt you, you have every right to ask that person to stop. If that doesn’t work, you have every right to escalate that response to an appropriate level, as long as your response is not harmful in itself.

I quoted Unmon in a previous post. When asked what the core point of Buddhism was, he replied, “An appropriate response.” It’s not necessary not to feel upset when someone does something bad to you, it’s perfectly natural. Where we get into trouble is when we respond to anger with more anger. If your response to someone’s anger is calm, it’s going to be much more effective.

For example, I had a client a few years ago who had gotten into a confrontation in the street with someone who was being very aggressive and trying to start a fight. Short version: guy gets in my client’s face and threatens him and his dog with physical harm if they don’t get out of the neighborhood. Client stands his ground, doesn’t back down, words are exchanged, and eventually Aggro Guy backs down and walks away. My client (a budding Buddhist) had been cultivating nonviolence and compassion. He thought he had handled the situation really badly, and wished that he had been able to just walk away and passively avoid the confrontation.

My response was that although walking away would have been a non-violent option, it also would have rewarded the bad behavior that Aggro Guy was engaging in. By passively submitting to the Aggro Guy, my client would have reinforced the idea that it’s okay to harass people in the street, and therefore perpetuated Aggro Guy’s hostile behavior. By standing his ground and (non-violently) resisting Aggro Guy, my client did no harm. In fact, he potentially did some good in the world, if it made Aggro Guy pause before harassing the next funny-looking person who walked down his block.

Responding to anger with anger is not just a bad idea from a Buddhist perspective, it’s also a bad idea from a purely pragmatic perspective. If you’re being mocked or provoked, isn’t that exactly what the other person wants you to do? When you respond to anger with more anger, the provoker wins.

When you respond with complete passivity, you lose in a more subtle way. Yeah, you’ve been non-violent, but you’ve also perpetuated the idea that’s it’s okay for other people to be violent. Micro-win, perhaps, but macro-lose, definitely.

So, next time you feel that rush of anger when someone starts giving you shit, take a moment to breathe and see what kind of response is coming to you. If your impulse is to be hostile and angry back, take another breath and ask yourself if there’s a better way to handle this provocation. If you need to walk away, go for it with good conscience. But if can respond from a place of (relative) calm, you’re likely to be doing something effective and compassionate than if you do nothing.

Make the world a better place, one asshole at a time.

July72011

Some friends of mine had arranged for an encounter between two prominent visiting Buddhist teachers. This was to be a high form of what was being called dharma combat (the clashing of great minds sharpened by years of study and meditation).

The Zen master reached deep inside his robes and drew out an orange. “What is this?” he demanded of the lama, and we could feel him ready to pounce on whatever response he was given. The Tibetan sat quietly fingering his mala and made no move to respond. “What is this?” the Zen master insisted, holding the orange up to the Tibetan’s nose.

Kalu Rinpoche bent very slowly to the Tibetan monk next to him who was serving as the translator, and they whispered back and forth for several minutes. Finally the translator addressed the room: “Rinpoche says, ‘What is the matter with him? Don’t they have oranges where he comes from?’”

The dialogue progressed no further.

Mark Epstein, “Thoughts Without a Thinker”
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