Whenever you doubt in the goodness of others, recall your own goodness.
I wrote this in response to a friend who was feeling bad because one of her possessions was stolen—something that she had cared for, paid for in full, and would be expensive to replace. She wrote me feeling that her practice had failed her because she felt so violated and angry that she was questioning the goodness of her fellow humans. Her dilemma really touched me because I have struggled with the same exact feelings. Aren’t spiritual practitioners supposed to feel generous all the time or, when things go wrong, at least recover quickly and be restored to equanimity?
The answer, as you may have guessed, is no. Here is what I said to her:
“…the situation you describe sounds just awful; I would feel exactly as you do: devastated, angry, scared, violated, suspicious, and so on.
The thing about practice is that it does not mean you will feel perpetually non-plussed, nor that you will always feel kind and gentle towards people. (Personally, I was quite chagrined to find this out.)
However, you can begin to recover your softness by offering some kindness and gentleness toward yourself—beginning with cutting yourself a break for your feelings, for being human. Being well-practiced doesn’t mean you won’t get upset at anything, it means that when you do get upset, you are able to turn your attention toward it immediately, on the spot, and open your arms to it, not to condone (or reject) it, but simply to feel it. The more readily you can embrace and inhabit your experience as it is, the more you can deem your practice a “success.” It has nothing to do with never getting upset but is about having the courage and tenderness to own your experience. There is no need to shut out anything, even the so-called “bad” things such as lack of charity and anger—instead, you could open up, allow your humanity, and forego both judging and acting on your feelings. This is where kindness begins. First, as mentioned, toward yourself. From here, such kindness naturally expands to others. It all begins with feeling it toward yourself. This step is so, so important. In fact, it is critical.
Whenever you doubt in the goodness of others, recall your own goodness. When you question the motivation of others, recall a time when your motivations were questioned (whether by another or yourself). And when your belongings (or worse) are taken, offer them. It may be after the fact, but you can turn any experience into a gesture of generosity by doing so. I learned this from a Tibetan teacher with whom I was having lunch a few years ago. He had been pickpocketed in Port Authority the previous day. He had his money and return tickets to India stolen. I asked him if he was mad and he said, “yes, at first. Then I offered it.” I took this to mean that he was a human being who had a natural reaction but then accepted what had happened (because there was no choice) and rather than wishing the thief ill which would only further destroy his own peace of mind, he decided, in his heart, to make of his belongings a gift. You could offer what was stolen, not because you don’t need it or someone needs it more than you or whatever—but simply by saying in your heart something like, “I have no idea how, but may this act of thievery bring benefit to sentient beings.” In this way, you retake the circumstance into your circle of dominion. Instead of feeling victimized by it, you turn it into a gesture of power and magnanimity.
We could each try this, in our own way: allowing ourselves to be deeply human, vulnerable, and scared—and also to make of what is wrongfully taken from us an offering, thereby turning it, for ourselves, into a right action.
Hope this helps.”
Of course, your meditation practice provides the foundation for all of this. First, it teaches you how to turn toward your thoughts and feelings without judgment, simply to allow them. Then it teaches you how, by adopting the stance of observation, to introduce a space between what you feel and what you do. (Very important, that.) Finally, it gives you the precious ability to meet what seems so solid in your mind—anger, judgment, and so on—and know beyond doubt that they will change, you can expand to include them without fear, and by doing so, remain seated in the midst of your own experience like a King or a Queen. There is tremendous dignity in this and it stems from your very simple (though not easy) sitting meditation practice.
Susan Piver is a Blogger, Meditation Teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, and creator of The Open Heart Project. She is also a New York Times best selling author of 6 books, including the award-winning “How Not to Be Afraid of your Own Life” and “The Wisdom of a Broken Heart.” Click here to visit her website, susanpiver.com
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