It’s sort of a paradox.
We can’t really have compassion for ourselves until we have it for others. We can’t truly love others until we start loving ourselves. We want some nice clean space in life where all of this can happen perfectly, but it doesn’t exist. In fact, the more genuine and present we are in our lives, the more we allow ourselves to experience “the mess.”
We want to make it go away, we want to get to a time where things are somehow better or easier and we want to assign blame for the things we don’t like.
So, this week is “Start Where You Are,” “Bringing All that We Meet to the Path,” and “Drive All Blames into One.” I felt like they go together nicely.
We get started—no time like the present. No waiting until things are just right to try and become “enlightened” because we all know that day’s never coming! Now is all there is.
We accept everything that comes our way as part of the path. We accept that most of the suffering we’re feeling, the actual pain of it, comes from ego clinging:
“Ego is like a room of your own, a room with a view, with the temperature and the smells and the music you like. You want it your own way, You’d just like to have a little peace; you’d like to have a little happiness, you know, just ‘gimme a break!’ But the more you think that way, the more you try to get life to come out so that it will always suit you, the more your fear of other people and what’s outside you room grows.
Rather than becoming more relaxed, you start pulling down the shades and locking the door. When you do go out, you find the experience more and more unsettling and disagreeable. You become touchier, more fearful, more irritable than ever. The more you just try to get it your way, the less you feel at home.
To begin to develop compassion for yourself and others, you have to unlock the door. You don’t open it yet, because you have to work with your feat that somebody you don’t like might come in. Then as you begin to relax and befriend those feelings, you begin to open it.”
Of the important lessons I’ve learned (or am still learning, daily) about how to unlock that door is in letting go of the need to blame is at the top of the list. It’s hard, at first. We want to be justified, we want to explain ourselves and take some of that sting away. But for what? How does it improve the world if I am right? How does it improve my relationships if I can wave that banner over my head and say, “You see! It isn’t my fault! I’m right!”
“‘Drive all blames into one’ is a healthy and compassionate instruction that short-circuits the overwhelming tendency we have to blame everybody else; it doesn’t mean, instead of blaming the other people, blame yourself. It means to touch in with what blame feels like altogether. Instead of guarding yourself, instead of pushing things away, begin to get in touch with the fact that there’s a very soft spot under all that armor, and blame is probably one of the most well-perfected armors that we can have.”
It’s a funny thing to think about armor or “walls.”
They don’t just keep out the things that we’re afraid will hurt us. They keep out the good stuff too. They keep out the things we’d like to feel, because we are so afraid of disrupting that perfect little ego room. This person might love me, but he might not show it the way I want. I might not like that. Another one might be kind, I might enjoy her friendship, but then if there’s some kind of upset, it might be my fault, I might get blamed. Better to keep that armor sealed tightly, keep the door locked so nothing can come in—or out.
It might be uncomfortable to touch that blame instead of putting it off on someone else. It feels scary to feel that “shaky tenderness,” to be raw, to be real.
But if the alternative is staying in that hermetically-sealed ego room?
I’m willing to venture out into the cold. I’m willing to be a little off-balance. I’m willing to relate directly and breathe the whole ice cold air that burns when I take it in…because it’s real. Because that’s how my compassion for others grows when I know they feel it too. That’s how I become compassionate towards myself.
And when it burns with cold and we’re shaking like leaves trying to keep our heads up? Tonglen.