January 28, 2015

The World does not Negotiate.

Photo: Hartwig HKD via Flickr.

One test of spiritual practice, meditation practice or yoga practice, is in the current situation.

The Tulku quote points to that, and it’s not a new point, but the angle he uses is fresh. The question, here, has something to do with looking at one’s life, and how creative and free one is. Always a good question.

Let’s look at this from a slightly different angle. Compassion has a lot to do with a change of perspective. Tarthang Tulku calls this kind of change of perspective a “focal shift.” How we focus and where we focus are hugely important.

“To test the depth of our present knowledge, we can look at what is happening in our lives. Do we understand our circumstances and capacities in ways that let us act creatively and with inner freedom?”  ~ Tarthang Tulku

The main thing the mindfulness revolution in popular culture has shown are the uses and value of focus.

A focal shift is a change of focus, and compassion can be about changing focus from one self-oriented story about what is happening, to a more other-oriented story about what is happening.

Many times, this shows up as hypocrisy.

When I get infuriated at the drivers who tailgate me, I’m ignoring my own bad driving habits, and my own rudeness to others. When I get upset about other’s resistance to reach out in kindness, I’m automatically reminded of my own reticence and my own retreat into a solid cocoon.

Hypocrisy is a reminder to practice compassion.

A life of being isolated in this way, and not helping others is clearly not something to go for.

Breaking these habits is a long term commitment. When I started to apply this teaching, on compassion and hypocrisy, to my own life, it slowly began to take hold, over the course of years.

There have been a few benefits to this process, but one particular benefit is that it tends to introduce some groundlessness into the stories built up around the distinction between the self as a hero and difficult others as villains.

This feeling of surprise and groundlessness (when we realize we’re judging someone else for something we ourselves are guilty of) is freeing and can happen hundreds of times a day.

The idea of letting go of judgements, and the idea of not being a hypocrite are old ones, familiar ones.

Maybe there’s nothing that innovative or interesting there. What I do find interesting is that once I buy into this and start to work with it, what can happen is the expectation of a reward. It’s natural to expect that once we begin to dance with reality, it will dance back. And it will, but the how of it, how it all dances, is fickle and unpredictable, nonnegotiable.

“Peace originates with the flow of things—its heart is like the movement of the wind and waves.” ~ Morihei Ueshiba

Maybe this talk of the dance seems out of left field, unscientific or bizarre. Just a momement ago, I was talking about driving a car. Let me explain it this way: when we start to see the mirroring of compassion and hypocrisy, we start to see the others in our life, especially difficult others, like enemies, as reflections of our own issues and problems.

One time, at work, I remember thinking about a coworker I didn’t get along with, as she slammed something down loudly nearby. Why can’t she let it go? Why can’t she let her anger go?

Of course, I hadn’t let mine go.

She taught me about myself and reflected what I needed to work on. In that way, it seems like the universe is always offering teachings, and these tend to be about what I need to work on, personally. There is a magical feeling to this aspect of reality.

This idea could be called the universe as a teacher, or the universe as a guru.

It is fairly natural, then, to expect that once you start seeing those “messages” and learning from them, becoming more compassionate, et cetera, the universe will reward you. You might think life will start to ease up and the messages about becoming saner will abate.

It’s natural to think that the path is a negotiation: be good and reality will be good back.

That’s what karma is, right? Good people get good stuff, like on Christmas and bad people get what’s coming to them.

It doesn’t work that way.

Maybe this is because there is so much to work on, in terms of self-improvement.

Maybe it is because the universe is not, after all, a magical, playful, place (although I don’t like to think this). In any event, being caught by one’s own judgmental attitudes and hypocrisy is the beginning of a process that can help lead to flexibility, freedom and understanding, but it does not make life easier in any superficial way.

As long as we are a millimeter away from complete total sanity, the universe will continue to point out what needs to be done next.

“Failings of the intelligence are incorrigible, since those who do not know, do not know themselves, and cannot therefore seek what they lack. Many would be wise if they did not think themselves wise.” ~ Balthasar Gracian

Finally, the question might be what is the big idea here and what we should do.

The quote above, from Spanish philosopher Gracian, is from a passage about people seeking advice and the value of knowing when one does not know. Zen Master Seung Sahn’s practice of “don’t know mind” springs to mind.

The main idea?

More compassion is possible, form my personal experience and that working through hypocrisy and judgement are the path. That path is moving in filled with potholes of don’t-know-mind.

It is natural to want to negotiate with the world, expecting that if we are nice, that if we’re good, things will ease up. This is a desire to know, and the desire to know is always a double edged sword.


Idiot Compassion.


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Author: Jake Karlins

Volunteer Editor: Kim Haas/ Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Image: Hartwig HDK via Flickr

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