In this podcast episode, I will discuss the HALT Method and share my thoughts on the koan shared in the last episode: “What is your original face before you were born?”. I will also leave you with this new koan to explore: “One day Chao-chou fell down in the snow, and called out, “Help me up! Help me up!” A monk came and lay down beside him. Chao-chou got up and went away.”
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Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 129. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m going to talk about the HALT Method. Keep in mind you don’t need to use what you learned from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use what you learn to be a better whatever you already are.
Before jumping into the koan and the topic I have for this podcast episode, I wanted to clarify something based on an email I received. And I want to say thank you to Garrett for emailing me asking for a better clarification around this idea of becoming a better whatever we already are. And specifically, there was this communication about is it a contradiction with what we’re practicing in Buddhism when we talk about wanting to be a better whatever we already are as a form of craving, because we’re also saying that the moment we want life to be other than how it is, suffering arises. So how do those two ideas work together? Because wanting to be, other than how I am, is already the problem that that creates suffering. So how does this idea of becoming a better whatever we already are?
So I wanted to clarify this just a little bit. For me, when I use this quote, the concept of being a better whatever I already am, and you have to remember in the Buddhist concept or way of thinking, we’re already eliminating the duality of good and bad, right and wrong. So I think it’s more appropriate to say, to become a more skillful whatever you already are, rather than a better.
Because when we say better, it does make you think good, better, best, right? Or better in terms of good and bad. So, yeah, I don’t know, I might change the quote up, but the idea that the quote conveys is that we can become more skillful at whatever it is we already are. And to me, that gets to the heart of what all these practices really do for me as an individual. I’m not trying to be other than how I am. In other words, I’m this kind of a dad and I want to be that kind of a dad. I don’t view it that way. I view it as am I being as skillful as I can be as a person, as a dad, as a husband, as a son, and in all the different roles that I play in my life.
The quote makes a lot of sense to me in my mind with that context of skillful in relationship to better. I wanted to be more skilled at whatever it is I already am. Rather than thinking of it in terms of better, implying that I’m not adequate where I am now. Because that’s not the idea. It’s not to say you are not very good with whatever you already are, but you can be better. That’s not the idea. The idea is, you’re fine with whatever you already are, but could you be more skillful being whatever you already are? And that to me makes a lot of sense. So hopefully that makes sense to you. But again, thank you Garrett for bringing that up, because that is an important distinction to make, to understand the spirit of the quote, if we want to call it that. So thank you.
Now jumping into the topic for the podcast. So in the last podcast I shared the koan that says, “What is your original face before you were born?” And I want to share some of the thoughts that come from the discussion. If you’ll recall with the Patreon community, we have discussions around the koan and discussions around the topic of the podcast. So it’s a neat way to share the podcast episode and then to be able to get the insight and thoughts and feedback of other podcasts listeners and their thought about the koan.
So in this case, I want to share some of those thoughts with you. Bob says, and I really liked his answer. He says, “My thought is that any answer I might give would earn me a whack with a big stick from the questionnaire. Isn’t that what always happens when a seeker attempts to unravel these conundrums? Logic is my ladder to climb over the puzzle fence, but once I climb the ladder, the fence is no more.” I enjoy that thought from Bob because I do think in a lot of these koans, there is the answer that the teacher who asks the question ends up hitting you with a stick. That’s common and in Zen stories and koans.
Christopher says, “This question makes me think about mannerisms, mannerisms I have, which I have begun to realize I acquired from my parents. Then I see my grandparents and they too have the same mannerisms. It makes me wonder how far back our habits go. Who was the first one to sit a certain way, smile a certain grin, to laugh an awkward chuckle? The answer to who the first, the original is unknowable. But we are connected to that person long dead and these habits passed on through the generations. So our original face was influenced by the thousands before us.”
I really, really liked this thought shared by Christopher, because to me the invitation of this koan is to see through that lens of interdependence. And the interdependent nature of my face, as he mentions, is absolutely interconnected with the face of my mom and my dad and my grandma and my grandpa and back generation after generation after generation. And it is fun to imagine these mannerisms or ways about us, these quirks or if you have a certain interest. Wouldn’t it be cool to go back and be able to see that five generations back, there was a person there, a grandma or grandpa who if you could see them and hear them, you’d be like, “Wow, that’s just like me.” I think it’d be really cool and it’s bound to happen somewhere down the line, right? Because that’s how genetics work and that’s a lot of our personality traits and maybe our way of thinking. Who knows?
But it’s a fun thought process and it reminds me of a quote that I really enjoy that Thich Nhat Hanh says. Where he says, “If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all the generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment.” And that’s always been a really fun thought process for me to look into my hands and see the generations of ancestors before me that I have no idea about their stories. And yet here I am. The culmination of all their stories is taking place right now in this present moment. So that’s a fun thought.
John says, “This question reminds me of how we can’t actually see how we appear to others. Yeah, yeah. I know about mirrors, but you see yourself in a certain way. Others see you in a different way, et cetera. When you try to answer this question, you’re just creating a new version that doesn’t last but a moment anyway. I would imagine the answer would be a blank stare rather than a definitive response. Does it really matter? You should live in the moment you’re in, not in the past.”
And I like John’s thoughts on this. It’s fascinating to think that in a very real way, we never see ourselves. I mean, we can look down and see our hands, we can see parts of our body, but we never see the complete picture of ourselves except through a reflection; that’s the only way to do it. But even a mirror is still just a reflection. So it’s kind of crazy to think you’ll never actually see yourself. You just can’t.
But I think what’s even more fascinating is that this also happens in the way we see ourselves mentally. Because for me to conceptualize what I must be like, that’s already tainted. Well, I don’t know if tainted is the right word, but certainly influenced by every single thought, idea, opinion, belief that I have about myself and about the world. So, it’s interesting, this concept of the mirror and that you can never actually see yourself, and I think the thought process is similar.
So going to the koan, what was your original face before you were born? I don’t know that you can answer that, because how can you see? How can you know? I can come up with a story about what I think my original face was before I was born, but that’s just another concept, another idea.
David mentioned the fact that we can always look back and recognize our face in old pictures. And as I was reading his comments, he mentioned we’re so familiar with our face that we can always look back and see it even across the span of time. And that was kind of an interesting comment to me, because I realized that I can’t recognize my face in some of my old pictures. I mean, I can, but it’s strange to look at a picture at two humans and know that I’m one of them, because they both look exactly like me, but I can only be one of them, and I’m not sure which one I am. That’s just a twin thing. But at a certain stage of our lives, we looked identical.
And we can still look at some pictures where all of us, my mom, and my dad, and my twin brother and I will look at it and we’re all like, “Hmm, which one is which?” And it’s kind of trippy to look at a human being that you’re like, “I think that’s me, but I’m not positive.” So that was kind of a fun mental process with those comments.
So in my opinion with this koan, I think the wording is interesting to me. The wording with the word face specifically, to me as always, this is an invitation to explore the interdependent and non-permanent nature of the self. But for me, it’s fascinating to explore the line of thought to question, not just before, “What is your original face before you were born, but go the other way in time. What is your original face after you’re dead, after you die?
And correlating this with the quote that Thich Nhat Hanh talked about. Because if I can look at my hands and in my hands I can see all of my ancestors, I can also look at my hands and see all of my descendants. And in my case, there are already some, I have three kids. And it’s fun to be able to see in them the continuation of not my face, but my mom’s face, but not my mom’s face, my grandma’s face, but not my grandma’s face, my great grandma. And it goes on and on and on right across that span of time going back, but also the span of time going forward. And yet here we are in this precise moment and in this precise moment, I can see just how things are right now. And it’s just a fun thought process.
So the koan for me, again, is just an invitation to look inward; all of these koans are, and it’s a fun thought process. But I do think the koan correlates well with the topic I wanted to talk about in this podcast episode, which is the HALT Method.
Now, some of you may have heard of this or be familiar with it. It seems to be a method that’s talked about in the realm of addiction and recovery, but it’s also made its way into the realm of parenting techniques. And that’s where I first heard it through my wife who has been listening to podcasts and reading books all centered around the idea of parenting. And she was telling me about this HALT Method that with children you want to help them identify in a moment where they’re misbehaving or acting out, and help them identify if perhaps it’s being triggered by HALT. Which is: H is for hunger, A is for anger, L is for loneliness and T is tired. In other words, are you hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Because if you are, then that’s affecting whatever actions you’re taking in this moment.
And I guess in the addiction and recovery realm, it’s similar. They use this technique to pause at the moment of craving. Let’s say an alcoholic wants to consume again, they pause and say, “Well, wait a second. Am I under one of these four things?” And I think it correlates really well with Buddhism. Because in Buddhism we have this concept of trying to pause, right? The pause between the stimulus and response. It’s in that gap, in that pause, we’re essentially halting.
But I think it’s a cool technique that we can apply to ourselves in the mindfulness tradition where we halt and we ask ourselves, wait a second. Am I hungry? And not just hungry in the sense that I need food, although that is certainly a big factor, but it, I think it can be physical or an emotional hunger. When we don’t fulfill our body’s nutritional requirements, we in a lot of ways, lose the ability to operate at full potential. And you can see this when somebody’s stranded on an island or something and they reach this point of intense hunger, and they’re making decisions that someone who’s not extremely hungry wouldn’t be making.
And again, just the trivial version of this, like the Snickers commercial that I’ve talked about, which hits this right on the head. You’re not you when you’re hungry, right? Because in a way you’re not. But it can also be a hunger for affection, a hunger for validation. The technique is that as you go through the day and you’re experiencing a difficult emotion or do you feel like saying something or you feel like doing something, and if you can catch yourself, “I don’t know if I should say this.” Just pause, halt and ask yourself, “Am I right now experiencing anything of the acronym: hungry, angry, lonely or tired?”
So I talked about hunger, anger. While anger is a healthy and a natural or a normal emotion to experience, the reason I think this one is so important is because we need to understand what’s causing us to experience the anger. Because often, it’s other more complex layers underneath. And we may think that we’re just angry, but there’s probably a reason why we’re angry. It could be that we’re embarrassed or ashamed or a lot of hurt, we’re in pain. Those things can be layers that cause us to feel anger. And if we don’t pause to recognize what’s happening, we may not be skillful with whatever’s going to happen next. And we can do skillful things when we are experiencing anger, like going for a run or doing something to help get rid of that pent up energy can be a skillful way of processing anger.
Loneliness. You can feel lonely while being surrounded by a lot of people. So this isn’t lonely in the sense that I’m all alone. It’s lonely in the sense that we’re not genuinely connected. And I think we see this on social media, right? You can have a lot of interactions, a lot of friends, if we want to call them that, on social media, but it’s not meaningful. There’s not real deep meaning and you can be pretty lonely. And I think there are a lot of lonely people in the world who are living very lonely lives. In other words, they’re going out there with friends, they’re doing things all the time and yet they’re really lonely.
I think there are marriages like this, lonely marriages that, they interact and they talk and everything, but maybe there are certain topics that they can’t talk about or maybe there are certain vital connections that that just can’t be fostered, or I don’t know. But I think you get what I’m saying, that loneliness doesn’t mean you’re alone, it means there’s not a healthy connection that’s happening enough with enough people. And I think once you feel more secure, that feeling goes away.
So taking this to the method, right? If I pause and I ask myself, “Wait, am I experiencing one of the things?” And I realize, “Oh, I’m just really lonely right now, because I haven’t had meaningful connection with anyone for days,” or whatever. I might recognize that, okay, that explains this thought or this comment or this action that I just did or that I’m about to do. So again, it’s a useful technique.
And then the fourth one, tired. This is the obvious, right? Being sleepy, that takes a toll on us, on our mind and our body. But just in general, operating to the level where we’re constantly exhausted emotionally or physically, or operating under the conditions of feeling overwhelmed causes us to not be ourselves. And this is a critical time for that, right? We’re all in a new routine, kids are home all day, every day and it changes some of the dynamics and we can get overwhelmed and we can be tired.
And I just experienced this, this week. This whole past week I’ve been sick with a really sore throat. And it reached the point in the last 48 hours that the pain was so severe that I couldn’t eat food, I was only drinking liquids, because it just hurt too bad to swallow. So yesterday on Sunday, I was wanting to record the podcast and I just wasn’t feeling it. And I sat down with all my thoughts and I did this method. I sat there and I thought, “Am I hungry, angry, lonely, tired?” And I was like, “I’m tired. I’m pretty exhausted. I haven’t slept well, because I keep waking up because I can’t swallow, and I’m just feeling overwhelmed with exhaustion.”
And I thought, “Well then why would I sit here and record this? I want to be the me that’s not the exhausted me. So that might be the me of tomorrow, but that’s not the me of right now.” And the me of right now made the decision to not record the podcast. So that’s why the podcast came out today and not yesterday. So that was kind of fun to be putting this into practice.
But again, I think this is a really powerful technique that as we go through our day to day activities, our goal of looking inward is to understand ourselves. And I think this is a fantastic tool that works very well with Buddhist practice, where what we’re doing is we’re pausing and we’re going to halt. And anytime I’m experiencing a difficult emotion, I can halt. Anytime I’m feeling like maybe I’m going to say or do something that I might regret, halt and ask yourself, “Is it because I’m under the influence of one of these four experiences?” And you may find more often than not that you are, and that’s why what you’re feeling is so intense.
The term hangry, which I think is a really funny term, is very real. If you’re hungry, it can cause you to be angry. Thus the word, hangry. And we use that one a lot here in our house. And we have another one that I like, which is hotgry. Because that’s the big one for me. If, if it gets too hot, I start to feel like my patience levels just drop significantly, because I don’t enjoy being hot. And some people have different things. For me, that’s one of them. If it’s hot, I try to be very careful about what I’m going to say or do, because I know I’m under the influence of that discomfort.
So that’s the acronym. I hope this is something that works well for you as a tool. And remember all these things, all these concepts, all these ideas, they’re just tools, right? This isn’t the way. But imagine that what you’re building to go through life is a little toolkit. And every time you listen to a podcast or you read a book or you find a cool quote, all these things are just little tools and you put them in your tool chest. And then here you go, I’ve got this tool and under these certain circumstances, I know that this is the tool that will help me. This is one of those, the HALT Method is just another tool that you can put in your toolbox, and hopefully it can help you in your moments where you need to pause and ask yourself, am I experiencing one of these four things, hunger, anger, loneliness, or tired, and see how that works for you.
So as always, thank you for listening. That’s all I have for this podcast episode. But if you want to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, consider becoming a patron and joining our online community where we have discussions around these koans and the podcast episodes and more. You can learn more about that by visiting secularbuddhism.com. And if you enjoy this podcast, feel free to share it with others, write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. And that’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon.
Before I go, here is your Zen koan to work with for this next week. One day, Chao-Chou fell down in the snow and called out, “Helped me up, helped me up.” A monk came and lay down beside him. Chao Chou got up and went away. Until next time.