79 – The Blind Leading the Blind

In a reality that is continually changing, our views are limited in space and time. The result is that we are essentially the blind leading the blind. In this episode, I will discuss the teaching of the blind men and the elephant and share 5 tips for people who are in mixed-belief relationships (we all are).

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Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 79. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice to not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are.

So the parable of the blind men and the elephant, this expression of the blind leading the blind, this is what I want to talk about today. So in the original parable, you have six blind men who approach an elephant, and they touch it in different places. They begin to describe it based on where they touch it. One describes the tail, another describes the trunk, another the leg, another the ears, and so on. The idea is that all six are certain that their experience of having felt the elephant is the accurate and correct interpretation, while failing to understand that the other descriptions were also correct, and that their own descriptions were also incorrect since they each only felt one part of the elephant.

Now, I heard this parable once in the context of, okay, there are all these blind men describing this thing, but how fortunate for us, or the person who’s not blind, to be able to see the whole picture. And I think this is something that makes this parable a little bit difficult to fully wrap our heads around because most of us who think of this parable are probably not blind, so the idea of being blind is already difficult to truly comprehend. So I think it’s very easy to make the mistake approaching this parable thinking, “Okay, I get it. All these blind people trying to describe the elephant. I get why they don’t get it. But I, I can picture an elephant. I’ve been to the zoo or I’ve seen them in videos, so I have the whole picture. I know that the elephant isn’t just the tail because I can see the ears and I can see the tusks and I can see everything else that makes the elephant the elephant.”

But the moment we do that, I think we’re misinterpreting the deep lesson of the elephant, so I think the mistake of the parable is thinking that you are not like the blind men. You have the bigger picture, you understand, but what the Buddha was trying to accomplish, in my opinion, with this parable was to truly convey the reality that we are all like the blind men. So let’s just tweak this and update this parable a little bit. A scenario that I think works really well for me, imagine yourself in any part of space, and you’re in space and you’re looking back at the moon. You’ve probably seen these pictures of … or not at the moon, at earth. You’ve seen pictures from the moon looking at earth, or just pictures from space looking at our earth, and there is earth. From wherever you are in space looking at earth, it’s going to look unique to depending on where you are, if you’re on one side of the planet versus in space on the other side of the planet, right? And of course, the planet is rotating.

But at any given moment, wherever you are in space, whatever you’re looking at is an incomplete picture because there’s the entire other side of the planet that you can’t see. And it doesn’t matter where you go, if you’re at the top or the bottom or where you are in space looking at the planet, you’re going to encounter this issue, which is that you cannot see the whole picture. It’s literally impossible to see the whole picture at the same time. That I think is starting to get closer to the deep lesson of this parable of the blind men. You cannot see the whole picture. It’s impossible.

Now you complicate this a little bit more by thinking of time. So we know that in terms of space, wherever you are, whatever you’re looking at, when you’re looking at the planet, is an incomplete picture. We get that. Now add time to it. Whatever you’re looking at when you look at it now is different than what it was before, right? Because if you recall looking at a picture of the planet from space, you see earth or you see land, but you also see water, and then of course you see clouds, all of these incredible patterns of clouds. Well, those are changing from moment to moment. So what I was looking at 10 minutes ago, now I look at it and it’s slightly different. The planet has rotated a little bit. The cloud shapes have all changed just a little bit. It may be very subtle, but give it an hour or give it a day, give it three days, and what you were looking at three days ago is not what you’re looking at now, and what you’re looking at now is not what you’ll be looking at three days from now.

So in terms of space and time, we cannot hold a picture in our head and say this is the accurate picture of the planet that is applicable throughout space and time. It’s impossible. So in the context of space and time, what we have is an ever-changing planet that we’re looking at, and because of that, we are essentially like the blind men. What I’m looking at right now is all I can see, and it’s going to be different in the future. It’s different from what it was in the past and it’s going to be different if I’m standing here or there. That to me really resonates or rings true to what I think the Buddha was trying to accomplish with his explanation of this parable.

Now the thing is, space and time are not the only two variables that influence the perspective we have of the planet … or I guess with the planet, yeah, space and time. But when we’re looking at other things, we’re looking at people, at ideas, at beliefs. Our views are bound not just by space and time, but they’re also influenced by our unique perspective, and our perspective is tied to our culture, our cultural backgrounds. If you were raised in one part of the world versus another, that influences the way that you see things. Your memories, your upbringing, experiences that you’ve had, that will influence how you view things. Of course, inherited beliefs that you get from family or religions, that will also effect the perspective that you have.

So that’s this third dimension, and my friend and teacher Koyo Kubose would say person, place, and time. The view that you have is bound by person, who you are … In other words, your upbringing, your beliefs, your views, your opinions, and everything that makes you, you … place, which is space, and time. So with this understanding of reality, now let’s consider this idea of the blind leading the blind or the parable of the blind men and the elephant.

What this implies is that when it comes to views, when it comes to ideas and beliefs, we are essentially the blind leading the blind because we become so intertwined with our views that we hold so deeply, and we think this is it. This is the absolute way that things are. This is the right belief, or this is the right opinion, or this is the right approach. And the moment that we do that, we fail to recognize person, place, and time. This is just how you see it, and how you see it make sense to you, but it may not make sense to me. It may benefit you, but it certainly doesn’t benefit me, and things of that nature.

So I want to touch on this just a little bit more with an experience that my wife had recently. So my wife is not very … She’s not a dog person, and I know that for some people that’s unfathomable because people who love dogs love dogs, and they cannot understand how on earth somebody could not love a dog. And it’s not just dogs, right? It could be cats, it could be whatever your thing is, whatever the thing is that you love. It’s very difficult to understand how others wouldn’t.

This is also common with kids, right? People who have young kids like I do, you love your kids and you love them climbing all around and saying funny things and doing, and then you go to a restaurant and you think everyone else loves them the way I do. You want to hear this funny joke, or you know? We all know that situation of people who allow their kids to run around or to be jumping on things and they don’t mind, but the other person sitting there might mind. Well, the same is true with dogs or cats or anything else.

So this experience was with dogs. My wife is not very much of a dog person, as I mentioned, and she was out walking, and somebody’s dog wasn’t on the leash and the dog came running over, and my wife is kind of uncomfortable around dogs. So this dog just starts like barking at her and jumping on her, and she’s … She doesn’t really know how to react. Are you supposed to … You know, I don’t want to get in trouble for touching the dog, and she’s like, that’s what’s going on in her mind, right?

So she’s very reluctant that this dog is wanting to jump on her and lick her and be her best friend, and she’s just like, “Leave me alone. I don’t want to be around you.” She was really uncomfortable, and the person came over and said, “Oh, don’t worry. It’s a nice dog. He won’t do anything to you.” She was like, “It doesn’t matter. I’m just uncomfortable around him.” She’s like, “Oh, don’t worry. He’s fine. He won’t do anything to you,” and allowed the dog to continue bothering her. So my wife made her way out of there. She had been running I think, and then was really upset the rest of the day, telling me about this experience, and why don’t people leash their dogs and why do they let their dogs jump all over people, and expressions of that nature.

And I had this thought as I was listening to this and thinking about this thinking, it’s interesting how often our own views are like our dogs. It’s like, well, this is my view, and because I understand my view and I like my view, I allow my view to come over and affect you. My view or my belief, right? Or my opinion. And it comes over and it’s like the dog that’s there, and it’s annoying you. You may be uncomfortable with it, but I cannot perceive that because I’m so comfortable with my view, with my opinion, with my belief, with my idea that it doesn’t even enter my mind that you may be very uncomfortable with it.

So I had this thought that sometimes our beliefs are like our dogs, and I think there should be somewhat of a sense of personal responsibility for our own words and views and beliefs to not allow those to come over and jump all over someone else. Now, I get that this can be a touchy subject because when we’re talking about, again, like dogs, people who love dogs are not going to be very happy with anyone dissing on a dog. Well, the same is true with beliefs. Somebody who holds a deeply-held belief is going to be very uncomfortable with someone else coming along and saying, “I don’t agree with that belief or I don’t like it. I’m uncomfortable with it, get it away from me.”

So this is kind of where the scenario, another scenario that I want to link to all of this. I was, a couple weeks ago at work, one of my coworkers across the way was listening to music really loud and was just jamming, and it was like really loud rock or hard rock music, the kind that you would associate with somebody’s really angry, so that’s the style of music they’re going to listen to. Well, it was that kind of music, and it was pretty loud, and I had this thought. Is it appropriate to say, “Hey, your music, I don’t like it. I’m not comfortable with it. Can you turn it down?” And then I thought, I wonder what percentage of people would say, “Yeah, that’s totally appropriate,” and what other percentage of people would say, “No, if you don’t like it, put headphones on or something.”

And again, I’m not … This is not a debate about the music. This was to spark a more important question, which is, well, if that’s the case with somebody’s music, what about what if you’re walking through the park and there’s a preacher standing on the bench and he’s preaching out loud? Is it the same thing? I’m uncomfortable with that message. You shouldn’t be here saying it. Or is it appropriate to say, “Hey, that message that you have, we don’t all want to hear it. You keep that to yourself.” Again, these are just scenarios I present. I’m not trying to assume that there is an answer that’s the right answer. I think it’s something that should be introspective that got me thinking, what are my dogs, my views that I’m comfortable with having them out there and jumping all over people, and it’s maybe never occurred to me that they shouldn’t?

So again, it’s an introspective practice, but I think there’s something fascinating in exploring this mentally. What are the dogs, what are the beliefs, what are the views, and where are those lines? I think about this often with swearing. Somebody might say a swear word, and somebody who’s uncomfortable would say, “Hey, can you please not swear around me?” Well, is that appropriate to control someone else’s swearing, or do you just say, “Well, if you don’t like it, plug your ears and walk away”? Again, a whole range of thoughts to experiment here in your mind, scenarios to play out in your mind, and ask yourself.

Again, this isn’t to say, “Oh, well here’s the right answer,” because if we go back to the analogy of the blind men and the elephant, well, how are you viewing reality? Your reality is skewed by who you are and where you are in space and when you are in time, and so where you stand, this is this way, and where I stand, this is this other way, and you may be really uncomfortable with hearing this word and I may be really fine with hearing that, or … You know? And it gets really touchy when we’re talking about beliefs. You have, in some views, you cannot say certain words. It offends people. In some other ideologies, you cannot draw certain people. It offends them. And a whole range of things. It gets really muddied and really complex really fast because of the amount of views and beliefs that are out there.

So again, it’s just something to keep in mind, and what I want to correlate all of this to specifically is back to a question that has been asked of me before. People have asked, what is it like being in a mixed faith marriage, in a mixed faith relationship, and I always pause and say, “I get why there’s so much concern about that because the general thinking is it’s really hard to make a mixed faith marriage work.” But a part of me wants to say, “Well, is it really that much harder than just being in a mixed belief relationship?” Because everyone’s in one of those. Everyone has mixed beliefs about things when it comes to your relationship with your parents or with your siblings or with your spouse or with your children. You have mixed beliefs, whether you know it or not.

Now, the only difference is how deeply held those beliefs are. Right? I’ve mentioned this before in the podcast. If I have a belief that eggs taste better with hot sauce, and my spouse has the belief that eggs taste better with ketchup, which this is real, this is accurate, it’s not a big deal because it’s not a deeply held belief. It is a belief, but it’s not deeply held, and there’s no sense of a threat that your belief somehow overrides my belief, your belief of ketchup tasting better than hot sauce. But it does get more complex when you’re talking about deeply held beliefs, and I suppose that’s where this question originates from. Like, how do you make a mixed faith marriage work?

Well, I’ll tell you, for me, one thing that’s been really helpful is to view all of my beliefs at the same scale as my hot sauce on the eggs. It’s like, it’s not a big deal to me if I … That’s just how I like my eggs, but it’s not a big deal to acknowledge that there may be a better way. There may be, but I don’t know because I’m content with this one. Now with my bigger views, bigger beliefs like when it comes to existential views, this’ll sound kind of weird, but to me they’re no more important than my smaller views on like what I put on my food. It’s like I think that it might be like this. I think this other view may be very unlikely. I think this one is probably not possible. And I have all these views, but none of them really matter that much to me. I may be dead wrong on all of them.

So that sense of threat is gone on my end, and I think that with one person in the relationship being disarmed, well, how can there be conflict? How can there be a fight? The fight arises and becomes problematic when you have two parties wanting to feel a sense of certainty that their view is correct.

So I want to share a couple of tips for anyone listening to this who’s in a mixed belief relationship, which is all of you. Everyone is in one. I mentioned that before. Here are some tips. First, communicate. Communication is the key, but communication has to happen on equal grounds. When you communicate, you’re trying to express what makes sense to you, what’s meaningful to you. Now, often what you’ll get is the other party wants to present their case, their view in a way that supersedes yours. It’s like a debate, or here’s this convincing argument of why my view is right. Well, what if it’s not right or wrong?

So this leads to the next tip, is change your mindset from right or wrong to skillful and unskillful, because at that point, it becomes a lot more manageable for you to deal in your communication with, well, what’s skillful and what’s not skillful, not about being right or wrong. I don’t care if I’m right, I don’t care if I’m wrong. In fact, I expect to be both of those things quite often. But what is skillful and what is unskillful in my communication with my spouse, that to me is more effective. Now, for me … It’s going to be different for everyone. For me, I understand that that means how I communicate, when I communicate, what topics I communicate. There’s a whole scale of skillful and unskillful that is relevant to the formula of my relationship with my spouse. So it’s not going to be the same for everyone. Again, this becomes part of the introspective work that you do because you need to find what works for you.

Now, this concept of switching from right or wrong to skillful and unskillful, this is for you, not for your … whoever you’re thinking about in your relationship with, whether that be spouse or parent or sibling. The point isn’t to get them on board to think of it like you. No, it’s not going to happen that way. This isn’t about them, this is about you. How do you communicate? So keep that in mind, communication.

So the next thing I would recommend is to try to express your intent. What I mean by that, what’s been helpful for me and my relationship is understanding we have different views, different beliefs, but I try to not focus on what the beliefs are because they’re different. You won’t go anywhere. What I focus on is, what are our shared values? And values to me are much more important. You’ll find that, for the most part, we all have very similar shared values. We want to be happy. We want others to not experienced suffering. Those are shared values that are going to be relatively universal across varying beliefs and ideological systems.

So when you highlight those with your … In my case, like with my spouse, we highlight what our values are and we understand that we have shared values, then the belief becomes secondary. It’s like, well, here’s your belief, but I get that you believed that because ultimately this is the value you espouse. Well, from my perspective, this is the same value I espouse, but my approach to it and my understanding of it may be different because my belief is different, and this is how we arrive at conclusions, like in our case where we sit and talk about … I don’t know, drinking. In Mormonism, you don’t drink. The problem is drinking, right? And from my perspective, there’s no problem with drinking. Well, how do you reconcile that?

Well, what is the shared value? In my case, our shared value is that, well, being intoxicated and not being mindful, that’s not skillful, and we both agree with that. So we arrive at the same shared value even though the belief may be different. Her belief maybe that alcohol is bad and my belief is that alcohol is fine, but both of us agree that you shouldn’t drink when you’re under age and that drinking and being intoxicated is not skillful. I believe that understanding why you drink is very important because someone who drinks as a form of escapism, that’s a very unskillful practice. So things like that. So we find our sense of common ground anchored in the values, not in the beliefs.

Okay. The third tip here is seek to understand. So the first one was communicate, the second one is be willing to express the intent of what you’re communicating, and you do that by, again, going to the values, not the beliefs. This third one is seeking to understand, not to change. Now, in a relationship this is very important because, I’ve mentioned this before, it’s like from an evolutionary standpoint, we are all hardwired to detect threat, to detect acceptance. If we’re accepted by a group, we feel safe. If we’re not accepted or someone’s trying to change us, we have very good systems in place that detect that.

So when you’re communicating with a family member or a loved one with the intent to change that person, whether they consciously know this or not, all of their defenses are up to prevent that, and we do the same. If somebody’s ever communicated with you and you know that there’s another agenda, they’re trying to change you, guess what? You’re not capable of being completely open and accepting with them because your defenses are up. You’re trying to prevent that change from happening.

So instead of trying to change each other, what if we’re just trying to understand each other? Now, in my case, that has been a very profound form … a profound change in our communication style. So rather than listening to each other with the intent of, okay, all right, let me … I’m going to rephrase this back to you so that I can change your mind, it’s not about changing each other. It’s just about understanding. So it’s, okay, well explain this more, and she’ll explain something. Okay. I think I hear where that’s coming from. Where does that come from? Why do you feel that’s so important? And so we’re just continually trying to understand each other, and that has been a very powerful shift, and I think that’s a big part of why the relationship works. Seek to understand, not to change.

The fourth one is embracing discomfort and difficulty. None of this stuff is easy. It’s difficult when you’re communicating with somebody who has a different view than you, whether it be, again, deeply held views and beliefs or just different views. Like you’re driving too fast, and I’m like, “No, I’m driving just the right speed.” It doesn’t matter what it is. Embrace the discomfort of having differences, the difficulty of talking about those differences and saying, “Well, that’s your view. Here’s my view,” and with time you’ll find that you get better and better at articulating your view and why it’s your view, but never with the intent to convince them that yours is right or wrong because it’s not about right or wrong. It’s just this is how I view it, and maybe this is why I view it, and because I was raised this way, and when I grew up, this, this, or that. Then suddenly you understand yourself better and they understand you better. So embrace that discomfort and difficulty.

And the fifth tip I want to share is … Oh, no, I already mentioned the changing your mindset from right and wrong to skillfully and unskillful. So those were all of the tips. I think those can be very helpful practices that help you to communicate more effectively within your mixed belief relationship, which again, is everyone, and all of us recognize that we’re all just the blind leading the blind. I’m blind and I’m doing the best that I can, and my spouse’s blind and she’s doing the best that she can, and so are our kids, and so are my parents, and so is everyone that I work with and communicate with, because we’re all somewhere in space, looking at the planet, thinking, “That thing that I see, that is earth,” and not even seeing the other half.

Now earth, in that case, roughly half of it you can’t see because it’s the other side, but when it comes to everything else, I think that that percentage or the proportion of what we know and what we don’t know is exponentially bigger. Right? There’s this fraction of a sliver of reality that I understand. The rest of it I do not know, I cannot know. I’m completely incapable of knowing it because of where I am in space and time. So keep that in mind. Recognize we’re all just the blind leading the blind. We’re all trying to do our best and trying to figure it out, and the more we try to understand each other, the better off this is all going to go. So that’s what I wanted to share with this concept of the blind leading the blind.

Another reminder, if you want to learn more about Buddhism, you can check out my book, No‑Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners with concepts, teachings, and practices. You can learn more about the book just by visiting everdaybuddhism.com. If you enjoyed this podcast episode, share it with others, write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. You can always join the online community on Facebook, secularbuddhism.com/community. And if you would like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit secularbuddhism.com and click on the Donate button. That is all I have for now, but as always, I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for listening. Until next time.

78 – No Hope, No Fear

Suffering arises when we want things to be other than how they are. Where there is hope, there is fear and where there is fear there is hope. They are like two sides of the same coin. When we feel uneasy, we get restless, we want to change something about ourselves or others, we hope things could be another way. Having no hope can be the start of a radical form of acceptance.

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Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 78. I am your host Noah Rasheta. Today I’m talking about hope and fear, and specifically how these two things correlate with mindfulness.

Keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice, “Do not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are.” I like to emphasize that at the beginning of every episode, because it’s very important to understand that Buddhism isn’t something that’s meant to be preached. I’m going to emphasize that every time, every podcast, except for the ones where I forget, which I know there have been several.

But this idea of no hope, no fear. What does that mean? Well, we know that suffering arises when we want things to be other than they are. Where there is hope, there is fear, and where there is fear, there is hope. They’re like two sides of the same coin. When we feel uneasy, when we get restless, when we want something to change, something to be different about ourselves or about others, we hope that things could be another way.

With that in mind, this concept of having no hope, it’s that having no hope can be a radical affirmation of acceptance. It’s like when you truly accept things as they are, you don’t hope for them to be any different than how they are. That’s kind of the mental game that’s going on with this expression of no hope, no fear.

In past episodes, I’ve talked about the concept of having a koan. A Zen koan is like a riddle, an expression. It can be a sentence. It’s something that you work with. It’s an expression, and it’s meant to be baffling. It’s meant to shake you up a bit and think, “What? What are you talking about?” I think this expression, in a way, could serve as a koan, maybe, for many of you hearing this idea of no hope, no fear. You may sit there with this riddle somewhat and think, “Well, what does that mean? I don’t like this. I don’t like the idea of not having hope.” I want to clarify this, because I hope you can sit with this expression and work with it over the months or years of your life, as an expression, no hope, no fear. But I do want to clarify a few things as I get into that topic.

Pema Chodron says, “Hope and fear come from the feeling that we lack something. We hold onto hope, and hope robs us of the present moment.” That is a really powerful expression, a powerful statement. I get why the expression of no hope could, at the same time, feel really disheartening, because on the other side of it, you could be looking at this thinking, “Well, if there’s no hope, if I don’t have hope, then what’s the point? What do I have if I don’t have hope?”

I know this feeling. I allude to this in many times in the podcast episodes of a time in my life that was incredibly difficult for me. I was going through an intense feeling of having been deceived, lied to, cheated. When you’re going through an experience like that, I remember for me, hope was all I had at some stages of that grief, of that pain. But the more that I think about it, the more I pondered on this while going through all of this, the more I realized that that hope that I had maybe wasn’t a pure hope. It was, I had the hope of things one day being as if that thing had never happened to me. I don’t know that that’s the right sense of hope. That’s certainly not the hope that I think is talked about in this expression of no hope, no fear.

I kind of want to walk you through an experience I had not long ago with my family. We were on vacation. I can’t remember if I mentioned this on a previous podcast episode, but if I did, forgive me. We were on a family trip, on a cruise. On the cruise ship, they had a giant chess game at the top deck of the ship. My son [inaudible 00:04:41] is learning to play chess, and he was really excited to see that, and he wanted to play. Every day, he wanted to go there and play, and he wanted me to play with him.

I know how to play chess. I know the basic rules. I’m certainly not an expert at it by any means, but I know the general rules of chess. So I’m playing chess with him, and of course chess is one of those games that always stands out to me because I feel like I used to play life like I was playing a game of chess. I saw this in him. As we’re playing, he’s teaching me these strategies that he’s learned. He’s taken some classes, and he’s learned that if you start with this piece, then it should be countered with this other, and if they do that, then you do this. He was showing me, and we’re playing chess, and we’re having fun.

I’m not intentionally trying to win the game. I certainly wasn’t being too easy on him. I didn’t want to … But I was surprised that once he got ahead of me, I could not figure out how to get past him, and I made one terrible move with my queen, and didn’t realize that it was a setup. He had set me up to get the queen out there so that he could take the queen, and he did. We were laughing when that happened.

As I’m sitting there seeing the joy in his face that he’s winning this game of chess against his dad, I had this mini flashback to this stage of my life where I was playing life like the game of chess. I thought that I was a few steps ahead of everything in life, and life is going to go the way that I expect it to go, because I’m influencing it to go that way. That leads me back to this moment that I’ve alluded to many times in the podcast, which was a blindside. It was essentially life gave me a Tetris piece that blindsided me, and I was very upset. I was dazed and confused. I was hurt. I couldn’t figure it out. I couldn’t figure out why this happened, because when you think you’re playing the game of chess, you make a move, and life presents a move, and you really are baffled. You’re like, “Why did this happen?”

At the time, I attributed it to the opponent, maybe not opponent, but the person controlling the other side of the game, in this case, for me, was, I thought maybe God is the one playing the other hand here. It’s like, “Why did you do that?” I just couldn’t reconcile the move that was made with the pain that that move was causing on me. It was a really difficult stage for me.

So as I’m sitting there playing chess with my son, having this flashback, I had this intense moment of gratitude. As I could play it all back in my head, because here I am, eight or nine years after that move was made, and I’m looking at the game. I no longer see life like a game of chess. You guys know I see it like a game of Tetris. I just felt gratitude for that piece. As painful as that piece was, as unpleasant as it was to experience it, all these beautiful things have come from it. It led to a new dynamic in my life, a new outlook, a new world view. It’s led to this very podcast. The fact that you’re listening to this right now wouldn’t have happened had that piece not presented itself.

So I had this moment of gratitude for the unwanted Tetris piece in my life, and I had this thought of, you know, as I was going through that painful stage, and I had the hope for things to be different than how they are, in hindsight, I look at that and there’s no hope associated to those events. There’s just gratitude for how it is, gratitude for how I handled it, gratitude for how others handled how I handled it. But there’s no hope in there. There’s no hope for me in the sense of wanting it to have been any other way than how it was.

That’s a, it’s a strong statement for me to have arrived at, when you look back at an incident in your life that was unpleasant or painful or difficult. It’s not quite like saying, “Oh, I’m so glad that happened,” but I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s the honest truth, because had things not been exactly how they were, things wouldn’t be exactly how they are now. To have arrived at a place of so much contentment with how things are right now, I naturally have to accept how things were in the past, even the unpleasant things. I think that’s kind of the sentiment that’s being alluded to in this idea of no hope, no fear.

There’s another quote I want to share with you. This is by Athenagoras the First of Constantinople. This is the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, not any more, but in the past. He has this quote that I really like. He says, “I have waged this war against myself for many years. It was terrible, but now I am disarmed. I am no longer frightened of anything, because love banishes fear. I am disarmed of the need to be right and to justify myself by disqualifying others. I am no longer on the defensive, holding onto my riches. I just want to welcome and to share. I don’t hold onto my ideas and projects. If someone shows me something better … No. I shouldn’t say better, but good. I accept them without any regrets. I no longer seek to compare. What is good, true and real is always, for me, the best. That is why I have no fear.” Close quote.

I love that quote because as I read that I feel like, “That’s how I feel in my life.” I’m no longer armed against myself. I’m no longer at war, comparing the me of now with the me of the past, or the me that I think I need to become in the future. All of that has been disarmed. It was terrible to feel that. Going through that difficult stage of my life, the sense of hope that I had was a sense of arming myself in that moment to become a person that would never have to go through that again. That’s the sense of hope that I don’t have anymore. It’s like I don’t feel that.

I could go through that whole ordeal again, and it would be painful, sure. It would be unpleasant, absolutely. It would be a lot of things, but I don have sense of hope like, “Wow, I hope I never have to feel that kind of discomfort again,” because I very well may in other forms. I will, you know? If my kids, if they were to get sick, or my wife, or when my parents get old and their health starts to fail. So many things will cause that discomfort to come back in life, that wanting things to be other than how they are, but when I sit with that and I think about that, I don’t have any hope in the sense of, “I hope I don’t feel that again. I hope that nobody ever dies that I love.” That’s just not realistic anymore.

I think that’s the sense of hope that’s dropped, that Pema’s talking about, and that I think Athenagoras alludes to here, the disarmament. To say I’m no longer frightened of anything. Wow, what a powerful statement. I’m no longer frightened of the potential pain and fear that’s going to come into my life at some point when the Tetris pieces, the piece I didn’t want, how powerful to be able to sit with that and recognize, come what may, I’m going to figure it out. I have faith in my ability to adapt with whatever pieces life throws my way. What is there to fear when that’s the attitude, when that’s the perspective?

In that sense, hope doesn’t really fit into the equation. I don’t hope to only have pleasant experiences, and no longer unpleasant ones. I don’t have that kind of hope anymore. If anything, my sense of hope is I just hope I get to experience it all. I hope I get to feel it all. I hope I know what it is to love in a way that cannot be measured. I know what it is to hurt and feel pain in a way that can’t be measured, to feel let down, to feel unwanted. All these negative emotions, but they make me feel alive. I don’t hope … Hope is not part of that equation anymore.

I think in our society, hopelessness has a negative connotation, but think about it. What if hopelessness is actually the start of peace and contentment? I hope that as a koan … Here I am saying, “I hope.” I hope that you can take away from this the expression no hope, no fear, and work with it. Play it out in your mind. What does that mean? What are your hopes? Why are they your hopes? What would happen if those hopes are never met? Work with them that way in your own mind, and see what comes of it.

Remember, mindfulness as a practice is very introspective, so the idea here is not that, “Oh, oh, I need to drop all my hopes.” No. I don’t know that that’s accurate. It’s more, “I need to understand what my hopes are and why are those my hopes?” Because if I don’t even know why I hope the things that I hope for, well, there’s no wisdom to be had in that. That’s a form of going through life habitually reactive to whatever I think I’m going after, because that’s what I hope I get. Think of hopelessness in that sense.

For me, again I mentioned this, in my darkest days, hope helped me. It helped me to wake up. It helped me to want to keep going. But again, I understand now that it wasn’t hope in the sense of changing the situation or the circumstances. It was hope that one day there would be peace in my heart. That peace that I finally did achieve only took hold when I no longer wanted to have that peace.

That’s kind of the irony here. As I went through the stage of grief that I went through, I felt a lot of pain, and I didn’t want to feel it. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to realize, “You know what? I do what to feel it. I want to know what this feels like. If someone else ever goes through that thing that I went through, I would know that that feels like.” I opened up to accepting the hurt and the pain and the frustration and the anger and the hatred and all these things I had been pushing away for so long. It was that moment that I opened up and allowed those things to just be what they were that I realized I just wanted to be free, free to feel my pain, to embrace the hurt, to embrace the suffering. That was the very moment that became the start of the most intense peace and the most intense contentment that I had never experienced before.

This kind of reminds me of another koan to work with, so you’re going to have several koans coming out of this. You’ve got, “No hope, no fear.” Here’s another one from an old Zen master, roughly 600 BCE, named Linji. I don’t even know if that’s how you say it. Linji. Linji. L-I-N-J-I is the spelling. He has a koan that says, “There is nothing I dislike.” This is one that was presented to me when I was doing my lay ministry program, and I was reading that book of 101 Zen koans. Somewhere in that book, and of course I can’t remember exactly where, but I remember hearing this. “There is nothing I dislike,” I thought, “Huh. What does that mean? There’s a lot of things I dislike. I dislike the suffering in the world, poverty, abuse to children. There are plenty of things to dislike. What could this possibly mean, there’s nothing I dislike?”

I’ve thought about it, and I’ve worked with it, and this has been one of the koans that I’ve worked with for myself to see, “Could I ever arrive at this expression of, ‘There is nothing I dislike’?” I feel like I can. I feel like I have. To me, what it means is, again, the immediate experience that we have in life, we have emotions and thoughts and feelings, that’s what’s being talked about here. There’s nothing I dislike in terms of the experience I have of living. Now to me, that means when I’m having the experience or the emotion of disliking the injustice in the world, I don’t dislike that I dislike it. Does that make sense?

I can say there is nothing I dislike. I like all of the feelings and thoughts and emotions that I have, even the unpleasant ones that make, that stir me to want to have action, some kind of action against, to correct the injustice. To me, that’s how I’ve worked with this koan in my mind. Again, there’s not a right way or a wrong way to these. These are expressions that you work with. So again, the invitation here is what does that mean for you? What would it feel like for you to be able to say, “There is nothing I dislike.” So that’s another one to think about.

That was the main topic I wanted to share in this podcast episode. I have a few other fun ideas I’ve been wanting to share, but this one stepped over and became the next one in the list, even though it wasn’t originally meant to be the next one. I do have another one I’ll record probably in the next couple of days. It’ll for sure come out next week. Again, I want to thank you for taking the time to listen, and just for being part of this journey with me. It’s been a really fun experience.

Thank you guys for being a part of this, for listening and taking time out of your day. As always, I hope these concepts allow you to be more skillful with how you navigate life and the experiences that you have in life, and the various Tetris pieces that come your way, because we’re all in different places.

Again, if you want to learn more about Buddhism in general, you can always check out my book, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners. It has history, concepts, and teachings and practices. You can learn more about that visiting everydaybuddhism.com. I’m excited to announce, as far as practices go, my next book is going to be a five minute mindfulness journal with several practices and things that you can work on that are meant to help you to practice mindfulness in your everyday life, your day to day settings.

As always, if you enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it with others. You can write a review. Give it a rating on iTunes. You can join our online community on Facebook, secularbuddhism.com/community has the links there. If you want to make a donation to support the work that I’m doing with the podcast, you can always visit secularbuddhism.com and click on the Donate button.

That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for listening. Until next time.

77 – Embracing Rebellion

“I think of mindfulness meditation as almost a rebellion against natural selection…Natural selection sets our agenda, and Buddhism says, ‘We don’t have to play this game.” In this episode, I will discuss the concept of embracing rebellion as a form of living more mindfully. I will also clarify a couple of things from last week’s episode. I hope you enjoy this topic!

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Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 77. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today, I’m talking about the art of embracing rebellion and how that relates to mindful living. Keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice to not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are. Before jumping into this topic, what do I mean with regards to embracing rebellion? What is rebellion? What is a rebel? I want to clarify these things just a bit before jumping into this.

I think of rebellion as the act of disrupting the established order. Now, in the sense of mindfulness, it’s like changing up the way things have been to exploring whether or not there’s a way that things can be better. In this sense, the rebel is able to look at a situation and say, “Yeah. This is how things have always been, but what if we did things differently? What if we were able to change things up?” People like … The Buddha, for example, was a rebel in his time. He questioned the established order of how things were. He questioned the caste system, where one person ranks up here and another one is way down there, to the point where they’re untouchable. He questioned the way things were. He questioned the answers of the time that were given to life’s existential questions, and in the end, he presented a new way, the middle way. But to embrace his ideas fully, I think we need to be rebels ourselves.

When we talk about rebellion, I want to use Robert Wright’s explanation here in his book, Why Buddhism Is True. He says, “I think of mindfulness meditation as almost a rebellion against natural selection,” and he goes on to say, “Natural selection is the process that created us. It gave us our values. It sets our agenda, and Buddhism says we don’t have to play this game.” This is the type of rebellion I’m interested in talking about. To be able to look at the mirror of introspection, to see ourselves, the way that we have habitually done things, thoughts, feelings, the things that we do, to be able to pause and look at all of that and say, “I don’t have to play this game. I don’t have to react the way that I always react.” In this sense, I think it takes an act of rebellion to be able to change things about ourselves.

Now, I don’t know about you, but have you guys ever experienced or tried to do things just slightly different, differently than how you normally do? I’m not talking about big things. I’m talking about, like, every time I wake up, I always get out of the bed the same way, roll to the same side, put the left foot down first. You may not notice this about yourself until you start to pay attention and then say, “What if I do things a little differently?” and get out of bed differently. Or it could be other simple things. When I put my socks on, it’s always the left foot, then the right. Well, try it one day and do the right, then the left. Or on your drive to work, it may be the same route every time, and you can try a new route or, you know, just changing things up a bit just for the sake of doing it.

Now, I first came across this concept in a … I can’t remember what book it was, but the idea was that as our brains are growing and developing like the mind of a child, there is no set way. They’re figuring that out, and that flexibility to do things in different ways is instrumental in their ability to learn and acquire, because their mind is in that open mode. The idea in this book was that if you can start changing things up from the habitual patterns that get hardwired in the mind, once you pick a way, that’s the way, and you always do it that way …

The mind isn’t interested or geared to be adding new stuff, so the idea of this book, and I’ll have to research it … Maybe I’ll put it in the link. … was that you can kind of tweak the brain or hack the brain, almost, by just changing things up, doing them differently. It puts your mind in this mode of, “Oh. We’re doing something new. I need to be more aware and pay more attention, because I’m not used to this.” It’s kind of breaking out of that cycle of habitual reactivity, and that’s more along the lines of what I’m talking about as far as a mindfulness practice. It’s being mindful of the habitual tendencies that we have and then trying to break up that routine just a little bit.

Before going further into this concept, I do want to clarify something from last week’s podcast episode. I think it kind of fits in here with this topic. Some of the feedback I received on this analogy of the bird and kite and discovering which one you are, I received a few emails or a few Facebook messages from people who were saying, “I don’t necessarily agree with this, because what you’re implying is … What about this scenario, where the bird … or the kite is stuck as a kite and can’t ever be a bird, because it’s afraid. Maybe fear or aversion to the fear causes the kite to stay stuck in the state of being a kite and never discovering that it was, indeed, a bird.” I like that notion, and I want to clarify on this a little bit, because there are a couple of things that need to be clear about the comparison.

The first one is the understanding that there’s not a gradual … There’s not a ranking system. It’s not fair to say a kite … or a bird is better than a kite. When a kite realizes it’s a bird, oh man, it becomes even more beautiful. That’s not what we’re saying here, because it’s important to notice that birds are birds and kites are kites. That’s what I’m trying to imply. You could get this across by maybe changing that and comparing apples to oranges. It’s not like, “Oh, an apple, once it becomes an orange, yeah, that’s even more beautiful.” No. They’re just two separate things. Apples are apples. Oranges are oranges. Birds are birds. Kites are kites. But there’s absolutely something to say to this notion of, “What if I’m stuck where I am, and I’m not realizing my true potential because of fear?”

Now, the example I gave last week in the podcast was paramotoring or paragliding, and I think that’s a good example, because it very well may be that there are people out there who will say, “I don’t want to try that. That’s kind of scary” and if they did try it, would realize, “Oh my gosh. This is an incredible feeling. I want to keep doing this.” They would get into the sport and then probably look back and say, “My only regret is that I didn’t do this sooner, and the only reason I didn’t do it sooner was because I couldn’t get past the fear.” That’s a very valid assessment, so I want to clarify that in the topic.

The way we’re talking about these things, that’s something that we need to keep in mind. What we’re trying to decide is what we are. We’re not trying to compare and say, “What’s better, a bird or a kite? Which one am I? Which one do I want to be?” What we’re trying to discover in this whole process is, “What can I learn about myself? What are my fears? Why do I have this fear? What would happen if I overcame this fear? Would I discover this thing that I’ve been afraid of would actually be … open up the door to all these beautiful new experiences?” Yeah. That’s part of the journey.

What I was trying to clarify in last week’s podcast is that some things aren’t for everyone, and that’s a very important thing to know, because the nature of a kite is that it flies because of the string. You cut that string, and what a sad site. Same with the bird. What a sad sight to see a bird tied to, you know, tethered to a string, so it’s important to be willing to spend the time to work past the fears to discover, “Which one am I?” and then to decide. That may take some steps that are scary, like the kite saying, “Well, I’ll experiment and see what this is like without the rope for a minute. Oh. No. I didn’t like that. Going back to the rope.”

Change is inevitable, and I think that’s important to clarify here. Again, going back to the apples and oranges, for the sake of clarifying apples and oranges, there’s a catch. The catch is things are impermanent, so the apple wasn’t always an apple. The apple was once a seed. The seed wasn’t always a seed. The seed was once part of the tree. The tree wasn’t always a tree. Right? And you can go on and on and on, and we’re no different. It’s fair to say I feel like I’m more of a kite than I am a bird, but it may not always be that way, and it may be that it wasn’t always that way, so there’s this element of constant change that we need to factor in here. We’re always exploring, and we’re always looking to understand ourselves more and more.

The point here is that we’re always changing. We’re always trying to figure out what we are, but you never actually get it. We’re a continual process of becoming. I’ve mentioned that before, and when we realize that, we allow ourselves to constantly figure ourselves out, but you never say, “Oh. I did it. I figured it out. I’m a kite.” It’s more along the lines of, “Oh. I figured it out. I think I’m a kite right now,” and that right now may be days. It may be years, but at some point, it may not be the case anymore, and you’re not a kite, or you’re not a bird, or you’re not an apple, or you’re not an orange.

I think holding onto this thought that, “Right now, I’m like this. Right now, I’m like that,” that’s an important part of this, and extending that same flexibility to other people in our lives. “Right now, my partner is like this. Right now, my daughter is like that. My parents are like this,” or … You know? … but recognizing it won’t always be like that. That’s what we’re trying to get at, and giving people that flexibility to be perfectly fine wherever they are, knowing that they may not always be there. I wanted to clarify that a little bit more, but definitely bringing light to this thing that was brought up, which is don’t hide behind your fear and say, “I’m going to be stuck here in this one thing that I’m always going to be and never experience something that could be different or better, because I’m afraid.” A lot of people will do that their whole lives, and if you stay there, then that’s fine. That’s what you are, but could things be better?

This is where I want to correlate all of this back to this embracing rebellion. I think there’s this moment where we question, “This is how things are,” and we ask ourselves, “Could they be better? Could they be different? Could they be more skillful?” and again, highlighting skillful and unskillful here rather than, “Could there be the right way, and I’ve been doing it wrong?” There is no wrong way. There is no right way. There’s how things are, and there’s always the possibility of asking ourselves, “Could things be better?” Whether this is in your job or the dynamics in your relationship, whatever it is, I think it’s possible to pause and say, “Could things be better?” and that’s the act of rebellion here. The rebellion is against the way things have always been and, “Can things be more skillful if I try it this way or that way?” A lot of incredible things have come from these acts of rebellion.

One of the ways to think of rebellion is the act against habitual reactivity, and think about this in terms of what we feel. I think it takes an act of rebellion to not run away from feelings that we normally run away from. It takes an act of rebellion to sit and have a difficult discussion with someone like a partner or a spouse, because the easy thing, the habitual thing is, maybe, I walk away from that. I don’t like how it feels, so I don’t talk about these things, and we shelf … We put those feelings on the shelf for those situations, and we never work through them or get past them. The act of rebellion, the rebel in us is the one that says, “I’m not running anymore. I’m not running away from how these feelings are. I’m going to sit with them and befriend them and become more comfortable with the discomfort that I feel when I’m feeling anger” or whatever the emotion is that you’re working with. That’s the act of rebellion.

Now, this also applies to how we view ourselves. Think about this. It takes a tremendous act of rebellion to stop running away from who we are right now. We’re constantly running towards this version of ourselves that we think we’re going to finally reach, and that version of us is the better version, better than this version. This act of rebellion is recognizing the rebel in us is the one that’s willing to stop and to stop chasing after that future version and to say, “I’m going to befriend and fully accept who I am in this very moment. This is me. This is it. This is who I am, and there’s no need to change anything in my right now.”

Now, don’t get caught up in this thought of not changing, because that isn’t to say, “Well, then, I’m going to be like this forever.” Again, the catch here is recognizing impermanence. Change is already inevitable. It’s going to happen whether we want it to or not, but we can be more skillful with this change by first accepting the, “Well, this is how I am now.” Then, we can say, “Well, now what? What’s next? I can be more skillful.” It’s almost like when I visualize this in me, I try to imagine 20 years from now, whatever that version of me is, here with this version of me right now and walking together along this path of change in life, and they’re friends. The me of the future that’s different from the me of now, they’re friends, and the me of the past, when I recall who I’ve been in the past and things that I thought or things I believed or things that I’ve done, I befriend that version of me and say, “Well, that was me then.”

That’s what I’m talking about with this act of rebellion. I think the conformist in us is always separating. “There’s that me, and I don’t like the old me,” or, “There’s this me, and I don’t like this me, but I will like the future me, you know, once I’ve been to the gym for six months, or once I’ve lost weight, or once I’ve put on muscle, or once I’ve meditated an hour every day for a year, or once I’ve … ” whatever it is. Whatever I think is the better version of me, the rebel says, “No. I’m not playing this game anymore. I’m going to stop running away from who I am, and I’m going to try to befriend who I am.” Think of what an act of rebellion that is. That, to me, is this concept of embracing rebellion.

The other way that I like to think of this concept of embracing rebellion is I think it takes an act of rebellion to really be present in the present moment. Think about this. We miss out on the opportunity of experiencing the beauty of the present moment when our mind is always stuck and thinking that the payoff happens in the future, you know, the payoff is when I have a better job, or when I make more money, or when I finally have the toys that I want, or when my relationship is finally in a more stable condition, or whatever it is. Again, we’re always looking to the future, thinking, “That’s when the payoff will happen, when everything aligns and should be the right way.” I think it takes an act of rebellion to stop that, to stop that thinking and say, “This is it. This is the present moment, the only moment I’ll ever have. It’ll never be like this again.

Sure, it may be unpleasant. It may be pleasant. That’s beyond the fact that it’s unique. This is the only moment we’ve ever had, that this is the only moment I’m experiencing as the present moment.” The source of everything that we’re looking for, whether that be to be more kind, or to be more mindful, or to have more joy and peace in life, whatever it is that we’re looking for, the source of it is found here, in this very second, this very second of this present moment. I think we do ourselves a great disservice when we look ahead for whatever … looking ahead for that thing, looking for that payoff, because we’re going to miss the whole point, and the whole point is that it’s always been here, and it’s always been now, and this is the moment that you have. This is the moment that you’re living for, the moment that you’re alive.

It’s the only guarantee that you have, is that you are existing in this moment with whatever configuration of Tetris pieces life has presented to you. This is it, and it takes an act of rebellion to embrace this present moment and to accept this moment just the way that it is, to accept your bank account as it is, to accept your relationship in the current state that it is, to accept your partner just as they are, or your children, or your siblings, or your parents, life in general, to just see it for a brief moment as, “This is it. Now, what do I do?” Because now, I can look at it and say, “Well, what’s more skillful.?” Again, this is the rebel speaking now, the rebel that says, “This is how it is. Can it be a little bit better? Can it be … Can I make some changes that make this a little bit more skillful?” That’s where the rebel speaks.

This concept is discussed in Robert Wright’s book, Why Buddhism Is True, but it also comes out pretty heavily in another book that I often recommend to people, which is Dzogchen Ponlop’s book called Rebel Buddha. That’s one of the first books that I read when I started studying Buddhism, and I loved the concept of the Rebel Buddha is you. You are the Rebel Buddha. There’s the rebel inside of you that’s wanting to break free from the habitual reactivity that has trapped us for so long, from reacting to the same things in the same way over and over and over.

It’s like the movie Groundhog Day. If you’ve seen that movie, the character’s, or the main character’s reliving that day over and over and over, and he tries every possible combination of living that day. In the end, he discovers that when he accepts that day as it is and learns to love and to be loved just as … without any of those caveats of putting things in the future and that’s the payoff … He gives up the game, and, ironically, it’s by giving up the game that makes the game end. That’s when he wins the game. He gets to wake up, and it’s finally the next day, but that’s us, in a way.

We’re going through life, and it’s like we’re in Groundhog Day and we’re reliving a lot of these same moments, reacting the same way, having aversion to all the same feelings every day. “There’s anger again. I don’t like anger. I’m running from it,” or, “There’s sadness. I’m running from sadness.” We do this over and over and over, day in and day out, and nothing will change until that rebel inside of us says, “I’m not playing this game anymore. I’m tired, and I’m done running away from what I don’t like, and I’m done running towards the things that I think are going to be the things I like,” the clinging. Right? Like, “If I could finally have this or that.” You give up that game, and you say, “This is the life I have. I’m embracing it wholeheartedly. This is who I am. I accept myself wholeheartedly.”

In that moment, the rebel changes the whole game. The rebel in us changes the game, and it’s a beautiful moment. I think that is the essence of enlightenment. I don’t think there’s anything grand or mystical beyond that. I mean, think about it. Think of truly accepting yourself just the way that you are. You would have total peace. You would have total serenity. You would have this total contentment that you see portrayed in this figure of the Buddha sitting there with total serenity in his face. It’s not that he discovered some great secret that, “Oh. I’ve got to go figure that out, too.” It’s not that. I think it’s as simple as this absolute acceptance of, “This is the present moment, and I don’t need any of it to be any different, because I recognize that it will be different whether I want it to or not, so I’m going to accept it the way that it is. I accept myself the way that I am, and now, I can be more skillful with embracing whatever change comes next, because that, we already know, is the inevitable part.”

That’s what I wanted to discuss in today’s podcast episode, this concept of embracing rebellion. I wanted to clarify a little bit from last week’s topic the idea of having patience with ourselves and others. I think it takes a lot of patience to be able to sit with myself in this present moment, this present configuration, however it is, not thinking, “Well, I’m mad. I’m not going to sit with this right now. I’ll wait until I’m happy. Then, I’ll sit with myself.” No. Sit with yourself while you’re mad, while you’re hurt, while you’re in pain. Whatever state that you’re in, that’s the state that you’re in, and that’s the essence of embracing rebellion.

Hopefully, these concepts make sense. Sometimes, I feel like I just jot notes down and then I start rambling, and I hope that it comes out as a cohesive narrative that builds off of past ones and makes sense, because, again, what’s the point of any of this if it’s not practical and pragmatic to effect skillful change in your day to day life. We’re all going through crazy stuff in life, all of us. Everyone’s going through something, and I think it takes an act of rebellion to be able to sit patiently with the life the way it’s configured right now, with the current Tetris pieces that you have. Then, it gives you this tremendous sense of peace, of, “Come what may, I’m not scared anymore, because whatever’s going to come, I’ll figure it out. My faith is in my ability to adapt.” That’s the wisdom of adaptability. That’s what I’m after with this concept and this topic, so hopefully, some of this stuff has made sense to you.

Again, if you are listening to this, and you’re new to the podcast, and you want to learn more about Buddhism, you can check out my book, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners. You can learn more about that on everydaybuddhism.com. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it with others. You can write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. If you want to, to discuss these topics a little bit more, join our online community. You can find that info on secularbuddhism.com/community, and if you want to make a donation to support the work that I’m doing with the podcast, visit secularbuddhism.com, and you can click the donate button there. That’s all I have for now, but, as always, I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for listening. Thank you for being a part of this journey with me, and until next time.

76 – Patience With Ourselves, Others, And Life

What does it mean to be patient with ourselves, others, and life? How do we practice patience? Is Mindfulness practice for everyone? These are a few of the questions and ideas I will explore in this podcast episode. I hope you enjoy this topic and I hope some of this information may be beneficial to you in your day to day lives.

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Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 76. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today, I’m talking about patience, patience with ourselves, others and life. As always, keep in mind, the Dalai Lama’s advice. Do not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are.

I want to share a quick note before jumping into the topic. That’s this question of who is mindfulness for? I recently returned from teaching a mindfulness workshop in a corporate setting in Canada. One of the regular podcast listener, John, shout out to you, John if you’re listening to this episode, reached out to me and ultimately arranged it so that I had the opportunity to go teach mindfulness workshop at the company where he works in Toronto in Canada. It was a really neat experience to be able to go out there and to share these ideas and concepts in a setting that pertains to a corporate setting.

Ultimately, my favorite part of the whole thing was just meeting John in general. Meeting him and his family, meeting him in person, and kind of developing that friendship and realizing … We were sitting on the back-patio furniture visiting one of the days after the workshop and it was just fun to think of every single event that has taken place in my life and in his life that led to that moment to be there sitting like we were friends, like we’ve known each other this whole time. It was just a really neat experience and I love moments like that, opportunities like that to be able to interact with somebody. To be able to have, as John would say, to have worlds collide. It’s a really cool experience.

But anyway, during that week in Toronto, it’s always interesting to be able to teach mindfulness to people who sign up for a mindfulness workshop, is one thing. Because everyone who’s there is wanting to learn these concepts. That’s why they’re there. But when you teach it in another setting, like in a corporate setting where it’s presented as maybe one of multiple options during the workshop, you may just sign up because it was the, I don’t know, could have been the least boring of the options presented to you.

Sure enough, during this workshop, there were people who were very fascinated with the topic. And there were others who were in the workshop who were just kind of there probably thinking, “What is all this stuff and what is this? Why does any of this matter to me?” At one point and one of the workshops, I brought this up and I wanted to highlight it here, which is the fact that who is mindfulness for? It’s not for everyone. That’s that’s the simple truth. I share it because I gain a significant amount of joy and contentment from my practice, from mindfulness practice, and others do too. When I share it tonight and I share these concepts, a lot of people benefit from it.

It should go without saying that none of this has ever been preached as, “Hey, you need this. You need mindfulness in your life.” Some people do, but this isn’t something that you can compel on to someone, the practice of being mindful. I like to equate this to my other hobby, because I have two main hobbies or practices. One of them is practicing mindfulness, and that’s why I have a podcast, I’ve written some books, and I’m involved in this space because I enjoy it. The other one is paragliding. I spend a lot of time flying and paramotoring. I recognize that it’s not for everyone.

If someone were to say, “Hey, this hobby you have that brings you so much joy, I guess I need to get into it.” I would say, “Well, are you afraid of heights?” And if they say yes, then I’d say, “Well, then don’t do it. Why on earth would you get into this hobby, if you’re afraid of heights?” Because I understand that it’s not for everyone. I think mindfulness is the same. It’s not for everyone. It can absolutely benefit everyone who practices it. Anyone who practices can benefit from it. But that doesn’t mean that everyone has to do it. In the same way that I would say, if you’re afraid of heights, why would you ever get into paragliding? I would say if you’re not interested in being more mindful in your life, why on earth would you want to get into this practice?

It should never be forced onto others. One of the books that I really enjoyed on Buddhism by Gyomay Kubose, he wisely said, “Never preach Buddhism.” This was emphasized through his son who taught the lay ministry program that I did. The two-year program. But he always emphasized that. Don’t preach Buddhism. This is why, because it’s not for everyone. Why would you preach something, when … What is there that is truly applicable to anyone? I would say never preach mindfulness. Maybe never preach anything. I never preached paragliding to anyone.

I share the joy that I get in the sport, and sometimes people will say, “Hey, I want to learn to do that. How can I learn? Where do I go?” And they get into the sport and then later they’re like, “Man, this is the coolest hobby I’ve ever had. Thanks for getting me into the sport.” I’ve had the same thing happened with mindfulness where I’m sharing what I enjoy and what’s worked for me, and others will benefit from it and they’ll email me and say, “I’m so glad that you that you started this podcast or that you shared this or that topic, because it’s had such a profound impact on me in my life and the circumstances that I’m in.” I think that’s wonderful and it’s great. But that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.

Just keep that in mind. I’m not preaching about patience in this podcast episode, even though the topic is on patience. Again, this podcast episode is not implying that you need to be more patient with yourself, with others and with life in general. No, instead, this topic is it’s as all the topics, it’s meant to be an invitation to be more aware about ourselves and to understand ourselves a little bit more. With that caveat, with that intro, let’s jump into the topic.

First, I want to talk a little bit about patience. What is it? If you Google it, according to Google, patience has the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. I think that starts to define it. But to really understand that, I think we need to do a little bit more digging, a little more research. So, other definitions. The Merriam Webster dictionary’s definition is remaining steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity. I think that’s getting closer to the mark with how I understand patience in the context of mindfulness practice. Because couldn’t that be the very definition of meditation as a practice? Could it be that meditation is the heart of practicing patience? It’s remaining steadfast despite difficulty.

Now think about sitting meditation. You sit there and no matter how good you are or how long you’ve been practicing it, if you sit there long enough, at some point, you experience difficulty. Your legs start to fall asleep, your lower back starts to hurt, you may start thinking about all the millions of other things that you could be doing instead of sitting here. All these things start to arise. This is the practice of well, now that these feelings or thoughts and emotions are rising, what do I do with that? Do I remain steadfast in my intent to sit with it? Or, do I succumb to the discomfort and say, “Well, I don’t want to be uncomfortable, so I’m going to get up and be done with this.”

In some ways, I think that’s a huge benefit of practicing sitting meditation. Although I will elaborate on that a little bit more further in the discussion here. The Oxford Dictionary defines patience as being able to accept or tolerate delays, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious. I actually like that one even more. If you think of patience as the art of not being angry when difficulties arise, I don’t think that quite hits it. Because you can be angry and sit there and not act on that anger. And are you really being patient or are you just putting on the image of being patient? This Oxford dictionary’s definition of it makes it a little bit more difficult, because it’s saying without becoming annoyed or anxious. Can I sit here with this emotion or with this difficulty in my life, and not be annoyed? I can’t fake that right? If I’m annoyed, I’m annoyed. Sure, I may not act on the feeling of being annoyed, but I cannot fake whether or not I’m annoyed. That gives us something to work with.

I want to share a thought that comes from Pema Chödrön from the book that I’ve been sharing little quotes from on our Facebook page. This is one that I shared earlier this week, where she says patience is the antidote. And quoting, Pema says, “Patience is the antidote to anger, a way to learn to love and care for whatever we meet on the path. By patience, we do not mean endurance, as in grin and bear it. In any situation, instead of reacting suddenly, we could chew it, smell it, look at it, and open ourselves to seeing what’s there. The opposite of patience is aggression, the desire to jump and move to push against our lives to try to fill up space. The journey of patience involves relaxing, opening to what’s happening, experiencing a sense of wonder.”

With that in mind, some of the additional thoughts I would add to that quote, I love that she clarifies that patience does not mean endurance or grin and bear it. I think that endurance stuff, it’s often a form of habitual reactivity. And we need to be patient with the discomfort that arises from the difficulties that we deal with in life and with ourselves and with other people. So, I know for me in my own personal life, I have the tendency to avoid conflict. I’ve never enjoyed it, I’ve always been uncomfortable with conflict. So, it’s easy for me to just kind of sit it out, instead of confronting a situation that may cause confrontation to arise. I find myself in during or grinning and bearing it often when I’m dealing with a difficult experience, simply because I’m not patient enough to skillfully work with whatever discomfort arises in me regarding that situation.

I think this can be common with our interactions with people. Relationships that we’re in with partners and spouses or siblings or the neighbor. Something needs to be brought up, but I won’t bring it up because I’m not comfortable with how confrontation makes me feel. So, my habitual reactivity is non-confrontation. So, we don’t want to grin and bear it when it comes to the important things in life. Instead, we can patiently work with these difficulties. Understanding them, opening up to the feelings that arise in the situation. Ultimately, this allows us to be more skillful with how we deal with it.

This way of thinking for me in my own life was a radical shift when I realized that my form of habitual reactivity is often to not react. That is my reaction, is to not react. I’m not going to say this, I’m not going to bring that up because I don’t want this to make you uncomfortable and things of that nature. I always thought, “Well, that’s just because I’m patient,” but it’s not. It was actually the opposite. It’s I’m not patient enough to deal with the discomfort that this is going to cause, so my form of habitual reactivity is to not react and now I don’t have to deal with it. That’s not being patient and that’s what is being highlighted in this podcast episode, and in that quote that I just shared by Pema. What if we flip the script and realize patients might not be what I think it is?

Often, the act of grinning and bearing it is indeed the opposite of patience. Patience and difficulties, what if we learned to start moving towards the difficulties with the definition of being steadfast despite the difficulties? I really like that and I kind of want to play off of that for a minute. Because we seem to have this idea that something is wrong with us, something is wrong with other people, something is wrong with life in general. And often with ourselves, it’s that I’m not the right weight, or I’m not the right height, or my skin is not the right complexion, or my personality is not ideal. I don’t have the level of patience or kindness that I should have.

In this way, we’re kind of presented with this weird idea that something’s wrong with us. There’s a version of me that could be better. We think this way about other people too, right? And we think about life this way. Life is not right, because it’s too noisy, or it’s too quiet, or it’s too hot, or too cold, or too windy, or not windy enough. We’re always comparing the way things are to the way we think things should be. So, we find ourselves continually trying to reach the right way. The right configuration for life or for ourselves or for others. That configuration is the one that will finally make everything better or at least more bearable.

What we’re learning through Buddhist practices, through Buddhist teachings, and through mindfulness, is that we’re learning about minimizing this constant comparison of how things are in the present moment, to how we think things should be. We do that by just learning to sit with how things are. I think the habitual tendency is to make these comparisons. Again, not that it’s wrong to make these comparisons. I want to emphasize this. I’ve mentioned it before in previous podcast episodes, but our ability to compare how things are and to aspire for things to be better is what’s brought about incredible things in life. Technology and inventions and all these things arise because of this. So, it’s not that this is a bad thing.

But I think it’s important to understand that this is a natural tendency that we have at least as humans, which brings about a lot of progress. But we’re also going to pay the price for it. Because it makes it so that in some ways, we’re really never content. We’re never happy because we’re always comparing. Again, this mindfulness practice is not about eliminating that, it’s not about eliminating the thought of how things could be. It’s more about focusing and practicing increasing the awareness of how things are right now in the present moment without the judgment and without the comparison. This implies that it’s more of an invitation to move towards the difficulties that we face in our lives rather than running away from them, because we’re trying to understand these things more.

This takes a lot of practice. That’s why it’s called mindfulness practice. To sit with the discomfort of running towards the difficulties and to remain steadfast despite the difficulty. I think it’s important to understand that this path that we’re on, practicing mindfulness, is the goal of mindfulness. The path itself is the goal. There’s no final destination where, “Oh, I finally conquered it and I’m done. I did it. I’m mindful now, from now on and forever.” It doesn’t work that way. We’re always on the path, and the path is always changing. Again, this is why I use the analogy of Tetris so often. You never finish the game of Tetris. It’s not like you can rest between levels and say, “Okay, I did it. I completed this level and I am moving on to the next one.” The game doesn’t work that way. The nature of the game is it goes on and on and on and on.

And so it is with our lives, isn’t it? Our lives, the lives of others, life in general, it’s about learning to keep going and seeing that the journey itself is the goal. I think when we start to see life this way, we begin to understand that everything that occurs along the path, along that journey is an invitation for us. It’s an invitation to wake up, to learn, to grow, to change, to feel alive. And our difficult emotions and our conflicting thoughts and our painful experiences in life, well, those are all part of the journey too. They’re all part of the Tetris pieces.

So, what can this all start to look like? I want to break it up into three key areas like the title of the podcast says. First, patience towards others. What can that look like? I want you to try to visualize this in your own life. What would it look like? What would it feel like to truly accept others without becoming annoyed about how they are now. like comparing them to how we think they should be? What would that feel like? I understand as a parent, that my kids now are not who they were a year or two ago. And they’re certainly not who they will be when they are teenagers or adults. I try to see them in this light, this understanding that I’m always given them the flexibility of who they’re going to be, knowing that they’re constantly changing. And the version of them that I have in my life right now is impermanent.

I try to do this with adults too. I try to understand that the adults in my life, my friends and siblings and parents and co-workers and everyone that I interact with, they’re not the same people that they’re going to be a year from now or two years from now. Sure, some of them may change minimally, some of them may change drastically going through completely life altering experiences, changes of political views, changes in their religious views. There can be some pretty drastic changes and people’s lives, and where it’s very clear to see this is not the same person as before.

I find it helpful to view people in that present moment with that lens of permission to change, because I understand that they’re always changing and I don’t know how they’re going to change or how much they’ll change, but I know that change is inevitable. I detect often in myself the feeling of wanting others to understand me and to validate my way of understanding the world, my world views. I recognize that that’s an impossible task. It simply cannot be achieved. It’s helpful for me to know that, because I try to remind myself to be patient with how others perceive me because they’re perceiving me through their unfiltered lens. And that’s helpful to know.

Patience toward life in general. Again, what would it look like or feel like to be able to accept life just as it is? To really look around and start to see the Tetris pieces that pop up and recognize the discomfort that certain pieces bring to our lives, and then to be able to remain steadfast despite the difficult emotions that arise with some of those pieces. Again, that’s the very definition of patience. When it comes to life, remember, just like Pema said, we don’t have to grin and bear it. We can try to be skillful to do what we can, where we can, when we can to make things better for ourselves and for others, but it takes a lot of practice and it takes skill to do that.

To me, again, this is the invitation that’s constantly being echoed here to become a better whatever you already are. I think it’s helpful to remember in life, difficulties arise. It’s a part of the journey and we can try to learn to handle these difficulties with as much skill as possible, while at the same time knowing that sometimes life is going to feel like it’s not okay. Sometimes it takes patience to recognize that it’s okay to feel that it’s not okay. We don’t practice this with the intent of, “Oh, I’m going to accept everything as it is and nothing will ever bother me.” That’s not how it works. The very nature of reality as things change, and when they do, these difficulties arise, and when they do, I don’t like how it feels to experience it and I can stop there. I can just sit with the discomfort, which to me is the very practice of patience rather than getting caught up in the feeling that I have about the discomfort.

This is an unpleasant feeling and I don’t like that I’m feeling what I’m feeling. I can work with that. But if I’m just feeling the discomfort of the situation, I may not be able to deal with that. That’s just how I feel. And that’s what we’re practicing with mindfulness. You’re learning to sit with whatever arises, whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant, whether it feels good or doesn’t feel good. You just sit with it and you observe it. In that way, you’re kind of learning to be friend yourself. To me, that’s where the patience toward yourself fits in. This is the core of what a lot of these practices and teachings are about, developing a sense of patience towards the person that I think often we’re least patient with, and that’s ourselves.

What would it feel like to be able to truly accept ourselves just the way that we are without getting caught up in the moral judgment that the present version of me is somehow superior or inferior to a past or a future version of myself? The thought that perhaps a more physically fit version of me in the future, somehow that’s a better me than this me, or a more mindful me. If I practice this mindfulness long enough and hard enough, I’ll one day be mindful, and that me is actually better than this me right now that still gets angry and loses my temper. Again, this is an act of aggression that we inflict on ourselves towards ourselves.

I think it’s helpful at this point to remember acceptance is not the same thing as resignation. This is not about resigning to the fact that oh this is how I am and I’ll never be fit or I guess I’ll never be kind enough or mindfulness or smart enough or something like that. This is about remembering that we’re constantly changing, and this allows us to feel the invitation that we can try to become more introspective and understand that about ourselves, and to more skillfully navigate that constant change that we’re undergoing. It’s like we’re this constant continual process of becoming, but we never actually become something. We do, but in the context of impermanence, it happens now and then it’s gone again, because you’re always becoming something new, something different. And each version of ourselves changes as we learn more, as we experience certain events in life, as we age, in a physical way.

I think age is a great way to visualize this, because you never finish. As long as you’re alive, you’re aging. That’s the whole point. But you can just pause it and be like, “Okay, I’ve aged to this point and this is where I want to stay.” And yet we act that way. We wish we could stay in our prime forever, but we can’t. You get there and then you keep going. And then you get there to where that is, and you keep going, and you keep going. Just like Tetris, it goes and goes and goes until the game is over. I think it’s helpful to keep that in mind that we’re always changing, always learning, adapting to the game of Tetris with each new piece that shows up. That is the practice. That’s the practice of understanding that the journey of change is the goal. We never reach the final configuration where we say, “Okay, we’re done, I don’t need a change anymore.” That’s the practice. Adapting, and changing, and learning and unlearning, and going with the flow. Going with the flow of the game.

That’s the concept I wanted to share. I hope you’ll take some time to really think about these concepts, to ask yourself, “Am I patient with others? Am I patient with life?” Perhaps the most important one of all, “Am I patient with myself? Could I be more patient with myself and how would I practice that?” I think patience with ourselves is a great place to start with a practice. The more patient I am with myself and with the thoughts and feelings and emotions that arise in me, the more skilled I become with practicing patience towards others and towards life. And that’s mindfulness practice, is exactly that. It’s the practice that you practice, practice, practice, but you never get there. Because the practice itself is the goal.

So, keep that in mind as for those of you who do practice mindfulness, for those of you who do like to sit in meditation. Meditating and sitting there is that practice. It’s not like, “I’m going to sit here until I can finally say, I am super comfortable meditating.” I don’t know. If you’re like me, and you’ve been practicing, I’ve been practicing for 10 years. It’s not like suddenly, oh, this is easy. I could just sit here. It’s the same battle every time. I’m sitting here, and I don’t want to sit here. I’m feeling this, and I don’t want to feel this. I want to feel that. But what I’m becoming better at is just sitting with that. Sitting with that feeling of not wanting to feel what I’m feeling. What does that like? What happens when you befriend whatever arises?

Oftentimes, what arises is discomfort or some form of difficulty, and you allow to be there. The same way that you would, if it was something pleasant that arises. A pleasant thought or a pleasant feeling, you let it sit there too.

That’s what I wanted to share, and that’s what I have for this topic. If you want to learn more about general Buddhist concepts and teachings, you can always check out my book No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners: 60 Questions and answers around Buddhist history and concepts and teachings and practices. You can learn about that by visiting everydaybuddhism.com.

If you enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others. You can write a review, give it a rating in iTunes, or you can also visit our online community, secularbuddhism.com/community to find the Facebook group and join us there. We often continue the discussion around these episodes or just other discussions in general.

And as always, if you’d like to make a donation to support the work that I’m doing with the podcast, feel free to visit secularbuddhism.com, click the Donate button. That’s all I have for now. I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for your time and for listening. And, until next time.

75 – Everyday Buddhism Podcast Interview

This podcast episode is the audio of a recent interview I did on the Everyday Buddhism podcast with my friend Wendy. If you enjoy this podcast episode, check out the Everyday Buddhism Podcast on your favorite podcasting app or visit everyday-buddhism.com

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74 – Goals, Relationships, and Non-Attachment

If we’re practicing non-attachment, how should we approach things like goals and relationships? Should we avoid such things? I don’t think so. Goals are great and so are relationships. So how should we approach goals and relationships in the context of non-attachment? These are the ideas I will explore in this podcast episode.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 74. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today, I’m talking about goals, relationships, and non-attachment. Quick reminder, the Dalai Lama once said, “Do not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are.” Before I jump into this podcast episode, I want to give you a couple of quick updates. First of all, I’m excited to announce that the podcast has now officially had over 2 million downloads, which is an exciting milestone, considering that this started out as a fun experiment. The podcast is being downloaded all over the world, and that’s exciting for me to see and to know that the topics and the ideas that are shared through the podcast are being well received and benefiting people all over the place. So that’s exciting for me, and I wanted to share that with you and to say thank you to all of you who listen to the podcast, especially those who listen regularly. I know many of you have been listening from the very beginning and have followed along with all of the episodes. It’s just been a really exciting journey, and I want to thank each of you for being a part of that journey with me. So that’s the first update.

The second update is concerning upcoming workshops. One of the goals that I have for later this year, the first goal is to make my workshop, the workshop that I’ve been putting on in person for several years now, the Introduction to Mindfulness … It’s kind of a Buddhism 101 or a Mindfulness 101 type workshop. The only way I’ve been able to do that in the past is to go somewhere and to host this in person, and I’ve had the goal and the plan for quite some time now to be able to host an online version of it that would be available for free and available for any time that you could take it at your own pace and on your own time. That, to me, is really important. It’s like a workshop version of the book. It’s why I put that book out there, because I feel like understanding the foundational concepts and teachings of Buddhism is really important as a first step to being able to understand a lot of the topics that are discussed in the podcast. It all starts with understanding the background of this way of thinking first. So that is a workshop that you can expect to see at some point, hopefully not too distant in the future.

Along with that, this is the exciting part, I’ve wanted to make that workshop available so that I could spend time doing other, more specialized workshops and more specialized topics. The first in this series that I’ve been experimenting with is my idea is to partner with someone who’s an expert in a specific field or topic and then co-present mindfulness in that field. For example, the mindful eating workshop that I’ve been doing with Paige Smathers. She’s an expert in nutrition. Partnering with her and talking about mindful eating has been really fun, and that’s a workshop that was really well received. We’re doing another one, and that’s been exciting. I hope to eventually have an online version of that. The other topics I want to do are mindful parenting. I have an exciting possible partnership in the works from someone who reached out that is an expert in parenting. I think that would be really fun, to have a series of topics, whether it be on the podcast or workshops—I’d like to make these more workshop-based—on mindful parenting, introducing these concepts of mindfulness and the latest information on best parenting.

Then, another one on relationships. So those are the three that I have in the works right now—mindful eating, mindful parenting, and eventually mindful relationships. Again, partnerships between myself and someone who’s an expert in that specific field, but presenting these ideas through the lens of mindfulness, through the lens of Buddhist thinking. So you can look forward to that and look for more information on that. I’ll be posting it. I’ll be mentioning it on the podcast when those things come to fruition.

So now, let’s just jump into this topic real quick—goals, relationships, and non-attachment. I want to bring this up, because it does seem to be a recurring topic. I get emails all the time about advice or questions about how can mindfulness help me with relationships, for example? How should I feel about the attraction I have to my partner or my spouse? Is it wrong to feel that sense of attraction or the desire to be with this person? Should I let go or be unattached to them? Questions of that nature. Same with goals. It comes up with goals all the time. Should I not have goals? Does going with the flow mean you don’t set any goals, and you’re just figuring out the game of life as Tetris as it comes? Is it pointless to have goals? I know that I’ve clarified this in a few different podcast episodes, specifically the one on non-attachment, but I do want to talk about this one more time, specifically in the context of goals and relationships, with a little bit of insight into my own approach and my own life stories and how this has been relevant for me, this concept of non-attachment, when applied to goals and relationships.

So that is the topic for today’s podcast episode. I want to start out talking about goals. The idea with goals, goals are great. Goals give us a sense of direction. There’s nothing wrong with goals. The idea of non-attachment, again, as I’ve said various times, is not detachment. It’s not detachment from things. Non-attachment is less about letting go of something and more about letting go of the death grip. You can still have a grip on things. Rather than thinking of it as non-attachment, just reframe it and think of this as the wisdom of adaptability. All of this makes sense in the context of things being impermanent. When you think about it from that angle, if things are impermanent, what does that say about goals? It just means adapt with the goals when the time comes to adapt. Now, you see this in business all the time. Companies that are not capable of adapting go under. You can think of Kodak with film. Think of Blockbuster. Think of, I guess most recently, Toys ‘R’ Us. In every industry, you have change. Change is the constant, right? The ones that can adapt survive. The ones that don’t adapt don’t survive. They eventually go under.

The idea of goals is absolutely have goals if you want to have goals. Just know that you’ve got to be ready to make the changes necessary to those goals when Tetris throws you a new shape. For example, in my own life, one of my goals early on in a career, for example, is I wanted to be a helicopter pilot. That’s always been a childhood dream of mine. Now, it’s still a possibility, although very unlikely, because it’s not high on my priority list anymore, but at one point, it was, to the point where I signed up for flight school. I paid for flight school, and I was well under way with this career path and this goal to be a helicopter pilot. Specifically, my goal was to be a Life Flight pilot or a Coast Guard rescue pilot. I don’t know why. That’s always been a dream of mine. So I found myself in this situation about six or seven months into this process of being in flight school. I had already finished my … The first stage is getting your private pilot’s license. Then, you have to go on to get an instrument rating, which allows you to fly in bad weather conditions or, I guess more appropriately, without seeing. If you want to fly without seeing, you need an instrument rating, so flying at night or flying in storms.

Then, after that, you need to get your commercial. The order can switch around, but you need your commercial license next to be able to work as a pilot. So those are the three requirements, but there’s a typical fourth requirement, which is to become a flight instructor. Your first job is usually going to be to be a flight instructor, and that’s where you build up your hours. You can’t teach if you’re not a flight instructor. Furthermore, if you want to be competitive in the space of being a flight instructor, you should be an instrument-rated flight instructor, so that’s a fifth rating. Now we’ve got private, commercial, instrument, flight instructor, and then instrument flight instructor. Those were five different ratings that I needed to achieve just to get started in the career to build up my hours towards this goal that I had. Each of those certifications, for me, was going to be a milestone in my career path.

I achieved the first one. I got my private license. Around that time, the flight school I was going to went bankrupt. Literally overnight. It surprised everyone. Some of you may have heard about it. It was on the news, because it was a nationwide chain of flight schools that just went under overnight. To get into the flight school, you have to pre-pay it, so I had already paid for my requirements, all five of these things that I was going to do, and the school went under. I had no way to do anything about it. They went bankrupt. The money, the school had it, but the bank funded it, so it’s like a student loan through a bank, like a private student loan. I was out, but the bank was also out. They weren’t going to allow us to just not repay that loan, because they felt that they had been victims of this circumstance, as well. It became a long, drawn-out battle. In the end, this is a loan that I’m still paying. I’ll be paying it for many, many more years.

At this point, this is life happening. There’s the shape that shows up. This is Tetris that’s happening. I had to decide what is the more skillful thing. Do I adapt the goal, or do I persist with the goal? Now, at first, I said, “I am going to do this, or I’m going to die trying,” because I was determined to be a helicopter pilot, and that’s exactly what I did. I moved to a new state, enrolled in a new school, took out a new loan. So here I was, going for round two, paying for this program all over again thinking that maybe the legal system would side with me and forgive the student loans for the first school because it went bankrupt. I took that gamble, I took that risk, and I started over again with a new flight school. I finished my instrument rating and my commercial requirements. I was thinking, okay, there’s three out of the five, but around that point, I had run out of money. I had already paid for this program once. That’s a lot of money. The second time, I borrowed enough to get through each milestone one at a time, but I realized I was in this very serious predicament at that point.

I couldn’t keep borrowing, because I still owed so much. By then, I think a year had gone by, and I realized there was going to be no forgiveness of the first loan, the student loan. So I was stuck, and I had to decide how do I do this. I still needed my instructor rating and my instrument instructor rating. I assessed the situation, and I realized all those pilots, especially the flight instructors from the school that went bankrupt, they were all out there looking for the same jobs I was going to try to get. It was horrible timing in the industry to try to be a helicopter pilot, especially an instructor. They had more hours. Some of them had experience already teaching at the school that had gone under. I think it was 500 locations nationwide. I decided at that point it was unhealthy for me to persist with that goal and it was time to, for this wisdom of adaptability. Now I wish I would have adapted a little earlier. I wish I would have decided soon as the first one went under, I’m going to cool down a bit and just think about this and see what happens. Give it some time and then decide.

But I didn’t. I was stubborn that I was going to go forward and I dug my hole even deeper because now I owed the first school, plus all the student loans I took out for the second school. So long story short, in my situation, I eventually had to adapt the goal. The goal is no longer to be a helicopter pilot. It was, you know, it morphed into things like get a second job so I can one day pay off this loan. That became a new goal. And all of these situations were changing and I was being forced to adapt with them. Now many years have passed since this all went down and I’ve since gotten back into flying. Some of you know, that I’m a paraglider pilot and a para-motor pilot, which is a much more affordable way to satisfy the itch of flying if anyone of you are thinking about that.

So my goal has adapted and here I find myself at this stage in life with different goals. I have goals to do with work and finances and career. You know, my goal is to have a form of income that is stable and a form of passive income. That’s what I’m accomplishing with the books that I’ve written and these workshops that I’m going to be producing. Not free ones obviously, but the more specialized ones. I’ve been doing mindfulness retreats with corporations, visiting the workplace and teaching meditation and mindfulness there that, that is another form of income that I’m bringing in. So I have that, these goals that center around finances. I have goals that center around my hobbies. One of the more recent ones, it’s a 12-month goal, but my goal is to become a certified flight instructor, to be able to teach people to para-motor and to paraglide.

And that has several milestones between now and then, certain certificates that I need to achieve, certain amount of hours, certain styles of flight that I need to learn to do. So what I’m trying to get at with all of this is I have a lot of goals and I’m always assessing my goals and I’m always deciding, is this right or does it need to change?

But the difference now versus earlier stages of my life is I view my goals with a sense of fluidity with this, what I like to say, the wisdom of adaptability. So I’m always asking myself, is this, is this the most skillful goal to have right now? And if it is, I’m still working really hard towards it, but when it’s not, because the combination of shapes in the game of Tetris life has changed, I change with it and I say, “Oh, maybe that’s not the best goal. Oh, but this other thing could be a goal.” Boom, the goal switches. But I always have goals.

So what I’m trying to say is I don’t think that we need to approach the idea of goals and non-attachment and say, oh, I shouldn’t have any goals. I’m not attached to my goals. What we should be doing is saying, “I do have goals, but I understand that life changes.” So I’m always evaluating my goals. That to me is the healthy way. That’s the non-attached way of having goals. I’m not attached to them permanently. It’s only in the context of the present moment and present circumstances that these goals make sense and the moment that that changes, if, and when that changes, how flexible am I to adapt with them to, to not necessarily to eliminate the goal, but maybe it’s just a matter of tweaking the goal, change this, add that eliminate this part of the goal, you know, we can adjust our goals in the same way that life is constantly adjusting.

And that would be a non-attached way of having goals. Now, again, if you use business as an example, I think that’s the perfect example. Businesses that adapt to the trends and the technology that evolve within their industry, they survive. Now, it would be silly of us to say, oh, these companies that are thriving, they don’t have any goals, they’re going with the flow. That’s not it. They absolutely have goals and milestones and things they’re trying to achieve, but they’re adapting with life as life changes with the industry as the industry changes.

So that’s what I have to say about goals and non-attachment. Absolutely have goals. It’s fine to have goals, just don’t be attached to them permanently. Be attached to them in the context of right here, right now in this configuration of the game of Tetris. But as soon as a new shape shows up, I’m going to ask myself, “Is this still the skillful way to approach this goal?” If it is, keep going. If it’s not, change it, change the goal, adapt the goal. Sometimes you may even have to discard the goal entirely and write down a whole new goal, give it a new direction.

Okay? So the next aspect of this is with relationships. And I want to start this one out with a quote that’s often attributed to the Buddha. And I think this is … it’s funny because a 90% of the goals are of the quotes you’re going to hear out there about anything attributed to the Buddha. They’re usually not real quotes from the Buddha, and this is definitely one of those. So some of you may have come across this one, and there are variations of it, but this is the one I came across: when you like a flower, you just pluck it. But when you love a flower, you water it daily. One who understands this and understands life.

And that’s a quote that circulates on the Internet that’s attributed to the Buddha. So first, let me be clear, that is not a Buddha quote. I don’t know. I don’t know who said it. It’s a great sentiment. I don’t know who said it, but it definitely was not the Buddha. So with relationships, think about that when, when you, the difference between liking a flower and plucking and putting it there on your table versus loving a flower and saying, I want this thing to thrive. I’ll leave it planted and water it. Those are two very different approaches. And I think it’s a good example to how we view our relationships, is the relationship set up in a way to please me? That’s the liking part of it.

Or if I love this relationship and this person, am I doing what benefits the, you know, the partner or the spouse or whoever their relationship is with? Those are two different approaches. Again, I want to correlate this to impermanence because I  believe that non-attachment or at least the idea of non-attachment, it arises naturally when we have proper perspective and the ever-changing nature of reality or impermanence. When we see that, when we see reality as constantly changing, instead of focusing on the goal of saying I need to not be attached or to practice non-attachment. Don’t think of it that way. Instead, think my goal is to try to see impermanence more clearly, to see impermanence in everything. When I see impermanence in the nature of my relationships, non-attachment in my relationship will arise naturally.

There’s a zen story. I believe it’s a zen story or a Zen teaching. Where, we’re given the task of trying to see someone. I think in this teaching specifically, it’s referring to a way of combating lust. So if you, if you feel this, a lustful attraction to someone to try to imagine that person in various configurations like being old, specifically being old, wrinkly skin, withered, maybe in a wheelchair or using a walker or sick, this person is now sick and they’re bedridden.

And the idea here is try to see them in other circumstances, and notice what that does to that attraction. Are you simply attracted to them because of how they look right now? You know, what happens when they look different, what happens when the configuration changes, when the Tetris shapes evolve, what happens to that relationship?

And the invitation here, I believe is that when you’re capable of seeing the other pieces, potential pieces of the puzzle, perhaps you could say the inevitable pieces of that puzzle and how it’s going to change, you can see a little bit more clearly your attraction to that person.

So seeing the changing circumstances of your goals and dreams and relationships I think can be a really helpful practice. You can play with different scenarios and see what happens to the relationship that you have with that person. For example, with a spouse or a partner or someone you’re attracted to, play this game and imagine, okay, what if they were suddenly in a wheelchair or what if they were … they’ve gotten old and they can’t go to the bathroom on their own and I’ve got to bathe them, or you know, all these things, a lot of these things are inevitable situations in a relationship that will eventually happen.

So the idea with this is you start to place yourself in these other circumstances and say,  is this still the person that I would want to be within all these other configurations of potential relationships? Because if you find that you’re not interested in any other scenario other than this one, where this is this attractive person that I want to be with right now, then that gives you the ability to pause and think, “Hmm, what’s wrong with this picture? This is dangerous.” Because the inevitable fact of life is that things will change and when they do, then what?

So with relationships, the idea of non-attachment, the way I see this in my own relationship is I try to picture different scenarios, you know, what would our life be like if we were going through bankruptcy, for example.

If we were really struggling financially, I try to picture myself in these situations. What would that dynamic be like? What would the dynamic be like if I had to care much more for her physically because let’s say she, again, using the example of what if she became paralyzed or she was confined to a wheelchair or things of that nature? I play these scenarios out in my head and I try to … I do the same backwards thinking, “Huh? What would happen if that happened to me?” You know? At what point would I feel like, “Oh no, I’m, I’m a hindrance to her.” Is that going to affect the way that I perceive that she perceives the relationship?

And again, there’s no right or wrong answer here. You’re just exploring scenarios and you want to do that because that’s the guarantee in life, right? Is that whatever scenario you’ve got played out, well, hold it for a minute because in a minute it changes, and you’re going to have a new scenario.

I try to imagine the scenario, the dynamic in our relationship right now as it evolves or revolves around our three young children. Well, what about when the three are teenagers? And one of them’s rebellious and has a lot of conflict with one of us, maybe her or me. What’s that going to do to our relationship or what about when the three are grown up and they’re out of the house? What’s our dynamic going to be like then? I try to play all these scenarios in my head because I want to have a healthy perspective of reality, and the reality is I don’t know which of those scenarios it’ll be. But it could be any of them, and what I have found for me is it develops this sense of comfort with the uncertainty. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but here’s what I do know. This is what it is. And I feel much more content, a sense of contentment with how it is because this is how it is. At least I know this is how it is. I don’t know how it’ll be. It could be much better in the future. It could be much worse in the future. The point is I don’t know, but I do know how it is right now, and I’m happy with how it is right now. That’s what it does for me when I think of it like that in that setting.

Again, nonattachment isn’t saying hey, you shouldn’t have relationships. Quit falling in love. Give up everyone. Don’t have friends. It’s not saying any of that. It’s saying cherish everything the way that it is right now. Maybe cherish isn’t the right word. Find contentment with how things are because how things are, there’s certainty in that right now. I know that’s how things are. They could be better. They could be worse. But right now, it’s like this. And that’s an expression I’ve used before in other podcast episodes. Right now, it’s like this. Whatever this is, it doesn’t matter, the good, the bad, the pleasant or unpleasant aspect of that. That’s not the point. The point is this is what it is. And that’s what I have to work with.

So I would say in terms of relationships and this concept of nonattachment, think of that and don’t be attached to how I think the relationship should be. Instead, focus on how the relationship is. Another small example of this in my own dynamic, in my own relationship, I’ve often heard this I guess a myth almost, that in relationships, the more you have in common, the more healthy the relationship is going to be, and I have found in my own experience that’s simply not true to a certain degree. My wife and I have different political views. We have different religious views. We have different philosophical views of the world. On a lot of these bigger topics that some would say are destined to be doomed if there’s no compatibility, we somehow have broken that mold, and it’s working somehow. That’s not to say it could be better if things were more compatible. It could be worse. I don’t know. The point is I don’t know.

I find a tremendous sense of contentment with how things are right now. That for me has been important in my relationship. I feel like that’s the nonttached aspect of my approach to our relationship. I don’t feel the need to change her. If she views it this way or that way, and I don’t understand how someone could view it this way or that way, that’s fine. That’s just how she views it. And I don’t have a sense of attachment to this would all be better if she just viewed it all the way I view. That to me is a form of attachment in a relationship, wanting the other to be how I think the other should be. That is a sense of attachment. Nonattachment, again, like the flower, right? I don’t need to pluck that flower and put it over here in this vase because the vase is where the flower needs to be. It’s saying the flower is where the flower is. If it’s already in the vase, that’s where it is. How do I make it better? If it’s planted, that’s where it is. How do I keep it healthy? The point is how do I work with it in that nonattached way?

So I don’t know. Hopefully some of those ideas make sense to you if you’re listening to this and wondering about this concept of nonattachment as it pertains specifically to goals and relationships. So just summarizing, have goals, have relationships. Go with the flow of change. And remember this: Stagnation or permanence, it’s not healthy in goals. You can ask Kodak and Blockbuster and I don’t know. You can probably think of a ton of businesses of the past that had a sense of attachment to their thing, their product, their goal. And they weren’t able to shift and change with reality, change with the industry, and they’re gone.

It’s the same with relationships. Stagnation or permanence in relationships is a guaranteed killer of the relationship because relationships are dynamic. The person that you’re with changes. You change. And if you can’t learn to adapt and continually grow the relationship, there’s going to be stagnation and death in the relationship. The relationship will not thrive. It can’t thrive. It’s extremely unhealthy to think of it that way. One of the most common manifestations of this that I hear in my day to day interactions with people is this concept of you’re not the person that I married or so and so is not the person that I married, and that’s why our relationship is struggling. I want to say, I want to remind them of course they’re not. It cannot be, that person cannot be the same person that you married. From dating to marriage and then the entire process after, not just marriage, any relationship. You don’t have to be married to see this. If the person that you’re with is not the person that they were before, and that’s because the nature of reality is constant change.

So think of this. Impermanence makes relationships beautiful, but it also means they’re changing, they’re evolving. So you need to learn to go with the flow. So the nonattached teaching applied to relationships isn’t saying don’t have relationships. It’s saying let those relationships evolve and grow and flow and picture the various stages. What will our relationship be like in five years, in 10 years, in 20 years? Picture that. Picture the various stages. What will it be like when this changes? What will it be like if that shifts? If this happens or that happens. I think that can be a really healthy way of viewing your relationships.

I recently experienced this with my kids. Last week, we were on vacation, and we were taking surf lessons down in Mexico. My kids are still young, so they’re all signed up and doing whatever we’re doing. Everything that we were signing up to do they were doing with us. I saw other couples with their kids, some of which were teenagers. We were joking at dinner with them just saying I haven’t seen my teenager this whole trip because they were already off doing their own thing. So again, that’s something that I do in those moments. I imagine what will that be like when I’m at that stage and my kids don’t want to come to surf lessons with me. They want to do whatever they’re going to want to do. There’s a tinge of sadness and then there’s a tinge of cherishing well, but right now, they are here. They’re doing this with me. Even though the young one, the smallest one, she’s here digging sand castles and I’m taking care of her so I can’t go surfing with the other one. It’s like but then I just smile and think that this is how it is right now, and it won’t always be like this, and I can find much more contentment in that present moment.

So I try to see the dynamic change that’s happening at any given moment with the relationships that I have with my kids at the stage that they’re at now, how that dynamic is going to change when they’re at a different stage, when I’m at a different stage or when circumstances change it. So that’s the message I wanted to share. Goals, relationships and nonattachment. Rather than thinking of it as nonattachment, my invitation to you is think of it as seeing constant change as the nature of reality because nonattachment is what arises naturally through that proper perspective that life is always changing, I’m always changing, the person that I’m with is always changing. When I really see that and understand that, then nonattachment I think feels natural. It doesn’t feel forced, like oh no, I shouldn’t be attached. It becomes the natural way for your relationship with your goals and with people and with life. It’s naturally going to be a nonattached approach because that’s what makes sense when you see and understand constant change.

So I hope that makes sense. I hope that clarifies that topic a little bit more specifically to those who have emailed me recently asking about this topic. If you want to learn more about Buddhism, check out my book, “No Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners.” It has over 60 questions and answers that center around Buddhist history, concepts, teachings and practices. You can learn more about that book by visiting everydaybuddhism.com. As always, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others. Write a review. Give it a rating in iTunes. You can visit secularbuddhism.com/community to learn more about the online community, which is essentially just our Facebook group. And if you’d like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with this podcast, please visit secularbuddhism.com. Click the donate button.

That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Again, thank you very much to all of you who have been a part of this journey with me throughout this entire time since I started this podcast and through this recent milestone of 2 million downloads. It’s really an exciting time, and I look forward to seeing where this all goes. That’s all I have. Until next time.

73 – What Moves Us? The 5 Core Social Motives

What Moves Us? Why do we fear rejection? Why are we so motivated to want to belong? In this episode, I will discuss the 5 core social motives of Belonging, Understanding, Control, Enhancing Self, and Trust as presented by Susan Fiske. I will also correlate the idea of the core social motives with some Buddhist concepts and ideas.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 73. I’m your host, Noah Rasheta, and today, I’m talking about What moves us? The Five Core Social Motives. Again, before, I jump into the topic of the podcast, I want to remind you of the Dalai Lama’s advice. Do not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are. This has always been a key message that I try to reinforce throughout the podcast and in my general approach to teaching Buddhist concepts.

A little bit about this topic. What moves us? The idea for this podcast episode started with an e-mail I received from a podcast listener, and I receive e-mails regularly with ideas for podcast episodes. This specific listener asked for a podcast episode addressing the topic of rejection. With a little bit of context and understanding a little bit about the idea of rejection, I thought, “You know, that’s a really powerful topic,” because to some degree, all of us fear rejection. We all know what it feels like to not be the one picked to be on the team or to not have the approval of parents or siblings or friends. To some degree, everyone has experienced some form of rejection. I think all of us fear it. There’s a reason why. I think we’re hardwired as social creatures to really fear rejection. When I saw this e-mail and I was thinking about the topic of rejection, I thought, “Well, it might be interesting to combine a little bit of Buddhism with what psychology teaches.” At least some of the findings and psychology and social behavior about what moves us, what motivates us.

I came across this book by Susan Fiske called Social Beings: Core Motives in Social Psychology. Now, Susan is a Professor of Psychology at Princeton University. She’s known for her work on social cognition, also work on stereotypes and prejudice, but social cognition is the overall topic of this book, Social Beings. It’s a really fascinating thing, and the topic of psychology has always been interesting to me. I think it’s one of the things that drove me to study Buddhism. Buddhism is a philosophy that delves into this topic of understanding yourself. Why do I think the things that I think and say the things that I say and do the things that I do and so on. It ties really well with what we’re finding in psychology. That’s where the topic for this podcast episode, What Moves Us, I wanted to present to you what the five core social motives are according to Susan Fiske.

I’m going to jump into this a little bit. According to Fiske, core social motives are fundamental underlying psychological processes that impel people’s thinking. It motivates, or its underlying the way we think, we feel and behave in situations that involve other people. The specific core motives described by Fiske are, you can memorize these with an acronym, BUCET, (like BUCKET but instead of K it’s C). These are the five core motives. The first one is belonging. The second one is understanding. Third is controlling. Fourth is enhancing self, and the fifth one is trusting, so you can see that acronym BUCET in there. All five motives orient toward making people fit better into groups, thus increasing their chances for survival. Now, this is where the evolutionary psychology part of it comes in.

Like I mentioned before, it’s like we’re hardwired to fear rejection, to avoid it at all costs. This fits in with the work that Susan Fiske has done with bringing to light these core social motives that govern everything that we do. I want to talk about these a little bit. Then, I want to correlate them a little bit with some Buddhist teachings and Buddhist concepts.

The first one is belonging, and this is … Belonging is the root-need. It’s the essential core social motive that the others are said to be in service to this core motive, facilitating or making possible the way that we function in social groups. This first one is the most important one, belonging. This is what came to mind when I was reading that e-mail about rejection. The opposite of rejection is belonging, and that happens to be the core social motive that Susan Fiske talks about in her book. I thought it would be a neat way to approach the topic of rejection by talking about belonging. Why do we have this intense longing for belonging?

According to Fiske, belonging is the idea that people need strong, stable relationships with other people. Belonging to a group helps individuals to survive psychologically and physically. Now, we know this from an evolutionary standpoint that at some point in time, our survival was literally dependent on whether or not we were able to belong with a group. Individuals had a much less likely chance of survival out in the wild than if they were in a cohesive group like a tribe. Think about this for a second from an evolutionary standpoint that we’re hardwired to want to fit in. We can’t help it. We can’t help it that we fear rejection, whether it be individual rejection from someone that we care about, someone that we like, or rejection on a bigger scale with a group. You can see. You can see this longing, this sense for belonging, how it can influence the way that we want to fit in with a group, a political group, a political ideology, a religious group or beliefs that might hold. Think about that in terms of this core motive of wanting to belong. There’s the first one, right? Belonging.

The second one is understanding. Understanding is the motivation of individuals to understand their environment, to predict what’s going to happen in case of uncertainties and to make sense of what doesn’t happen. We’re not very good with sitting with uncertainty. I’ve alluded to this before. I think this is why at some point in the past, I can imagine that when the first volcano started erupting, a group somewhere wasn’t content with not knowing what was happening, so they decided, “Oh, the gods must be angry. We need to cut people’s heads off,” right? Why would we draw faulty conclusions to what we don’t know? Because we’re so uncomfortable with uncertainty. It’s a core. One of the core social motives is to understand, to make sense of things. That can be a good thing, but the downside to that is, often, we find ourselves as individuals or as groups, as society, as a species assigning meaning to things that don’t have any meaning. That can create problems like the example I gave with the volcano. Those are the first two. Belonging, understanding.

Now, the third one is controlling. According to Fiske, this encourages people to feel effective in dealing with their social environment and themselves. Control entails a relationship between what people do and what they get. Now, what comes to mind for me with controlling is that we’re playing life as if it were a game of chess. We’re thinking that, the illusion of control is that if we could just be smart enough and figure this out, we can do a checkmate on life. The reality, like I’ve mentioned many times, is that life is a lot more like a game of Tetris. This need for us to control that is projected to an external thing like, “I need to control you or control my spouse or control my kids or control my work, control anything,” right? The world that we live in, we’re trying to control.

I think where Buddhism comes in as an effective tool here is saying, “This need to control can be turned inward.” It can be projected towards yourself. It’s like, “Why do you want to control the world if you can’t sit and just be with whatever you’re experiencing?” This sense of control that is a core social motive, a need that we have, we can still have but turn the focus inward rather than outward. I’ll talk about that in a minute. I want to move on to the next one.

The fourth one is enhancing self. What does that mean, to enhance, enhancing self? Well. According to Fiske, this involves either maintaining self-esteem or being motivated by the possibility of self-improvement. Now remember, all of these tie back to the first one, which is belonging. You can see how this sense of enhancing self, to me, correlates very closely with the first one. It’s wanting to prove myself worthy of belonging, so I’m going to do whatever I think you think I need to do to prove myself worthy to belong with you. You as the group, right? I’m just talking collectively here. This is a need that we have. It’s a need that arises naturally in us to want to enhance ourselves to the point where we no longer have this fear or doubt of not being worthy to belong. You can see how that can be affected tremendously when coupled with societal views, societal norms, religious views and religious norms. You can see how that starts to play a role.

This is countered in the Buddhist concept of Buddha nature, which is the understanding that people are basically inherently good. Our natural tendency, I don’t know if good is the right word. I want to be careful with how I word that, but our natural tendency is to want to be kind, to want to end or minimize the suffering that we see in others, right? You see a wounded puppy crossing the road. Most people, granted not everyone, but most people, this is their natural tendency, to want to help to minimize suffering. Most people can feel empathy if you’re telling them a story, and you become emotional and you’re crying. Most people will tend to empathize and feel those same emotions. That is the natural, the natural position where according to the Buddhist worldview, that’s the baseline. If that gets muddied up with concepts and beliefs and ideas, that can become difficult to see as the natural position because we become blinded to it.

A good example of this would be racism, right? It’s not a natural thing that you’re born with. It’s your concept that you develop or you acquire through conditioning, the cognitive conditioning, so this can be taught to you, whether it be through religious ideology or societal views. You can be taught to be racist, but that’s not a natural thing, so I’m correlating that to this concept of enhancing self. The Buddhist approach would say, “What is there to enhance?” If anything, we want to uncover, like I mentioned in a previous episode. We want to peel back the layers of clay that are preventing us from seeing that inherent nature of kindness and compassion.

The fifth one is trusting, and this is, according to Fiske, this is, “Seeing the world as a benevolent place.” Again, you can see why this is so important for us to want to perceive that the world is a good place because what would it be like to live without a sense of trust? We would be on edge all the time. We see this in societies where there’s a lot of fear. There’s not a lot of trust. Other things start breaking down pretty quickly, so one of the things that motivates us, according to all this work, is to want to be able to trust, to want to see the world as a benevolent place.

When we start to look at these five core social motives in the context of, or through the lens of impermanence and interdependence, which is the Buddhist way of trying to understand things, it can be a powerful way of understanding ourselves. Now, just as an example, again, going back to belonging. If belonging is the core social motive of all of these, all of these tie into that one, belonging, the fear of rejection, we can start to see in ourselves a lot of the decisions that we make, the things that we say and the things that we think and correlate them to this core social motive to want to belong or the flip side of the same coin is the fear of rejection. This is why I wanted to present it this way because the fear of rejection is not really any different than the desire to belong. It’s two sides of the same coin. I think almost everything that we do in our lives is motivated by one or the other side of that coin.

We’re trying to belong, or we’re trying to avoid not belonging. We’re trying to avoid rejection, whether that be in personal relationships or in group relationships. For me, it’s been fascinating to sit and analyze my own actions and words and thoughts, and to think of it with this length of, “Why am I doing this? Where do I see? Oh, there’s this core motive inside me that I’m just trying to belong. I’m trying to not be rejected, to not risk being rejected.” Now, again, I bring this up because, like I said, we’re hardwired this way. It’s not like we can just not be this way. We would be going against millions of years of evolution here, so rather than thinking, “Okay. If this is how things are, I need to make sure that I don’t think this way anymore or feel this way anymore.” We want to approach this a little bit from a different angle.

Earlier this week, I posted my thoughts on the Heart Of Mindfulness Practice. I think this correlates with what we’ve been talking about with what moves us. Everything we perceive with our senses, sounds, sights, tastes, smells, physical sensations, and then of course thoughts, especially thoughts, gives rise to feelings about those perceptions. For example, we end up liking or disliking the experience. We feel comfort or discomfort about what we’re perceiving. If we like what we see, for example, we keep looking at it. If we don’t like what we see, we close our eyes, or we turn away. If we’re talking about taste and we taste something that we like, then we want more of it. If we don’t like it, we’re going to probably spit it out oro never taste that again. We do this with thoughts. We cling to the comfortable thoughts, and we feel emotional distress about the uncomfortable thoughts. This is the process that we go through with all of our perceptions. Craving and aversion, right? We’re craving after some of these perceptions and aversion towards others. We’re pushing and pulling. We’re liking and disliking.

The Heart Of Mindfulness Practice is to first see and recognize our tendency to pull toward or push away from these feelings. Second, instead of reacting out of habit to these feelings, try to remain steady with the feeling that arises. Now, the benefit of practicing this is that we can become more adept at placing a gap between the direct experience and our reaction to the feeling that arises from the experience. If we were to correlate this with the five core social motives, what we’re trying to understand here is, “Okay. Well, if I understand that this is the nature of what motivates me in how I work, the goal here isn’t to change it. Okay. Well, I’m going to rewire myself.” That’s not going to work. The goal here is that mindfulness practice is not about changing the feeling that arises. It’s not about changing the nature of how things are, but instead, understanding the relationship we have with the feelings that arise.

Now, this is a critical understanding because when I understand what motivates me in the context that at least these five core social motives, for me, it’s helpful to know, “Okay. Oh, this is why I felt this way. This is why I said this. This is why I reacted the way that I did.” We just see it. That starts to change the relationship that we have with it. It’s not about changing the thing itself. As a quick example, last week, I went down to Mexico to my 20-year high school reunion. It was fun getting together with everyone, but I had this experience that I want to share quickly with you because one of the things I struggled with in high school, about halfway through, being a twin was … I started to have this feeling that most of my friends aren’t really my friends. They’re our friends. They’re only friends with me because they’re friends with my brother. I have this perception that my brother is the funny one. He’s the one everyone likes, and I’m just the sidekick. I’m the one that’s stuck there because I’m the twin.

Some people had ways of identifying us in a joking way that aggravated this problem for me. They’d always call me the serious one and him the fun one, and this was evident in the nicknames that we were given. I started to really struggle with this concept. I can see now, right, as I study psychology or as I study concepts from Buddhism, and I see these core social motives. I see this first one, belonging or the fear of rejection. I see this very evident in my own life, in my past.

I had this fear that without my brother, I’d be totally rejected. I wouldn’t belong with this group because what makes me belong to the group is that I’m attached to him. That was very threatening for me. That caused a slight rift in the last year of high school between my brother and I because I needed to go out and find out who I was. What happens? Am I capable of having my own friends on my own without him? Those were things that I was trying to explore in my final year of high school. Like I said, it caused a little rift between my brother and I for a while.

Well, all of these, I’m bringing this up because all of these resurfaced last week when we were back down there. After high school, we moved away to different countries. We were in the US, and that life essentially ended 20 years ago, so we go back last week, and it’s like we stepped back in time with a lot of these friends we hadn’t seen since high school. The relationship and the engagement that they had with us was from that time, from 20 years ago. They had no reference of who my brother is now or who I am now or how I am.

I was working with the me from back then, 20 years ago, and as we got there a couple days before the reunion, we’re starting to make plans and trying to see our friends, and I would text someone and say, “Hey, we’re going to be dong this or that. Where are we going to see you?” They text back, “Oh, I already text your brother and made plans.” The first time, I didn’t think anything of it. In the second time, I was like, “Oh.” Then, the third time, third separate friend, the third friend that made it very clear that nobody was talking to me. They’re all communicating with my twin brother to make the plans of where we’re meeting and when and what time. All of a sudden, all of these emotions flooded back in from high school. I realized, this is that fear of rejection. It’s the fear that I’m not good enough. How do I prove myself worthy of these friendships because I’m just the sidekick that’s here along for the ride. All of these feeling welled up again just like from high school.

It was really funny, but this time, unlike then, I knew what was happening. I knew. I understand the core social motives. I see the world differently now through the context of a lot of these teachings that come from Buddhism and from psychology, so the experience was different. The feelings were the same. I want to be clear about that. The feelings of fear of rejection were just as real as they were back then. The strong desire I was feeling to want to belong, I felt like I didn’t belong, and I just wanted more than anything to be a part of the group. All of those feelings were very real just like they were when I first felt them. What was different this time was the relationship that I had to those feelings. As they surfaced, I was able to look at them and almost, in a way, smile and think, “Huh, I know where this is coming from. I know why I’m feeling this. I know what some of the causes and conditions are that give rise to these feelings.”

Now, that alone, that understanding alone changed the situation. I didn’t take anything personally. I didn’t feel down and out. I just thought, “Oh, how interesting,” and I reminded myself with the dynamics that we’re working with are the dynamics from 120 years ago. It’s like we went to this book that’s 20 years old, and we just turned the page of what would have been next 20 years ago that next day, had we stayed there. I thought, “Well, in that context, of course they would all be working with him,” because back then, he was the one. That was the very issue I was dealing with. He was the point of contact for us. I always just fell in line as, “Okay. Well, I’m the other one. I’m the extra here.” It was very interesting to go through that experience this time around with an entirely different relationship to the feelings, but like I said before, the feelings were the same, the exact same. It was a fascinating thing.

It made me feel really grateful for the time and the dedication that I’ve spent to trying to understand myself, to trying to have a more clear picture of the reality of why I think the things that I think and do the things that I do and say the things that I say. That’s the Heart Of Mindfulness Practice. There I saw it in action as I’m at my 20-year high school reunion, having an entirely different relationship to the feelings but experiencing the very same feelings that was fascinating for me. I was very grateful for knowing this time around, having a better understanding because there was no need to be reactive. There’s nothing to react to. What I was doing was just watching and seeing what would arise, and allowing it to be valid thinking, “Oh, I know why I feel this way,” and it’s a totally valid point of view, a totally valid feeling to have, that fear of rejection or that longing to belong. I just watched it for what it was.

What I hope to convey in this podcast episode is that the Heart of Mindfulness Practice and applied to what move us, when you understand the core social motives of belonging, understanding, controlling, enhancing yourself and trusting. As you understand with greater clarity, the nature of how you are, and notice I say how you are, not who you are, you’ll be more skillful with how you relate to the feelings that you have, the thoughts that you have, the emotions that you have. That’s what this is about, and that’s what I would say to the person who reached out in the e-mail about this topic of rejection, is yes. Rejection is a very real thing, and we feel it when the causes and conditions arise that allow that fear of rejection to be there just like I experienced last week. It will arise. If you’ve ever been betrayed by someone, anything that triggers that feeling, if you had issues growing up with the way that your parents treated you or siblings.

There’s so many ways that this fear of rejection can arise and can be triggered over and over and over throughout your life. It does for me, and I’m sure it does for all of you listening at some point and some arena or aspect of your life. It’s natural because we’re hardwired to want to belong. The flip side of that is that we’re hardwired to fear rejection like it’s the scariest thing on earth because at one point, it was. It was literally a matter of life and death. We work with that. It’s almost instinctual how it comes up. When it does, rather than riding the chain of reactivity, we can pause and say, “Oh, okay. I know why this feels this way. Now, what do I do next? How do I handle the situation skillfully rather than the habitual reactivity that may have take me down some other path I didn’t want to be on.

That’s what I wanted to talk about. What Moves Us: The Five Core Social Motives. If you want to learn more about this concept, I highly recommend Susan Fiske’s book. The book is called Social Beings: Core Motives in Social Psychology. Now, if you’re into psychology, this will be an interesting book. Otherwise, it may be a pretty boring book. You may have just gotten in this episode, the summary that you would have wanted out of the book. If you do want to go more in depth, check that book out, Social Beings: Core Motives in Social Psychology.

Now, if you’re a regular listener to the podcast, I’ve got to plug my book here. You’re probably interested in all of the essential concepts of Buddhism and how they relate to your daily life. Well, in my newest book, No Non-sense Buddhism for Beginners, you’ll gain a fundamental understanding of buddhism and how to apply the philosophies in your everyday life. Those of you who have read it know this book has a question and answer format. It’s written in a way to be very easy to understand these concepts and these teachings and the practices and the history. If you’re interested in that, check it out. You can learn more about that book on everydaybuddhism.com

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