71 – Breaking the Chain of Reactivity

At any given moment, we’re all acting upon what has been set in motion by others. A central teaching of Buddhism is that we can pause and break the cycle of reactivity. We can learn to be more skillful in how we contribute to the never-ending web of causes and effects going on all around us. In this episode, I will discuss the notion of breaking the chain or reactivity.

Subscribe to the podcast on:
iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/secular-buddhism/id1071578260
SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/secularbuddhism
TuneIn – http://tunein.com/radio/Secular-Buddhism-p823114/
Stitcher – http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=80132&refid=stpr

Transcription of the podcast episode:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Secular Buddhism podcast.

This is Episode Number 71. I am your host, Noah  Rasheta. And today I’m talking about breaking the chain of reactivity.

If you’re a regular podcast listener, you’re probably also interested in the essential concepts of Buddhism, and how they relate to your daily life. In my newest book, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, you’ll gain a fundamental understanding of Buddhism, and how to apply the philosophies in your everyday life. The book consists of a simple four-part structure addressing the different aspects of Buddhism, the Buddha, key Buddhist teachings, key Buddhist concepts, and current Buddhist practices. And it’s written in a straightforward questions and answers format that simplifies the vital concepts of Buddhism into easy-to-understand ideas. It’s presented in a simple conversational style, and the information and guidance, and No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, provides the groundwork that is necessary for building or continuing your own Buddhist practice.

You can learn more about the book by visiting everydaybuddhism.com

Before I jump into the topic of the podcast episode, I want to remind you of the Dalai Llama’s advice. Do not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are. And this has always been one of the key messages that I try to reinforce throughout the podcast, and in general, with my approach to teaching Buddhist concepts.

All of this is about helping you to become a better whatever you already are. It’s not about changing you from a something to a something else. So keep that in mind.

And the topic I’ve prepared for today is called, Breaking the Chain of Reactivity. Now I think this is a really important topic. If you’ve ever been in London, and you traveled on their Underground, the subway system, you will recognize the phrase or the expression, “Mind the gap.” It’s on the yellow line down by your feet when you are about to board the train. And it’s a warning to mind the gap between the platform and the train. And you hear it over the intercom over and over and over. You always hear them saying, “Mind the gap.” And it’s a fun expression that’s used even as a tourist promotion. Now, you can buy shirts that say, “Mind the gap,” or mugs, or little street signs that have the Underground logo, and this message of, “Mind the gap.” And it’s fun because it’s also a reminder to mind the gap between stimulus and response.

I have a friend who was telling me that, in their family, they’ve kind of adopted this as a motto. And rather than mind the gap, they say, “Gap the mind,” as a reminder to put the gap in their mind between stimulus and response. And in that conversation, and learning a little bit more about how they use this expression, something came up that actually prompted me to clarify this in a podcast episode. It was the idea of how this gap actually works. I think it’s a common misunderstanding to think that the gap between stimulus and response is found in an external circumstance, and then how I feel or react to that.

For example, “You call me a name, and here I am feeling angry. Well, I wasn’t capable of putting the gap between that stimulus and this response.” And that’s the misconception I want to address today. That’s why I’m calling this, Breaking the Chain of Reactivity, because first I want to bring attention to the fact that it’s a chain. It’s not that there’s a stimulus and a response, although there is. It’s more like there’s a stimulus and a response, and that response is the stimulus of the next response. And that chain goes on and on and on. At any given moment, everything that’s happening now is happening because of what happened before. And this is the overall teaching of interdependence.

So you can look at this through the lens of interdependence and start to see, not just this stimulus and response, but what was the … The stimulus is the response to some prior stimulus. And that goes on and on and on, ’cause it’s a chain, and it gets really complex, and it spreads out to the point where we really have no way to know the complexities of the causes and conditions that are leading to this moment, where I am about to interact with it, and perpetuate the causes and conditions from this moment going forward.

So another visual that another friend of mine posted one day on Facebook that I thought was clever and funny. She said, “I’d love to see the gap between stimulus and response when somebody’s throwing a ball at your face.” And I think that’s funny because it’s a fun visual. I don’t know if fun visual is the right word. It’s a humorous visual imagining, especially if no one gets hurt, obviously. But I’m thinking okay, like, so there’s the stimulus. “I’m gonna kick the ball.” And there’s your response. What are you gonna do about it? Are you gonna be reactive and duck? Or are you gonna put a gap there and really think about it? You know, “How fast is that ball coming at my face?” Well, by putting the gap in, boom, you’ve been hit.

But I think the deeper thing of what’s being insinuated with this perpetuates the misconception, right? This isn’t about putting a gap and how I react. We are hardwired to react, right? If you’re walking on a trail, and the bushes start rattling, or you hear a rattling sound, you’re hardwired to react, to jump and run, or do whatever you gotta do, because we’ve evolved to put our safety first to survive. And it’s not conducive to your survival to sit and think, “Is that a rattlesnake? Should I really think this through? Is it necessary for me to get away from this spot?” You know, it doesn’t work that way.

So again, going back to the chain of reactivity, what I wanna highlight here is it’s not just the stimulus and response. It’s, “Where am I in the ongoing chain of reactivity? And at this moment, can I put a pause, and can I become more skillful with how I handle whatever comes next?”

So another visual that I think helps explain this is, when I’m teaching a workshop, I always show a slide, when I’m talking about this topic, of a wall with a hole in it. And it’s obvious by looking at the picture that it’s a hole that somebody punched a wall. And this is the chain of reactivity, right? The gap is between the emotion and the reaction to the emotion. Not necessarily between the event and the emotion. So in that example of the wall, something happened that made that person angry. That’s one stimulus and response. The next one was, “Here I am feeling angry, and I can’t contain the fact that I’m angry, so I’m gonna do something about it. So I punched the wall.” That was another stimulus and response. The stimulus in this case was feeling anger. The response was reacting to the anger by punching something.

So again, the misconception is that mindfulness is going to help me to no longer feel angry. That’s not true. It’s not about not feeling emotions. That’s impossible, right? It’s about what do we do with the anger? The emotions that we feel, they’re all natural. They’re all normal. Some are pleasant. Some are unpleasant. You’re going to be angry. You’re going to be sad. You’re going to be frustrated, right? At different stages of life, under different circumstances, it’s natural to feel these things. You’re going to feel angry if somebody does … If the causes and conditions are met to feel anger, anger arises. Boom. That’s all normal and natural.

What we’re looking at here is, “What do I do with that? Now that I’m experiencing this emotion, now what do I do with it?” That’s where I put the gap. And again, going to this, looking at this as a chain, it may be that the gap happens several links into the chain. “I’m angry. I punched the wall. My hand is bleeding. I’m going to the hospital. I find out how much I have to pay the doctor. Now I start swearing.” You know? Like maybe then, at that moment, I put the gap. “Oh, okay. Now what do I do next?” Well, the very next thing, it can be a continuation of the unskillful reactivity, or it can be the start of a skillful action.

So what I wanna emphasize with this is it’s not about putting this at the beginning. It’s about putting this somewhere in the chain. It may be six links into it that I’m finally capable of stopping and seeing the reactivity, and saying, “Okay, I’m not gonna be reactive any more. Now I’m gonna be more skillful.” And with time, it could get better, but it never reaches the point where I will never be reactive. That’s not the point. The point isn’t to not be reactive, the point is, “Can I stop my reactivity once it starts? Because the reactivity sets me up for more reactivity,” right? I react. That’ another … And then there’s the new stimulus and response.

So the stimulus and response is the chain. Every stimulus has a response, and every response is the stimulus of a new response, and that chain goes on and on and on.

So this is about saying, “Can I put a gap anywhere in the chain?” Sure, it may have been 20 links into it, but that’s better than spending a whole life at reactivity where I never put a gap in it. That’s what this is about.

So the gap is about seeing the stopping of the reactivity. But it doesn’t matter where in the chain, because as soon as I realize it’s all a chain, “Well, I might as well stop it now even though I’m 20 or 30 links into it, because it could have kept going.” So, in that sense, it’s the reactivity to the reactivity that we’re trying to stop. I hope that makes sense.

So the exercise, or the invitation that I would extend to you, as you think about this concept, is try to pause and see if you can detect where you are in the chain of reactivity. Because every single one of us right now is, in the present moment, is … It’s a part of a chain of reactivity. “How did I get here?” Right? “What did it take for this moment to arise?” And you can look at this in several topics in your life with regards to relationships, career decisions. You know, “Why did I just buy this car?” You could pause at any of these moments and say, “Can I start to see some of the stimulus and response, the causes and conditions that have led for this moment to arise?” And that gives me the flexibility to say what comes next, right? The whole concept of what comes next is that is the gap. That is the pause. Because it’s inside of that that I can see, hopefully, in myself, “Am I stopping the reactivity or am I going to be a little bit more skillful in whatever comes next?”

And this can happen, like I said, in many areas of your life. I remember pausing for a moment and recognizing that one of the things I was doing … Eight years into a decision that I made, I could see that I was doing this because of something that had happened that made me feel like, “I need to prove myself, so I’m going to do this or that.” In this case, it was my business. I’ll just kind of give you the background real quick.

So I was feeling a sense of … I guess I was having an issue with my sense of self-worth. And I had this view that if I could build up a big company and prove that I’m a great entrepreneur, then I can restore that sense of self-worth. So here I was eight years later, right? I had built a business and it was really successful. And I was looking at that thinking, “Oh, how funny. I can …” I stopped and I could see, eight years later, this chain of reactivity. Here I was because of something I felt eight years before that made me feel like, “This is how I prove myself. I build a business.”

Now, I say that just because the exercise didn’t make me say, “Okay. Well now I’m gonna give it all up.” That didn’t happen. It took a few more years and my company ended up dying of natural causes later that had nothing to do with that moment of introspection. But I was able to see one aspect in my life where I was continuing the chain of reactivity and caught up in this chain of reactivity. And then I was able to pause and say, “Do I really wanna keep going like this? Or can I be more skillful with what I do next?” And it gave me that sense of freedom in my career choice. “What do I wanna do next with my career?” But that insight came from pausing and seeing long, long ago, the start of that specific chain of causes and conditions that I was caught in.

And, like I said, you can look at this in a lot of aspects of your life. But I do wanna emphasize, the purpose of this isn’t to say, “Okay, I’m gonna change everything right now, immediately.” That might not be skillful either. Especially like relationships, right? It’s not like, “Okay. Well, fine. You were my friend but I see I became your friend out of reactivity and that’s it. Now I don’t need your friendship.” And, boom. You get rid of a friend. That’s not it either. It’s putting the gap, wherever you are in the present moment and saying, “Could this be more skillful?” That’s what you’re after.

So, again, why do we wanna mind the gap? Why do we want to break the chain of reactivity? Don’t think of this in terms of right and wrong, or where I am and where I could be that would be better than where I am. Think of it in terms of skillful action versus unskillful reactivity. “All I’m trying accomplish in my life through this exercise is to see in what areas of my life am I caught up in unskillful reactivity. And can I put a pause there and change that to have more skillful action moving forward?”

I mean, just imagine for a moment how much more enjoyable your life could be if you developed the ability to be more skillful in your actions, rather than just remaining unskillfully reactive to everything that unfolds. “This happens and then I reacted this way.” And it might be 10 years later I realize, “Oh, man! I’ve been reactive this whole time.” Imagine preventing that by developing this ability that, at any given moment, you can kind of just start to pause and say, “What am I reacting to? What in my life am I doing out of a sense of reactivity?” And is it skillful, at this point, to pause and say, “How do I wanna move forward next?”” but that’s really what this is about.

And you can correlate all of this with the concept or the teaching of karma, which the word karma itself simply means action. That’s all it means. At any given moment, we’re all acting on the karma that has been set in motion by others, and by life in general, right?

So the central teaching of karma is that we can pause, and we can break the cycle of reactivity. It’s in that mindful pause that we have the freedom to choose a more skillful action to contribute to that never-ending web of causes and conditions that we’re all a part of. So when I start to see that in myself, that life is unfolding in all these complex ways. And yet I am interacting with life as it unfolds, and my very interaction with it affects everyone else.

Now some of the obvious ones, for me, are my kids, my wife, people close to me, right? There’s how I’m handling life, and the things that life throws at me, that are directly affecting their lives. I’m influencing the causes and conditions that they will be working with in their life.

So, for me, there’s a sense of responsibility where I can pause and say, “Am I doing this the most skillfulled way possible?” And again, I cannot overemphasize, it’s not, “Am I doing this right?” Or, “Am I doing it wrong?” None of us are doing anything right. We’re all just trying our best with the very limited knowledge we have of what we’re doing, right?

So what I’m trying to get at is, “Could this be more skillful, the way I’m handling life as it unfolds, or am I just reacting to everything? Everything that happens, I’m just reacting. Do I wanna go through life unskillfully reactive to everything? Or do I want to be more skillful with my actions to life as it unfolds?”

So that’s what I’m trying to get at. The action, karma, it’s the action that’s taken. It’s not the result. I think a lot of times we get caught up with this, about the results. It’s about results. This is kind of flipping it and saying it’s not about results. Sometimes we don’t know what the results are, right? “I do this and that happens. I didn’t know that that was gonna happen.” We don’t know. We don’t know the results. This is where the story of the horse, and who knows what is good and bad, right? We don’t know. This is about the action. “Is the action I’m taking skillful, or is this just a form of reactivity?” That’s the invitation with this overall discussion, that I hope you can listen to this and say, you know, “What areas of my life am I more reactive? And what would life look like if I could swap that reactivity for something that’s just a little bit more skillful and deliberate with my actions? I’d rather have skillful actions than unskillful reactions.”

So I hope that makes sense. And again, this isn’t about getting rid of reactions, right? Again, the example of walking down a path and hearing rustling in the bushes. Like, you’re hardwired to be reactive. So reactivity is not the problem. It’s taking that natural tendency to be reactive that we’ve all evolved with, and extending it into everything. You know, “I’m losing a job.” Boom. “I’m just as reactive as if I’m walking and the bush is rattling.” Well, in one of those scenarios it’s not so skillful to react the way that you’re reacting. So, “Can I put a pause in the reactivity of the reactivity?” Not in the initial reactivity. The pause happens in the reactivity to the reactivity, somewhere in that chain. And like I said, it might be five links in. It might be 20 links in. And then I’m capable of pausing, and saying, “Okay, is this the most skillful way to handle what’s happening? Maybe yes. Maybe no. And if it’s no, then I’m gonna change my course of action.”

That is karma in action. At that moment, the action that I took is more skillful than the action that would have been taken had I continued down the path of reactivity only. So I minimize suffering for myself and others. That’s how it works.

So the misconception is thinking, “I’ll never react.” Don’t think of it like that. Think of, “At what point in my reactivity can I notice that I’ve been reactive? And now I’m gonna be skillful with what comes next in that chain of reactivity.” That’s how I would invite you to think about this.

And if you can start to see that in your life, you’ll feel an incredible sense of liberation. What is the liberation from? It’s liberation from the reactivity. Nobody wants to be caught up in a reactive way of living. That’s not enjoyable. And the moment you can see that, and you understand interdependence, you become liberated from the reactivity. That’s what you become liberated from. And, man, that’s a great feeling to see that in your own life, in different aspects of your life, and say, “I’m not gonna continue this reactivity. I’m gonna try something different.”

So that’s the topic that I have for you. I hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode. Feel free to share it, write a review, give it a rating on iTunes.

As always, if you would like to join our online community to continue conversations around these topics, you can visit secularbuddhism.com/community And on that page there are links to our Facebook groups.

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.

And that’s all I have for now. But I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon.

So thank you for listening. Until next time!

70 – Beware of the Guru Mind

In this episode, I will discuss my personal views about having a Guru/teacher. In order to learn something new or to develop a new skill, it can be helpful and wise to have the guidance and advice of a teacher but it can also become detrimental when we create a dependency on that teacher. The Buddha compared his own teachings to a raft that when no longer needed, should be left behind.

Subscribe to the podcast on:
iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/secular-buddhism/id1071578260
SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/secularbuddhism
TuneIn – http://tunein.com/radio/Secular-Buddhism-p823114/
Stitcher – http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=80132&refid=stpr

Transcription of the podcast episode:

Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 70. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about the guru mind, that is to say, the mind that seeks a guru.

A quick note before jumping into this topic: If you’re listening to this podcast, it’s probably safe for me to assume that you are also interested in the essential concepts of Buddhism and how they relate to your daily life. One of the goals of the podcast is to take Buddhist concepts and teachings and then explain them in a way that’s easy to understand and practical for everyday life.

In addition to the podcast, I’ve also written a book to help with this process, and with the book, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, you’ll gain a fundamental understanding of Buddhism and how to apply the philosophies in your everyday life. The book consists of a simple four-part structure addressing the different aspects of Buddhism: The Buddha, key Buddhist concepts, the Buddhist teachings, and current Buddhist practices. It’s written in a straightforward, questions-and-answers format that simplifies the vital concepts of Buddhism into easy-to-understand ideas. It also includes what I call Everyday Buddhism Sidebars. These are little anecdotes that make Buddhism a little less abstract by offering down-to-earth examples from my own everyday life. Presented in a simple conversational style, the information and guidance in No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners provides the groundwork that is necessary for building or continuing your own Buddhist practice. You can learn more about the book by visiting everydaybuddhism.com.

A secondary note that I haven’t mentioned in a while is the quote … Remember the Dalai Lama’s advice. “Do not use what you learned from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are.” And I want to emphasize this. The world doesn’t need more Buddhists. The world just needs more people who are awake and aware of things, people who are striving to have more understanding, people who want to strive to make the world a better place by being more conscious, more kind, more compassionate, more willing to listen and see more deeply, and, ultimately, to see the impermanent and interdependent nature of all things.

We’re all in the same boat here, the boat Planet Earth, and given that today is Earth Day, and I’m recording this on Earth Day, I wish we could see ourselves as just Earthlings and not be so divided by our isms. You know, I’m reminded of a quote by Dr. Mark Epstein, who asked, “What is the difference between a Buddhist and a non-Buddhist?” He goes on to answer, “The non-Buddhist thinks there’s a difference.” Unfortunately, I know a lot of Buddhists, or practitioners of Buddhism, who don’t quite understand what this means. In a way, this is implying that even if you see yourself as a Buddhist, you still don’t get it because you see yourself as separate from being a non-Buddhist.

It’s just a fun thing to consider today. What are the labels that separate me from others? What are your isms? And again, this isn’t to say that we need to get rid of all of our isms. I don’t know that that’s possible, but the attachment that we have to them … I like to view Buddhism as something that I practice. It’s something that I teach. It’s something that I really enjoy, but it’s not something that I am, because I’m just me. While today I follow this path, five years ago, I didn’t. 10 years ago I had no clue what any of this stuff, any of these topics were, and I would have identified as something else. Whatever the ism is, hold loosely to it. Hold it, but hold it without the death grip.

So enough about labels. The topic I’ve prepared for today is called Beware of the Guru Mind. What I’m trying to get at with this topic … All of this started because there was a lot of hoopla about a show that came out on Netflix called Wild Country. It’s the story of the Rajneeshees, a group that came from India following their leader, now known as Osho. At the time his name was, I think, Rajneesh. But anyway, it’s a group of kind of … I don’t know if Buddhist is the right word. They followed a lot of tenets of various religions. A lot of people would say that they were a cult. At the end of the day, what happened is you had an influx of a specific group into a small community, and it really disrupts the community. This documentary paints the picture on both sides what was happening to this small community that was being absorbed by this larger group, an influx of people who believe very differently than you.

I can see this playing out, how difficult it would be, because I live in a very small community, and we deal with the influx of people coming in from the city and building developments and homes. I hear people in the town that are frustrated with that. Their way of life is changing because of this influx of people moving in. This also resonated with me with my past, being raised Mormon. There’s a story with the Mormon community that when Mormonism was growing and spreading, they were running into this problem. They were like the Rajneeshees. They were moving into communities and then overtaking these communities because of their population growth, and the community would resent them and then want to kick them out. They were always battling this process of infiltrating communities until they finally headed west, you know, the big pioneer trek. They headed west and they established themselves in Utah.

Ironically, now, here, where the Mormon Church has a strong population, there’s also this same resentment of outside influence coming in, and if the population gets too big, then the ideas of the non-Mormons overtake the ideas of the Mormons, and then there’s this same feeling of, “Oh, no. Let’s not change things.” It’s just kind of funny.

Anyway, all of this resonated with me as I was watching this documentary on Netflix, but it really got me thinking about the concept of a guru in general. I wanted to address this on a couple of different levels. First of all, what is a guru? It’s a Sanskrit term, and it connotes someone who is a teacher, a guide, an expert, or a master of a certain field of knowledge. The word guru has all these connotations. Let’s just replace it with the word teacher, and then some of these things might make a little bit more sense. First of all, is it bad to have a teacher? Is it bad to have a guru? See, if I say the word guru … Is it bad to have a guru? Some people are probably thinking, “Uh-oh. This is cult-like language. I don’t need a guru.” But let’s replace that with teacher for a moment. Is it bad to have a teacher? No, absolutely not.

I want to give you an example of this. Some of you know, one of my favorite pastimes, one of my hobbies is paragliding and paramotoring, specifically paramotoring. Paramotoring is paragliding but with a motor on your back, a propeller on your back, that pushes you through the air. The difference is, paragliding, you have to go to the top of a mountain, a big hill, and you start up there and then you float your way down, unless you can ride thermals and stay up. If you go with a motor on your back, you don’t need to start up high. You can just find a field, a parking lot, take off from their, and you’re powering yourself. That’s one of the main differences between paramotoring and paragliding. I do much more paramotoring than I do paragliding.

When you’re learning to paramotor, if you want to go about it safely, you’re going to find a teacher, somebody to teach you how to do this. One of the first things that they do in the process of learning to paraglide or paramotor, at least with my teacher … What he did is he’ll connect you with a line to a winch, a pulley winch system that tows you. They’ll set this up maybe 500 feet away from you, or 1,000 feet away from you. I don’t know how far. I don’t remember, but you’ve got this line tied to your harness, and then there’s the parachute … the wing, actually, because it’s not quite a parachute. It’s a wing, and it’s a wing in the sense that if it has enough speed it will develop lift, so you can fly with it. A parachute is intended to control the fall. A wing is intended to actually fly.

So you’ve got this wing behind you that looks like a parachute, and then this towline starts to pull you. As it pulls you, you start running, the wing inflates behind you, it comes up over your head, and the faster that you go, you start to gain lift. So now you’ve got this rope that’s pulling you. You’ve got the parachute-looking wing … I’m just going to say wing from now on … the wing over your head, and it’s lifting you up in the sky. For all intents and purposes, you’re essentially a kite. You look like a kite. You’re being pulled, and your flying because there’s tension on this rope that’s pulling you. That forward motion gives you lift, and there you fly, and at some point, you cut the towline. You have a little pin there on your harness, you pull that lever, or you push the button, depending on the setup, line cuts from you, and now you’re just soaring, and you’re soaring on the way down.

So you come down, and that’s how you practice, right? You have a big field that tows you up, you get the feeling of what that’s like to fly, and then you cut that line, and then you soar down and then you land. You practice this over and over and over, and what you’re trying to get used to is the feeling of running and inflating the wing behind you to the point where it’s over your head, gain enough speed, and then you take off.

In this process of learning, applying this to the idea of a guru or a teacher, it was absolutely important for me to have a teacher who understood the dynamics of where I am with my skill level, and at what point is it safe to say you no longer need that towline? Now you put the motor on your back, and power yourself. I want to draw this correlation with this, because it takes skill on the part of both the teacher and also the student. When the student feels ready, the student can say, “I’m not sure I need this towline anymore. Let’s go strap the motor on my back.” The teacher needs to have the skill to say, “Yeah, I think you’re right. I think you’re ready to try this,” or, “No, let’s tow you a couple more times because I’ve been noticing you’re pulling really strong on this line, or you’re doing this or that that could be dangerous. You could get yourself into trouble.”

At some point in this process, if both parties realize the time has come, then you detach from the towline, you put the motor on your back, and you’re liberated. In a very literal way, you’re liberated. You’re free to go fly. You go fly, and you explore on your own. I think that’s one of the greatest accomplishments for the teacher at that moment is now the teacher says, “Let’s go fly. Let’s go explore. Let’s go up that mountain. Let’s fly around this lake.” Some of the most enjoyable aspects of flying for me have been in the companionship of my former instructor as a friend. Now we’re co-exploring. We go explore and fly, or whatever it is, but there’s complete liberation now. There may still be some guidance in those first months and years, where it’s like, “Hey, you’ve gotten really good, but I notice you have this tendency or that tendency.” But at some point, you become equals. You both are just pilots, and you fly.

I’ve thought about this in the spiritual sense, like with Buddhism, for example … That’s very much how it should be. The job of the teacher is to know when to cut the towline, liberating the student. I like the analogy of going from kite to bird. I’ve heard it said before that sometimes the guru … The guru can be a person. The guru can be a system. It can be an ism. It could be your belief system. It could be a lot of things, but when we create a dependency on it, that towline, so to speak, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but just imagine this as a visual. There’s nothing more sad than taking a kite that’s flying perfectly, and then cutting that rope, because the moment that you cut that rope, what happens to the poor kite? It flips and flops and comes down and lands and crashes and it’s no longer flying. It’s detrimental to the kite to not have that line.

It’s also detrimental to a bird to have the line. Let’s say you have a bird, now, and it’s up there soaring. There’s nothing more sad than the picture of a bird with a string tied to it, and it can’t escape the distance of that string. Some would say … I’ve heard it said before. “Hey, your religion, your belief system, it’s like this towline, and you are the kite. This is what allows you to fly and gain altitude and to soar there in the wind. But the moment that you detach yourself from your religion, you’re going to come crashing.”

And it’s like, okay, that’s a good analogy, in a sense, but the false assumption, for me, in my personal opinion, is this takes some skill and knowing. Am I a kite, or am I a bird? Was I a kite that just figured out, “Oh my gosh, I have wings and they flap. Okay, now I’m a bird. Now I don’t need that line.” Or the flip side, right? Maybe it’s thinking, “I’m a bird.” And realizing, “I just keep coming, crashing down. Maybe I’m not a bird. I’m more of a kite. I better find the right towline that keeps me in the wind, and keeps me soaring.”

It’s not to say that you need to be one or the other. It’s more along the lines of figuring out which one are you. Because if you’re a kite, you may want a towline. You may need that rope. If you’re not, then you may not need the towline. I encounter this all the time, because I think sometimes there’s this assumption that the concepts that I’m teaching with Buddhism, especially secular Buddhism, are an indication that the right direction is to go from kite to bird. I don’t think that that’s true. If we’re being completely honest, we all know that some people are kites. They need the line. They need the rope that helps them know what to do, what not to do, who to be like, who not to be like. Some people are birds, and the towline becomes a hindrance. Treating everybody like birds is wrong, and treating everybody like kites is also wrong.

I want to clarify that. For me, growing up, I had a towline. A very efficient towline, a belief system that was rigid. It helped me to know, go this way, don’t go that way. Do this, don’t do that. I think perhaps one of the most important aspects is it gave me a model to follow. Anyone who was raised Christian knows the expression, “What would Jesus do?” For most intents and purposes, that’s a safe bet. That’s a good example of what you should and shouldn’t do that’s going to minimize suffering for yourself and others. But it’s not always the case, and for me, this is why.

The truth of the question, “What would Jesus do?” … or apply this to Buddhism, or any other system, right. “What would the Buddha do?” … is that the answer to that question is, “I don’t know.” That’s the true answer. But the answer that most of us get, we’re getting from a guru, the guru who says, “Well, I’ll tell you what he would do. This is what he would do.” So when I am answering the question, “What would the Buddha do,” really, I am inserting the answer of what you’re telling me the Buddha would do, whoever my guru is, right? Whoever your teacher is, your priest, your prophet, your Zen master. Whoever your guru is, that’s the real answer to the question. “What would so-and-so do? What so-and-so tells me so-and-so would do.” That’s the truth, right? Because the real answer, “What would so-and-so do,” I don’t know. I didn’t know so-and-so. I don’t live in that time.

For me this becomes a really important thing when it comes to introspection. I want to know what would I do? What would I do, and why would I do it? Why would I do it, why would I not do it? Buddhism is an invitation to look inward. It’s an invitation to discover for yourself that you are the greatest guru. This is something that I really enjoy about Buddhist concepts and Buddhist teachings. When you study the life of the Buddha, and I’ve alluded to this before in the podcast, but I think it makes a lot of sense to bring this up in this specific episode, in this specific context … The journey of the Buddha as a seeker, let’s call him that … Siddhārtha Gautama, the seeker … He was seeking wisdom and advice, and he was like the kite with the string. He went from one guru, one teacher, to another, and then to another, but what was happening in this process is that he was realizing, “This can only get me so far. Having this line can only get me so high. It can only get me to this certain place.” That wasn’t enough. He wanted to understand things, to see the world differently.

I imagine, going back to my analogy as a student learning to paraglide, that the truth is the towrope phase of learning is a lot of fun. It’s like, “Wow, I’m getting towed up in the air, and I can look around. Then I come down, and I do it again and again and again.” At some point up there, you may look around and say, “Hey, this is all great, but I want to see what’s over that next hill. I want to see what’s up higher. I want to follow that river.” In the moment I decide, “That’s me,” the curious me that wants to see more, now this very line becomes my hindrance. It’s like, “Oh, now this is the thing that’s in the way.”

I think that this is what was happening for Siddhārtha. He would learn what he could, and then that was it. He needed to find more. His process, his spiritual path, takes him on this journey to the point where he finally cuts that line. In my opinion, this is the understanding of his moment of liberation. He was that paraglider pilot who said, “Okay, let’s cut the line, turn on the engine, and here I go. I’ve actually got my own propeller now, and it’s going to propel me from here.” That was really the key of his transformation, was his liberation. That’s why we call it liberation.

From that moment on, he realizes several key things. First is, “Oh my gosh. I am the source of all of it. The good deeds that make me want to be kind and compassionate, that’s me. That’s my own mind. The thoughts that make me feel anger, or hatred, or wanting to hurt someone, well, that’s also me. It’s not some external agent acting upon me. It’s internal processes that are steering me to do and feel certain things.”

Just imagine the feeling of anger, and then realizing, “Oh my gosh. This anger is fueled by fear.” That’s a radical realization that you can have about yourself. “What am I feeling, what do I say, what do I think, what do I do, and where, and why?” That leads back to further insight: “Oh, this is why I think what I think. This is why I say what I say.” I imagine that’s what that moment was like for him. The moment of liberation was this radical realization that he was the source of it all. This is what Buddhist teachings have been for me in my own life, this radical transformation of realizing, “Oh my gosh. I am at the helm, here. It’s my own mind.” Often, the detrimental things that I would say or do, they stem from my own mind.

The more I’ve learned to understand myself, the more I’ve learned to minimize that self-inflicted suffering, and the suffering that often carries over to other people. This has been a profound change for me in my own relationship with my wife, and my dynamic as a parent with kids. That’s what this has all been for me. The invitation of this episode is to look at what are the towlines? What are the lines that I’m attached to? Again, not from the perspective of, “I need to get rid of all my towlines.” That’s not what it is. Buddhism itself is a towline.

If you’ll recall, in the parable of the raft … I think this is, to me, one of the most profound teachings that the Buddha gave. He invited his monks, towards the end of his life, to understand that Buddhism itself is the raft. If you’re on one side of the shore, and you’re trying to get to the other side of the shore, he asks them, “If there’s no other way to do it, and you spend all that time and energy to build a raft, once you get to the other side, what is the wise thing to do? Keep the raft, or leave it behind?” I think anybody would have answered the same. “Well, common sense tells me I should leave it behind. If I need another one, I’ll build another one. For now, I’m headed up that mountain. This is a big, heavy raft. I don’t need it.”

Shockingly, that’s what he tells them. Essentially, these teachings, the dharma, that’s the raft. You can make the raft your obstacle. I think this carries over in our day. It’s like saying, “Hey, Buddhism teaches all these incredible things, but be careful, because Buddhism can also be the obstacle. It can be the very raft, the thing you attached to, and now that’s the thing that you carry around.” When I’m thinking of these towlines, what are the towlines that I have, again, it’s not from the perspective of, “I need to cut everything off everywhere! Drop all my isms! Leave my religion!” Don’t be drastic. Look at everything. Look at your life from the perspective of, is this a skillful line? Yes. Then stay on it. Is it skillful to cut it? Maybe, or yes. Okay, well then cut it. The answer may be no. Nobody can answer that for you. That’s the thing, here.

At the end of the day, the guru can give you advice, but, like if you were ever to take lessons paramotoring, that line that’s up on your harness? It’s you that hits the button and detaches from the line. It can be done down at the bottom, but then the line dangles, right? That’s for safety purposes, they do that. What I’m trying to get at is working with a teacher can be very powerful, but if that teacher sets you up in a position to where you become dependent on him or her, then now it’s detrimental. Maybe it won’t be, but at some point it will be, because the nature of this path, of Buddhism, is a path of liberation. If you find a teacher on this path, a guru … I like the word teacher better, but just somebody who guides you, and their intent is saying, “Now you need to depend on me, because I am the source of interpreting all this stuff for you,” then beware.

When I say beware, I truly want to make this pointed towards yourself. It’s not beware of that teacher. It’s beware of yourself thinking, “Do I really need this? Do I need a teacher?” I think I mentioned it before, but the invitation here to beware of the guru mind, it’s an invitation to look inwards. Who is the one looking for the guru? I’m less concerned about the guru than I am about the me that thinks I need the guru. Who’s that? Who’s the one looking for the guru? Buddhism always tries to point things back towards you.

At some point in Siddhārtha’s quest, he was confronted with this very question. “Who’s the one looking for the guru?” He found that one. When he found the one looking for the guru, he didn’t need the guru. He became his own guru, his own teacher. I cannot stress this enough. This is one of the potential consequences of studying this stuff is, you’ll discover that you are your greatest enemy and your own best friend. It’s you. That’s the moment of liberation.

That was the topic I wanted to share today: Beware of the Guru Mind. The mind that seeks the guru. Again, I’m not alluding to gurus are bad, teachers are bad, isms are all bad, whatever your religious system is, it’s bad. I’m not saying that. I’m saying there’s a careful balance between that realization of, “I am a kite, and I need this line,” and “I am a bird, and this line is hindering me.” Extending this same wisdom to your family and friends … I see this all the time in the world where I am, the community where I live. People will leave a religion and then say, “You need to leave it, too.” Or people who are in the religion will talk to someone who’s left their religion and say, “You need to be in it.” What you’ve got is kites talking to birds, and birds talking to kites. It’s not helping. That’s not going to do anything.

This is not about deciding what’s best for you. It’s about me, as the student, saying, “What I’m learning here, I still need this towrope. Maybe I always will. I don’t care to see what’s on the other side of that hill. I don’t want to follow this river. I just want to be towed here and soar in the air. I love this towline.” That’s a legitimate place to be. But it’s also legitimate for the one with the personality to explore that says, “Well, this towrope … I don’t like it. I want to be cut loose, and I want to fly a little bit and see what’s over there.” You may fly over there and decide, “You know what, I don’t like this exploring stuff. This is kind of scary. I’m going to come back, and let’s just attach to that towline, and I’ll stay here and soar like a kite. That could happen.

There’s not a right or a wrong way to be. There’s a skillful and a non-skillful way to be. The only way to know which was is skillful for you is to have a greater understanding of yourself. Again, this is the quest. Who is the one seeking the guru? That’s who you should be seeking, the one that’s doing the seeking, because that points everything back to you.

That’s the topic I had prepared for today. Hopefully, some of that makes sense. I know sometimes these concepts get a little … I don’t know. I don’t know what the right word is, but they can be hard to understand, because people will listen and say, “Well, I just want to know, do I do this, or do I do that? Do I follow someone? Do I not follow someone? Should I believe? Should I not believe? Should I have a teacher? Should I not have a teacher?” There’s not an answer to any of those questions. Again, point it inwards. Who’s the one who’s looking? Seek the one who’s seeking. There you will find all the insight you’re looking for. When you seek the one that’s seeking, you look inward.

That’s my invitation for today, following on my invitation of being Earth Day. Try to see yourself for a little bit as just an Earthling. You and every other creature on this planet, we share that in common. This is our home. This is our pale blue dot, as Carl Sagan would say. This is our home. What can we do to be more skillful in how we deal with each other with our ideologies, our beliefs, our opinions, our political views? Whatever it is, at the end of the day, we’re just Earthlings, and we’re all here. We’re all trying to figure it out. We’re all just trying to make this work. How can I be more skillful in that process from my little corner of the world? That’s my invitation to you.

That’s the topic I have for today. If you enjoyed this podcast episode, please feel free to share it with others. You can always write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. If you’d like to join our online community, you can visit secularbuddhism.com/community. If you’d like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, please visit secularbuddhism.com and click on the donate button. That is all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you. Until next time.

69 – Sitting With Sadness

Buddhist teachings often talk about “being with our emotions” or learning to “sit with an emotion” but what does that really mean? What does that look like in our day to day lives? In this episode, I will discuss a recent experience I had with sitting with sadness.

Subscribe to the podcast on:
iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/secular-buddhism/id1071578260
SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/secularbuddhism
TuneIn – http://tunein.com/radio/Secular-Buddhism-p823114/
Stitcher – http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=80132&refid=stpr

Transcription of the podcast episode:

Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 69. I’m your host, Noah Rasheta, and today, I’m talking about sitting with sadness. If you’re listening to this podcast, it’s probably safe for me to assume that you’re also interested in the essential concepts of Buddhism, and how they relate to your daily life. One of the goals with this podcast is to take Buddhist concepts and teachings, and then explain them in a way that’s easy to understand, practical for everyday life.

In addition to this podcast, I’ve also written a book to help with this process. With my book, ‘No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners’, you’ll gain a fundamental understanding of Buddhism and how to apply the philosophies in your everyday life through a simple four-part structure, addressing the different aspects of Buddhism, the Buddha, key concepts, the Buddhist teachings, and current Buddhist practices, along with straightforward questions and answers that simplify the vital concepts of Buddhism into easy to understand ideas and everyday Buddhism sidebars that make Buddhism less abstract by offering down-to-earth examples from everyday life. Presented in a simple, conversational style, the information and guidance in ‘No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners’ provides the groundwork that is necessary for building or continuing your own Buddhist practice. You can learn more about the book by visiting EverydayBuddhism.com. Now, to the topic that I’ve prepared for the podcast episode toady, Sitting With Sadness.

Before jumping into this topic, I do want to clarify something. After my last podcast episode, Never Enough, I talked about the topic of emotional abuse in that podcast episode, and I received an email or a message from a good friend of mine, and she brought up a few points that were really important points that I wanted to pass along to anyone listening. I wanted to clarify this for this specific podcast episode that I’m about to talk about, Sitting With Sadness, but also any other past topics and any other teachings about Buddhism. My friend asked me to consider the following, that sometimes, the language and the terminology used in Buddhism may seem to encourage people to tolerate their current situations with words that are used often like ‘Acceptance’, expressions like, ‘Go with the flow’, ‘Let things go’, ‘Let things be’. These are never intended to imply that people should tolerate abuse in any way.

She went on to note that it’s important to understand that a great majority of people who seek Buddhism or Buddhist teachings to help address with their suffering are seeking these things because they’re going through something difficult. This was absolutely the case for me. I was going through a really difficult stage in my life, experiencing a lot of suffering, and that’s what led me down the path to research Buddhism, and to practice meditation. I want to clarify that while Buddhism teaches us to be introspective and to seek the source of our suffering within, it’s an internal process, it’s also important to understand that these teachings are also meant to equip us with a more skillful means of addressing our external sources of suffering as well. Buddhism is not about being passive.

It’s not about sitting still and allowing things to take place around us. It’s about not being reactive. It’s much more difficult for us to be skillful with our actions when we’re reactive, so one of the most important teachings in Buddhism is to help us understand where and how we tend to be reactive in our minds. Passivity is a form of resignation. Passivity can also be a form of reactivity, right?

It may be that our habitual form of reactivity to conflict for example, is to not say anything, to be quiet, and I say that out of an example, that’s the case for me in my own life. One of my strongest forms of reactivity was to avoid confrontation at all costs, and I paid a price for this in my own marriage. Four years into my marriage, this was a really difficult thing for us, because if there was anything that was going to come up that was going to cause conflict, I didn’t want to address it. My wife wanted to move at one point to live closer to her family. That was a topic I wouldn’t address.

I was very dismissive of the idea of moving, and in large part, I think it’s because I knew it was going to be a difficult conversation, and I didn’t like having difficult conversations, so my form of reactivity in that case was to avoid talking about it. Looking back now, I can see that that was a form of reactivity, so it’s my hope that these teachings and these concepts will feel more like an invitation to be more skillful with navigating the difficulties that arise in life, and learning to take skillful action to address her difficulties, because sometimes, having that difficult conversation, addressing the difficult situation at hand, that can be the start of a beautiful, new chapter in life, but in order to get to that, we have to address the situation at hand. We can’t sit passively and resign to the situation that’s causing us unnecessary suffering, and then just expect it to go away. For example, like I talked about last week, somebody who’s in an abusive relationship, their form of reactivity may feel like avoiding getting out of that situation. It’s very likely that if you are in an abusive relationship and you need to get out of it, you are going to have to weigh the price that you pay for staying and for going.

Imagine if you had children in the equation. That’s something that has to be weighed with leaving, and that’s not to say that you should justify staying in a harmful situation. What I’m saying is yes, it’s going to be difficult to get out of that situation, but that’s the only way out of it, is to go through the difficulty. Recognize, “Okay. We’re all going to have to make changes here. This is going to affect our children, but I simply cannot stay in this situation.”

I guess what I’m trying to really get at here and clarify is that Buddhism is in no way encouraging you to stick with your suffering, to sit through your suffering, and I want to talk about that because the topic of today’s podcast is sitting with sadness, but again, this is an invitation to be with a situation the way that it is with an emotion, the way that it is with the end goal of being able to be more skillful in how we handle that emotion. It’s not an invitation to sit with that emotion and be passive and never do anything about it. I wanted to clarify that a little bit more. I hope that makes sense based on last week’s podcast episode, any other teaching you may have ever heard about Buddhism that talks with words like ‘Acceptance’ and being like water, learning to go with the flow, letting things be. It’s never insinuating that external circumstances like being in an abusive relationship should be tolerated, and I hope that these teachings won’t encourage you to stick with a situation like that. What I’m hoping is that these teachings will allow you to be much more keenly aware of reality.

“What is really happening, and what do I need to do to change that?” That’s the whole point of this, is that by being more mindful, we have a much more clear picture of reality, and then, that allows us to be more skillful with that crucial question of, “Now, what do I do with it? What comes next? Do I stay? Do I go? How am I going to get out of this situation that I’m in that’s causing me suffering?” This is about skillful action, not about passive resignation, so I want to be clear about that.

If you guys have anything else you want to add to that, feel free to comment when I post this on the Facebook group or wherever you find this posted, or email me because I think this is a very worthwhile conversation that can keep going. What I want to share today in terms of sitting with sadness as an experience that I had, two weeks ago with my son, Rajko who’s nine years old now. For me, it’s important to take these concepts that are taught in Buddhism, but then, to actually explain, “How are these applied in normal day-to-day situations in real life?” I had this experience with my son that I wanted to share with you because for me, it was applying this in my real life. Now, in my case, I have younger kids, but I think this is relevant to any situation.

This could have unfolded this conversation, and how it went down could have unfolded with a spouse, or with a sibling, or a friend. It could have happened in a lot of different ways. In this case, it happened with my son. What happened is, it was bedtime, and most kids resist wanting to go to bed, so they have their excuses, and, “I’m hungry”, or, “Now, I’m thirsty”, or whatever it is. Several minutes into this process of bedtime, and by several, I mean like the other kids had all fallen asleep, my wife was already in bed, and I was just staying up because he tends to take a long time to go to sleep, so I’m sitting down on the couch, and then I start hearing crying, the sounds of crying, so I walked into the room and I said, “Rajko, what’s the matter?”

I’m kind of frustrated because by now, this is the third or fourth time I’ve gone in there, and I’m thinking, “He just needs something. He always needs something to avoid going to sleep”, but in this case, I walked in and I said, “Rajko, what’s the matter?” He said, “I’m just sad”, and I said, kind of frustrated, “Why are you sad?” He’s like, “I just miss our old house.” Then, in that moment, I thought, “This is one of those crucial moments where I often talk about learning to sit with your emotions”, and here, there are two emotions going.

One is that he’s crying, and may very well be that it’s he’s legitimately sad, but the other one is I’m sitting with an emotion of frustration. I want things to be other than they are. I want him to go to sleep, so I thought, “I’m going to sit with my emotion too, sit with this frustration and talk to him about this for a moment”, so I climbed up in his bed and sat down with him, and I said, “Tell me why you’re sad. Let’s talk about this a little bit.” As he started to talk to me, I’ve realized right away, he was …

This was genuine. He really was just sad because he was thinking about our old house, the house where he grew up, and he is very tender-hearted and very sensitive, so it made sense to me as he’s explaining why he misses the old house, and our big tree in the backyard, and the track we had around the house that he used to ride his bike. He just said, “I just want to go back to our old house”, and he’s crying, kind of uncontrollable crying at that point, and I noticed the tendency to want to dismiss the emotion, something like, “Oh, you don’t need to be sad. Think about all the toys you have here”, or something to divert that attention from his sadness to something else. I didn’t say any of that, but I thought it.

As I was thinking, and I was thinking, “Why do we do that? Why is there a tendency to shy away from these emotions?”, and I was very happy that I was able to think through this as this situation was unfolding with him because I was able to pause and see the reactivity happening in my own mind, my aversion to the situation. Then, my reaction to him was I said, “Let’s talk about sadness for a little bit.” I said, “Why do you think we feel sad sometimes?”, and then we started talking about that, and then I turned the conversation. I said, “Did you know I feel sad and I cry sometimes too?” He looked at me almost like incredulous, like, “What? Dad’s crying?”

I said, “Yeah. If I sit and I think about things, it’ll make me sad too.” I said, “For example, if I were to think about my home where I grew up.” I started describing the house in Mexico where I lived, and telling him about Sundays, my grandma would come over, and we would always have the big meal. Then, I started sharing stories about my youth and the house where I grew up. The funny thing is, as I’m telling him these things, I’m starting to feel a real nostalgia at that moment, and I started to feel genuinely sad too.

Then, I started telling him a few more stories about my grandma, and that triggered a memory of a time that my grandma was really sick, and she went to the hospital and she needed blood, and the only people in the family who had her blood type were my twin brother and I, and so we went in there and we gave her blood, and when she came out of the surgery and woke up and found out that she had our blood now, my twin brother and I … I think we were 15 maybe, 16 at the time, but we were both very adventurous, and by then, we were already into a lot of extreme sports. I think we had already been skydiving and scuba diving at a young age. You can do that in Mexico, but as she wakes up and she said, “Oh, I feel like I want to go skydiving”, and joking with us, saying, “Now that I’ve got your blood, I’m going to be more adventurous in life”, and then joking with us, “I think I can speak English now”, and she couldn’t. She could never speak a word of English, but it was …

As I’m telling this story to my son, Rajko, I’m emotional, and I’m crying, and I’m thinking back to these memories, and it was a touching moment to share with my son and to show him what it’s like to sit with sadness. Then, for a moment, we were both teary-eyed as we’re both recalling these fun memories of our past. Then, I said, “Rajko, it’s natural to feel this way, so see how just by sharing the story with you … Look at me. Now, I’m crying too”, and he just gave me a big hug, and I said, “It’s normal for us to feel this way”, and I said, “We feel this way because we cherish those memories.” I said, “What’s really important though is to understand that those memories that you miss, that’s happening right now.”

I said, “One day in the future, you’ll look back, and you may be sad, missing this house, the house where we’re living now.” Then, I said, “One thing I can promise you if you can remember this is that one day, you might be sitting in your bed, talking to your son or to your daughter about what it is to feel sadness, and you’re going to remember, hopefully, you’ll remember this memory, and you’ll remember the day that your dad talked to you about it, and you might actually cry.” There we were, sharing in this really tender moment, this … It was a neat experience to help him understand how okay it is to feel sad, so when I talk about the title of the podcast being, Sitting With Sadness, really, it’s that we’re sitting with whatever is. In this case, there was sadness, and we were sitting with it, and I hope that it teaches my son in the same way that it taught me in that moment that it’s whatever we’re experiencing is okay.

It’s just what is, and the whole object of learning to sit with whatever is, is that we can become more skillful in how we deal with that, like I mentioned in the introduction to this podcast, the ability to act skillfully with life as it unfolds. That’s really what we’re after here. That’s what we’re after with being more mindful. I think one of the greatest misconceptions about mindfulness is that it’s a form of passivity, or that it’s a form of just sitting with something until you’re okay with it, and that’s not necessarily what it is. It’s you’re trying to stop the reactivity because when you’re not reactive and you can see something for what it really is, an emotion, a memory, a thought, or a situation, a life situation that you’re in, you can be more skillful with the all important question of, “Now, what do I do with this? What comes next?”

I experienced this with my son the other night, just that brief moment of feeling reactive. I wanted him to just quit crying and go to bed, but I saw that reactivity in me, and I paused, and I said, “This could be a teaching moment to teach him that emotions are normal, that they’re healthy, and even if they’re uncomfortable, they can be beautiful so they can evoke feelings, memories that caused you to cherish the present moment with a little bit more tenderness than before.” I feel like with this experience that I had with my son, I saw that in him. I saw it in me as we were sitting there, talking. I was really cherishing that moment.

It was fascinating how quickly that moment went from being a moment of frustration, where I’m trying to just get my kid to go to sleep so I can go back to watching TV or whatever I was doing, switched to, “Wow. This is a moment I’m not going to forget. That little conversation that lasted 10, 15 minutes, I’m not going to forget that.” It’s very possible he won’t forget it. Maybe he will. He’s still young.

I don’t know, but I’m hoping that the lesson he learned that carries on with him for a while at least is that it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to feel sad, it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling, and to be able to sit with that emotion for a little bit and explore it, “Why do I feel this?”, “What makes us feel this way?”, and to feel hopefully that aversion that we seem to develop for certain emotions, I’m hoping he won’t feel that for sadness because of that one experience. I know in many instances in my own life in the past, sadness specifically is one of those emotions that we, it almost seems we have a natural aversion to it. We don’t want to be sad, so we try to divert our energy to something else, distract ourselves, and distraction from emotion could aggravate … It could aggravate the whole situation.

Why not just sit with an emotion? This is where it comes back into what I was expressing with the disclaimer at the beginning of this. If you’re experiencing a difficult emotion like a situation that you’re in for example, an abusive relationship, this is absolutely not an invitation to be passive, to resign. That resignation or passivity could be the very reactivity that we’re trying to discover here. You would want to be able to sit with that emotion, sit with that situation in the sense that you can gain a clear understanding, “What’s really happening here?”

“Why is this happening? Why do I tend to not be vocal and get out of this situation? Why am I not acting in a way that would remove me from this harmful situation?” You may find that it’s because your reactivity is passivity, or your habitual reactivity is to avoid confrontation, like I used to do in my marriage. Coming back to that topic, I used to really struggle with any difficult conversation I was going to have with my wife.

I would avoid it at all cost, and paid a heavy price for that. We really struggled, and at one point in our marriage, it seemed like it was all but over. We started going to marriage counseling, and what I learned was to communicate effectively. I learned that through the marriage counseling, but what I learned through practicing mindfulness and studying Buddhism was I learned that my form of reactivity was avoiding difficulties, avoiding difficult conversations in my marriage. That was one of them, so that changed drastically.

Now, it doesn’t matter what the topic is. If it’s something that needs to be addressed, I feel much more skillful with it. It’s not reactive anymore. It may be that I’ll have to give it some time, like I’ll write it out for myself and really think it through, and then say, “Hey, could we talk about something tomorrow night or right after dinner or whatever?” Then, we can bring up difficult things, and we’ve gone through very difficult conversations.

As a married couple, we were part of the same faith. I’m going through a faith transition in an orthodox or a fundamental type belief system, and I mean that in the sense of a faith system that is not flexible to say, “All paths are good.” When you belong to a rigid faith system that says, “This is the only right way, the only true way”, imagine the difficulty in a conversation to tell your spouse, “I no longer share this view”, that had I not already been studying mindfulness and learning to be skillful with my own reactivity, that could have been a disaster in our marriage, but it wasn’t because we were able to navigate that much more skillfully, so yeah. I bring this up because I do want to be very clear about the difference like I clarified back in the podcast. I can’t remember what number, but Acceptance Vs Resignation.

I’m kind of pointing to that again here in this conversation. Sitting with sadness is not a form of resignation. Sitting with sadness like the other night I was with my son, to me, that was a very skillful action that took place, a very skillful conversation that took place with my son that I don’t think would have been very doable had I not been practicing in my own life to try to be more mindful and to be more skillful with my own emotions and my own experiences. That’s the topic I wanted to share today in this podcast episode, Sitting With Sadness. You may be going through some kind of experience or situation in your own life.

Maybe it’s … It could be at work. It could be something related to the dynamics with a co-worker or a boss. You may be sitting with some kind of discomfort and avoiding the discomfort of addressing the discomfort. It could be happening in a relationship. It could be happening just with sitting with whatever emotions you’re experiencing, kind of like with what my son was experiencing.

He could have been taught in that moment to push away those feelings, “You’re not supposed to feel sad. Quit being sad.” That could have been the message, but that’s not the message that he got, and so yeah. I hope that this podcast episode and all future ones, and all concepts and teachings that you take from Buddhism or from podcast episodes that I share help. These will always feel like an invitation to learn to be more skillful with navigating the difficulties that arise in life, an invitation to be willing to take skillful action to address all of the difficulties, whether they’d be internal or external situations that you may be going through.

That’s the goal of this. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish with this podcast, is these are just tools, tools to help you be more skillful with how you navigate life that’s … We’re all just navigating life, trying to do our best, and there are certain teachings and perspectives that could be powerful tools to help you do that, and that’s really what I’m after here. That’s all I have to share in this podcast episode. If you enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it with others.

Write a review. Give it a rating in iTunes. If you want to join the online community, you can visit SecularBuddhism.com/community, or we have links to the Facebook groups. If you’d like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with this podcast, visit SecularBuddhism.com. You can click the Donate button there, or if you’re interested in learning more about the book that I mentioned above, you can visit EverydayBuddhism.com, and that’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.

68 – Questions About Buddhism

In this podcast episode, I will discuss my newest book and I will share some of the specific Q&A’s directly from the book. Presented in a practical Q&A format, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners is the most clear-cut introductory guide to understanding the essential concepts of Buddhism and how they relate to your daily life.

Order the book here:

Subscribe to the podcast on:
iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/secular-buddhism/id1071578260
SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/secularbuddhism
TuneIn – http://tunein.com/radio/Secular-Buddhism-p823114/
Stitcher – http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=80132&refid=stpr

Transcription of the podcast episode:

Welcome to another episode of the secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 68. I am your host, Noah Rasheta and today I’m talking about questions about Buddhism.

When I started this podcast a few years ago I started to receive several e-mails with questions that people had to expand on a specific topic or to clarify a certain teaching and I’ve been answering these questions for quite some time, usually by e-mail. Then with the podcast being out, I was eventually approached by a publisher and I was offered the opportunity to write a book about Buddhism that just recently came out. It’s available for pre-order now on Amazon. The book is called, No Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, Clear Answers to Burning Questions About Core Buddhist Teachings.

I’m really excited to have this book out because it’s formatted in a question and answer format and broken into four specific parts. Part one is questions about the Buddha, part two is questions around core concepts, part three has questions and answers around core teachings and part four has questions around core Buddhist practices. This book is intended for anyone who is new to Buddhism but also to help practitioners who are looking for a resource to be able to answer questions from friends or loved ones.

You may have noticed as you start to apply these concepts in your life, it’s common for people to say, “Oh, you’re interested in Buddhism? Well, what does Buddhism say about this or about that?” If you’re like me you’ve probably noticed that that is a common thing from friends and family. So this book serves as a good platform to be able to address some of these questions, to answer them in a way that people who are not familiar with Buddhism or any concepts around Buddhism would be able to understand the answers to some of those questions.

So I thought it would be cool to do a podcast episode to just quickly share with you some of the questions and answers from the book just to give you an idea about how this book works and what some of the questions are that are addressed and then of course, some of the answers. I thought I would go through and share at least one question from each part. In part one I address 16 different questions around the topic of the Buddha. Who was he? What language did he speak? Did he have a family? What happened to him? How did he die? All of these questions that center around the historical figure of the Buddha.

So I’ll give you one example. One question is who was the Buddha? Was he a real person or is he a myth? This is how I answered it in the book. I said Buddha is a title that was given to a man named Siddhārtha Gautama. Siddhārtha lived around 500 BCE in Northern India in what is now Nepal and generally when people refer to the Buddha, they are referring to Siddhārtha, the man whose teachings became the foundation of what we now call Buddhism. There’s little scholarly debate around Siddhārtha’s existence. However, there is some debate around specific events in his life. As is common with many ancient traditions, the historical Buddhist teaching have evolved into teachings about the teachings.

This opens up more room for individual teachers’ interpretations but it brings into question the historical accuracy of modern day re-tellings. However, we can still tell a lot about the Buddha by his teachings that have been passed down. We know that they center on two main themes. The problem of human suffering and the methods that can bring about the cessation of suffering. And the Buddha taught a method of living that tended to be practiced rather than a set of ideas he asked his followers to believe. His teachings, known collectively as the Dharma, invite us to look inward and study our own minds in order to gain a clearer understanding of ourselves and the nature of reality.

That’s how I answered that one specific question. Who was the Buddha? Was he a real person or is he a myth? Then there are 15 other questions in that section that all center around the topic of the Buddha. In part two where I start to address core concepts, the majority of what I’ve talked about as far as topics on the podcast I think would fall within this realm, core Buddhist concepts. I spend a lot of time discussing concepts. I haven’t spent hardly any time on the podcast talking about the historical figure known as the Buddha so I think all 16 of those questions in part one are probably going to be new to most podcast listeners unless you’ve been digging into studying Buddhism on your own from other sources.

But part two that has the core concepts, you may recognize some of these and here I address 19 questions and answers around core concepts. I want to share two of them with you because these may be kind of new. I don’t think I’ve done podcast episodes on this. Several of the ones that I bring up in this book may be new for you. One of the questions, what does Buddhism teach about good and evil? The way I answered that question was from the Buddhist perspective, good and evil are not inherent forces out in the universe. Instead they’re internal states of mind. Buddhism teaches us to look inward. There we can find the source of all the good things we say, think and do and likewise discover that we ourselves, our own minds, are the source of any evil. This understanding gives us a greater sense of responsibility over our own thoughts, words and actions.

Rather than thinking of evil as an external agent acting upon us, Buddhism teaches that greed, hatred and ignorance are the sources of what we typically think of as evil. In Buddhism these three qualities are called the three poisons or the three fires. The challenge the three poisons pose in our lives is that they drive us to look outside of ourselves to try to achieve happiness or to avoid suffering because external things like money, fame or power can’t bring us lasting joy or contentment. We’re setting ourselves up to experience unnecessary suffering by chasing after them. Material things can be nice to have for a time but the happiness and fulfillment we seek is not found in external sources. That was the answer I gave to the question what does Buddhism teach about good and evil. That’s one concept I address in the book.

Another one, a big question that people want to know is do Buddhists believe in reincarnation? This is how I answered that question. Buddhists believe in rebirth which is not quite the same thing as what you probably have in mind when you think about reincarnation. The traditional concept of reincarnation is that you, some kind of soul or spirit, go on to inhabit a new physical form whether it be a person, animal or plant. Though some Buddhist schools think of rebirth as something closer to this idea of reincarnation, it doesn’t fit with other Buddhists’ understanding of impermanence and non-self. We’re changing form every day, experiencing re-birth even from one moment to the next. The you that’s listening to this is literally not the same you who will be listening at the end of the podcast as the you that was listening at the beginning.

If there is no permanent you, which part of you could transcend death to become reincarnated? When we observe nature we see constant rebirth. After all the law of conservation of energy in physics states that energy can’t be created or destroyed. It can just be transformed from one form into another. A cloud changes form and becomes rain. The rain becomes part of a river, flows into the ocean and then gets heated up and evaporates into the air where it may become a cloud and start the process all over again. What was for a time a cloud is transformed into something new and we don’t say the cloud dies when it changes form into raindrops. Are we really any different from the cloud? When we die our bodies change form as they decompose and become part of nature but they never cease to exist.

Buddhists believe that humans, like everything else in nature, are part of a continual cycle of change. So that’s how I answered that question about reincarnation. You can imagine 17 other questions beyond the two that I just shared with you. I really go deep into a lot of these core Buddhist concepts. In part three of the book I talk about core teachings. I have 17 questions and answers that I address in this section and I’ll just share one of them. The question I received was, “It seems like “I” am the source of a lot of important things. Awareness, suffering, good and evil. What else can Buddhism teach me about the nature of myself? What makes me me?”

This is how I answer that question. According to Buddhist teachings our “self” is a perspective. It is a product of our perception. Our sense of self is an event that occurs rather than a thing that exists. Imagine pausing a movie to see a single still image. Every film is made up of those individual frames but when we watch movies, we perceive them as one continuous moving image telling a connected story. Ourselves are like the film strip. A collection of unique still frames that are generated in each moment-to-moment experience of being alive. If you could pause time and see the individual frame in this specific moment, you would see that it’s slightly different from the ones just before and after it. In other words, the you of right now is not the same you of the previous moment.

The Buddha taught that we are made up of five components that come together to create the perception of a distinct individual I or me. These five components are called the five skandhas, a Sanskrit word meaning aggregates or heaps. The five aggregates are form, sensation, perception, mental formations or thoughts and consciousness. On this subject the Buddha furthermore taught that we sense reality in our world through six sense organs. The eyes sense visible form, the ears sense sound, the nose senses odor, the tongue senses taste, the body senses tangible things and the mind senses thoughts or ideas. You’ll notice that the first five senses are the ones we’re all taught in school but Buddhism also considers the mind to be a sense organ since our minds sense thoughts and ideas.

So that’s how I answered that question but then I go on to answer because the follow-up questions ask about the specific five aggregates so I have five different questions centered around each of the five aggregates. I won’t share that here but in the book you would certainly get a lot more information on the five aggregates than what I just shared. And then in part four, the final part of the book, I talk about core practices. Again, practices are not really addressed in the podcast. The podcast almost exclusively addresses Buddhist concepts, core concepts. Part one, part three, teachings, you get a mix of that in the podcast and part four, practices, those are going to be all unique topics that I’ve never really gone into on the podcast.

One of the questions that I address in part four is the question everybody talks about meditating and the Buddha found enlightenment through meditation so it seems like an important practice. But how do you do it? Is there a correct Buddhist way? I guess I’m going to go back for a second because this is a topic that’s addressed in the podcast but this is how I answered that question. There are countless meditation techniques and methods taught among the various schools of Buddhism. Some schools of Buddhism don’t practice meditation at all. One of the most common techniques is mindfulness meditation. The goal of this technique is to learn to become an observer of the world and our own experiences.

We spend so much of our time in thinking mode, ascribing meaning to our thoughts and emotions. We chase after thoughts with other thoughts or try to control our thoughts which only aggravates the overall problem of being habitually reactive. Mindfulness meditation helps us break out of the cycle of reactivity. The technique can be as simple as observing your breath. Notice what it feels like to breathe. Can you feel the slight temperature fluctuations at the tip of your nose between the in breath and the out breath? Do you notice the subtle rise and fall in your chest, shoulders or abdomen with each breath? When we observe we pause our reactive thinking and stop making meaning.

For example, when we’re sitting outside watching the clouds float by, we don’t have the tendency to ascribe value to the shapes that we see. We don’t think, “Oh, this is a good cloud or that’s a bad cloud. This cloud isn’t puffy enough or that cloud is too tall.” In these moments of observation we just see the cloud for what it is. When we turn this process inward, we can start to experience the same unbiased, nonjudgmental attitude toward our own thoughts and feelings. Suddenly we’re not judging our anger as good or bad. We just notice that we’re experiencing an emotion and allow it to remain without resisting it or trying to fight it off. Before we know it, the emotion will dissipate or be replaced by another just like the clouds in the sky.That’s how I answered the question about meditation.

Now under core practices I’ll talk about several Buddhist practices from chanting to meditation, 12 different questions and answers in that section. The book overall has 64 total questions and again, these are questions that I’ve collected in the years of having the podcast and teaching workshops. I’m really excited to present this book, somewhat as an introduction to Buddhism. It’s like the title suggests, Buddhism for Beginners, but really it’s for anyone who’s interested in understanding what the core Buddhist concepts and teachings are and practices and then of course, who was the Buddha and all the questions centered around the historical figure that we know as the Buddha.

It’s a book that I think would be really helpful for any practitioner who’s wanting to have a deeper understanding of these concepts. That’s where I was at the beginning of all this, my journey with Buddhism. What I found was Buddhist practices were really helpful, specifically meditation. It was really working for me. It was helping me to find peace in my life and I wanted to understand where does this come from? Who came up with this? Why does this work? That journey of trying to understand meditation as a practice led me to study and understand with greater depth Buddhism in general.

That’s my attempt with this book is to kind of take in a question and answer format all of that information and make this easy and accessible for you as the reader or for anyone who may approach you with questions about Buddhism. So that’s the goal there. One of the things I do plan on eventually doing with this book is having … You know, I’ve traveled around and done these workshops, one-day workshops where it’s an introduction to mindfulness or an introduction to Buddhism. There are limitations with doing that because if I’m going to travel somewhere there are expenses associated with that. I have to get there so I have to charge to do these workshops.

Well, I’m really excited to announce that my next project now that this book is over, is to launch an online workshop that will be available for free for anyone who is interested in learning about this stuff. This book will serve as kind of a book to accompany that workshop. That’s something that’s on the horizon. I’ll announce more about that as it gets closer, as I have dates lined up for that. But for now the main thing I wanted to do was just introduce you to this book, give you an example of some of the questions and answers that are addressed in the book and let you know that there are 64 total questions there that if you’re interested in hearing, you can learn about them.

You can visit secularbuddhism.com where you’ll see the link there for the book or you can visit everydaybuddhism.com. That is a URL that links directly to the book, makes it easy to remember. So secularbuddhism.com you’ll find it, everdaybuddhism.com you will also find it. That’s all I wanted to share for today. If you enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others, write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. If you would like to join our online community you can visit secularbuddhism.com/community and that’s all I have for now. I look forward to recording another podcast episode very soon. Thank you and until next time.

67 – Never Enough

In this podcast episode, I will discuss how the attitude of “never enough” can lead to a form emotional abuse that we inflict on our selves. I will discuss the idea of how letting go of the unhealthy views, ideas, and beliefs we have of ourselves can lead to a form of liberation where we are finally vulnerable and free to fly.

Subscribe to the podcast on:
iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/secular-buddhism/id1071578260
SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/secularbuddhism
TuneIn – http://tunein.com/radio/Secular-Buddhism-p823114/
Stitcher – http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=80132&refid=stpr

Transcription of the podcast episode:

Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 67. I am your host Noah Rasheta. And today I’m talking about our tendency to feel like things are never enough. So the title of this podcast episode, Never Enough comes from a song in the musical, The Greatest Showman with Hugh Jackman. If you have seen it, there is a song in that movie called Never Enough and I really like that song. I think it has a really powerful message that to me quite honestly seems like the anthem of our society, it’s a way of thinking that seems to permeate our societal views and our expectations towards life, towards others, and towards ourselves. If you think about this when it comes to physical things like having a house, there is this mentality of never enough.

You can have a great home and you’re always daydreaming of what that bigger house would have or, “This house is great but it would be better with the pool.” Same with our jobs, “This job would be great but if I could just get paid more, or I had a better title, or if I could get moved up to the office with the corner window view.” Whatever it is, there’s this tendency to think of never enough. We’re always seeking after more. We do this with our relationships, we do this with our experiences and our feelings. You can be feeling great about something in life but that’s never enough, we’re always looking for the next thing. And I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, I think this tendency has driven us as individuals, but also collectively as a species, as a society to be able to make leaps and bounds in terms of comforts, technological innovations, because there is this drive that seems to motivate us for a better life and it’s always happening.

So I don’t want to give off the impression that this is necessarily a bad thing, but I do think it can get tricky if we just have a habitual tendency to react to this desire to have more and more and more. When we understand it, when we understand ourselves, we can see this in ourselves and we can become more skillful with how we handle this natural human tendency, where we can pause for a moment and say, “Is this a worthwhile pursuit or has this become an unskillful habitual form of reactivity where I’m just never going to be content with what I have.” We can be more skillful with how we handle this natural human emotion. So I do want to be clear about that. But in the song, if any of you have ever heard it, she’s talking about how all the shine of a thousand spotlights, all the stars we steal from the night sky will never be enough, never be enough. Towers of gold are still too little, these hands could hold the world but it’ll never be enough. That’s the message conveyed in that song. It’s a really catchy tune.

Like I said earlier, I really like that song and I like belting it out in the car, which is hard to do because it’s really high notes. So it would be embarrassing if anyone ever heard that. But again, I think we live in a society where we view life as never enough. And what I want to talk about in this episode is specifically, how does that start to influence how we view others. I think that can be one of the more dangerous ways. I want to correlate this notion of never enough, to how some people end up getting entangled in a much bigger and more serious problem, and that’s the problem of emotional abuse. The abuse that we receive from others or that we give to others. And I would assume most of you know of someone who has gone through some form of emotional abuse, I was just talking to someone about … So I was talking to someone who heard from someone who had been confided in by a dear friend of that person, who’s going through a difficult time with emotional abuse in a relationship.

And hearing this conversation unfold, it was interesting to be able to feel a sense of anger and frustration towards that situation, because you care for the person who’s going through this. But what was interesting to me was how this person who was telling me about this experience and seeing in this person the anger, and the total unacceptability on behalf of this friend who was going through this. And I think that was great to hear in the sense that, Wow, we don’t we don’t put up with that, we we want what’s best for our friends, for our loved ones.” But it did get me thinking a little bit, because so many of the things that were being described in this specific situation, in this relationship in terms of an emotional abuse, seemed to stem from this notion of never enough. This spouse was being … is emotional abused because the abuser has this mindset that this person is not good enough, a good enough spouse, or a good enough parent, or a good enough partner. In all these different realms and aspects of the relationship there’s the sense of not being enough, so then there’s the intimidation and all the other emotional abuse that was unfolding.

But again, what I started thinking about as I was listening to all this is, “Man, a lot of the symptoms seem to be very common in how we deal with ourselves.” So it got me thinking … I looked up what is the definition and the symptoms of emotional abuse. There are tons of resources online for people dealing with emotional abuse, but this stood out to me because one definition of emotional abuse is, any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation or any other treatment, which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity and self-worth. And I really paused for a moment thinking, “Oh man, so many of us do this to ourselves all the time. And how fascinating that we would be so indignant hearing about somebody else enduring this from somebody else, but rarely do we pause and feel that same sense of indignation when we realize how guilty we all are of doing this to ourselves at one time or another.” It mentioned some of the specific signs and symptoms of emotional abuse. And listen to some of these and just imagine … Imagine yourself, have you ever done any of this to yourself? Yelling or swearing, calling names or insults, a form of mockery, mocking, any kind of threat or intimidation, anything that is humiliating.

I thought, “Man, we all talk to ourselves in these tones, swear at ourselves.” You, “Blah, blah, blah,” talking to yourself, or calling insults. I’m sure everybody listening to this has called themselves an idiot or felt, not just called yourself that, but genuinely felt like you are such an idiot because of something you did or didn’t do. Threats and intimidation, “Man, if you ever do this again, I don’t know.” Any kind of threat. Some people punish themselves, “I wont buy this thing that I want, or I’ll take this back,” or I don’t know. So I wanted to change the direction of that topic because I think all of us can immediately identify that if we had a friend come to us and tell us about the type of emotional abuse that they were enduring, we would all feel incensed and a form of outrage and we would want to do something about it. But when change that direction and we look inward, and ask ourselves, “Are we emotionally abusive to ourselves?” I think it gets a little harder. And if you listen to that list again of symptoms and signs, and you genuinely ask yourself, “Do you do this to yourself?” I think a lot of people would have to acknowledge that yeah, they do. If not from time to time, maybe all the time, I always talk to myself that way.

And this correlates going back to Episode 57, I quoted something from Tara Brachi’s book, Radical Acceptance. And I want to spell Tara Brachi’s name, T.A.R.A. B.R.A.C.H.I. I had feedback from a podcast listener that I think was excellent feedback, to mention the spelling of names when I’m referencing people or their books, because not everyone has heard of these people. So I’m going to try to do that from now on. Thank you for the feedback. But she mentions, and I quoted this in Episode 57. She says, “Our culture’s guiding myth is the story of Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden. And we may forget it’s power because it seems so worn and familiar, but this story shapes and reflects the deep psyche over the West. The  message of original sin is unequivocal, because of our basic flawed nature, we do not deserve to be happy, loved by others or at ease with life. We are outcasts and if we are to reenter the garden, we must redeem our sinful selves. We must overcome our flaws by controlling our bodies, controlling our emotions, controlling our natural surroundings, controlling other people and we must strive tirelessly working, acquiring, consuming, achieving, emailing, over-committing and rushing in a never ending quest to prove ourselves once and for all.”

I think that sentiment correlates pretty well with this notion of never enough. It’s like we’re striving tireless to prove ourselves. And when I have all these incredible things, the car that I have, or the house, or for the relationship, it’s like, “I’ve got to have more. It’s got to be better, it’s got to be a newer car, a faster car, a bigger house, or a house with more amenities,” or the relationship, “It’s got to be even more and more perfect.” So this sets us up to be in a position where it’s easy to be emotionally abusive to ourselves, because we don’t see ourselves as worthy. I want to correlate this entire conversation with another teaching, another notion that I think goes really well with it. And this is something I shared earlier this week on the Secular Buddhism Podcast Community Facebook group. So this is a teaching that comes from Pema Chodron and her name is P.E.M.A. C.H.O.D.R.O.N.. And there’s a little book called The Pocket, Pema Chodron and I’ve been sharing daily teachings of hers on the Facebook group. But one that I share that she wrote is called, Everything Has To Go.

And I want to read it to you really quickly because I think it goes well with this topic. But she says, “All of us are like eagles who have forgotten that we know how to fly, the teachings are reminding us who we are and what we can do. They help us notice that we’re in a nest with a lot of old food, excrement and stale air. From when we were very young we’ve had this longing to go see the mountains in the distance and experience that big sky and the vast ocean. But somehow we got trapped in our nest, just because we forgot that we knew how to fly. We are like eagles but we have on underwear, and pants, and a shirt, and socks, and shoes, and a hat, and a coat, and boots, and mittens, and an iPod, and dark glasses and it occurs to us, that we could experience the vast sky but we better start taking off some of this stuff. So we take off the coat and the hat and it’s cold, but we know that we have to do it. And we teeter on the edge of the nest and we take off. Then we find out for ourselves that everything has to go. You just can’t fly when you’re wearing socks, and shoes, and coats, and pants, and underwear. Everything has to go.”

And to me this teaching that she shares is about the vulnerability of being naked in terms of our ideas and our our beliefs, specifically about ourselves. The underwear, the coat, and the boots, these all represent the comforting concepts and ideas that we cling to. Maybe comforting isn’t the right word, I guess you could say comforting in the sense that we’re used to them, but really they’re hindering us. I think often the emotional abuse that we inflict on ourselves comes through our deeply held views and beliefs that we have about who we are, or who we think we’re supposed to be, or who we think we’re not supposed to be. We’re not supposed to look or act a certain way, we’re not supposed to be lost or confused or have doubts about things, we’re supposed to have it all together. And I think that’s why in our society we tend to portray our life in a certain way on social media. And I think all of you have seen this or know what it’s like to see an Instagram feed or a Facebook news feed where everything just looks peachy and hunky-dory.

Thinking about last week’s podcast episode, The Layers of Experience. I think this happens in how we portray our lives. We may be feeling a certain level of discontent with how we think our life is, but then there’s this other layer, the secondary layer is when I share a certain image of what my life seems like and people seem to respond to that, now there’s a sense of satisfaction in the sharing. And that tends to cover up the discomfort of the actual experience of living. So there’s the experience of living that may not be very comfortable, but then I’m sharing the life that I want you to think that I living, and that gives me a sense of comfort because at least I feel like you think I’ve got it all figured out. But we’re still in the same boat that I talked about last week, which is the layers of experience. So it takes an incredible amount of courage to be able to take it all off and to just be there, experiencing life as it unfolds without the comfort of what we’re used to in terms of our concepts and ideas and beliefs. But just letting go and being ready to fly.

And you have to let go of an idea or concept of belief to be able to feel that sense of feeling lighter. I would assume many of you have felt this before, what does it feel like when you’ve let go of a view that you had about yourself or about someone else, and then you can just be around that person and you feel lighter. There’s no more judgment, there’s no more measuring of who they are in that moment versus who you think they should be, but you can do this with yourself. Imagine the sense of lightness that you would feel if you felt worthy of being who you are, there’s no scale anymore that’s saying, “Well, I’m good but if I could just be this or that I would be better.” You can go back and listen to that podcast episode called, We Don’t Need To Change Ourselves. That’s what this message is alluding to.

So where does this process of everything has to go, where does that start? We can start with looking at the views and expectations that you have for yourself, look at your pervasive or recurring thoughts and emotions, because they come from somewhere, they come influenced by views. And it’s really about letting go of thoughts in the sense of changing the relationship we have to our thoughts. I think there’s a misconception here that what we need to do is stop thinking about ourselves a certain way. And I want to give you an example from my own life that has been a very powerful way for me to experience this sense of introspection. So some of you know that one of the catalysts for getting into mindfulness in the first place was going through a really difficult phase in life where I had experienced a hardship. And in my experience there was a pervasive thought that arose out of this experience. And for me this thought was the thought of, “You’re not lovable, you’re not wanted, you’re not I guess likable.” But really it was … It’s been a pervasive thought for me.

And it arises and it complicates aspects of my relationship at times because an argument or things that can be very natural and normal in a relationship for me can trigger this pervasive recurring thought of, “You’re just not lovable. You’re not loved and no matter what you do, you’ll never be worthy of being loved.” And that’s been a difficult recurring thought for me, a very difficult emotion to deal with because it’s easy to believe your own thoughts. An  for years my meditative practice was built around the idea that if I could get mindful enough, if I could meditate long enough, somehow I could finally eradicate this thought. Like it’s a weed in my mind and I could finally pluck it or pick it and it’d be gone. And to my frustration, years and years of practice, it wasn’t going away. I mean I think to be honest it minimized it, it wasn’t nearly as pervasive as it used to be, it used to be a recurring thought and then it would become … from time to time it would take a certain thing to trigger the thought.

But man, once the thought was there, the thought would immediately induce a certain emotion. It would cause certain memories to arise, it was like a spiral of feelings thoughts and emotions that would build on each other. The thought would trigger an emotion, which would trigger a memory, and the memory would trigger another emotion, that emotion would trigger another thought. And there I was spiraling in this form of disturbing or uncomfortable feelings. But what I found with time was that, the problem wasn’t the pervasive thought, the problem was that I believed my own thought. So what changed over time was the relationship that I had with the thought, but not the thought itself magically going away. And every now and then it still surfaces as a recurring thought for me, but when it does what’s changed again is the relationship I have with the thought. Now I almost smile and just see it for what it is. It’s that pervasive thought, there it is again and I see it with a greater sense of compassion and fondness, almost a softer tone to it rather than feeling aggressive like, “I need to get rid of that thought.”

I see it for what it is, I get why it’s there. Past experiences, past feelings and emotions cause this thought to become a recurring thought. And I can see that, I see it for what it is and when it arises I see it and it’s like I say, “Well, there you are and that’s fine. You can be there, I don’t believe you anymore. Just because I thought it, doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s reality.” And that has been an incredibly powerful transformation for me in terms of the relationship I have with my own thoughts. I don’t believe my own thoughts anymore. I’m very cautious about what I believe or what I don’t believe, just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s true and that was where the power of that specific pervasive thought, you’re not lovable, lost a lot of it’s power. So I would hope that anyone listening to this would … If you heard about somebody going through emotional abuse, I would hope that you would feel a tremendous sense of concern to want to do something about it to help a friend get out of a relationship that’s causing where there’d been emotional abuse.

I think most of us would. I don’t think we’d be like, “Hey, well you know just deal with it.” I think most of us would say, “Hey, this is a very serious thing. We need to look at this, what can you do to get out of this relationship? This is unhealthy for you.” I think we would have a lot of genuine concern for that person. I would hope that you would have the same level of concern about your own emotional abuse if you were to detect … if you were to be honest with yourself and detect any of those signs and symptoms of emotional abuse coming from yourself directed towards yourself. And I think there are a couple of tips to get started with this process of being more vulnerable, this process of recognizing everything has to go and that is, first recognizing it’s going to take enormous courage. It takes small steps. For me it was something as simple as asking a loved one, what are they thinking about, becoming more comfortable with not knowing how that answer is going to unfold or what it’s going to say about me or where are they going to think about me and being proud about the bravery of being willing to take those little steps. And being more vulnerable, more exposed so to speak.

If you tend to worry a lot about other people … What other people think of you, which I think is a lot of people. Most of us have that. Recognize that tendency and just remember most people are probably feeling that exact same fear that you have, and really they’re just focused on their own internal struggles and not necessarily on you. What they think about you, says more about them than it does about you. It’s helpful to remember that. Now that doesn’t magically make this feeling go away, but it is a helpful reminder that they feel the same thing. Most of us we’re hard wired for this as humans, as social creatures to be very skillful at reading what we think others are interpreting of us. It’s normal and it’s natural but it’s helpful to recognize they’re feeling the same thing. And when things are feeling a little bit too overwhelming, you can always focus your attention inward on your breath, on the sensations in your body for a few moments and just try to visualize what would life be like for you once everything has gone, once the coat, and the shoes, and socks, and everything. Everything that’s holding you back from being free to fly, free to be you.

I’ve talked about this before Buddhism is often referred to as the path of liberation. It’s not called the path to happiness. It’s called the path of liberation for a reason because what we’re bound by in so many instances is the poisons of greed, and hatred, and delusion. And in this case I think delusion specifically around the views that we have about ourselves and others and about life, and thinking that there’s always things are supposed to be. Being able to live a life where we’re liberated from that, where we’re free as Pema talks about that, “To be the Eagles that we realize that we are capable of flight, capable of of souring but oftentimes grounded by all the unnecessary weight of the unnecessary accessories that come in the form of ideas, and beliefs, and and concepts that we hold about ourselves. So that’s the topic I wanted to share in this podcast episode.

I hope that you’ll be willing to take a few moments this week and just look inward and be honest and ask yourself, “How do I talk to myself? Am I emotionally abusive to myself? And if so, what am I willing to do to make a change in this relationship that I have with myself, the relationship I have with my with my thoughts, my recurring thoughts, the thoughts that can be aggressive towards myself. Do I believe those thoughts? Like I mentioned earlier the belief that I had about me. That belief or that thought, it’s a recurring thought but I don’t believe it. And just to spend some time being introspective about yourself, how are you towards you? That’s I guess the question that I hope you’ll sit with this week and I hope you’ll be able to experience a sense of lightness as you start to let go of things, as you start to realize everything has to go in order to have that liberation to fly like Pema talks about.

So that’s all I’ve got for today. I mentioned last week that I am trying really hard to have weekly episodes, and I’m excited because I did one last week and here I am doing another one on Sunday evening. I’m going to make Sunday the day that I record these. And I’ll either release them Sunday night or Monday mornings, because statistically during research on the website I realize Monday, there’s a huge spike in searches online for mindfulness, which I think is really telling. Monday everyone wants to be really mindful. And guess when it drops? It starts to drop on Friday. So Friday and Saturday are the two lowest days for podcast listens, for downloads, for web searches everything, and not just online, but keywords on Google like mindfulness or how to meditate or anything along those lines, drop dramatically on Friday and Saturday. They start to increase Sunday evening, which I just think is so fascinating. Sunday evening and Monday we are in full force looking for how to be more mindful.

So I want to release podcast episodes either Sunday night or Monday morning. Mindful Monday, we could call it, and give you something that you can think about for that week, that can be a lesson or something that you keep with you throughout the week. So I hope this podcast episode has been enjoyable and beneficial to you. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode feel free to share it with others. You can read a review, give it a rating in iTunes. And if you want to join that online community I was talking about, you can visit secularBuddhism.com/community and I have a link on that page to the Facebook group. If you would like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit SecularBuddhism.com, and then click on the link up at the top that says Donate, it’s on the menu. And that’s all I have for now but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.

66 – The Joy & Pain of Sharing Experiences

Have you ever felt the strong urge to capture the experience you’re having and then to share it with others? We do this with movies, books, restaurants, and of course ideas, opinions, and beliefs. In this episode, I will discuss the joy and pain that often arise when we try to share our experiences and how that joy/pain doesn’t have to take away from the original experience itself.

Subscribe to the podcast on:
iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/secular-buddhism/id1071578260
SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/secularbuddhism
TuneIn – http://tunein.com/radio/Secular-Buddhism-p823114/
Stitcher – http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=80132&refid=stpr

New – Join our Online Weekly Sangha – https://www.remind.com/join/sbsangha

Transcription of the podcast episode:

Noah Rasheta:              Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast this is episode number 66. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today, I’m talking about the joy and pain of sharing experiences. As most of you know, I just recently returned from a two-week trip to Uganda, Africa. I’ve announced that trip before here on the podcast and on the website, and on the Facebook page. It was an incredible trip. It was even better than last year in the sense that there were new experiences and connections that were made that were really meaningful.

I had the opportunity to start the trip out by doing a gorilla trek with Suzy, who is also the coordinator of these trips, and a few other people. It was a really neat experience spending time sitting on the side of a mountain surrounded by gorillas. The family that we were trekking had 19 members in it. Just sitting there quietly, peacefully on the mountain side watching them, taking pictures, seeing them do what they do, that was a really neat experiences. I think that kind of set the tone for the rest of the trip.

I’m glad to be back. I feel like the week leading up to the Africa trip, there was a lot of preparation work, and packing, and things that needed to be done. That made it difficult for me to record any podcast episodes. Then, of course, the two weeks that I was gone, I was pretty much out of commission with no internet or very little technology in general. Then, I came home and it took about a week to adapt. Last week was the first full week home. It took several days to adjust to the time zone. But, I finally feel like I’m back. The schedule feels normal, with the exception of daylights saving time throwing a little wrench in there, but things feel pretty much back to normal. I’m excited to get back on track with recording podcasts episode.

Now, another thing that I’ve had going on that’s been taking up a lot of my time is wrapping up the book that I’m writing. I’ll mention more about that in another podcast episode. But with all of that, needless to say, I am several weeks behind on my supposed weekly podcast episodes. I’m glad to be back. I hope you guys enjoy the episode that I prepared for today.

What I wanted to talk about, this concept of the joy and pain of sharing experiences. It’s something that I first thought of while I was in Africa. I’ve thought about this before, but when you’re in a really scenic place like Africa, you know, you’ve got your camera and you’re snapping away all these pictures, and you can’t help but to wonder in some of those moments, “What am I valuing more, the experience I’m having or the capturing of the experience I’m having so that I can relive that later, so I can post it on social media, see what other people think about what I just captured?” This got me thinking about the joy and the pain when we share experiences.

Now, sharing, taking a picture is no big deal, but I’m pretty sure all of you have experienced this where you’re doing something, you see something, and you think one of your first thoughts it’s, “Oh, I need to take a picture of that,” because you want others to experience what you’re experiencing. If you’re like me, you may have even felt in that instance, if you didn’t have your camera with you, for example, that the experience that you’re having is now affected because you’re not going to able to share the experience. I wanted to correlate this a little bit with the concept of the foundations of mindfulness. As some of you may know, I talked about this in past podcast episodes. But in nutshell, the foundations of mindfulness help us to understand that there are layers of experience. There’s what you’re experiencing and then there’s the experience that you’re having around the experience that you’re having. This can be pretty complex, at least in multiple layers.

For example, I see something. Let’s talk about a movie, for example, we go to a movie, and we enjoy watching the movie. That’s one experience. But then, we want others to go watch that movie. You’ll call your siblings or friends, and you’re like, “You’ve got to go watch that movie.” There’s a second experience that we have, that’s the experience of sharing the first experience. You probably know what it feels like for someone to say, “Oh, wow. Yes, I love that movie. Thank you for recommending it.” Now you’re adding on to the joy. You had the first experience that was a pleasant one, and now you have a second experience that’s also pleasant because somebody else enjoyed what you shared with them.

But the flip side can also happen. Someone can say, “Oh, I didn’t like that movie.” What’s interesting is then you’re experiencing pain on the second level, but on the first level was the movie itself, right? The movie experience was pleasant, but now I’m feeling a little upset because my brother didn’t like it and I thought he would’ve loved it. I can believe he didn’t like it. What’s wrong with him, you know? So now, you’re allowing the feeling of second layer of experience to affect the first layer. At least if you’re not careful, you blend all of this into one overall experience.

Through the foundations of mindfulness, what we would want to do ideally is to keep these layers separate and to allow ourselves to enjoy the thing that we’re enjoying and then, sure, if we’re lucky, we get to enjoy the sharing of the experience as well. But if it’s not well received, we don’t have to allow the pain of the second level or the second layer of the experience to affect first.

Now, with a movie, that’s not a big deal, at least I hope it’s not. Maybe for some people it is. I actually do know some people that do make a very big deal about their recommendations, and if you don’t like their recommendations, they’re upset. Things of that nature. But with movies, or with food, restaurant recommendations, it’s not such a big deal. What I want to highlight here that I do think is a big deal is the more touchy subjects, political views, political ideas, religious views, and religious ideas, and religious beliefs, any form of ideological belief, any form of philosophical view or belief, that gets a little more complex.

Now, you’ve probably noticed that when somebody has, let’s say a spiritual experience where they discover a certain ideology really speaks to them, maybe a religion or a religious view, and they adhere to it, and they follow it, and they’re enjoying, they’re experiencing the joy of that experience, but the very next thing that happens is the sharing of it. “Hey, you’ve got to come listen to this,” or, “Now I believe this. I want you to believe this, too, because this makes me happy and I wasn’t happy before I had this belief. Therefore, you must not be happy unless you also share in this belief,” so now we’re on that second layer.

On the second layer, maybe someone will say, “No, I don’t like that,” or, “That doesn’t interest me,” or it could get more complicated like, “No, that’s stupid. Why would you believe that,” or, “That’s false,” or, “Get away from that. That’s a cult,” or anything along those lines. Now you’re experiencing the shame of sharing the experience of what was bringing you joy. By not separating the two, the pain of the second level, or the second layer, can drastically affect the joy of the first level, the first layer of the experience.

I see this all the time, especially with religious and ideological views. Somebody will feel the joy of their religious system or their belief system, and then they feel tremendous suffering because you don’t share in that with them. It’s unfortunate that the pain of the second layer is affecting their first layer, which is their direct experience with their own belief or their own idea.

I’m sure you’ve seen this and I’m sure you’ve experienced this. Like I said, with little things, going to a movie or finding a good restaurant, that’s one thing, but you’ve probably noticed. If you’re listening to this, it’s possible that you’re not connected to a religion anymore. I know a lot of podcast listeners are in that boat. We have the tendency to want to do the same thing. It’s like, “Well, I used to believe this. Now, I don’t believe that. I’ve found this new way of thinking and this open-mindedness, this liberation from that belief feels really good.” So there we are experiencing the first layer of the experience.

Then, we want to share that with others so we go to someone who doesn’t have our view or maybe has our old view, our old belief, and we’re like, “Hey, just so you know, I left that belief. I left that view, and now I’m here, and now I’m happy. Therefore, you must not be very happy where you are because you can’t possibly know what if feels like to be happy like I am experiencing where I am.” They’ll reject it and say, “No, that’s not … That doesn’t call to me. I’m very happy with my belief,” or anything along those lines. Now, we’re in the same boat backwards as the same example I gave earlier where you’re sharing something that’s very meaningful for you. But at the second level of that experience, the sharing portion of it, it’s affecting you because now you feel offended that they don’t want to listen to you, that they don’t want to consider your view, or that they’ll invalidate your view. They’ll say, “No, your view is wrong because my view is right.” Then, we experience suffering or we experience pain.

What I want to highlight here is that in those moments, you can pause and recognize that the pain or suffering you’re experiencing at that moment in the rejection of the sharing of the experience, it’s a rejection of the sharing, not a rejection of your experience itself, because your experience of whatever is your belief, or your non-belief, or your view, your political opinion, whatever that thing is that makes you feel a certain way, that’s you. That’s on you, and that’s all yours. Nobody else can share that with you. But the moment you want to share that with someone, you’ll experience an additional joy if they share in it with you, and you’ll experience a new form of pain, or suffering, or discontent when they don’t want to share it with you, but you don’t have to allow that to affect your initial experience. I hope that makes sense.

But, while we were in Africa, we would get together in the mornings and we would do meditation sessions and we would do mindfulness classes where we spend time talking about different topics. One of the things I really enjoyed with this group is that we had a lot of people who were experienced in the topic of mindfulness and had wonderful ideas and things to contribute to the discussions that we were having. Now, one of the days when we were talking, one of the girls who was on the trip with us, Pamela [Corky 00:12:27], who became a really good friend of mine … You know how sometimes you meet people and your personalities just mesh, they work really well? She has a sense of humor that really works well with mine.

A lot of people listening to this podcast may not know the dry sense of humor I have because it doesn’t come across in the podcast. It’s not like I spend time joking on here. But meeting with podcasts listeners on a trip like this and getting to know each other much more intimately over the course of two weeks, that’s something that Pamela had highlight to me. She was like, “Wow, it’s really fun to hear your sense of humor and to spend time bouncing jokes back and forth from each other.” She’s a writer, so she has a very witty sense of humor.

But anyway, long story short, this was my quick shout-out to Pamela. Pamela, if you’re listening to this, like I’ve mentioned before, thank you so much for coming on the trip. I want everyone to hear the profound teaching that you shared with us in Africa. We’re talking about this concept, right? Pamela mentions something like when people are sharing something that’s meaningful to them, their opinion, their belief, their ideas, she said something that really stood out to me. When something is shared with her, an experience is shared her and she disagrees with that experience, she said in moments like that she reminds herself that I love things, too, or, you know, if somebody’s sharing with her, “You know what? I really love this new way of thinking. I’ve switched to this political ideology or this new religion, or I went away from this religion and now I found this open secular way of life.” Whatever it is they’re sharing that’s meaningful for them in their experience, if it doesn’t resonate with her or she doesn’t understand it because she’s not in their shoes, she can always empathize by expressing that she loves things, too, right?

I thought that was such a clever and profound to navigate things. If someone’s complaining to you, “Oh, you know, this, this or that,” whether it be about politics, or religion, or any sensitive topic, you can allow them to vent. Even if you don’t agree with that, you can acknowledge, “You know, I hate things, too. There are ideas that I really dislike, too. I know what that’s like.” That’s a way of validating their sharing, the sharing of their experience.

Now, this isn’t about endorsing people, endorsing their ideas, or their views, or their beliefs. This is not about that. This is about having a sense of empathy and the sense that I know what it’s like to be passionate about something, too. It may not be the same thing. I may disagree completely with you, but that’s what I thought was so clever and brilliant about Pamela’s suggestion is that you can say, “I love things, too,” or, “I hate things, too.” That kind of became one of the little inside jokes for the rest of our trip when, you know, if somebody was … In our group, we had vegetarians and we had meat eaters. If a topic came up where it’s like, “Oh, man, this chicken is really good,” or something, maybe one of the vegetarians would be like, “I love things, too,” or backwards. If somebody was having an experience that they weren’t enjoying, like, “Man, I really don’t like this,” but somebody else in the group was thinking that was just fine, they would be able to respond with, “Well, I hate things, too.”

That was a reminder to ourselves throughout the trip that we don’t have to agree on anything, but we all know what it is to love things and to hate things, and to agree with things, and to disagree with things, and we were expressing it in that notion. I thought was a really fun, clever thing that Pamela shared with us on the group, so thank you, Pamela, if you’re listening.

What I want to highlight with this, again, is the pain of the second layer will often ruin the joy of the first layer if we allow it. But the first layer of experience is very personal. As you go through life and you experience things, and you develop ideas, or you get rid of beliefs, or you acquire new beliefs, you do this because you’re having personal experiences, thoughts, emotions, feelings, and these things are yours. They’re yours. The tendency to want to share it is very natural. It’s a very natural thing, a human thing, for us to want to share with each other.

Now, just because somebody wants to share with you doesn’t mean that you’ve got to accept or buy into whatever they’re experience is because it’s just their experience. I think about this with, you know, if just today we had some Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on our door. They were visiting out upstairs neighbors, but I had this thought, “You know, whatever they’re sharing, whatever they’re passionate about, I may not agree with it at all, but I could say, ‘I’m passionate about things, too.'” You know, if they were to express their pitch of here’s the deal and listen to my message, I genuinely could respond and say, “You know, I’m passionate about things, too. Thank you for sharing that.” Just something to think about.

Especially with people that we care about, I think this can be a really interesting way of looking at things, recognizing that on one layer, at one level or on one layer, I am experiencing life my way. Having beliefs will make me feel a certain, I know this because there was a time in my life when my beliefs made me feel a certain way, a very comforting way. There’s another phase in life where those beliefs were causing discomfort and I didn’t want to feel that anymore. Then, there was a phase where I didn’t have those beliefs anymore, they went away. Then, I was experiencing comfort around the uncertainty of not knowing.

At every stage, there’s always in the back of your mind that inclination to share the other, “Hey, I want you to know how I feel.” This is the same drive that says, “Hey, I need to take a picture of my meal on Instagram so you can see what I’m experiencing.” It’s so hardwired, so ingrained in us to want to share our experience with others. There’s no wonder that when we share our experience is can become a volatile thing. Any of you who are on social media know this. You can share anything of Facebook, like a puppy rescues a baby kitten, and you’re going to have controversy in the comments. There’s now way around it. You can share whatever is meaningful to you, whether that be a philosophy, a religious view, a political view. It doesn’t matter what it is, you’re going to have people who do not agree with it at all, people who are going to be angry that you hold those views or that you don’t hold those view.

It seems like this can be aggravated the closer we are to the people that we’re wanting to share with. Wanting to share my experience with my brothers is one thing. Wanting to share an experience with a coworker, that’s another thing, and friends, and everyone in between. We get more and more sensitive about the reception of what we’re sharing when it’s people closest to us, at least that’s what it seems like to me. If I share something with someone that is close to me, I expect that they will take from the sharing the same thing that I took from the original experience. In other words, I’m expecting that from layer two that they’re going to extract what I got out of layer one, and that’s never going to happen. It’s just impossible.

Keeping this in mind and tying this in with the teaching of the four foundations of mindfulness, it helps us to keep in mind these layers. Whatever experience you’re having, that’s one thing. Don’t allow the sharing of the experience to alter the experience itself. I you took joy from an experience, then you took joy from it. If you didn’t, then you didn’t. So what? But when you share and somebody is disgusted that you didn’t take joy from that experience and now it makes you go back and question the experience, why do that? You already had the experience. This way of thinking allows us to keep these layers separate to experience joy on one layer. Then, if I’m going to experience joy or pain on the second layer when I try to share the experience, so be it, but that’s a whole new layer. I won’t allow the suffering of the second layer to take away from the joy of the first layer.

The expression to keep in mind that I think is really helpful here is, “I love things, too,” or, “I don’t like things either,” or, “I hate things, too,” or, “Things are gross for me, too,” or anything along those lines. You get the idea of that quote, which I think is ingenious. That’s what I wanted to share. This is the podcast episode I’ve prepared for today. Like I mentioned, it’s really good to be back on schedule trying to get podcast episodes out. I have a whole list of topics and I’m going to try to get them all out. So at least for the next little while, I hope to be consistent getting new podcast episodes out, maybe every Monday. At least for now, my goal is every Monday.

Then, I have several thing in the works that I’m excited to announce. I’m not going to tell you the details now, but I have another trip in the works that is going to be an epic, incredible trip. It won’t happen till middle to late next year, 2019, but I’ll give you the details as soon as I have the dates dialed in. I’ve got some fun announcements around the book. I’ve got some fun announcements around the online workshop that I’m still working on that I eventually plan to have available to anyone to take at any time on your own time for free, and a few other little announcements that I’ll mention when the time is right, but that’s all I have for now.

If you enjoyed this podcast episode, please consider sharing it with others. Oh, there we go, sharing. Keep this in mind, what you get out of this podcast, that’s the first layer, right? That’s on you. Then, when you share it with others, let’s say you try to share it with someone, they’re like, “That’s stupid. Why would I listen to something about Buddhism.” Notice how it makes you feel and recognize how that doesn’t take away from the joy that you experience from listening to it, or backwards. Maybe they’ll say, “Oh, that’s great,” or they’ll come back and say, “Hey, that was awesome. I love listening to this podcast. It’s changed my life. Thank you. You were a direct contributor to that.” You’ll notice how the joy that’s being compounded there is first your joy of listening to the podcast, and second your joy of sharing it and that being well received, but those are two different things. You can notice that. That just popped up in my head because I do mention please share it with others.

Consider writing a review. Give it a rating in iTunes. If you want to join the online community, right now we just have the Facebook group. There’s the Secular Buddhism Facebook Group and the Secular Buddhism Podcast Community, which is a Facebook group that’s a little bit more specific to discussing topics around the podcast rather than secular buddhism in general. I was running the Online Weekly Sangha, but I’ve paused that for now, mostly because I’m still feeling quite behind in trying to get a lot of these projects that I’ve got on my table right now. I have to put that on hold until I can get the book out and several other things done and off the table, so to speak. That’s paused for now. If you want to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit SecularBuddhism.com and click the donate button. That’s all I have for now. I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. I’m glad to be back with you guys, and until next time.

65 – What Does it Mean to Forgive?

The Buddhist approach to forgiveness is about changing our relationship with the reactive patterns that run our lives. It’s a form of introspection that allows me to understand my reactive patterns and then, more importantly, to change my relationship with those patterns.

Subscribe to the podcast on:
iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/secular-buddhism/id1071578260
SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/secularbuddhism
TuneIn – http://tunein.com/radio/Secular-Buddhism-p823114/
Stitcher – http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=80132&refid=stpr

New – Join our Online Weekly Sangha – https://www.remind.com/join/sbsangha

Transcription of the podcast episode:

Please excuse any typo’s, I use a transcription service to create a text version of the audio recording. If there are any issues with the transcription, please let me know.

Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 65. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about the Buddhist understanding of forgiveness. About a month or two ago, I received a message on Facebook from a gentleman named [Dax 00:00:27]. I meant to respond in depth regarding the question he had. It was around the topic of forgiveness, specifically this notion of feeling compelled to forgive didn’t seem very useful or helpful and he wondered why some spiritual paths seem to focus on this message of having to forgive. Anyway, I didn’t spend a long time replying to his message at the time, because I told him that it had been on my radar to have a podcast episode dedicate specifically to the topic of forgiveness.

Well, several months later I still hadn’t had a chance to record this podcast, so this has been in the works for quite some time now, and then I recently read an article on Tricycle Magazine called Forgiveness Is Not Buddhist. This motivated me to once again take up this topic and try to explain or address the Buddhist perspective on forgiveness. In order to understand the Buddhist approach, first I want to explore the topic of forgiveness from the Western approach that most of us are familiar with. This is the way we view the concept of forgiveness here in our society, and it’s influenced in general by the Judeo-Christian understanding of forgiveness and this is a form of forgiveness that is generally laid out in the language of debt.

For example, think of the example of a bank loan. You go in and you get a loan from the bank, and now you have this relationship established between you and the bank. If the terms of the loan are met, eventually you pay it off and now you no longer owe them, and that relationship changes again. Now you’re not indebted to them. Now, for me, growing up there was a little video that I saw at church that was about a gentleman who borrows money, but ultimately he has a bad year, I guess, as a farmer and he’s not able to pay back his creditor, and the creditor comes calling, demanding justice. This whole video was about how justice cannot be robbed, so the creditor is owed, the debtor is stuck in a position where there’s just no way to pay. Well, then comes an intermediary, so this mediator steps in and assumes the debt. Justice is met for the creditor, because he gets his money back, and mercy is extended to the person who borrowed.

I remember this video was all about how mercy cannot rob justice, and if you look at this from the Judeo-Christian background what this is implying is Jesus, for example, is the one who steps in and assumes the debt, absolving us of that debt. In this sense, it ends the old relationship and it establishes an entirely new relationship, so the situation that we were in is that we need to be saved, right? So Christ comes in and takes in this role as the savior, and establishes a new relationship between us and him now, and this sort of change happens due to that external source, that third party, the intermediary or the mediator. This is problematic from the Buddhist perspective because the power is not with you. The power lies in that third party to come in and step in and save you, so this isn’t a Buddhist concept, like I mentioned before.

From the Buddhist perspective, we’re looking at spending time looking inward and discovering everything that you’re looking for is in you, so I want to elaborate on this a little bit. Ken McLeod, who is the author of that article, Forgiveness Is Not Buddhist from Tricycle Magazine, he says, “These various interpretations of forgiveness all overlook the fact that the meaning of forgiveness is grounded in the language of debt. In days of yore (and, in some cultures, not so yore), when I impugned your honor, I incurred an obligation to you, a debt that had to be paid somehow. From there, the notion developed that when I do any kind of wrong, to you or anyone else, I have incurred a debt, to you or to society or to God. When we view interactions with others in terms of debt, we are, wittingly or unwittingly, reducing our relationships with others to transactions. Human feeling, human understanding, human empathy all go out the door. ‘I owe you’ or ‘You owe me’ now becomes the defining expression of the relationship.”

He goes on to say, “American anthropologist David Graeber writes in Debt: The First 5,000 Years, ‘There’s no better way to justify relations founded on violence, to make such relations seem moral, than by reframing them in the language of debt — above all, because it immediately makes it seem that it’s the victim who’s doing something wrong.'” Again, this way of viewing forgiveness is not necessarily compatible with the Buddhist approach. From the Buddhist approach we strive to look inward. We find that happiness, enlightenment, forgiveness, all these things are internal processes, not external, and one of the central teachings in Buddhism is the understanding of karma as the law of causation.

This implies that no one can intervene in the way my actions evolve me. There is no savior, so to speak, when it comes to my actions, because it’s still entirely up to me to discover the reactive patterns they gave rise to the transgression in the first place, so the Buddhist approach to forgiveness moves away from the language of debt and towards the language of harmony. When you think of forgiveness from the Western approach, it’s transactional in nature, and in the Buddhist approach it’s more along the lines of conflict resolution and reconciliation. In other words, harmony, so to understand forgiveness we have to understand karma.

Remember, karma is not a cosmic justice system. It’s not a form of transitions. There is no account where you accrue positive or negative transitions. It’s not system that’s taking notes. It’s more of a form of evolution of actions. What I did then is what determines what I’m doing now and what I’m doing now determines what I’ll be doing next. The Tibetan teacher Gampopa said, “The only way to stop the evolution of reactive patterns is to change our relationship with those patterns.” To me, this is what forgiveness is all about. It’s an introspective process where the forgiveness that matters most is the forgiveness I extend to myself through the proper understanding of my own actions. It’s a form of introspection that allows me to understand my reactive patterns and then, more importantly, to change my relationship to those patterns.

The Buddhist approach to forgiveness invites us to look deeply, to see deeply in ourselves and others, and let me share three examples of this to help clarify this concept. When we’re talking about forgiveness toward others, this is one of the most common ways that we think about forgiveness, somebody has wronged us and then we decide whether or not we forgive them. Last week I was talking to a coworker, a friend of mine, who was telling the story of a boy who was really mean to her in high school. He would say things that were mean or derogatory, somewhat of a bully, so to speak. This goes on for the entire time that they were classmates in high school, and she said that she was really angry with him.

Over the years she kind of forgot about him, and later found out on Facebook, saw him and found out that he was gay. He had come out and kind of changed his lifestyle to be more open and authentic with who he was, and in this process of discovering what he had gone through, she imagined the high school version of him, still in the closet. She said she could only imagine how difficult that must have been, to be in high school and to be having those feelings of inauthenticity, living a lie. She said, “No wonder he was mean.” Well, in that moment, as she shared this with me, I realized this is what it means to forgive from the Buddhist perspective. In other words, there’s nothing to forgive when you understand. What melted away for her was the feeling of resentment or hatred, even anger, because it was replaced by a deeper perspective of understanding.

Now, that doesn’t excuse what he did and it doesn’t change the fact that he was mean. It doesn’t change the fact that those mean and hurtful things affected her. Maybe caused her to act a certain way or to do certain things, like it had set in motions causes and conditions that continued till this day, so forgiveness from the Buddhist perspective, you can’t go back and change the past, right? Forgiveness is not about condoning or saying, “You know what? Everything that you did, that’s fine,” because it’s not. It’s already happened. Whatever damage happened because of those actions cannot be repaired.

You cannot go back and fix that, but from this moment on she feels no hatred, no resentment, and no anger towards him because she gained a more clear understanding, so this is the form of forgiveness applied to others. From the Buddhist perspective there’s no compelling, right? It’s not like, “Hey, you need to forgive,” but there is this possibility at any given moment that through greater understanding you can have more peace, and I’ve experienced this in my own life. I’ll go into that later in the podcast. This is the approach of forgiveness toward others. We’re trying to understand others, and through that understanding we can let go of the hatred.

Next I want to talk about forgiving ourselves. It’s a similar concept, that we want to look into our own actions. One of the stories that comes to mind for me when I think about this, when I was about 12 I was a boy scout and we would go on these weekly scouting activities, and I remember one time our troupe got together and we were going to go ride go-karts. We went to this place and we all got in line, and when the time came to run out and pick your car, I just happened to pick a car that seemed quite a bit faster than all the other cars. You know, how they tune those and throttle them so that they can’t go over a certain speed. I think mine happened to … somebody messed with that and it was definitely faster than the other cars.

We start the race and we’re going around in loops, and I’m passing everyone. It’s not that I’m the better driver. It’s that the car that I’m in is faster than the other cars. Well, I noticed one of the other cars had a similar thing going on, but in reverse. It was much slower than all the rest of the cars and it seemed no matter what the driver did, his car couldn’t keep up with the rest of us, so not only was I beating everyone in the race, but I was severely beating this poor kid, passing him, as I recall, on multiple occasions. So the race is finally over. This was my friend Kevin who was driving that car. We all go out and it was fun, and then our leaders tell us, “Hey, do you want to do one more round?”

Well, we did. We all jumped back in line and as soon as they opened that gate, we ran out to our cars. I knew which car I wanted and I booked it. Well, Kevin, who had the slow car, had also noticed this pattern that my car was fast and his car was slow, so he was running towards my car and I was able to get there just ahead of him and kind of nudged him, almost like with my shoulder, kind of nudged him out of the way and I said, “No, this was my car. This is the car that I had.” He backed off and he turned around to look for his car, or any car, I should say. The only car left happened to be the slow one that he had the first round and everybody in the group knew that that was the slow car. They didn’t want it and they had all picked other cars by then, so Kevin walked slowly, defeated, back towards his go-kart.

I remember that feeling of, “Oh, man. That was not very nice,” but I stayed in my car. We did the other round, and I won again and I was all excited about that, but not really. I felt bad, and unfortunately this feeling lingered for years, because after that we moved. I moved down to Mexico with my family. We had been childhood friends, and this incident stayed with my mind for years. Well, fast forward, I don’t know, 10 years or so, my twin brother ends up marrying Kevin’s sister, so suddenly we were family again. Well, we were friends that were going to be close now, and this incident always lingered with me.

One day I finally brought it up to him and I apologized all these years later. I said I was so sorry for what happened that day on the go-kart and he didn’t even remember the story. I had to remind him of the whole thing. So getting to this concept of forgiving ourselves, rather than me just saying, “Oh, well, I was just a kid and whatever,” I tried to sit with this and say, “What caused those actions?” What was fascinating is out of that process came a lot of introspection about myself. Why did I feel the need to win again? Why did I fear being stuck in that slow car? What would that say about me?

I replayed all of these things and I was able to look into my actions, which is kind of what the Buddhist approach to all of this is trying to do. Like I mentioned before, we’re trying to understand our relationship to our habitual patterns. Well, this incident in my life allowed me on multiple occasions since then to evaluate my actions. What am I about to do and why am I doing this? Is there something else driving this specific action? I think a lot of that stemmed from that process early on of trying to understand the behavior and the patterns that allowed me to do that to Kevin, so that’s just one simple example of forgiving ourselves.

Then there’s the third type. So we’ve got forgiveness toward others, forgiveness toward ourselves, and then we have forgiveness that we receive from others or from … yeah, forgiveness from others. This is a form of a peace that we receive. To me, this one is just kind of icing on the cake because we may or may not receive this, because this is entirely out of our hands, right? If others choose to forgive us, that’s a decision they make and we can’t force that on them. Recently I was talking to a friend and I thought of this analogy of … he was kind of upset because he had done something that hurt somebody else, and then he had asked for forgiveness and he felt like things should be okay now.

I said, “Well, sometimes wanting the other person to heal, it’s like picking at a scab.” It’s a wound, right? Then you’ve got the scab and you’re picking at it to see, “Hey, is this healed yet?” And you pick at it and you pick at it, and the very picking is what prevents it from healing, because we don’t control that timeframe. It happens on its own. We just want others to forgive us because of how we feel. We don’t like the discomfort. we really just want to feel understood. In this sense, forgiveness is the gift of understanding, so this allows us to again look inward and ask, “Why do I feel the need to be forgiven by someone else for whatever wrong I’ve caused? What if I was able to allow them to forgive me on their timeframe, whenever they want, if and when they want? What if they never want to forgive me for whatever actions I’ve done? What if I was okay with that?” There’s a form of peace that comes from that as well.

Those are the three kind of areas of forgiveness, but ultimately what I want to get at is that forgiveness in a way, from the Buddhist perspective, it’s the gift of understanding, because see, when we understand, we don’t need to forgive. The irony here is that we forgive when we realize we don’t need to forgive. You know, in nature, if lightning strikes a tree and the tree catches fire, and then it falls over and crushes our car, we don’t have this sense of, “Oh, I need to forgive that tree or I need to forgive the lightning.” Or when it rains on us, we don’t feel the need to, “Oh, I need to forgive the clouds because it rained and it ruined my day or it ruined my clothes.” Who do we forgive and for what? What debt have we incurred? This is more along the lines of the Buddhist understanding.

From the Buddhist perspective there is no moral commandment or no compelling of any kind to forgive. There’s no Buddhist equivalent of sin. There’s especially no original sin. There’s no offending god. There’s no concept of god. So furthermore, forgiveness is for our own sake. Gaining a deeper understanding of things is a gift that we give ourselves. It’s a way to let go of the pain we are experiencing, but we are the main beneficiaries. If you’ll recall, I talked about Buddhaghosa and his teaching of the hot ember, that you can hold a hot ember with the intent of throwing it at someone else, but while you’re holding it, it’s only affecting you, or he talks about picking up a piece of dung, a piece of poop with the intention of making somebody else stink.

Well, while I’m holding that, I’m the one who stinks. I’m making myself stink because I won’t let go of the dung. This is more along the lines of how the Buddhist perspective on forgiveness, it’s like, well, you don’t have to, but why wouldn’t you? You’re the only one who suffers when you hold on to this stuff? So forgiveness is more along the lines of deeper understanding. It’s a change in our relationship to our own reactive patterns. No matter what I did to you, it’s still entirely my own responsibility to discover and work through the reactive patterns that gave rise to that offense or transgression in the first place, so it puts this back on me. It’s all on me.

Sometimes it seems forgiveness is seen as a sign of weakness. It’s like, “Oh, you’re soft, you’re going to forgive,” but in reality it takes strength and it takes courage to spend time gaining a deeper understanding of our own actions and the actions of others. Forgiving can bring about the peace that we all so desperately seek, but it’s not because we absolve others of their actions; it’s because we spend time trying to understand others. The wrong understanding of forgiveness, I think gives rise to more suffering. An example that I’ll give you from my own life was a deep betrayal of trust that I experienced from somebody that I care for and I love deeply, and to be betrayed, to be lied to, it’s very hurtful.

Part of my experience of going through a betrayal was that I felt the need to forgive. I felt compelled. I felt like it was the requirement for this relationship to be able to continue or to be healthy. I felt like, in the language of debt, that I was owed and something had to happen for this debt to be re-payed, so I kind of viewed it like this for years. I held on to resentment and then I would think, “It’s finally all over. I’ve forgiven,” and then a trigger would cause me to experience all of the emotions all over again, and I would realize, “No, I’m still angry and I’m not ready to forgive.” This was kind of the cycle of emotions that I was experiencing for quite some time.

Well, it occurred to me one day, through studying mindfulness and studying Buddhism, that I had personalized this experience. I made it about me, that what happened was we are going to collaborate and really do something to hurt you, as if this had to do with me. This had to do with them and the decisions that were made there and this betrayal, so I spent time processing this and really trying to understand the intentions and the motivations behind the actions of the people who had wronged me. By spending time doing this, what happened is I gained a deeper understanding of the person in some ways as a victim of their own actions. You know, I don’t think that the intention of those actions was targeting me personally. Now, I was certainly on the receiving end of that pain and hurt, but it wasn’t about me.

Then this continued to unfold as I spent time understanding this person and understanding the possible causes and conditions that led to that, and the causes and conditions behind those causes and conditions, and with time it painted an entirely new picture of how I viewed this person and I couldn’t view them through this lens of hatred or resentment or anger the way that I did before. Now, none of that changed the feelings and the emotions of being hurt or being betrayed or being let down. None of that changed, but what changed was my understanding of this person as the tail end of countless causes and conditions that allowed that one instance, that one moment to arise the way that it did, and that was a profound shift in perspective for me.

At that point I didn’t feel the need to forgive anymore, because what was there to forgive? What I saw was actions, causes and conditions, and causes and conditions of causes and conditions, and on and on and on, this giant web of interdependent things that happened for that one moment to be the way that it was for however long that phase was in my life. That was really profound, and through that understanding I lost. It’s not that I forgave. It’s that I lost the anger. I lost the hatred. It just wasn’t there anymore because I couldn’t hate. I understood too much to be able to hate this person, and that was the moment that I felt this entire process was finally over.

I had truly forgiven, and the irony is I didn’t forgive. There was no need to forgive at that point. That’s when I realized I had forgiven is because what was there to forgive? I don’t know if that makes sense. If you’ve ever experienced something like that where through greater understanding there’s no longer the need to forgive, that’s what I felt. You know, we’ve all been hurt and we’ve all hurt others. Whether we did that knowingly or unknowingly, it’s true. Whether I was rushing while I was driving and cut someone off and I set in motion further actions, I may have been completely unaware of that. Or bigger stuff. The things that I said to kids in school that I don’t remember.

Whether this is knowingly or unknowingly, we’ve all been hurt and we’ve all hurt others, so the Buddhist approach to forgiveness really is about changing our relationship with the reactive patterns that run our lives. It’s just another tool to help end the cycle of habitual reactivity and the suffering that our reactivity causes for ourselves and others. I think this is really the main difference here. There’s no compelling. You don’t have to forgive, but why wouldn’t you? You’re the one that suffers when you don’t. Now, that’s where it gets tricky because then it would feel like, “Well, then now I have to forgive.” That’s the paradox. You don’t, but the peace and the contentment that you’ll feel upon gaining greater understanding, that’s the reward. That’s the benefit of it.

I guess from the Buddhist perspective, instead of feeling like I need to forgive others, the invitation is, try to understand. Whatever it is that happened, don’t entertain the, “How can I forgive you?” If anything, ask yourself, “How can I understand this better? Why did this happen? What were the causes and conditions? What is the reactivity?” Whether this is for yourself or for others, that’s where you want to spend time with, understanding. Try to understand more. Now, for me, I like to ask specific questions, introspective questions with my behavioral patterns. For example, am I motivated by vengeance? Am I trying to get back at someone? If someone is hurt or offended by something I’ve done or said, I ask myself, “What were my words or actions and what were the intentions behind those words and actions?” Because there’s always something to learn there.

If I can discover what the intentions were, I may even be able to discover what the intention behind the intention was, because you are entirely responsible for your conscious choices, and knowing this can be very empowering. Everything that you do affects others. This is karma. Everything that I do, everything that I say affects others, and that for me is really empowering, so this concept of forgiveness from the Buddhist perspective, maybe forgiveness is the word that’s problematic because it means something different to so many people. Some people will say, “Well, forgiveness is great,” and they’re right. And some people will say, “Well, forgiveness is wrong. It causes pain.” Well, they’re also right, so maybe reframing this and understanding what we want is greater understanding. When we understand interdependence, that all things inter-are, this gives us the ability to see deeply. Like I mentioned in a previous podcast, to see, “Here’s the thing, but what’s the thing behind the thing? What’s the thing behind the thing behind the thing?” That is the topic of forgiveness.

I want to end this topic with a quick note about friendship. Well, good friends are instrumental in this process of forgiveness. We should regard those who point out our faults as treasures. In fact, the Buddha in the Dhammapada said, “Should you find a wise critic to point out your faults, follow him as you would a guide to a hidden treasure.” I want to end it on that note, because as we go through our lives and especially on this path where we’re trying to be more mindful, we should be mindful of the fact that having somebody who can point out our faults, and this is often the people closest to us, our family members, our spouse or partner or significant other, when they do point stuff out to us, we take it personally, and we get really upset and we get angry because we don’t want people to highlight these things about ourselves. Yet we have this treasure there, in a way. You know, what if you were to view this as an opportunity to become more introspective about yourself by learning what someone else has seen about you?

This was pretty powerful for me. I used to really hate the feeling of being told, “Hey, you need to do this,” or, “Stop doing that,” or, “You’re not helping a lot with chores around the house,” or things like that. I would feel kind of upset and offended, but as time as gone past this has become something that I value now. It’s like, I want to be told, “How can I be better? In what areas can I contribute more? Where do I need more clarity with what I’m doing wrong?” And you get that from the people close to you if you ask for it, and this can be one of the ways where you really learn about yourself and you become more aware of your habitual patterns. Anyway, I thought that would be a fun way to end the topic forgiveness.

If you want to read up a little bit more about this topic, there’s a book by Ken McLeod called Wake Up To Your Life: Discovering the Buddhist Path of Attention. In that book he discusses this concept of forgiveness. You can also, if you’re a subscriber to Tricycle Magazine, you can look up that article called Forgiveness Is Not Buddhist. But that’s the topic that I wanted to share today, forgiveness, and I hope that you can take some of these ideas and concepts, and look at them deeply in your own life or in the lives of others, and wherever you feel that need of, “There’s this person or that person or this event that I need to eventually forgive,” try to reframe that in your mind and rather than thinking you need to forgive anyone about anything, try to say, “I want to have to more understanding about what happened. What did it happen? what were the causes and conditions?”

Because I believe that with introspection and understanding and clarity, suddenly you realize maybe there’s nothing to forgive; there’s just what happened. Then you’ll have that same peace, that same sense of liberation that comes through truly forgiven, but it’s not concocted and it’s not fake and it’s not temporary. In my experience with forgiveness, every time I thought I had forgiven, it was temporary even though I didn’t know that. At that point a trigger or something would come back and I’d realize, “No, I haven’t forgiven,” but through understanding that’s gone away. There’s nothing that triggers those emotions the way that that used to when I would think about that specific incident that happened to me in my life, because there’s no longer the need to forgive. I had something better. I had understanding and clarity around what happened, but that was uncomfortable to get to that because you do have to spend time with it, and really break it down and analyze it and look at it and ask yourself those difficult questions. Why did this happen? I hope this clarifies a little bit the Buddhist understanding of forgiveness.

If you enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with other. You can write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. If you would like to join our online community, you can visit secularbuddhism.com/community, and if you would like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, please visit secularbuddhism.com and click the Donate button. That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.