82 – Dealing With Dissatisfaction In Life

If Buddhism were to be summarized in one key teaching, that teaching would be about the nature of dukkha (suffering/dissatisfaction) and the cessation of dukkha. There is a fundamental unsatisfactoriness and stress that we all deal with in life. In the next 3 episodes, I will discuss the core Buddhist teaching of the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and some helpful practices we can all work with to deal with the dissatisfaction that arises from time to time in life. This is part 1 of 3.

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Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 82. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today, I’m talking about something we all deal with, have dealt with, or will deal with at some point, and most likely many times throughout our lives. That is the dissatisfaction we deal with in life. Before I jump into that, keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice to not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are. With that in mind, I want to jump into this topic. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, how much you have or don’t have. The reality is that as human beings, we deal with this dissatisfaction in life. The fundamental unsatisfactoriness and stress of ordinary life.

If Buddhism were to be summarized into one key teaching, that teaching would be the teaching of the nature of suffering and the sensation of suffering. This is what we know as the Four Noble Truths. This teaching is found in every school of Buddhism. It kind of serves as the core or foundational teaching of Buddhism. I wanted to explore this concept a little bit. Over this episode and perhaps the next podcast episode, I want to address, or I guess, revisit these topics. I talked about this in the first five episodes when I started the podcast, but that’s been years now. I thought it would be fun to revisit this and to go in a little more … with a little more depth the teaching of the Four Noble Truths and the teaching of the Eightfold Path.

I will address that in this podcast episode and the Eightfold Path probably in the next one. For this one, I’m going to talk about the Four Noble Truths. These are often referred to as the Four Truths for those who wish to live a noble life or sometimes referred to as the Four Tasks that we can worth with to have a life with more satisfaction. I don’t want to get hung up or caught up in the wording. The point is that when things aren’t the way we want them to be, we experience dissatisfaction. We all experience this from time to time. Anything that is temporary is Dukkha. This work Dukkha, I want to talk about this for a minute because the essence of the Buddhist teaching is the nature of Dukkha and the cessation of Dukkha.

In early Buddhist texts, the Buddha is reported to have said both formerly and now, it is only Dukkha that I describe and the cessation of Dukkha. This word, Dukkha, is often translated to “suffering” and this is where that expression comes that says “life is suffering” or “Buddhism teaching the cessation of suffering”. The problem is, the word Dukkha means more than just suffering. Suffering is a proper translation, so is dissatisfaction, so is stress or anxiety or unsatisfactoriness. It’s hard … It gets tricky if we try to hang on to just one of those words to translate it. One of the very first teachings that Buddha gave after attaining enlightenment was the teaching of the Four Noble Truths. Each of the truths relates in some way of this concept of dissatisfaction or Dukkha, which is an inescapable part of life.

He taught that anything temporary is Dukkha. We know that everything is temporary and that’s why the expression is used that life is Dukkha, life is unsatisfactory, life is … there’s dissatisfaction in life, life is suffering. There is several variations of how to translate the idea. Again, I think if we were to just look at this as an idea, the idea is that from time to time, life unfolds in a way that we don’t want it to be the way that it is. We all know this feeling. That is Dukkha. Let’s talk about this a little bit. The teaching of the Four Noble Truths, they each have a word. The first one is the truth of dissatisfaction or the truth of suffering, which is the word Dukkha. The second teaching of the Four Noble Truths is the cause of suffering.

They also have a word. Dukkha is a world in Pali. Samudaya is another word in Pali. That’s the one word that represents the second Noble Truth, which is the cause of suffering. The third one is the truth of the end of Dukkha, which is called Nirodha. The fourth is the truth of the path that leads to the end of Dukkha. Magga is that word. You know, when they teach this in classical or traditional setting, you have these four Pali words; Dukkha, Samudaya, Nirodha, and Magga. I may not be pronouncing those right, but it doesn’t matter. The point of the word is that we lose a lot in translation. All I’m trying to get at with telling you the original words is that the word conveys an idea and the moment you take that word and translate it into another language, you’re going to have stuff that’s lost in translation. That’s inevitable and that’s okay.

Whatever this is making sense as, just know that there’s probably more to it. Just like with the word suffering, there’s more to it. It’s not just suffering. Keep that in mind. You can think of this teaching of the Four Noble Truths in terms of a medical practice where the doctor, in this case the Buddha, diagnoses the problem. The problem is Dukkha. We’ve been diagnosed with Dukkha, which is the fundamental dissatisfaction that we experience in life. He then identifies the underlying causes, determines the prognosis, and finally prescribes a course of treatment just like you would if you went in to visit a doctor. In that sense, I think it makes sense to look at the Four Noble Truths as an action plan for dealing with the inevitable dissatisfaction that we experience from time to time in life.

In this sense, we can view these teachings almost as tasks rather than truths. They’re meant to be things that we do rather than things we believe in. I talked about this when I interviewed Stephen Batchelor on my podcast quite a while back where he explained the teachings of the Four Noble Truths as tasks. He gave us an acronym for us to make it easy to remember. That acronym is ELSA. E is “embrace this instance of suffering”. That’s essentially the first noble truth. The second one is L “let go of the reactive pattern”. The third is S “see the stopping of the reactivity.” The fourth is A “act skillfully”. So, ELSA, embrace the instance of suffering, let go of the reactive pattern, see the stopping of the reactivity, and then act skillfully.

I’ll go into that in a little bit more detail. Like I mentioned before, this teaching, the teaching of the Four Noble Truths forms the core of all Buddhist paths, schools, and traditions. The essence of the Four Noble Truths is to address and embrace the truth of the human condition, which is that in life we deal with dissatisfaction. That’s the topic I want to explore today. Let’s start with this first one. Let’s look at what this means. What does it mean to embrace? The E in ELSA, embrace the situation at hand or embrace the instance of suffering. Again, this is the word Dukkha. It recognizes the presence of suffering or dissatisfaction. In other words, it diagnoses the problem, which is in life difficulties arise and we suffer. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when; a sickness, old age, death.

These are some of the most obvious examples, but of course, there are countless difficulties that we encounter in life form losing your job to dropping your phone and cracking the screen. The nature of reality is that difficulties arise. When they do, we all experience this feeling of unsatisfactoriness. We can begin to embrace the fact that by recognizing that suffering is general, it’s not personal. It’s simply part of the experience of existence. We’ll start to experience … We will experience suffering no matter how hard we try to avoid it, whether we search for a magic formula to remove it, or we try to accumulate enough money to buy it off, or we seek fame to drown it out. It doesn’t matter whether we pray, or we meditate, or we perform rituals to try to shield ourselves from it.

The point is that suffering, dissatisfaction, unsatisfactoriness, in some form will find us. It’s the central problem of human existence. This is the universal diagnosis that the Buddha talked about. It’s not just you, it’s all of us; whether you’re rich, or famous, or powerful, or holy. It doesn’t matter, everyone … and if you think you’re alone with the difficulties that you experience in life, just spend some time talking to others and ask them about their problems. You’ll soon discover that everyone has struggles and everyone has pain and difficulties that they content with. What we learn from the Buddha about embracing suffering is that life is going to be easier for us when we truly accept that suffering is a part of life for everyone. There’s no way around it.

This is the idea of embracing the instance of suffering. When you’re experiencing a moment where you are having this feeling of general dissatisfaction, you can pause and just allow yourself to fully feel it. That’s what’s meant by embracing it. It doesn’t mean accept the situation and resign to it. That’s not the point. I’ve talked about this extensively and I’ll address it again that acceptance is not the same thing as resignation. What we’re accepting is, “I don’t like how things are and I can accept that I don’t like how things are.” That’s kind of what we’re after. Acceptance seems like a lot to ask. People will say, “Are we supposed to just accept all the bad things that happen in the world?” No, the purpose of Buddhist teachings is to try to help us better understand the nature of reality, to gain a clearer understanding of how things are, and acceptance from the Buddhist perspective is not about giving up.

It’s not about ignoring bad things like injustice or suffering. Acceptance in the Buddhist sense is about not resisting or fighting against reality. For example, if you’re feeling a certain emotion, let’s say loneliness. You have to accept what it is you’re feeling before you can skillfully do something about it. If you shy away from acknowledging that you’re feeling lonely and instead you try to ignore that uncomfortable feeling, anything you do to alleviate that discomfort is going to be unsuccessful or much more unskillful because you’re aiming at the wrong target. You’re not dealing with reality. Reality is, “This is how I feel. I’m lonely.” I think we sometimes equate acceptance with resignation or with giving up. But, acceptance is not the same thing as resignation.

I’ve mentioned this before, but several years ago I was dealing with a difficult situation in my life where I experienced a breech of trust from someone close to me. I was upset and I was hurt. At the time, I felt that I shouldn’t be angry so I felt like it was my responsibility to accept what happened and get over it. I was viewing this idea of acceptance a lot, like as if it was resignation. This attitude only aggravated the situation. I probably remained angry about what had happened for longer than I otherwise would have. It wasn’t until several years that I learned what acceptance really was. I had never fully accepted how I felt. I had just pretended to feel a certain way. In reality, I was angry about the situation and then I was angry that I was angry.

I didn’t accept how I was feeling and that prolonged my own pain, the discomfort that I was feeling with it. Upon discovering this, I decided I was finally ready to accept, not the breech of trust, but the fact of my own anger. That’s what I accepted. I was angry and it was perfectly okay to be angry. It felt so liberating to accept my emotions and to stop resisting what I was feeling. This is was marked the beginning of my healing journey. It all started with accepting my reality and giving up my fight against my reality, which is, “I am angry.” From the Buddhist perspective, it’s not that we’re accepting the bad things that happen, we’re just accepting that bad things happen. Once I accept the reality of a situation, I can ask, “Well, now what am I going to do about it?”

That’s kind of acceptance as the start of skillful action. Acceptance is about, again, working with reality and not against it. Think of that for the first Noble Truth, the idea of embracing the instance of suffering. Now, let’s talk about the second one. What does it mean to let go of the reactive pattern? If this is the second Noble Truth, you know, it’s like you’re saying, the way to reduce suffering is to become reactive to difficult things that happen to us, but let’s be honest, that’s hard. How do we let go of that reactivity? The second truth addresses the cause of suffering, the cause of that dissatisfaction. The main cause of our dissatisfaction is the way we habitually react to life as it unfolds; telling ourselves stories that ascribe meaning to events, wondering why painful things happen to us, wishing things were differing, and so on.

Like in the example I gave before, in my case, the cause of much of my dissatisfaction was the story I was telling myself that I shouldn’t be angry. I had a belief, or an idea, or a concept that had been embedded in me since I was young, which is, “You’re not supposed to be angry. You’re not supposed to feel anger. You’re supposed to turn the other cheek,” or things of that nature. That allowed me to deal with an alternate reality, which is the reality was that I was angry and my alternate reality is, “No, I’m not angry. I shouldn’t be angry.” That was the source of a lot of my suffering. We know that suffering emerges when we want life to be different, when we want things to be other than how they are, when we struggle against what is. We get frustrated when the world doesn’t behave the way we think it should and this causes us to suffer and then react.

Experiencing suffering isn’t the real problem. The problem arises in how we react to that suffering. The Buddha taught that when touched with a feeling of pain, the ordinary, uninstructed person sorrows, and grieves, and laments, beats his breasts and becomes distraught so he ends up feeling two pains – physical and mental – just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and right after were to shoot him with another one so that he would feel the pain of two arrows. I’ve talked about this parable in past podcast episodes, the two arrows. Reactivity, in this sense, kind of becomes a vicious cycle. The more we dwell in our sense of suffering, the more we enforce the very cause of it, wanting life to be other than what it is. The more intense the suffering, the more we want to get rid of it, but the more we want to get rid of it, the most intense the suffering will be.

That’s kind of the vicious cycle. That’s what was being taught with the second Noble Truth. Anyone who’s ever punched a hole in the wall or said something in anger and later regretted it, has experienced this reactivity that Buddha was talking about. This is the emotional discomfort of suffering. It can be so great that it seems like the only logical next step is to react to the discomfort, for example, by punching the wall. Letting go of reactivity is letting go of the need to punch the wall. It’s not letting go of feeling whatever we were feeling that made us want to punch the wall. I think that’s an important distinction to understand. The need to react to our own suffering, whether that be in rage or despair, that only creates more suffering when we have to get stitches or repair the hole in the wall.

Ceasing reactivity doesn’t mean we need to let go of the discomfort that makes us feel like punching the wall in the first place. Let’s be honest, that’s not really possible. It’s not like you have a choice that the moment something makes you upset, oh, you chose to be upset. It’s not that simple. As much as we would want to think that it’s that simple, it’s not. Letting go of reactivity is about avoiding the second arrow. It’s more of an act of liberation than it is a sacrifice we have to make. Eventually, we come to understand that letting go of pain is actually no sacrifice at all. That’s the teaching of the second Noble Truth. You may say, “Well, that does sound better. It sounds like a better way to deal with life, but is it realistic? Is it really possible to end this sense of suffering or dissatisfaction that the Buddha talks about?”

Well, for that, let’s look at the third Noble Truth. As mentioned before, we suffer when we crave for life to be other than it is. The third Noble Truth, helps us to understand that in the cessation of suffering, it’s not suffering that ceases, but our craving to not … our craving not to suffer. If that third task is, see the stopping of the reactivity, let’s explore this a little bit. Buddhist practice doesn’t end suffering. I think that’s important to clarify. Suffering is a lifelong reality, but we can let go of our attachment to avoiding suffering, which paradoxically causes us so much unavoidable suffering. This is a tricky concept to grasp because we can’t do away with our craving to not suffer by simple force of will. In fact, when we try to no longer cling to it, we’re clinging to the idea of not clinging.

If we desire to not desire, we’re still caught by desire. We can’t just say, “Okay, from now on, I won’t cling to anything,” because the causes and conditions that give rise to clinging will still be present. That’s kind of the idea that’s going on here. This is like when you’re experiencing anger, to be able to pause and notice that you are observing this experience that you are having. In that case, ask yourself, “Is the observer of the emotion also angry?” In that moment, you can kind of distinguish between the emotion that you experience and the observation of the emotion that you’re experiencing. In that observation, there is a pause that allows you to essentially stop and see the reactivity that’s unfolding. That’s what’s meant by see the stopping of the reactivity. That happens in the pause of observation.

Ideally, you’ll be able to see the emotion and allow it to just be. Seeing the stopping of the reactivity reinforces the embracing the instance of suffering. It’s accepting, “Wow, I’m really mad that this car cut me off and I’m feeling anger and that’s okay. It’s okay that I’m feeling anger. Now, I don’t have to act on the anger.” I think that’s one of the misconceptions with this whole idea is people will say, “Well, I’m trying to practice all this being mindful stuff, but I still get angry when a car cuts me off.” It’s like, “Well, that’s okay because the point wasn’t to not get angry. The point is to deal more skillfully with the anger that you feel when it arises.” Those are two very different things. Keep in mind that idea of the second arrow. That’s what leads us to the fourth Noble Truth, which is the path.

The path is what we talk about often as the Eightfold Path. This is a teaching in Buddhism that is pretty extensive because it deals with eight different areas. I want to address the Eightfold Path, which is essentially the fourth Noble Truth is, what is the path that leads to the end of suffering and how do we start down that path? I will talk about that in the next podcast episode. To summarize what’s been discussed today, remember the acronym ELSA. When you’re faced with a moment of dissatisfaction in life or unsatisfactoriness in your career, whatever it is you’re dealing, that feeling of Dukkha, think of this acronym ELSA; first E, embrace the instance of suffering, accept that this is what you are actually feeling. Let go of the reactive pattern. Remember the reactive pattern, the example is, “I’m angry and my reaction is now I’m angry that I’m angry.” That’s the part I’m trying to stop.

Why am I angry that I’m angry? Why not just be angry? It’s not … What we’re not doing is stopping the anger. Third, S, see the stopping of the reactivity. This is observing in that instance that what I am feeling is one thing and the observer of what I’m feeling, well, that’s another thing. Is the observer also angry? Which leads to the fourth, which we’re going to talk about in the next podcast episode, now, how do I act skillfully after having done that? We’ll go through that a little bit more in the other one. I just wanted to clarify some of these things because over the years since the time I first talked about this topic, I have thought about it and explained it I think in greater detail. Most recently in my book “No Nonsense Buddhism For Beginners” I address this and I wanted to share some of these ideas with you.

Stay tuned for the next podcast episode where I will get into the fourth of these teachings that, how do we act skillfully, and how does that apply, and what areas of life do we react? Which is essentially the teaching of the Eightfold Path. I will jump into that next time. Keep in mind, if you want to learn more about these ideas or these concepts, you can check out the book “No Nonsense Buddhism For Beginners”. There’s information about that on everydaybuddhism.com. As always, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others. You can write a review, give it a rating in iTunes, you can join our online community at secularbuddhism.com/community to try to continue discussing these ideas. Of course, 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 the “donate” button.

That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to finishing talking about this topic in the next podcast episode. Until then, until next time, thank you for listening.

81 – The Tale of Many Tales

The tale of many tales is the story we have about ourselves and the story we try to ensure that others have of us too. What are some of the stories you have about yourself? How attached are you to these stories? Does that attachment cause any self-inflicted suffering to arise?

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Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 81. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today, I’m talking about stories, the stories we have about ourselves and the stories we try desperately to ensure that others have about us too. As always, keep in mind 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.”

Before jumping into this podcast episode, I do want to address a couple of housekeeping items. The first one is regarding use of the term Secular Buddhism. What is it? What separates it from other forms of Buddhism? This kind of stems from a conversation that I saw taking place on the Facebook group in the Secular Buddhism Facebook group asking about Secular Buddhism. Is Secular Buddhism a form of self-help? And kind of the accusation that Secular Buddhism, as a bigger movement, is not equivalent to what I am doing in this podcast, and in some ways, what I am doing with the podcast has nothing to do with Buddhism. So, I wanted to address this a little bit.

I read specifically this comment that I don’t teach Buddhism. So, I want to share a couple of my concerns with Buddhism in general. I feel, as I’ve mentioned before, that whatever the original teachings were of the Buddha, they have evolved into the teachings about the teachings. That is to say that over time, what we tend to focus on more than anything is what is Buddhism? How should it be interpreted? What was taught? What did the Buddha say?

To me, all of these things are, by large, just the teachings about the teachings. The problematic part for me is that it was hundreds of years from the time that these teachings, however they were originally talked about or shared, before they were ever finally written down. Now, that in and of itself, is problematic to me, because now we have somebody who heard from somebody who heard from somebody for hundreds of years deciding that, oh, I’m going to write this down, and this is what the Buddha said.

The truth is, we don’t know what the Buddha said. We know what we think someone said the Buddha said, and that’s fine. There’s a lot of great content that comes from there, and all the various schools that have emerged over the thousands of years that these concepts and ideas have been shared have done a fantastic job of really getting to the heart of what these teachings are about.

Now, I mentioned in a previous episode that to me, this is a lot like whoever was the first to start talking about algebra, that as the understanding of algebra emerged from this person, and it has spread and continues to be a way of understanding reality and the universe, it’s no longer that relevant to know, well, who was the first one who talked about algebra? What did he say about it? Is there a specific or a proper way to study algebra? That evolves over time in the same way, to me, that languages and accents evolve.

As a language emerges, what makes it valid is that everyone who is speaking the same language has a general consensus that this word means this, and that word means that, and that’s what allows us to communicate. However, the accents immediately morph and change pretty quickly. This is why you can see this with English as it spread from where English originated. Look at the various accents, from Australia to the United States, even they’re close. Scotland, England, Ireland, they all have very unique accents. And even words start to change, and the word that you would use in one place is not the same word you would use in another place, because that word may mean something else.

That’s very easy to visualize, and I think it’s very helpful to imagine ideas in the same way that we view languages. Buddhism, like a language, as it has spread to the various countries where it spread, it’s adopted and morphed into what works for that specific time and that specific culture and that specific language. You kind of have all these various accents of Buddhism. Which one is right? Well, that’s not the right question. What we should be asking, there isn’t a right one, in the same way that none of us entertain this question when it comes to language, and say, “Well, which accent of English is right?”

Sure, you may have some people argue that, “Well, the British is the most accurate, because that’s where English comes from.” But that’s not necessarily true, because English has evolved already from the way it was first spoken to how it is now. If it’s always changing, there just isn’t a right one.

So, rather than focusing on which form of Buddhism is right, I think what we would really be exploring is which one works well for me? Which one is easier for me to understand? Which accent makes the most sense for me? Or, if you’re already speaking that language, asking questions like, “Why do I sound the way that I sound? Why do you sound the way that you sound? Because I’m trying to understand, oh, you are Scottish. Okay, well, that helps me to understand you better, because in Scotland, you guys say this or that.” That to me is a more skillful approach to Buddhism, and that’s why on this podcast, I don’t focus on saying, “Hey, here’s what the Buddha said about this, and here’s what we should think about that.” In fact, you’re never going to get that on this podcast, because I feel that that’s one of the biggest obstacles to understanding what Buddhism is all about and what it’s actually trying to do.

So, in that sense, I view Secular Buddhism as a new accent that’s emerged in our Western culture. I certainly don’t view it as a separate form of Buddhism, distinct from any other school of Buddhism. It’s just another accent that we’re trying to figure out, and it works well for me because of the time and the culture and the place where I live. That happens to be an accent that makes sense for me in my form of communicating.

I want to clarify that I am certainly not a spokesperson of Secular Buddhism. It happens to be the name that I chose for the podcast because it’s an approach to Buddhism that I like, but I am not putting content out there that represents, this is Secular Buddhism. I don’t view it that way. I just take what I’ve learned about Buddhism, and I try to express these teachings in a way that applies to my day-to-day living, my everyday life, and I share that with you.

So, from this podcast, you will always hear stories. You’ll hear about how Buddhist teachings or ideas have helped me in my day-to-day life, and how I experience reality, and I share my views and my understanding. But these things evolve. Just a couple days ago, I had an email from someone mentioning how they disagree with a statement that I’d made in an earlier podcast. I think it was the Living Artfully, where I mentioned that birds don’t have a reason, don’t need a reason to sing. They just sing because, for no reason. And my view of that has evolved.

As this person mentioned in the email, that birds do sing for a reason. They’re singing to find a mate, or I don’t know. There may be reasons. Just because we don’t know why they sing doesn’t mean they don’t have a reason, and I totally agree with that. And I feel like Alan Watts’ quote, where it’s like, “I am under no obligation to be the same person that I was five minutes ago.” That mentality absolutely applies to the podcast and to earlier episodes. I replied and I said, “I absolutely agree. I think the more appropriate expression, if I were to re-record that now, I would probably say, ‘Birds sing because that’s what birds do.'” So, my own views on a lot of these topics are constantly changing and morphing as they should. That’s the nature of reality is constant change, and it should be that way for you too.

And the other accusation was that this is just a form of self-help. Man, that really depends on how you define self-help. I think for one, what’s the point of any of this if we’re not trying to reduce some of the self-inflicted suffering that we bring upon ourselves, or that we cause for others? Is that self-help? I don’t know. How do you define that? This is not a podcast about self-help in the sense of, “Hey, if you do this, your life will be better, and if you do that …” It’s not that.

I view this as a constant invitation for you to get to know yourself better, to become a better whatever you already are. In this podcast, like I mentioned before, you will never be told, “This is how this is,” or, “This is how that is, and this is how you should think about this,” or, “This is what you should think about that.” That is not my goal. It is never going to be my goal. In my opinion, that is not the Buddhist way.

The Buddhist way is an invitation, a constant invitation to look inward, to be more aware of who you are, and why do you think the things that you think, and say the things that you say, and do the things that you do? This is about you. I share these things, and what I’ve learned and what works for me as an invitation for you to look inward and find what works for you, not as a way of saying, “Hey, this worked for me, therefore this should work for you.” That’s absolutely not the case.

So, that’s the little bit of housekeeping I wanted to share with regards to Secular Buddhism, and why and how I’m approaching these topics, and why you won’t hear me in these podcasts saying, “Hey, now, everyone take out the certain, I don’t know, this certain sutta, and we’re going to read this verse, and do that.” I don’t do that, because that to me doesn’t seem relevant with the style in which I try to share Buddhist teachings. But I absolutely do share Buddhist teachings and concepts all throughout this podcast, and this is not just a self-help podcast.

Okay. With that, I want to jump into the topic that I wanted to share for today, tales. The tale of many tales, so many stories in our lives. I have a couple of stories that I’m going through right now with career changes and things. I wanted to share a little bit of this with you, because there’s a concept that Thich Nhat Hanh talks about in his book Fear, where he mentions how the root of everything that we do it’s either rooted in fear, or it’s rooted in love.

I thought about this recently with a career change that I’d been making. Most of you know my story with leaving the business world and entrepreneurial world after eight years of having my own company, and that whole thing came crashing down. I went through a bankruptcy, and then started getting a job, or I got a job, and I’ve been at that job for over a year now. And it’s been a fantastic job, and I enjoy what I do there, but I …

… Fantastic job and I enjoy what I do there, but I recently made the decision to leave that behind and to pursue another career opportunity doing something that I really enjoy and that I’m passionate about, which is paramotoring and paragliding. So, last week, this is why I’ve been out of the loop for a while, I went and took a week and a half training in Oregon to become a flight instructor, but in order for me to be able to go do that, I didn’t have vacation time to leave work, so I was kind of forced to choose between my job and this opportunity to go become a flight instructor. I spoke to my boss about it and told him I was going to resign and go pursue this other thing and hopefully arrange it so that I can keep working for them as a freelancer rather than as an employee.

Anyway, the whole thought process as this is unfolding for me, I realized I had been reading this book, Fear, and I realized that some of the decisions we make are based on fear. For example, the fear of losing a stable income or losing the benefits and insurance that I had at work. Those were valid and real things that I had to take into account with this decision, so those were rooted in fear. Then there was this other part that the opportunity to be able to go teach to become a flight instructor and eventually teach and have a career doing something I really enjoy, those were decisions that were based and rooted in love. My love for having freedom of my own time, my love for spending time in the sky and flying, so I was weighing these things, trying to think about, “Well, is this decision rooted more in fear?”

In this case, the decision to stay is rooted in fear. The decision to go and pursue this new thing was rooted in love, and ultimately that helped me to feel more confident about the decision that I made, which was to go. I’ve thought about this with other milestones in my life. Decisions rooted in fear and love. Going through a faith transition and leaving the belief system of your upbringing is a very difficult process to go through. There were a lot of decisions that were being made in that process that were rooted in fear and there were others that were rooted in love.

I think typically what’s rooted in fear is strong because we, because of the negativity bias, we’re so much more keen on focusing on the negative, the things that are scary, because it’s a survival technique or a survival mechanism, where the things that we fear are much more powerful. They seem to weigh more on that scale compared to the things that we love, but it’s important to be able to spend time and analyze your situation. Whatever decision you’re making, whether it’s to stay or go in a job or stay or go in a relationship or whatever it is, buying a new vehicle. You could look at all of this and kind of have a list on what are the fears that are driving this decision and what are the … What parts of this are rooted in love that are driving this decision?

That can be a very introspective process. I just wanted to share that because that’s something I recently thought about and I correlated it to that book. If you want to learn more about that concept, you can pick up Thich Nhat Hanh’s book called Fear. The actual topic I wanted to discuss today is the tale of many tales. The stories that we tell about ourselves. I had this experience … I get to spend a lot of time with people who are learning to fly, and I had this experience not long ago. I’ve had a couple of experiences with people who are just coming out of the military and they’re adopting this new hobby of paramotoring.

If you don’t know how paramotoring works, essentially it’s a paragliding wing. It kind of looks like a parachute but it’s not a parachute. It’s an actual wing made out of cloth that you fly over your head and then you have a motor strapped to your back or in a little cart, like a go-kart with wheels, and you fly. Well, the process of learning to fly these things starts with learning to kite this thing in the wind just like you would fly a kite, but it’s connected to you and you learn to control it by flying it when there’s some wind, and you just fly it overhead. You never take off. You just stand there and you kite the wing over your head and you learn how to fly it that way.

Well, if the wind is strong, that’s a pretty big wing you have over your head. It’s going to life you up and drag you around and do whatever it wants with you because it’s a big wing. I was watching this person who had a very clear story about himself that I could see, at least, which is the story of, “I am very tough. I can overcome anything. I can control life and everything that’s happening to me because I am so strong and so tough and I can do this.” That was translating into this process of learning to kite the wing and trying to muscle this thing over his head and will it to do what he wanted it to do.

Well, unfortunately the nature of these things is that as a wing with wind, no amount of strength is going to will the wing to do what it wants. You have to understand the aerodynamics of the wing and give it the right inputs to get the wing to do what you want it to do using the actual elements that exist, which is there’s a lot of wind, so I’m gonna slightly pull on this string and it’s gonna slightly go this way. So, rather than dragging me around, it’s kiting over my head. Well, what I noticed was this very strong, tough person really struggling to kite the wing, and the wing was literally dragging him through the sand and pulling him around.

When it was all over and we were kind of talking about it, this is the part that fascinated me with the story is that the story of “I am tough and I can do anything” was so strong and so prevalent for this person that they could not see reality clearly, which is, “Hey, this is a big wing. You cannot get it to do what you want. You have to learn to fly it. You can’t just force it to do what you can’t. You can’t just pull these strings and expect it to do what you want.” He couldn’t see that. For him, it was there were all these reasons why this wasn’t working. Maybe it had sand in it or it’s misty out here so maybe it’s too moist and it’s not aerodynamic enough, or all these stories, but what he couldn’t see is, “No, you’re getting dragged because that’s a big wing and there’s wind and that’s just what happens,” because the thought of getting dragged was impossible to see. I wouldn’t be dragged. I’m way too tough to be dragged. Nothing’s gonna knock me down.

It was just interesting to watch this and think if you didn’t have such an attachment to the story you have about yourself being so tough, maybe you would realize that you’re not tougher than the wind and a 28 meter wing that’s just going to drag you around. So, that was one experience I had with stories recently. Another was actually on our trip to Iceland. This one was with my wife. We had this moment where we were out exploring. There’s an old plane wreck and you can go out there and look around and see it and climb up on top and get pictures of it. We were out there and she was up there waiting for me to get the drone to do a little flyover to get a video of her, and didn’t realize that someone at the bottom was waiting for her to get down so they could get up and take a picture.

In the time it took me to get the drone set up and up and running, this person who was waiting kind of got fed up and yelled at her and said, “Hey, you’ve been up there long enough. Get done. Let other people take pictures.” My wife immediately felt embarrassed. So, what happened next, this is where the story kicks in … My wife has a very strong story about herself which is, “I am a person who follows all the rules, who complies with the way things should be. I’m not a troublemaker. I’m very independent. I don’t need to be told what to do. I’m gonna do it right the first time.”

Anyway, all of this came together for her in that moment of being yelled at. It made her feel extremely angry at this person for yelling at her because think, if that’s your story about yourself, why would you ever have to chastise me? I know the rules. I always follow the rules. I never break the rules. Her story was running up against an issue, which is, “The story I have about myself right now in this moment is not the story you have about me. You’re yelling at me as if I was a troublemaker and that’s not who I am,” and this was causing a lot of internal conflict for her. She immediately got down. She was immediately angry and was trying to avoid this specific person as we were touring other parts of that area. She was like, “No, there’s that person. I do not want to be …”

A little bit of time went by and I said, “Why is that still bothering you so much?” She said, “I’m really angry at him and I don’t want to be around him.” This was kind of a neat opportunity to say, “Well, that’s fine to feel really upset, but do you know why you’re really upset?” She said, “No.” I said, “Well, what is the fear? What’s the problem with being yelled at? Why is that a problem? He just yelled at you and then you got down and that fixed everything, but why would that continue to be a problem?” She kind of sat with that and explored with it and on her way back to the van, she said, “You know, I think I’ve figured it out. What’s really going on is I’m embarrassed because I’m not the type of person that you would typically need to yell at to comply with a rule because I don’t bend any rules. I’m very black and white when it comes to things like that.”

Anyway, there was this moment of exploration for her to understand herself. I said, “Yeah, I think that’s right. That sounds like exactly why you would be so upset about it.” That understanding she gained about herself was very insightful for her. So, it reminded me, and I’ve mentioned this on the podcast before of a time in my own life with my own stories and some of the unnecessary suffering I was experiencing had to do with reality conflicting with the story that I have about myself. One of the examples of this for me is when, as an entrepreneur, the thought of my company failing was extremely traumatic for me because it was … The story I have about myself is crumbling because the world is going to perceive me as something that I don’t perceive myself as, which is I am an entrepreneur and I’m successful. Now everyone’s gonna think I’m a failed entrepreneur because my company failed and that was really painful until I realized, “Oh, okay, that’s just a story, and the more attached I am to that story I have about myself, the more suffering I’m-”

… attached I am to that story I have about myself, the more suffering I’m experiencing with the life circumstances that I’m in right now. So that’s what I wanted to get at with this, is we all have stories about ourselves, and how wise and beneficial it can be to understand our stories. What is your story you have about yourself? And you can try to identify this with asking questions like, what is something I’m really proud of about myself, or something that I am really happy about how I am? A character trait or something. Explore that a little bit and see if you can find or identify what the story is that you tell about yourself, and then notice how hard … how much effort goes into protecting that story or ensuring that that story matches with the story others are creating about you, and just notice that.

The goal here isn’t to eliminate our stories. This is something I wanted to discuss with regards to the concept of ego and the self. Like, I think one of the biggest ego trips that I see in this tradition in Buddhism is the ego trip of now I have no ego. It’s like, what an incredible ego trip that is to think that you no longer have an ego. I think I like to visualize the ego as I would a shadow. It’s like there you are, and when the causes and conditions are right, the sun is up, it casts a shadow on you, and you see the shadow, and the shadow is there. It’s very much a part of you, and everything you do, it does, and yet in some ways it’s just an illusion. It’s just there.

I think our ego emerges through these stories, the stories we have about ourselves, the stories that we have that we think others have about us, and this gives rise to the ego, the shadow, the shadow-self that’s there following us. No matter what we do, it’s there, and we give it so much importance because the more attached we are to our stories, the more that shadow seems like a real, tangible part of me, that is the essence of me is my shadow. Now, that would be silly when I think about it with my shadow because I would just see my shadow as just a shadow, and the shadow changes as I change. If I put on a hat, well, guess what? There’s the shadow wearing a hat. I think the ego, the sense of self that we have, is a lot like that. It’s just always there.

So it’s not about eliminating the shadow, it’s about understanding that a shadow is a shadow. It’s not me. It’s like going through life thinking that your shadow is you, and then, in this sense, like awakening is that realization that, oh, it’s just a shadow. It’s an illusion. It arises and it’s there and I see it, but now I’m not so scared of my shadow because I understand it and see it for what it is. I think this transcending the ego is a lot like that, where it’s not that the ego goes away, it’s that you understand yourself and you know your stories and you understand why you feel attached to your stories, and you can have moments where you don’t feel so attached to them and the ego isn’t a problem anymore.

And if you’re standing somewhere and someone yells at you because they were waiting in line, you can feel bad for a moment, but then you immediately understand why this makes you feel bad because you know your stories, and then you get over it and think, “Okay, sorry. Sorry, your turn.” You can go, and you don’t harbor all this anger and resentment because there’s no story to defend. You realize it’s just a story, and you allow that thing to pass.

Now, I’ve experienced this in my own practice trying to identify my own stories, because one of the strong stories I had growing up, and it still arises from time to time, is the story that I am very dependable and you don’t have to ask me twice to do things. All of that is part of a story that I have, so if I’m ever in a situation where I fail to do that and somebody says, “Hey, why didn’t you …” I immediately start coming up with these stories to defend the story I have about myself. Oh, it must have been this or that. And then I can pause and say, “Wait, wait, sorry. I just got scatterbrained for a moment. Sometimes I’m not as dependable as I think I am. I literally forgot. I have too many things on my mind. Sorry,” and then I can correct it, and I don’t hold resentment that somebody viewed me as someone who’s not dependable because I can say, well, in that moment I wasn’t dependable, sorry, but I’m going to try from here on out to not forget, or things like that.

At least that’s been how it’s worked in my experience. The more I understand my stories that I have about myself, the more unattached I am to those stories. They’re still there, there’s still stories, some of them I understand where they come from, how I was raised or beliefs that I had, and I understand, I understand that about myself and that gives me more power with how I relate to my stories. It doesn’t eliminate the stories all the time. Some do, some have changed, some have gone away, and I’ve actually gained some new ones. So the stories are always there, but the relationship I have with the stories is what I believe has been the most drastic of all the changes. I don’t get so caught up in my stories because I see them for what they are. They’re stories. Like shadows, they’re just there, and I understand them better, so I have a better relationship with them.

So that’s the concept of these stories, the tale of many tales, the story about all the stories that you have about yourself, the stories that you have that others have of you. Now, you could spend a lot of time understanding yourself and your stories, and that would be very beneficial. You could also look at, what are the stories you try to make others have of you? And that one gets really muddy because, the truth is, you don’t know what’s the full story that others have of you. All you know is that they’re not really accurate. I mean, they may be accurate to some degree, but you don’t control the story that someone else has of you.

I face this all the time in my own community because when you don’t share the predominant views or world views or beliefs of a community, you can bet that stories are created about you. Oh, there must be this reason why. This is why he doesn’t believe this, or this must be why he’s doing that. I don’t get to control those stories. I have no control over that. So the stories that other people have of me at times can be stressful, but what matters to me most is I feel like every day I’m getting better and better at understanding what are the stories I have about myself, and I become more skillful with them, which in turn allows me to be less reactive to things as they unfold, which in turn allows me to experience more peace and more contentment.

And at the end of the day, that’s my journey. I’m trying to have more peace and contentment and joy in life just because I understand myself better, and I understand the nature of reality a little bit better, and all of this comes from Buddhist teachings and Buddhist practices applied to how they work for me in this context of a secular form of it. So that’s what I wanted to share, the tale of many tales. What is your tale? What are your stories? What are the stories you tell about yourself? And I would hope that over time, as you get to know your stories and get to know how you react to certain … when reality conflicts with your story that you’re trying to project onto yourself, or that you want others to project onto you, notice the suffering that arises, notice how that feels to see the conflict of reality and the story, and how difficult that can be at times.

But the most skillful practice to me in all of this is you knowing you, you understanding your story, seeing which of your stories you tend to be more attached to, and then notice what happens as you try to change the relationship you have with your story to be less attached to that story, to be more flexible with it, and hopefully you’ll notice what I have noticed in my own life as I try to practice all this stuff, which is, again, more peace, more contentment, more joy. And that’s all I have to share, so my invitation to you for this podcast episode is to sit with your stories. What are they? Try to identify a couple of them, and then work with them and see what it feels like to play with the idea of maybe this is just a story. What if it’s just a story and it’s not reality? What does that feel like?

So that’s the tale many tales. Again, if you want to learn more about Buddhism in general, I do have a book about that, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, that has over 60 questions and answers around Buddhist history and concepts and teachings and practices. You can learn more about that by visiting everydaybuddhism.com. As always, if you enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it, write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. You can join the online community, which is our Facebook group. It’s called the Secular Buddhism Podcast Community. You can find that at secularbuddhism.com/community. And if you want to support the work that I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit secularbuddhism.com, click the donate button, and that is all I have for now, but as always, I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for listening, and until next time.

80 – Life Is Not Fair

Life is not fair, it’s true! But is that really a problem? In this podcast episode, I will discuss the monkey reward experiment where one monkey was given cucumbers and another was given grapes and the result of that decision. I will also discuss the idea of sitting with discomfort. If you can sit with discomfort, you can do anything…

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Welcome to another episode of The Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 80. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today, I’m talking about the idea of fairness in life.

Keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice to not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are. As we jump into this topic, life is not fair, I want you to join me in this little thought experiment. Just imagine for a moment that you’re driving along the highway in your car, and suddenly you hear a pop and you have a flat tire. So, you pull over, you get out of the car, you’re looking at the flat tire trying to decide what you’re going to do next. You look up and you realize a really nice car pulls over to assist you. You can just envision whatever a nice car is to you. This car pulls over, somebody gets out of the car, they come over, they look at your flat tire, and they say, “I feel really bad for you. Here, I’ll tell you what, I’m going to give you $100 and hopefully this will help you to have a better day.”

Imagine for a moment how that would feel as the recipient of this cash. $100, there you are, how do you feel for this person? How do you feel about having received what you just did? In fact, let’s make it $1,000 just to make it much more of a big deal. I guess $100 is a big deal, but let’s just say it’s $1,000. You’re probably quite shocked and surprised. And this person, based on their nice car and everything, you’re assuming they have a lot of money and they just felt bad for you because you have a flat tire, so they give you this cash. How does that feel?

Most people are probably going to feel very grateful. Very grateful for what just happened. Now let’s pause that experiment and let’s imagine … Well, actually let’s continue the thought experiment. While you’re there, suddenly this other car pulls over behind the nice car. This is an older car, maybe not much different than yours, but this car has a flat tire as well. They pull over and you see the person get out of the car and they just start working on fixing their flat. They take out the tools to start removing the tire and all that. So, this person that you’re with who gave you the money looks at them, and you see them walking over towards them.

You’re thinking, “Oh wow, he or she is going to offer them the $1,000 too.” But no, you hear the following. This person walks over there and says, “Oh no, looks like you got a flat tire.” And the person says, “Yeah, I got a flat tire and horrible timing. I’m on my way to a job interview. I just lost my job. So, I’m trying to get another job and I’m dealing with all these issues at home. They kind of go on to give a more elaborate picture of their current life situation. You hear this person say, “You know what? I feel really bad for everything that you’re going through. Here, I’d like to give you $100,000.” Now how do you feel? Everything that just took place with you receiving your $1,000 felt a certain way. But now that you saw this person happily extend $100,000 to this other person because of all these other complications they’re going through in their life, now how do you feel?

Now if you are like most people, you probably feel a sense of frustration and anger and you’re like, “Wait a second, why didn’t … I could certainly use the $100,000 dollars too.” So, there’s the sense of fairness that comes into play where suddenly, this is not fair. Here’s what’s interesting about this thought experiment. When you think about receiving $1,000 out of the blue, that feels a certain way. But when you have the comparison of receiving $1,000 coupled with the thought you could have received $100,000, that changes the relationship that you have with $1,000, doesn’t it?

This thought experiment, this is an experiment that has actually taken place. Not with the car and not with the money, but with monkeys, capuchin monkeys. You can see this video, there’s a TED talk and then the videos on YouTube. If you just search for monkey videos, unfair monkey experiment, or I think you can search for grapes and cucumbers. Because the experiment that they did was the experimenter had two monkeys in two separate cages right next to each other. They taught the monkey that if the monkey hands the experimenter a rock, the rock would be, or the monkey would be rewarded with a cucumber. A slice of cucumber. And the cucumber was very happily received. The monkey ate it very happily. And then they would do it with a monkey next, the one right next door. Same thing, that monkey gets a cucumber. So, now they both see what’s happening. Both monkeys.

Then the experimenter goes back and does it again where this time, in exchange for the rock, the experimenter hands monkey number one a cucumber, but monkey number two exchanges the rock and the experimenter hands monkey number two a grape instead of a cucumber. Well, monkey number one sees this and right away recognizes, oh, okay, next time I do this, I’m going to get a grape. So, monkey number one, goes back to monkey number one, exchanges the rock and gets another cucumber. And the monkey just immediately looks at the cucumber and then throws the cucumber at the experimenter and starts shaking the cage.

The experimenter goes back to monkey number two, repeats, gives monkey number two a grape. So now, monkey number one is really realizing, oh my gosh, this is so unfair, and the experimenter puts their hand out again asking for the exchange of the rock, and monkey number one, it almost looks like he’s thinking about it and he finally hands the experimenter the rock. Once again, gets a cucumber. At this point, the monkeys just really, really upset, shaking the cage, doesn’t accept the cucumber, throws the cucumber again. This is the second time the monkey has thrown the cucumber back at the experimenter. That’s essentially the clip of the video if you were to search for it.

But what’s fascinating about this, again, is the relationship where they’re receiving the cucumber is neutral. In fact, there’s a sense of gratitude for it, the monkeys happily enjoying the cucumber. But something happens when the cucumber becomes compared to something else, something perceived to be better. In this case, a grape. And suddenly, at the thought of not receiving the grape, the perceived injustice and the perceived inequity that took place in that exchange makes the monkey no longer care about or want the cucumber. Kind of like in the thought experiment above or before. If you thought about the $1,000 and how grateful you would be to receive $1,000, there probably was a lot less natural gratitude flowing when you realized you could have had $100,000 like the other person who got the flat tire.

So, what is it that’s taking place there? Well, and in these experiments, what they’re finding is we’ve evolved, so to speak, to perceive and justices and we’re not happy with injustice, we’re not happy when we perceive that something is not fair. This is totally normal. It’s natural. We’ve all felt this at one point or another as kids with toys. But we continue to experience this in our day to day lives when we compare our situation or we assess whatever it is that we have and compare it to what we think we should have.

I want to correlate this to the Buddhist practice or the Buddhist teaching of seeing with the eyes of wisdom, seeing the interdependent nature of things and the impermanent or continually changing nature of things. We start to see the uniqueness of each moment, and it becomes more habitual for us to appreciate the cucumber for being a cucumber, and not comparing it to a grape because it’s not the same as a grape, or $1,000 being unique. It’s the $1,000 I received and not comparing it to the $100,000 I didn’t receive.

Now, I want to be clear that I’m not advocating in any way that we turn a blind eye to the injustices in the world, or that we start to accept inequality. That’s not where I’m trying to go with this. What I’m trying to highlight here is our natural tendency to compare. Comparing moments, when we’re talking about anything in terms of space and time, everything is unique. And the truth is, there is no comparison. Here is here, there is there, this is this, that is that. But this isn’t that and here isn’t there and now isn’t then. The challenge here is to try to see the uniqueness of each moment. Whether it’d be pleasant or not, it’s unique. Unpleasant moments and pleasant moments are equal in the sense that they’re both unique.

The exercises to try to minimize … Well, I don’t know if that’s appropriate to say, minimize the comparison. I guess what’s more appropriate just to recognize how natural it is to compare, and then not cling to the emotions that arise due to the comparison. Because, again, I’m not advocating that, “Oh, you got $1,000, your neighbor just got 100,000, you should not be mad.” That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is, notice that the anger, the sense of injustice that arises that is natural. Now, how you react to it and what you do with that emotion while you’re experiencing it, that’s what comes next. How do we learn to sit with that discomfort? In fact, there’s a thought or an expression that seems to be pretty common in Buddhism and in a lot of Buddhist teachings. And that’s this idea of sitting with discomfort.

So, I want to take this whole concept and kind of go a little bit further with it now with this notion of sitting with discomfort. What does that look like? What does it mean? For me, in my own day to day life, and I think I’ve alluded to this in previous podcast episodes, but the idea of sitting with discomfort is like recognizing that I’m going to have to have the difficult discussions with family or loved ones about views that I have, or whatever it is. Parenting decisions. It’s about allowing ourselves to really feel the emotions that we’re experiencing. It’s about recognizing that our tendency, our natural tendency is to chase after the emotions that feel pleasant, and to feel a version or to run away from the emotions that feel unpleasant.

What we’re trying to do with this notion of sitting with discomfort is trying to gain more understanding. Well, what am I feeling? Why am I feeling this? Why does this feel so uncomfortable? Why do I want to avoid having this discussion? Things of that nature. Consider the physical sensations that arise when your body feels stressed, or anxious, or worried, anything along those lines. And the goal here is instead of resisting them, what if we could learn to sit with them?

I had this experience this weekend. This past weekend, we were at a … it’s like a community function. It’s a festival that we do in our little town. But anyway, what was unfolding was during the preparations for the festival where you have to build the little huts and the tents and all the things, this is the night before the event. So, emotions are high, people are stressed about getting stuff done in time. And two of the people there helping got into a little verbal altercation. One was complaining about having to be there to help. Saying why we always have to be here helping this person who organizes this event and puts this on, and the other one was saying, “Well, you shouldn’t be complaining about having to help because you receive a lot of help too.” And they happen to be siblings. So, you can imagine it’s much more natural to have these altercations with with the people who are closest to us.

But here’s what I thought was interesting. The third sibling observing all of this, this third sibling happens to be like the peacemaker in her family, was extremely uncomfortable with the event that was unfolding. Which is there was a conflict and words are being thrown around. This third sibling literally jumped in the middle of the two, was waving her arms and saying, “Stop. Stop. Stop. Guys, stop.” I had this moment of recognition as I was observing all of this, that for a significant portion of my time, I was that third sibling. So uncomfortable with conflict, so uncomfortable with the discomfort that arises in me when I’m witnessing or experiencing any kind of conflict like that. I felt for this person watching that unfold, saying, “I know what that feels like.”

But it was strange to see it from this perspective that I have now where I’m comfortable with discomfort. I have practiced extensively the exercise of sitting with discomfort. As this was unfolding, I felt no aversion to the conflict. It was like, “Well, you guys say what you need to say. That’s fine.” But inside, I wasn’t feeling what I had felt in the past, which is a pit in your stomach and this intense feeling to just stop. Get this to stop. I don’t want to hear this. I am very uncomfortable with people yelling at each other. I didn’t have any of those feelings. And I thought about this concept, sitting with discomfort, and I kind of correlated that whole experience to what I just tried to share with this teaching of sitting with discomfort.

Again, I think it’s natural. We’ve all grown up learning to avoid discomfort at all costs. And I think this idea of avoiding discomfort, it honestly permeates in our societal views and norms, in our marketing messages. All you have to do is turn on the TV or the radio and you’re going to get some kind of a message that is essentially saying, “Hey, is life uncomfortable? Well, it won’t be if you buy this product or the service. It’ll fix it. You don’t have to sit with that discomfort. Fix the discomfort. Buy this thing today.” That’s essentially the marketing message you’re going to get about anything, any product, any service. That’s what they’re trying to accomplish, is to make you realize that you don’t have to sit with the discomfort.

Now, again, I’m not saying that it’s a good thing or a bad thing to sit with the discomfort. I’m glad that we have progressed as a society, we’ve been motivated by discomfort to make life better. We thought, “Enough with walking everywhere, let’s invent the wheel.” Things like that. I am the beneficiary of that kind of progress, because you guys may know from other podcast episodes, or if you follow me on social media, I love to fly. I love to fly a paramotor and paraglide. Those are all technologies that certainly arose out of the sense of discomfort with life. I’m going to chase after something, I want to fly. Sure, that’s fine.

Again, I want to be careful that everything that is ever shared here, none of it’s absolute. It’s not like, “Hey, here’s the way. Sit with this comfort. That’s always the answer.” It’s not. Sometimes it’s not the answer. But in a lot of instances it is. It can be an answer to live more skillfully. Again, I just want to emphasize that.

At times, I think the mindfulness movement that is kind of prevalent right now in our culture, or even Buddhism, you could say, it’s kind of preached in this way like marketing does. Where it’s saying, “Hey, this philosophy, this practice meditation, it’s going to remove the discomfort from your life. Just meditated and it’ll all be well.” And the truth is, that’s not how it works. Truth is, you’re still going to deal with all the same crap that you had before. That kind of stuff doesn’t necessarily change. So, what does change? Well, what changes, again, is our ability to sit with that discomfort, like I mentioned in that scenario that I experienced over the weekend. That’s where peace comes from. It’s not the external world that’s changing, it’s your relationship to that external world that’s changing and that’s where peace arises naturally inside.

So, how does the need to avoid discomfort manifest in your own life? This is an invitation for you to sit with us for a moment and think about it like I did. I noticed that for me, I didn’t like being judged. I didn’t like people disagreeing with my views in life. So, I was a people pleaser, and that’s fine. I still am. But I’m a lot more comfortable with the discomfort that arises from people not agreeing with me. Now, I’m totally fine being around people who don’t like my ideas at all. People who will say, “Oh, you’re going down this path to hell because you’re not following the right ideology.” They could tell me that and it honestly wouldn’t bother me at all, because I’m totally comfortable with the discomfort that was arising when I was experiencing conflict like that.

So, this is the invitation or the challenge that I would want to extend to you for this week, for this podcast episode, is to try to sit with the discomfort and see what that’s like for a moment. And again, I’m not advocating any kind of resignation or giving up. I think too often, we experience discomfort, and we just give up. We don’t like it, so we run from it. We try to drown it out by chasing after whatever it is we think is going to make us forget about the discomfort. We avoid the hard discussions. This is a common example. We avoid the hard discussions and we put up with how things are, because we’re not willing to experience the discomfort that it might take for things to actually be better.

I’ve experienced this numerous times in my own relationship dynamics. Topics that I know are going to be uncomfortable to bring up, but I bring them up because I know that sitting through the discomfort is the path to something better on the other end of that. So, try to see this moment for what it is. Not for what you think it should be, but just for what it is. I think this is why so many meditation practices start with just noticing the breath. Because when I’m sitting here and I’m noticing my breath, I’m experiencing just being for a moment. We’re here, we’re breathing, how unique is this moment? Truth is, life is not fair. But that’s not a problem. It’s not a problem unless we make that a problem. It’s not about fairness, but we can strive to correct any injustices or inequality that we see out there.

I applaud the people who spend time and resources and efforts doing that. But I do think it’s important to also understand that there is a sense of uniqueness to every situation and every moment that happens in our lives, and they’re not meant to be compared. So, try to notice that more. Try to see through those eyes of wisdom of impermanence and interdependence, and ask yourself, what did it take for this moment to exist? Think about all the instances in our own lives where we are that monkey and we’re comparing the cucumber to the grape. We do this on social media, right? Oh, so and so got that job. Well, I got this job. Or so and so married that person, I married this person who’s grumpier.

We play this game. So and so drives that kind of car while I do this. Or so until it gets to go do all those fun trips, I never get to leave. And we’re making ourselves miserable like the monkey in the cage. Again, naturally. We do this naturally. But if you’ll remember in the episode where I talked about rebellion, we can rebel against this natural game and say, “This isn’t the game I want to play. I’m not going to play this anymore. I’m going to go beyond my natural tendency to throw the cucumber back at life and say, “Well, wait a second, this is a cucumber. What did it take for this to arise?”” And you start to change the nature of the game, the relationship you have with the game out of almost this act of rebellion that says, I’m not going to keep doing this the way that I’ve been doing.

That’s what I wanted to share with you in this podcast episode. As always, if you want to learn more about Buddhism, you can always check out my book, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, with 60 questions and answers around Buddhist history and concepts, teachings, and practices. You can learn more about that book by visiting everydaybuddhism.com. And as always, if you enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others. You can always write a review or give it a rating in iTunes. If you would like to join our online community, you can visit secularbuddhism.com/community. If you would like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, visit secularbuddhism.com, click the donate button.

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

79 – The Blind Leading the Blind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

78 – No Hope, No Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

77 – Embracing Rebellion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

76 – Patience With Ourselves, Others, And Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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