125 - Keep Calm & Carry On Skillfully

In light of the ongoing spread of COVID-19, I wanted to share some thoughts about skillful action. In this episode, I will also share my thoughts about the koan “There is Nothing I Dislike”.

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Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 125. I am your host Noah Rasheta. And today I’m going to talk about skillful action in times of uncertainty and stress. Keep in mind you don’t need to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use it to learn to be a better whatever you already are. Before jumping into the podcast topic for today, I want to discuss and share some thoughts around the Zen koan that I shared in the last podcast episode, and this is the koan that goes like this. Ling Yee said, “There is nothing I dislike.” Now I mentioned in the previous podcast episode, this is one of those lifetime koans that you could really work with this for the rest of your life, constantly analyzing and asking yourself, how is that possible to reach a state where there’s nothing that I dislike?

And, like I said, like this koan a lot and I like to revisit it and think about it often and I want to share some of my thoughts around it. But first I want to share some of the thoughts that were shared in our discussion group. So on the Patreon community for the podcast, we have discussions around the podcast episodes, around the Zen koans, and many other things, but these are some of the thoughts that came out of the discussion around this specific koan. So Christina said, “There are parts of me, ego states, that dislike things and suffer from these emotions. But (I) can choose to access other parts and ego states that will help me find inner peace about these things through mindfulness and meditation. Through choosing I can think and act more skillfully despite disliking the person or situation.” And then she goes on to say, “It’s also fun to think there’s nothing I like. You can play with this and ask yourself, aren’t there also times when I don’t even like the things in people I almost always like? Who am I in those moments?”

And I really like what Christina shares here. I like that she’s showing the other side of the same coin. If I’m going to say there’s nothing I dislike, the similar analysis would work to say there is nothing I like and I think that’s accurate when we really start to break this down. And that’s another fun way to work with it, when you find yourself with a person or a situation that you really do like to ask yourself, well, do I really like? What part of me likes this person? In the same way that we do with things that we dislike. Now Bob shares a slightly different thought. He says, “So, this koan amuses me since my current focus seems to be observing how often I arises within me. This koan reminds me that disliking is not possible when there is no I.” And I think that’s one of the powerful parts of this Cohen for me is the recognition of who is the I in the statement?

There’s nothing I dislike and when I understand or have more skillful context around this I that supposedly goes around liking and disliking things, then yes I suddenly discovered there is no I to be disliking anything and in that sense there is nothing I dislike is accurate because there is no I. I like that interpretation. Mirella shares this, she says, “The koan made me think about equanimity and non-attachment. There’s nothing I dislike when I observe without getting attached. It is an invitation to look inward and investigate why I am disliking something or someone. I usually find that the reason I dislike something or someone is because of cravings, aversions, or fear and I love the idea of using the koan as a reminder to look deeply into the causes of my dislikes and work with my cravings and aversions.”

And yes, I really like what Mirella is bringing up here, which is what I try to mention with all of this. This is always an invitation to look inward and to find the reason why we dislike something or someone rather than focusing on the dislike or even the like as if it was this thing that has nothing to do with me. And I think that’s where we get stuck sometimes. We treat things like if there’s something that I don’t like, it has everything to do with the thing I don’t like and doesn’t have much to do with me when in reality if there’s something I dislike, it’s me that’s doing the disliking. So it’s about looking in and finding that, what part of me doesn’t like what I’m experiencing or this person that I’m with? And for me, my thoughts regarding this koan, I really like investigating the eye in terms of impermanence and interdependence, again, this notion of when I can see through the illusion of there being a permanent or independent me that exists going around this world and liking things or disliking things.

When I start to see myself in the context of being impermanent and being interdependent, in other words, the impermanent me is the me that one day I like this, another day I don’t. The interdependent me is that under this set of circumstances I like this, under this other set of circumstances I don’t like it. And when I recognize that, that gives me a big sense of freedom because I can recognize that I may dislike thing now but in another place or in another time I might like it, and also from another vantage point. you may like this and I may not like this and if I were you I would like and dislike all the same things that you like and dislike. I think sometimes that’s hard for us to really understand because we really do have this tendency of thinking that the way we go about experiencing life is the most accurate way.

And to a certain degree it is. It’s not that it’s the most accurate, it’s that it’s the only one that makes sense because we’ve only ever experienced life from one vantage point, the one that we’re in right now in this present moment, and it’s really hard to put myself in someone else’s shoes. Maybe to some degree if I could say, “Well, I’ve been there before so I can see why you view this, this way or that way or why you like this or dislike that because I’ve been where you are.” That’s a little bit easier, but that’s still an incomplete picture because I’ve never been where you are right now because where you are, right now is there and where I am right now is here and those are not the same place. They can never be the same place. I can only ever be where I am here and now. Therefore, my perspective and my interpretation of reality is unique. It’s mine. It’s the only one that I’m capable of experiencing.

And to me that’s really helpful to know because I can take your interpretation of reality and when you give me a description of your likes and dislikes, I can at least understand that, wow, for you, that must make perfect sense because my picture of reality makes perfect sense to me. And I think there’s wisdom to be had in simply recognizing and acknowledging that, well, if I were you and I was in your place and time with every single set of circumstances and causes and conditions that have allowed you to be who you are right here, right now, I would probably be doing and saying and thinking the exact things that you say and think and do. I would be believing the exact things that you believe or disbelieving the same things that you disbelieve. And for me, that’s really powerful to remind myself of that. I cannot help but to experience life the way I’m experiencing it.

And this has been a really helpful perspective any time I encounter some kind of a clash, so to speak, in terms of views. Someone will approach me like, “I just don’t understand how you could not believe what I believe.” And they may not say it like that, but that’s the implication. And I sense compassion when I hear that because it’s like, well, of course you can’t, you can’t possibly fathom why I wouldn’t believe what you believe because you don’t know what it is to be me, to think like me, to see the world the way that I see it, to have experienced the things that I’ve experienced. And the same thing is true backwards. It may be really difficult for me to grasp, wow, how can you see the world through that lens? Or, how could you believe this? Or, how could you believe that? But holding in the back of my thought the very same thing like, well, yeah, I cannot make sense of that but because I’m not in that specific place and space and time.

But I can at least acknowledge that if I were, I would see it exactly the same way that that person views it and that helps me to not feel a sense of judgment or I don’t know, sometimes people feel almost indignation like, how dare you see life from a perspective that’s not mine? And it’s just crazy because, well, you can’t. I can’t see it from your perspective. You can’t see it from mine and I can’t even change you. I cannot put you in my shoes. Now, sure, we may end up having shared views at some point but it won’t be because they were forced. Any time you try to force a perspective on someone else, it usually doesn’t work. They’re just going to entrench in their view because their view will always be the only one that makes sense. Now, if you want to expand that, you have to be willing to, first of all, acknowledge that there is more to be known and be willing to think of other perspectives and read books and talk to people and try to understand, why do you see the world the way that you see it?

To me, this koan gets to the heart of that. There is nothing I dislike, and I like to think of that for myself. If I were to go around and say there’s nothing I disliked, but also that expression applied to someone else when I’m with someone who says, “I like this,” or, “I like that.” I can agree with that and be like, “I get that you like this,” or, “I get that you dislike that.” It may not make sense to be, but if anything, if I have any sense of skillful action here, it would be help me understand why and maybe just maybe with a little bit of skillful communication and time and patience on the part of both people doing the communicating you may understand a little bit more about why someone views something one way or likes something or dislikes something. And I think, in our current environment, that might be a really skillful thing to do.

Now, again, I can’t change someone else’s views and that shouldn’t be my goal, but I feel like there’s almost a sense of responsibility on my part to at least want to understand someone’s views. And this can get really uncomfortable really fast, so this is something that you would practice and don’t get into topics that you’re going to be really emotional about because that’s not going to be skillful and it’s like putting yourself through torture. But if you’ve reached a point where you can be more non-attached to your views and to your beliefs and to your ideas and opinions, then it can be a really skillful thing to develop the ability to have discussions with people about their views and their opinions and their ideas, especially the ones that don’t match with our own. It’s like, “Huh, you see this, this way. That’s very foreign to me. I’d love to know why you see it that way.” And maybe it just arrives to, “Okay, well, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree, but at least I have a little bit more understanding now about how you view things or why you view things.”

Those are some of the ideas that come to mind when I think of this koan, “There’s nothing I dislike.” And as I go through my day to day life and I encounter situations or people or anything where that feeling of liking or disliking arises, I like to remind myself of this, “There’s nothing I dislike,” and then I’ll whatever that circumstance or the person or whatever and think, okay, the interdependent impermanent version of me, who is the I that’s doing the disliking? And then for me there’s a second component to this because the word dislike, well, what does that even mean? What does it mean to like something or to dislike something? And I like to think about that in the context of all the things have this tone about them. It’s like a sense of pleasure or a sense of displeasure, like the reason you like something is because it doesn’t produce a sense of discomfort or pain, it’s doing the opposite.

And anytime you identify something that you like or dislike, there’s an opportunity to really practice because liking and disliking is kind of the core of what we call the three poisons in Buddhism, right? There’s the aversion to the things that we dislike and then there’s the craving for the things that we like. And those can both be poisonous. And then there’s the third one, which is the ignorance, right? So the moment I can identify, oh, here’s something I really like, I want to understand, why do I like this? I may find it’s not skillful. I may learn something about myself by pausing and asking myself that. And same with the things that I dislike. If the moment there’s something I dislike, wait a second, why do I really dislike this? Is it really me that dislikes this or like I mentioned in the last podcast episode, is it me that doesn’t like a food or is it my taste buds? If I understand that it’s my taste buds, well, that changes the relationship I have with the disliking. And that same way of thinking I think extends to anything that you like or dislike.

So again, the whole goal for me with this koan as I’m trying to learn a little bit more about myself. So keep that in mind. Now, the next thing I wanted to discuss was the concept of keep calm and carry on skillfully. As all of you know, the Coronavirus is something that’s affecting day to day life for much of the world now. And it’s been growing and it’s been something that’s fascinating to watch and to see unfold and I thought it would be appropriate to share some thoughts around mindfulness and what, if any, would Buddhist teachings be trying to convey to us during a time like this. So I want to share some of my thoughts around this topic and I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate a podcast episode to this. So I want to start off by sharing a quote and this is by Pema Chodron. This is one of my favorite quotes where she says, “The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.”

So this quote from Pema is a quote I really like to think about often because it’s true. You look at this in your own individual day to day life and actions and pay attention to how many of the difficulties that you experience have to do with difficulties that you’ve given yourself. And as a society, I see this especially right now in the context of what’s happening with the Coronavirus. You can see how we create so many of our problems. For example, the fear of uncertainty or the fear of the unknown, and honestly, the fear of death, it can cause us to be very unskillful with our actions and out of a sense of panic, we may go buy all the toilet paper, for example, and then we complicate things for ourselves and for everyone else. And because we live in a world that is interdependent, everything that we do affects everything else. And the bad news with this is that we ourselves are the problem.

But the good news is that we are also the solution. So I wanted to bring up this context of keeping calm and carrying on skillfully. I think if we all strive to be a little more skillful in our actions that we try to refrain from giving ourselves and others any unnecessary difficulties, now is the time to practice something like that. I think now is a good time to remember the British advice and attitude during World War Two to keep calm and carry on. But I like adding skillfully at the end of that because there are people who are carrying on. There are the hustlers who go and buy up all the toilet paper so that they can try to turn around and sell it for more money. And not only is that not skillful, it’s not beneficial, it’s not helpful. You could argue it’s not a skillful livelihood and the truth is that it ends up hurting other people. There are people who actually need supplies and they go to the store and they can’t find that because somebody’s unskillfully hoarded it.

Now, at the same time, it would be unskillful to not stock up on some supplies, but there’s a fine line between, do I need enough supplies to get me by for a few weeks while everything’s kind of shutting down? Yeah, that seems pretty skillful. Do I need enough supplies to carry me through the next year? Well, no. Right now that’s not very skillful because you’re going to disrupt the supply chain. If demand goes up and we run out of supply, it starts to disrupt things and it only complicates things and makes things more difficult for everyone else. And again, with acting skillfully right now in regards to traveling or the attitude of just kind of ignoring the dangers of the possibility of spreading the disease or the virus, these are all things that we need to consider right now.

Now, I know as this was all initially unfolding, I was really tempted to just treat this like, look, let’s just carry on and keep going about our day to day lives. And I read an article about flattening the curve. So if you were to visualize this on a graph, there’s an exponential curve that happens when a virus starts to spread and the more that we interact with other people, that infected people interact with other people, the growth of that curve is really exponential, it spikes and then kind of just as fast as it came, it’ll start to go away. But what happens with the spike, the problem, the reason this is problematic is because our current system isn’t capable of handling a lot of sick people at the same time. So the idea of flattening the curve means we spread that out so that the disease or the virus spreads slower. And let’s just say you have the same amount of people over the course of the next year who are going to get it, it’s the same amount.

But in one scenario, they all got it in one month, and in the other scenario it was spread out over let’s say six months or whatever. And if you were to visualize that on a chart, what you would see is the hospital can handle, that’s just using random numbers as an example, 20 people per month over the course of five or six months versus in one month, now they’re handling 100 or 200 people that month. That’s the difference. And I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but when I visualized that, I felt a sense of responsibility to do my part to help flatten that curve. And that also entails not traveling. I had a trip planned in May to go to France, kind of a work trip with the paragliding company that I’m a brand ambassador for. I was going to go do a paragliding trip in France and I’d been looking forward to this. This is something I was going to go do with my brother.

And it got canceled because of all of this and of course I was disappointed and then realized how irresponsible that would have been for them, the organizers, to leave it planned. And then here you have people from all over the world congregating, doing exactly the unintentional thing that happens when you do that, which is we’re all risking spreading this from one country to another and from one community to another. But it got me thinking, okay, maybe I haven’t been skillful in my understanding of how viruses work so I started reading about it and when I encountered this concept of the curve and flattening the curve, I was like, “Oh, okay, well, now this all makes sense to me and now I’m totally on board with the idea of separation and isolating myself for a time and all of these concepts that are starting to emerge. So, for me, this concept of keep calm and carry on fits really well with my practice.

It’s kind of funny in a way to think that people will go out of their way to isolate themselves from everyone else, to spend some time alone, and even pay to do that, and they’ll call that a retreat. “I’m going to go on a spiritual retreat and I’m going to pay to isolate myself so that I can,” for whatever reason you’re going. And here, I guess one way to view this is now it’s kind of a forced retreat. Now I get that there are differences. I’m home now with my kids whose school is now canceled for a month. And so, the dynamic of staying home on retreat alone is very different than we’re all kind of stuck at home now and my wife and I both still have to work. We have to also entertain the kids. They’ll probably have schoolwork that they’re trying to do. So there’s going to be a lot to juggle. So in one way it’s not really a retreat, but if a retreat isn’t focused around everyday life and challenges, then I think there’s no point of the retreat in the first place.

So in a way here we are on retreat immersed in some of the more uncomfortable, I guess you could say, aspects of day to day life and there’s going to be plenty of practicing mindfulness here in the next month for us and I’m sure for a lot of you listening wherever you are and whatever circumstances you’re in. The whole world right now is kind of in some ways being put on retreat. And I hope that we could spend this time to get to know ourselves, to looking in, to get to understand ourselves a little bit more and to practice how we handle our aversion to the things that we dislike or chasing after the things that we like. I guess what I’m trying to get at is this is a great time to practice and I think it’s really, in a way, it’s kind of cool that we can take advantage of almost any scenario, any situation and turn it into an opportunity to practice.

And that in itself is a form of practice because if you have the mindset of I’m only practicing when all the circumstances are adequate and just the way that I want them to be, now we’ll sit in practice, well, that kind of defeats the whole point. The point of practicing, the reason that people even want to practice mindfulness, is so that when they are in a circumstance that is uncomfortable, they’re more comfortable with the discomfort. Well, here we are, this is a really uncomfortable situation that’s happening all over the world and there’s going to be a lot of opportunities to be thinking about there is nothing I dislike and applying that to everything that you dislike that’s happening in the world right now and practice with it. Get to know yourself, look inward, practice this concept of looking in the mirror and looking in.

So those are some of the thoughts that I wanted to share about this. Don’t go out and buy all the toilet paper. That’s totally unnecessary. It’s not cool. There are parts of the world where there are no problems with that. Fortunately, here in Mexico, there is no sense of panic whatsoever. All the stores are completely normal and walking around everything seems like there’s nothing going on. Hopefully, that’s not something that will end up backfiring in the next few weeks. I’m guessing some of that panic that spreads. In the U.S., it wasn’t like that three or four weeks ago and now it is. Europe wasn’t like that for five or six weeks ago, now it is. So we’ll see how things go, but for now things are good here and all of us have this opportunity for practicing retreat time. And I wanted to just share these thoughts with you kind of as a unique episode where I’m not going into the normal topics like before. This is one where I just wanted to discuss the Coronavirus situation.

And for those of you who listen to this who are on the Patreon community, this is a great place and time to interact with each other, spend time on there. I will be on there engaging with you regularly and practicing together what are the things we like or dislike, what kind of tools do we have access to? I will be uploading some guided meditations and things of that nature. And for now that’s all I have for this podcast episode. As always, thank you for listening and if you want to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, consider becoming a patron and joining our Patreon community where we discuss the koans in the podcast episodes and many other things. And you can learn more about that by visiting secularbuddhism.com. As always, if you’ve enjoyed the podcast episode, please share it with others and write a review or give it a rating on iTunes.

And that’s all I have for now but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. But before I go, here is your Zen koan to work with between now and the next podcast episode. Two monks were arguing about the temple flag waving in the wind. One said, “The flag moves.” The other said, “The wind moves.” They argued back and forth but could not agree. Hui-neng, the sixth patriarch said, “Gentlemen, it is not the flag that moves. It is not the wind that moves. It is your mind that moves.” The two monks were struck with awe. That’s all I have for this podcast episode. Thank you for listening. Until next time.



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Written by

Noah Rasheta

Noah Rasheta

Kamas, UT
Having fun living life. Podcast Host | Author | Paramotor Flight Instructor