Roots of Compassion: Lojong Mind Training - Talk 5

Talk 5 - Friday September 1st - Points 6 & 7- Prepared Talk by Tim Burnett © 2017

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Like subterranean water, or vast oil deposits, or minerals buried deep with the rock of the planet, we are talking here of interior resources deep within ourselves, innate to us as human beings, resources that can be tapped and utilized, brought to the fore - such as our lifelong capacities for learning, for growing, for healing, and for transforming ourselves. And how might such transformatin come about? It comes directly from our ability to take a larger perspective, to realize that we are bigger than who we think we are. It comes directly out of recognizing and inhabiting the full dimensionality of our being, of being who and what we actually are. It turns out that these innate internal resources - that we can discover for ourselves and draw upon - all rest on our capacity for embodied awareness and our ability to cultivate our relationship to that awareness. We go about this discovery and cultivation through paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.

-Jon Kabat-Zinn, from the Introduction to the second edition of Full Catastrophe LIving (2013)

Maybe you guessed who that is. Jon Kabat-Zinn, from the Introduction to the second edition of Full Catastrophe LIving published in 2013. His well known book about the MBSR program which was first published in 1990.

I really admire Jon for picking his line and staying with it. Just pay attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally, and everything else follows.

We might add from our studies this week that we can play with additional teachings to enhance and guide and nurture this natural human capacity. Especially as we examine the complexities of living in relationship with other messy human beings which is what the last two Points in the lojong teachings are about.

Point Six is "The Discipline of Relationship" and traditionally this section is associated directly with wisdom. So it's about how to be wise in relationship. Relationship to each other, relationship to our own mind, relationship to experience itself.

Point Six has 16 slogans in it and point seven has 21 so we obviously won't discuss every one of them here. And they aren't designed to be digested in a big batch of info either. They are designed to be taken up one by one, and turned over slowly, breathed with, considered, contemplated and held up as mirrors of our conduct and looking glasses into our preceptions.

So I've selected a few and my suggestion is to just see which of these grab your attention. Which strike you as important and helpful. And that one, or those few, are the slogans for your ongoing practice. And remember you can get the book - I'll put all my books out at lunch today so you can take a look at them. And my notes and talk recordings will be on the website in a week or so.

The first slogan I want to discuss under point six, The Discipline of Relationship, is don't be a phony. Be genuine. Be yourself. And that is to say you'll need to be vulnerable. It's hard for us to be vulnerable because we're all so used to trying to hide our imperfections while at the same time projecting all kinds of assumptions onto others. Most commonly we think I'm not good but they all ave it together. (Or the variation is the more narcasistic: These people are idiots, I'm the only one who gets it - but there's really not much difference between the two).

It's actually a great gift to others to be vulnerable and real. To stop being a phony. It helps all of us to let our guard down and makes it possible for all of us to be fully ourselves and to connect with each other in a much deeper way. So it's a real gift to be yourself, warts and all.

Often times the ways we be a phony are automatic habits that we hardly even notice. Like I have a habit of imitating accents. If I'm around a bunch of Kenyan people I start speaking in some version of Kenyan English. I was with my father in law's Polish wife an I started talking a bit like Polish person and dropping articles (which she still does after 30 years in the this country - coming from some languages I think our articles and prepositions are just a bear). The root impulse for this is I think to connect and to respect that here's a person who's not a native English speaker which I'm really sympathetic and appreciate of as basically a monoglot myself. But it ends up being weird - my son at dinner called my faux Polish accence "vaguely dehumanizing" - because after 30 years in this country of course Nina understands English with a American accent just fine. I blame Rick Steves a little: before our first trip abroad we went to a lecture by him and he said, "don't worry that you don't speak the language just speak in simple English and most people will understand you." But he actually didn't say, "try to immitate their accents when they're speaking English back." It just comes off as phony and fake and unhelpful. But boy is it a habit: I just find myself speaking that way. So don't be a phone is being genuine and being yourself and also noticing your habitual patterns that are less than genuine.

I want to speak next about three slogans together beause they are closely connected: don't talk about faults, don't figure others out, and don't malign others. Don't talk about faults is a wonderful precept. Hard to do! Like my Polish accent sometimes the critical words our out of our mouths before we know it. But speaking about faults is so powerful and can often be incredibly destructive. A weird side effect is if you're talking with person B and about person A's faults, what happens is person B can realize of you're a really critical person who talks about the faults of others, it's not safe to be around you. Ouch. One of the teachers I like discussion ethical precepts says, if you must talk about someone's qualities for a good reason only do so if you can give it no more emotional baggage than talking about their shoe size. So if someone isn't here yet at our group and I know that that person habitually runs late maybe it makes sense to reassure the others that he'll probably be here soon and that this is typical. But how do you say it? Oh my goodness, he is ALWAYS later, you can't depend on him. Or you know often runs a little late, let's go ahead and get started, I bet he'll be here soon. Or: does saying anything about your perception of this persons fault help at all even there? Why not just say, "It's okay, let's get started" and leave it at that.

Don't figure others out is connected to a personal maxim of mine: you can't straighten anyone out. One hates to say never but so far my experience of trying to straighten people out has had consistent results and usually results not only in their not changing in the way I want them to but in their getting upset with me and it messing our our relationship. This is not to say we shouldn't say "ouch!" when someone does something that hurts us - we absolutely should - not to do so would be dishonest and actually a bit deceitful - that false "that's okay, I don't mind" has such bag consequences for everyone involved. But we don't need to say, "you always do that because you're an arrogant person" - that's thinking we can figure them out. And few things are more descructive than boxing people with words like "always" - you always do that.

In Buddhism these ideas apply not just to what we say and do but also to what we think. There is not that hard separation between mind and matter like we have in Western thought. So this slogan is also about noticing if you're building and maintaining a fixed view of others. Letting go in the mind as you notice the "I've got you figured out" thought arising. Even if we have enough restraint not to say anything our thinking guides and affects our actions, attitudes and relationships. How much freer and intimate we can e with other if we let go of figuring them out. Don't figure others out.

And don't malign others is a variation on same. Norman tells a nice childhood story about this. [p.113 of Training in Compassion by Norman Fischer].

The next phrase I was to address is Work with your biggest problems first. Some years ago my wife Janet and I saw an Irish movie. I wish I could remember which one - she has an incredible memory and probably does - but one of the characters was facing a lot of problems. Some big, some minor. And his guiding principal was to just wade in there and tackle the biggest one: "you must grasp the thistle firmly!" he said. So that's been a slogan around our house for ages. I've got to grasp the thistle firmly we say when we're mustering our energy to face something difficult. I looked it up hoping to find a reference to the movie but it's a common expression in the commonwealth it seems, usually as "grasp the nettle" - the write up said everywhere there are nettles there is the expression "grasp the nettle."

This is about procrastination. Sometime we think, "I'll just warm up on this minor problem first." But somehow that doesn't seem to lead to facing our bigger problem. We can always find another small problem to address first and we never get to it.

Plus when we face the biggest problem we have the most learning, growth and change. Often a whole slew of the minor problems just go away with the big problem. And in any case everything changes. I know that several of us here are in recovery. One of the more powerful and challenging examples of work with your bigest problems first - if you find a way to live more wisely with addiction everything changes, right? Everything. And whether it's alcohol or food or Facebook as the object we all come with addictive tendencies - they seem to be pretty well baked into us thanks to the reward systems in the brain that pump out dopamine. It turns out oddly that the dopamine comes more strongly in anticipation of the object we think is pleasurable but not so much when we actually get it, thus we keep going running that cycle of anticipation of the next drink, or cookie, or interesting post only to be a bit disspointed by the actual experience. And on and on.  (I am far from an expert on the neuroscience of addiction, so feel free to straighten me out later if I have this wrong.)

So don't put them off, as soon as it's possible: work with your biggest problems first. And of course we can't be too compassionate or helpful if we're consumed by our big unaddressed problems. Many of these seem to be about out own separate lives but we can easily see they all govern our abiity to relate to others, too.

I love this next one and it was one of those hunh! moments when I first learned about it. Don't be so predictable. We put ourselves in a box of personality. I'm this kind of person and I always act this way, that's just who i am. We become so predictable. It damps us down and limits our expression of our good hearts. So to deliberately experiment with going a different way than usual is liberating and broadens your life and enriches the lives of others around us. Don't be predictable. Be a little more spontaneous. Mix it up.

As I've said, our enviornment is a powerful governing force - easily as important as our willpower or sense of our own agency - so a great way to practice don't be so predictable is to put yourself in a different environment. So....congratulation you are already practicing this! Several of you said at dinner the first night something like, "I don't know if I can be silent for 5 days. I told my friend about this retreat and she said, yeah well I'll see you on Tuesday or Wednesday!" In other word sthey had a big prediction about your ability to do this quiet practice. I guess all such friends have been proven wrong and you are not so predictable!

An example from my own life is I noticed when Janet and I were in Costa Rica last May and I was making a little bit more progress with my Spanish again I was being a lot more outgoing towards strangers than I am here. Like even though my Spanish is really primitive and simple somehow in the different enviornment I could be a different person. At restaurants here if I want the waitstaff's attention I just sit there quietly until they visit the table again. Maybe I give a little wave when they are passing by. But never would I holler across the room: excuse me! check please!  But there I was in Costa Rica. We were ready for something or other and there I'd be projecting my voice right across the whole restaurant: ¡Por Favor!  And woah: the waiter quite cheerfully would come over and help us. No one was offended. Woah. When you practice don't be predictable you often learn things about yourself and others. It's a rich possibility that's always with us.

The last slogan I want to talk about in the Discipline of Relationship point is a little odd sounding: abandon hope. It sounds really bad like decending into Dante's hells. But it is actually a liberating idea: release from this constant cycle of hoping for something different. Trungpa Rinpoche frames this in terms of letting go of spiritual striving - and maybe you're heard of his famous and helpful book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism - think about that title for a minute, spiritual materialism. Greed for spiritual progress. His commentary on abandon hope ends with, "any pursuit of this life's happiness, joy, fame, or life hereafter, would be regarded as a problem."

I actually think hopefulness is a positive quality. I have great hopefulness that humans will respodn to diminshed resources by learning how to share and connect and treat each other with dignity and respect for example. I'm hoping for that. I'm rooting for it. And with eyes open, we have awful examples of the opposite of that happening but we also have examples of exactly that happening. Someone was telling me a spiritual community she's involved in has helped to build schools in Bangladesh that are made of concrete and up on stilts. And that during the monsoon floods they become shelters that people live in for the worst of the annual flooding and they have saved many lives. Amazing. And all over Kenya I saw similar kinds of projects when I was there. There is plenty of reason to hope.

But stop hoping to be a different person with a different tragectory. Be who you are and take the next step from there. Another Suzuki roshi quote,"Our way is to practice, breath by breath, step by step, with no gaining idea." Freedom from gaining ideas is the slogan of abandon hope.

Okay! The Seven Point of the Lojong Mind Training system is entitled "Living with Ease in a Crazy World" by Norman. More traditionally it's just "Guidelines for Mind Training." There are 21 slogans and we'll focus on a few highlights as we did with point 6.

The first is very practical: begin at the beginning, end at the end. The commentaries all agree that this sage advice to be simple and thorough includes also a simple and helpful practice that I recommend highly. When you first get up at the beginning of the day, ask yourself: what is my intention today. Maybe you are working with one of these slogans. My intention is to remember work with your biggest problems first today, and if I get sidetracked I'll do my best to get back to the biggest problems. I know I can do it. This is actually a very hopeful moment. Begin at the beginning, end at the end. Then at the end of the day, right before bed. Reflect on how it went. And see ifyou can not add guilt or shame or confusion. It went how it went. Any outcome is okay. The important thing is you're strengthening your intentionality and resolve and remembering (remember that the root of mindfulness is just that? remembering). "Well I was pretty focussed in the morning and I faced that report I've been meaning to get to, but after that it's a blur. Okay, not bad. Tomorrow's a new day."

Then I'd like to discuss a set of three that are a little technical. Don't lose track and Keep the three inseparable and Train wholeheartedly, openly, and constantly.  These there are about continuity in practice. Don't lose track means exactly what it says. This is was begin at the beginning, end at the end is helping us with. Keep track of what and who you really are and what your intention is for this life. Keep the tree inseparate: the three are body, speech, and mind. As in relationality how we think matters, the words we say matter - in the wedding ceremony I do there's a line, "we make and destroy worlds with our words." And our body is not just a kind of fleshy car that gets us around - it's an expression of everything we are, can be, and will be. I have so loved Beth'd precise mindful movement. That helps me practice keep the three inseparable. And a side note to the MSC Teachers-to-Be in our group: maybe you can be the seeds of virtue that help MSC version 2 include the body a bit better. And train wholeheartedly, openly, and constantly is as it says too. Another gloss on the 5 strengths of yesterday. Dilegence and all that, but softened by aspiration and healthy remorese when we blow it (and the knowing that we will blow it). There's another slogan a little later in the list be wholehearted that supports this same idea.

And by the way there is repetition in religion. Many slogans overlap and repeat ideas, just in different words, maybe this was skillful on the part of these great sages or maybe they just repeated themselves. There is repetition in religion. There is repetition in religion. There is repetition in religion. And we need that.

And now a nice set of three that addresses what Suzuki roshi called "small mind." Don't wallow and Don't be jealous and Don't be frivolous. Maybe all I need to say by way of comment here is: don't wallow, don't be jealous, don't be frivolous. And of course you'll be too busy working with the biggest problems first, being grateful to everyone, resting in the openness of mind, maintaining joy and so on to be hanging around wallowing in self-pity, being jealous of others, or frivolously wasting time and resources on things that don't help you or others.

(Which is not to say it's not wise to take breaks and rest!)

OKAY....drum roll please.....the last slogan of the 59 slogans arranged into 7 points is my few favorite: don't expect applause.

Now this has a very direct and obvious application for those of us who somehow ended up making presentations. It's not a helpful way to work to be pushing out a perfect and engaging and wonderful presentation just so you can get to that glorious moment at the end when you are showered with applause and reassurance and adoration. That kind of motivation can indeed lead to some pretty clever presentations. People will leave saying, wow that was so interesting. You're a great speaker. What fun. Thanks a lot! But I'm doubtful the experience will actually do them that much good.

But it has much much wider application than literal applause from an audience.

Do you do things for your friends, or your kids, or your patient, or your co-workers or boss with a sneaky kind of expectation built in. If you loved me and appreciated me you would thank me in just the right way for my generous act of making you just the right lunch for school. And...you failed the test. Or...does this mean I'm not a good parent just as I feared? Or not a good clinician? Or not a good teacher or whateer role you're identifying with at that moment?

This is one of the slogans that really has somehow planted it in my heart and pops up the give me a friendly little nudge when I need it. I do something really pretty great and I notice this little something in me - this energy of expectation - that i'll get a certain kind of response. There's this desire for validation, for a little praise, for recognition.  This incomplete empty kind of feeling and it's focussed usually on someone else. And up pops "don't expect applause!" and I can usually let go. Sometimes with a little chuckle - maintain your sense of humor - sometimes with a little sadness, sometimes with some compassion for that hurt little boy in me, sometimes the whole complex situation of approval seeking just melts away. I love this slogan a lot actually.

Plus, speaking of approval seeking, I felt like a bit of a phony at times teaching on this material because I haven't studied this slogans nearly as thoroughly as I'd like. I haven't taken each one up carefully for a month to investigate my life. So I hope my limited engagement with them hasn't reduced the efficacy of talking about them for 5 days straight. BUT: this one I sure have. don't expect applause.

Thank yous: Beth, C of C & the camp, Michael, other MNW staff, Norman, Jon and MBSR teachers, Michelle and Steve for MSC, my family and everyone's for puttig up with our being gone

Post-Retreat Suggestions:

  practice at least a little tiny bit tomorrow and then in a spacious way as close to daily as works out

  don't be too hyped about reading all the books, it's not that kind of learning

  trust that you've received what you need this week and don't worry if you seem to be falling right back into the same old patterns

  a little depression in the next few days is very very normal - there's a part of the mind that thinks something really special happened here and it's going to disappointed (After the Ecstasy, the Laundry)

  The root message of all of this stuff is to have more faith in "you're perfect just as you are" and that we can work on "and you can use a little improvement" from that basis not from the basis of lack and inadequacy.

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