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17 million words and counting!
Viveka, San Francisco, USA
Candradasa, FBA Team
Ratnaghosha, FBA Chairman
Eric, FBA Team
Jinamitra, Welwyn, UK
Sravaniya, Boston, USA
Viryaja, Toowoomba, Australia
Coleen, FBA Team
You can also listen to this talk.
... and anger can cut us off.
I heard a talk once where someone was making a distinction between patience with
animate versus inanimate objects. Some people are very patient with other people, but
they’ll get really pissed off if they lose their keys, or if the toothpaste tube isn’t
working, or some things break. And I notice that some people have a lot of patience
for animals and children, but hardly any for adults. [Audience member: “Like bears.”]
[Laughter] So, obviously, in this talk I’m talking about not so much the inanimate
objects, although that’s an excellent place for us to practice. Starting with the easier
steps is kind of a good idea. That way we can have some practice for when more
challenging things come around. So, I’m talking about other people, and also of
course about ourselves.
So, I wanted to get into something a bit more practical as well. I thought of four areas
that we can be mindful of that might help us cultivate patience. And, I ended up with
an acronym, which is RED, but then I had to do two D's, because I thought of one
other thing to add to it. But, anyway, I’m sure it will be super easy to remember. So
the first part of R.E.D.D., which is the R, is:
Rationalization: Working on Our Justifications for Negative Mental States
Especially of anger or other unskillful mental states. For example, righteous
indignation. This is us telling ourselves that our anger is good. Justifying our feelings.
And I was really tripping on this because I was asking, “why do we always need to
tell ourselves that we’re right, or that we’re wrong, or that we’re good, or that we’re
bad?” I think doing this just puts another veil between us and what we’re trying to
perceive. And it’s suffering. Some people might argue that it’s suffering to tell
yourself you’re bad, but it’s not suffering to tell yourself you’re good. Although one
might be slightly preferable over the other, I think they’re both… I don’t know, I’m
just not sure how real they are. And especially if they’re kind of supporting us
rationalizing negative mental states. So, we have anger. There’s nothing wrong with
anger insofar as it’s just energy. It’s just energy coming out, bursting forth even. But,
I think, when we’re talking about expressing it, I think we need to be very careful, or
at least mindful, about what we’re doing. We need to not harm ourselves and other
people, and this can be very tricky, because we don’t want to repress – you know,
swallow the feelings – and we don’t want to cause harm.
This is why just being aware of our thoughts and emotions is so important. Especially
when they’re strong. You know, what do we do when we have a really strong
emotion? Do we pin it on somebody else as blame? Do we say, “Okay, this has
nothing to do with me, this is totally somebody else’s responsibility”? Because that
will not serve us, to the extent that we have that attitude. So, it’s not really about
being right and wrong, it’s about being more interested in connecting or
acknowledging our connectedness than in being right.
Expectations: Dealing with the Realities of Life
So, the second part of my not-perfect acronym, R.E.D.D., is expectations. I read a
fascinating book a few months ago called Deep Survival. It was this guy who studied
why in certain kind of extreme situations, certain people survived and some people
did not. He was looking at all kinds of reasons, but some of the very interesting ones
were psychological. One of the points that this book made was that there aren’t really
any accidents. Any kind of a system that you have isn’t going to be perfect, and it’s
guaranteed that some of the time it’s going to break down. That’s just the way things
work. The people who can’t cope with changes in plans and actively work with them
are often the ones who did not survive. I think this principle applies to our daily lives.
For example, one thing that isn’t an accident is illness, or physical pain. Illness is an
intrinsic part of the human form, and no one on Earth has ever escaped it. Yet, our
expectations are such that we expect that we’re not going to get sick – I mean, we
might not even realize that, until we get sick, and we’re super pissed off. We expect
not to age, and we don’t realize that either until it suddenly starts happening. I’ve
personally found that really quite shocking. [LAUGHTER] Anyway, I think a lot of
times expectations are mostly unconscious, but we can find out when we’re surprised.
Something that it was just perfectly obvious that it was going to happen, and we’re
just like “Wow, that’s super shocking!”
Another example of this is, actually I remember reading something by Pema Chodron
who said that.. she was in contact with somebody who I think was an alcoholic and
they had had a relapse, and she was really disappointed in him. She was talking about
it to her teacher, and he said, kind of like “What did you expect?” and “Just be kind to
the person and help them. They don’t really need your disappointment.” And of
course, those of us who are involved in 12-Step type things know that relapse is
absolutely part of that system as well. So, why be surprised? That’s the thing.
One last thing about expectations. I’ve really noticed this in terms of family. We
seem like we always expect people in our family to behave completely differently
than they always have [LAUGHTER]. And, so they do the thing that they always do,
and you’re just totally shocked. Like, “Oh, my God, how could they do that?” It’s
part of this weird cognitive dissonance going on between you. You know, “They’ve
done that the last 400 times I’ve seen them, chances are they’re going to continue.”
And again, we might not realize what we’re expecting, but then we’re all offended or
shocked or whatever it is. So, I think that’s also a really interesting area to just look
into a bit more. And, in a way, just not being so attached to results. We want to
engage with things, see what we can do, and then we let it go. One of the numerous
things that is easy to say, but not as easy to do.
So, yes, rationalization, expectation, and then we come to… [Audience member:
“There’s a great quote that you might want to use: “I become aware of my
expectations when they are not met.”] Yeah. That’s great. Well, that would have
been a lot shorter than what I said [LAUGHTER]. That boils it down a bit more.
Defensiveness: Using Our Soft Spots as Teaching Tools
So, then we have defensiveness. And again, this is something where we don’t know
what’s going on, someone just says something, they might not even think they’re
saying anything, and you’re like… you know, we feel like we’re being attacked.
Somebody else could say exactly the same thing to someone else and it doesn’t bother
them, but for some reason they hit a spot. They hit a spot for us. We might not even
know it’s there. Somehow it’s getting to our sense of vulnerability, our fragility.
So, one excellent way that I get to practice this is when I read evaluations of a class
I’ve offered, or a retreat or something. It’s absolutely excruciating. But, it’s very
useful also, and it lets me basically find out what my insecurities are. Lucky me!
[Laughter] I’ve also noticed that when the subject of money comes up at our board
meetings, people get defensive and everything gets super weird.
So, anyway, something to be aware of. Something to be aware of in ourselves.
Maybe we can ease up on blaming other people a bit if we just realize that we are
being defensive, which is not to say that our feelings are invalid or anything like that,
but it’s something to be aware of. And if somebody else is being super touchy,
maybe having a bit of sensitivity around that too, and again, rather than trying to be
right, just seeing what we can do to connect with the situation.
Doormat (Passivity): Avoiding Abuse by Looking at Our Attitudes
So, the last “D” is Doormat, and this should be called “Passivity,” but I was already
having some issues with the acronym, making it work. So you might think, “Well, if
I’m just patient and don’t ask for anything, people will walk all over me.” And, yes,
they will. Or some people will. So, is that what this means, is that what we’re meant
to be doing?
I think that if we think of the Dharma as the pinnacle of sanity and health, we will
realize that that’s not going to be including abuse. That just doesn’t make sense if we
think of it in that kind of a framework. So, I hope it’s clear that co-dependence and
patience are what are called “near enemies” in Buddhism. In other words, we might
mistake one for the other. But, they’re not the same, at least in the motivation behind
them, because co-dependence is motivated by fear, insecurity, confusion, craving, all
sorts of other things. Patience is motivated by an understanding of how things are and ...