Reality v. What Most People Think

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                                       What most people assume to be the case



                                                 What actually IS the case


This is not something that most of us generally want to admit or consider, but there are times when a difficult person is our teacher, even our greatest teacher.

And the lessons difficult people have to teach us tend to be some of the most difficult lessons to learn–lessons about love, tough love, loss, patience, persistence, endurance, adversity, difficulty, forgiveness, resilience, et cetera. 

Because the lessons are difficult and unpleasant, those who pass on the lessons or try to teach them too can become unpleasant and difficult, sometimes by extension, sometimes by association, sometimes because they themselves become calloused and hardened–in the eyes of us who have not yet learned the lessons they now know so well.   

There are times we might consider someone a difficult person because what they have to impart is very profound and so many levels above our own thinking, that what they have to say is difficult for us to accept and make sense of and digest intellectually and emotionally. 

Other times difficult people are difficult because they are annoying or gossipy or angry mean-spirited chaotic people, and so our task in those situation is to practice (learn)patience, a bit more tolerance, to try to see or grasp their humanity (perhaps their life story, if we knew it, or what they’re going through, if we knew it, would greatly change how we view them; so instead of viewing them as a nuisance, we would see them with much more compassion), and to see if there’s some way we might help add a little depth and self-awareness to their lives through what we say or through our own presence.

Spiritual practices are not there to provide us with insulation, escape, new ways of numbing ourselves.  Rather, they are there to help us show up to reality with greater clarity and understanding and awareness and insight.

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift
– “The Uses of Sorrow,” Mary Oliver

[T]he aim of a spiritual practice is not to develop an attitude which allows a person to acquire a state of harmony and peace wherein nothing can ever trouble him. On the contrary, a truly spiritual practice should teach him to let himself be assaulted, perturbed, moved, insulted, broke and battered—that is to say, it should enable him to dare to let go his futile hankering after harmony, surcease of pain, and want of a comfortable life in order that he may discover, in doing battle with the forces that oppose him, that which awaits him beyond the world of opposites.
The first necessity is that we should have the courage to face life and encounter all that is most perilous in the world.
When this is possible, meditation itself becomes the means by which we accept and face and confront the demons which arise from the unconscious—a process very different from the practice of concentration on some objects as a protection against such forces. Only if we venture repeatedly through zones of annihilation, can our contact with what is Divine, with what is beyond annihilation, become firm and stable.
The more a person learns wholeheartedly to confront a world and way of living that threatens him with isolation, the more are the depths of the Ground of Being revealed and the possibilities of new life and Becoming opened for him.
Karlfried Graf von Durckheim, “The Way of Transformation,” pp. 107-8.


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Bhante G on Developing Self-Discipline, Patience, and Mindfulness as a Way of Learning How to Better Engage the Full Intensity of Living and Loving

(The following is riffed on from the book “Mindfulness in Plain English,” by Bhante Gunaratana, pp. 86, 122-125, 146, 170.)

“Discipline” is a touchy subject for many of us. It conjures up images of somebody standing over us with a stick, keeping us in line, correcting us harshly when we’re wrong.

But real self-discipline is different. It’s not self-scolding or self-denial. Rather, it’s the skill of seeing through the hollow shouting of the vast majority of our impulses and piercing their secret—that they have no real power over us, that it’s all a show, a deception, a misdirection, a bluster. Our urges scream and whine at us, they cajole us, they coax us, they threaten us, they seduce us, they con us, but really the vast majority of them carry no allure, no substance at all. We give in out of habit. We give in because we never really bother to question or investigate them or ourselves. We never really bother to look beyond the allure or noise, beyond our urges and see how empty most of them are—do I really need this? Will this matter in the end? What am I really after? What would happen if I didn’t give in to this urge or temptation?

There is only one way to learn this lesson, though. And the words on this computer screen or page won’t do it. Instead, we have to look directly within and observe the stuff coming up—the restlessness, ennui, anxiety, pain—just watch and observe it but not get involved. That is self-discipline—watching ourselves in an uninvolved way. Because, much to our surprise, the vast majority of what comes up will go away. It rises; it passes away. It’s as simple as that.

There’s another word for self-discipline. It’s called patience.

If you truly want to change something, the first thing you have to do is to see it the way it is. Self-discipline, patience, not immediately gratifying our every urge, is what allows for this, is what allows us to see how the vast majority of our desires are simply distractions, discursive, a chase after our own tail, and they simply arise and then fall away if we don’t give in and get involved trying to placate and gratify every one of them, but instead just watch and observe ourselves.

Questioning ourselves and our desires is a particularly useful way of remedying our monkey mindedness and impulsiveness. Do I really need this? What am I really after? What will I have wished I would done right now if I were to die tomorrow? What would happen to me if I didn’t define myself in this way by giving in to this urge or temptation? In order to answer these questions—in order to even ask these questions—we must learn something of the quality of the distraction. To do that, we must divorce ourselves from it, take a mental step back from it, disengage from our id or our monkey mind, and engage our higher brain and view ourselves more objectively. We must stop feeling the feeling or thinking the distracted discursive thought if we are to step back and view it as an object of inspection and observation. And this very process is an exercise in mindfulness, in uninvolved, detached awareness. The hold of the chain of distractions is broken, and mindfulness is back in control. The key is not to fight distracting thoughts or urges, not to strain or struggle, because the energy we put into resisting tends to only make the thought or distraction stronger. Instead, just observe the distraction with bare uninvolved attention—mindfulness. Mindfulness—the Pali word “appamada,” means clear-thinking or the absence of madness. By observing more and more what’s going on in our minds, we eventually reach a state of ultimate sanity. As genuine mindfulness is built up, the walls of the ego are gentled and taken down, craving diminishes, defensiveness and rigidity lessen, and we become more open, more flexible, and we grow more in wisdom and compassion and equanimity.