Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Two Articles on Change - Taking a Buddhist View

Change is one of those topics that is hard to pin down, but you know it after you've gone through it. However, the trick is knowing WHEN it is happening. I have a series of articles on the sidebar that I wrote about the change process, how it works, how to frame it, and how to navigate it.

Two good articles came up in my reader this week.

First up, How About Changing?, from Integral Coach Gabriella Kortsch, Ph.D. at Psychology, Transformation & Freedom Papers. Here is an excerpt:
We turn off the news, sickened, or disgusted, or heart-broken, and mainly horrified that we seem so helpless to make a difference.

So we turn to our daily lives, and suddenly we face the banality of keeping up with the joneses, we realize we are throwing out perfectly good food in the trash, we realize our SUV guzzles gas, we realize our children are beginning to show inordinate interest in consumerism, we realize we spend more on one meal at a good restaurant than many people have to live on for an entire month or more, we face worrying about the dictates of this season's fashions according to an outrageously expensive glossy magazine, and we recognize that we have the beginnings of a conscience that is not feeling good, a conscience that is telling us we need to do something.

And so to assuage it, to make ourselves feel better, we send a check to one of the charities, or we sponsor a child in a country where our money stretches fifty-fold, or we do some volunteer work, or donate some of our time to a soup kitchen, and then - to further assuage that guilty conscience, we check in on the lives of people outside of our own orbit, who live on a distant edge of the universe as they travel in private jets, luxury yachts, vacation more than they work, and spend $8,000 for an evening bag, or $300,000 for a car and twenty million dollars for a new home.

Let's go back to the initial premise ... a world gone awry ... a world that needs to change to become better ...

So how about this: change yourself. Begin there.
Read the whole post.

This is good advice. We can't change the world, we can't change our country, we can't even change our family members, but we CAN change ourselves. Wanting to change others is attachment - a clinging to the way we want things to be rather than working with things as they are. [This is not to be confused with attachment theory in psychology, which is a good thing.]

As Gabriella states, when we change ourselves, there is a ripple effect out into the world. But we must not engage in this "change project" with the intention of changing others. Our intention must be something along the lines of the Bodhisattva Vow:
May I assist all sentient beings to attain Buddhahood, and may I be the last one to attain Buddhahood when all sentient beings have attained Buddhahood, as did Avalokiteshvara (Tib. Chenresi)
There must be purity in our intention. And there must be the absence of attachment. We must be acting from compassion.

* * *

The other article is from Psychology Today, and talks about using challenges as the vehicle for growth and change. Here is some of the post:

Using Crisis to Break Free From the Familiar Zone

Our struggle with growth is very much about the dramas we engage in trying to come out of our comfort zone. In fact, we'd be better advised to call it our familiar zone, since these areas of habitual thinking and experience, may actually not be comfortable, but they are certainly very familiar. Picture the familiar zone as a circle that circumscribes the known boundaries of your thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

* * *

A crisis is an event or circumstance, which we didn't choose and certainly didn't want. It often involves loss, pain or struggle. We ordinarily avoid this experience at all costs. Yet, the crisis provides a valuable opportunity. It is as if a tornado has swept in and when we open our eyes, everything has changed. The maelstrom placed us well beyond the bounds of the known. We typically find ourselves wanting desperately to get back inside the comfort of the known. But the crisis precludes that option. There is no going back. And that is where the opportunity lies.

Whether we choose to freeze in the panic of loss and focus on retreat or whether we settle in, create a new mindscape and inquire as to the potential of the new territory, is ultimately the question. The former presents anxiety and retreat, the latter evokes growth. I suggest that crisis in most forms--financial, relationship, health, spiritual--all present unique opportunity for personal emergence. The gift that the crisis provides is that it moves us decidedly out of our familiar zone.The crisis is a turning point. In which direction we turn is of our choosing.

This again is good advice. As long as we remain in our comfort zones, change is not very likely to happen. We know we are open to change when we live on the edge of our personal safety. And this does not mean physical safety, but rather those feelings and situations that create anxiety, such as a personal or national crises.

* * *

Loss is one of those really tough ones for most of us. No matter what the crisis is that confronts us, however, the only way out is through. Anything else just postpones the inevitable. And we are dealing with most times is the loss of control.

In fact, a recent study of people who have been rejected (think divorced or dumped to get to the crisis level) reveals that the real source of pain for these people is the loss of control. It's not the loss of the "loved one" or the relationship - it's the loss of control.
Gerber analysed 88 existing experimental rejection research studies. He found that while rejection moderately lowers mood and self-esteem, the loss of control felt by the person who has been rejected was found to be a major factor contributing further to their hurt and distress.

Rejection makes us realise that we are not as powerful and in control as we would like to be, Gerber says. As a result, one of the first things most people do when rejected is to look for opportunities to regain that lost sense of control.
As if we ever had control in the first place.

Attachment rears its ugly head again - we all live under the iron heel of the ego's illusion that it is in control. One of the ways that ego asserts control when confronted with the lack of any real control, as Gabriella pointed out above in terms of the chaotic world, is doing something to make us feel better - in that case, donating to a cause, volunteering, or something else. These are not bad things, but they are band aids.

What we really need to do is to learn to be with our feelings of not having control. We need to let that truth pervade our bodies - we have no control over anything but ourselves. Even that is tenuous when ego wants what it wants.

Pema Chodron teaches
us that we should see obstacles - such as crises - as teachers. First she talks about "holding one's seat":
The choice is yours: you can further strengthen your painful and crippling habit or you can shake it up a bit by holding your seat. Each time you sit still with the restlessness and heat of anger neither acting it out nor repressing it you are tamed and strengthened. Each time you act on the anger or suppress it, you are weakened; you become more and more like a walking target. Then, as the years go by, almost everything makes you mad.

So this is the first method: remember that you set the target up yourself, and only you can take it down. Understand that if you hold your seat when you want to retaliate even for 1.5 seconds longer than ever before you are starting to dissolve a pattern of aggression that, if you let it, will continue to hurt you and others forever.
This is crucial - being mindful in this way is essential to dealing with attachment and moving through a crisis of any kind. But when we see difficulties as teachers, we begin to see that life is the only real teacher we may ever need:
If there is no teacher around to give you direct personal guidance on how to stop causing harm, never fear! Life itself will provide the opportunities for learning how to hold your seat. The troublemaker, for instance, who so disturbs you without this person how could you ever get the chance to practice patience? How could you ever get the chance to know the energy of anger so intimately that it loses its power?

There is a saying that the teacher is always with us. The teacher is always showing us precisely where we are at and encouraging us to relax and open our hearts and minds, encouraging us to not speak and act in the same old stuck ways, encouraging us also not to repress or dissociate. So with this one who is scaring you or insulting you, do you retaliate as you have one hundred thousand times before, or do you start to get smart and do something different?

Right at the point when you are about to blow your top, remember this: you are a disciple being taught how to sit still with the edginess and discomfort of the energy. You are a disciple being challenged to hold your seat and open to the situation with as much courage and as much kindness as you possibly can.

Of course, like countless students before you, you may often feel, I'm not ready for this. So sometimes you will run away, and sometimes you will kick and scream, and sometimes you will hold your seat. Somehow, gradually, all of this becomes part of your ability not to cause harm and part of your ability to understand the pain and confusion of others and to help them.

The problem with these or any instructions is that we have a tendency to get serious and rigid about them. We get tense and uptight about trying to relax and be patient. This is where the fourth instruction comes in: it is helpful to contemplate that the one who is angry, the anger itself, and the recipient of that anger are all happening as if in a dream.
This final point is also very important, and one that I often teach to my clients. But I don't use the dream image, I use the ideas of parts - the one who is angry, or afraid, or anxious, is an object, a thing to be looked at, examined, but it is not me or you.

When we are able to see it as a "part," we allow it to become an object of attention rather than the subject of our experience. To rephrase this, since it's an important point: seeing the angry, hurt, or frightened "part" as an object, not as "me" (I'm not living its experience) allows me to step back into my observing self and have some distance from the feeling.

From this emotional distance, we can explore the part and see what it wants us to know about itself, what it needs to teach us. We must enter this conversation with a spirit of curiosity, however, and compassion - not as an interrogation.

Understanding our parts, practicing nonattachment, offering ourselves in service of others -- all these are great ways to embrace the process of change when we find ourselves in the midst of it. After all, as is noted above, we cannot change anyone but ourselves, but doing so is a great service to the world.

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