Saturday, May 06, 2006

Pema Chodron: Cultivating Equanimity

[image source]

To cultivate equanimity we practice catching ourselves when we feel attraction or aversion, before it hardens into grasping or negativity. We train in staying with the soft spot and use our biases as stepping-stones for connecting with the confusion of others. Strong emotions are useful in this regard. Whatever arises, no matter how bad it feels, can be used to extend our kinship to others who suffer the same kind of aggression or craving -- who, just like us, get hooked by hope and fear. This is how we come to appreciate that everyone's in the same boat. We all desperately need more insight into what leads to happiness and what leads to pain.

It's easy to continue, even after years of practice, to harden into a position of anger and indignation. However, if we can contact the vulnerability and rawness of resentment or rage or whatever it is, a bigger perspective can emerge. In the moment that we choose to abide with the energy instead of acting it out and repressing it, we are training in equanimity, in thinking bigger than right and wrong. This is how all the four limitless qualities -- love, compassion, joy, and equanimity -- evolve from limited to limitless: we practice catching our mind hardening into fixed views and do our best to soften. Through softening, the barriers come down.

~ Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty

After sitting with this quote this morning, I want to make this a part of my daily practice. My tendency is to form opinions (right or wrong, good or bad) very quickly. According to the Myers-Briggs system (as of five years ago, anyway), I am an INTJ, with the J standing for judging. When trying to operate in an Orange meme environment, this has served me well. In my life now, not so much.

I am so quick to form an opinion that I don't even see the space Chodron talks about in which we can stop the process. And, of course, she would be the first to tell me to start where I am. First become aware that I am constantly discriminating between aversion and attraction, the primary motivators for judgments.

So that's my goal. I'm going to get a little notebook that will fit in my pocket and try to record as many instances as possible of this process happening. I'll see it all over the place, of course, now that I am going to pay attention to it. That can only help.

I want to be less attached to things and to feel less aversion to things. I want to work toward the equanimity of the Buddha in the picture at the top of this post. So I begin with intention and let everything flow from there.

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The Zero Boss said...

This post really spoke to me, as I've been noticing how I've been doing the same thing constantly in my life. I see a woman at the store, and immediately judge her as a conservative, stuck-up Eastside bitch. Similarly, I make snap judgments of the guy sitting on the street corner, the jock-looking guys walking down the street, the woman in the expensive SUV, the white teen in gangsta gear, etc.

But how different are ANY of these people from me? They've configured their lives differently - rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic. Underneath their gloss, they suffer as much as I or anyone else does. Realizing this leaves no room for envy or hatred in my heart. I can't feel superior to them any longer. They're doing their best to make sense of existence, just as I am.

This ties in with a post I just wrote about how fear shuts us off from life. This type of judging is just another type of fear. By stereotyping someone, we imagine ourselves gaining some sort of control over them, often by making ourselves superior to them in our own mind. By boxing other people in, we retain the orderliness of the world we've constructed, and keep our egos fat and happy.

People on the spiritual path are very immune to this problem: we assume that "being spiritual" gives us moral high ground over the "lost souls" who can't see the suffering in front of their faces. In essence, instead of transforming ourselves, we translate our broken egoic worldview into spiritual terms. In this way, the ego protects its dominion, and avoids the strongest challenge to its dominance that it will ever face.

It's amazing that, even when we understand our own flaws inside-out, we still possess this urge to lord our egos over others.

william harryman said...

Hi Jay,

Thanks for the excellent response. I read your post just before I read your comment, so it fit together nicely.

I make a lot of the same judgments you do (strangely enough, using many of the same adjectives).

I especially agree with what you said about how "spiritual" people use their spirituality as a reason to look down on others -- been there and done that.

As my kindergarten teacher once told me, any time someone calls someone else a bad name (or labels a person in some way, such as all the ways you mentioned) it's because that person doesn't feel good about him/herself. True enough.

One of the things I hate about my job (personal trainer) is that it rewards an ability to see someone and immediately access his/her health status, self-esteem, financial worth, and need for positive regard from others (connected to self-esteem). Any good sales person possesses these skills. Fortunately, I've had a full load of clients for several months and haven't had to engage in that kind of "typing."

I think it's still possible to see a person and do that kind of "reading" or typing without attaching value judgments. I can see a person with a Rolex and know she has money -- without thinking she's one of the rich, Republican snobs who live in the Foothills and drive overpriced BMW's.

When I judge a woman like that, using the given example, what really is happening in me is that a subpersonality has been activated that feels inferior to people with money and material wealth. That sub craves those things and sees them as markers of self-worth. Because I have chosen not to make my life about those things, that sub feels inferior to those who do have those things.

When that sub craves those things, it triggers another sub in me that rejects all material wealth as meaningless shiny trinkets that distract a person from the spiritual path. It's almost like he rejects wealth as a way to protect me from the other sub's feelings of inferiority. These subs are almost like siamese twins. Any time one is present, the other isn't far away.

Obviously there is a middle path. And when the subs get triggered I am seldom aware of those subs playing off each other that way. I think "Damn, nice watch, I bet she's rich." And immediately that sub who hates that stuff judges her as shallow and somehow evil.

The more I can become aware of those voices in my head (sounds like a severe mental illness), the more I can address their needs and passify them.

For example, I can have some nice things in my apartment (art mostly, but nice candles, or flowers, or whatever) that make that part of me that craves nice things feel better. And I can try to devote more of my time and resources to things that nourish my soul, which makes my inner wealth-nazi feel better.

When subs get their needs met, they tend to be less reactive and judgmental.

I didn't really think about any of this when I wrote the post this morning, but it seems like I just self-analyzed myself into knowing where the judgments come from. Now I just need to become aware of them when they are happening, instead of much later when I am blogging about them. :)