A reader says:
“I recognize a habitual pattern, not to be aggressive about eliminating it. But then the self aggression in “I should be more patient, kinder, better organized, etc…” can turn into “You/they should be more….” So I guess the question is where to interrupt that cycle?”
So, there’s this thing I always say when I lead meditations. I’ll say it even when I know the person I’m speaking to has been meditating for a long time. I’ll say it even when I know for certain I’ve said it to this person in particular before. I always say it because I think it’s very important. And also, I think it’s something we overlook sometimes when we’re practicing.
That is: “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
Now, this can apply in our meditation practice and also in whatever other practices we’re doing. I’m going to focus on our meditation practice first. There are several things that are important to a successful meditation practice—one of them is consistency and another one is having a reasonably quiet place.
But another thing often gets overlooked. We need to have a passive attitude. If we think, “Man, I’m having a shitty meditation! I can’t still my mind at all!” that kind of takes us out of it, doesn’t it? We have so much trouble with this, of course. We expect to be good at meditation (whatever that means) and we expect those results. Expectation is a big problem for us. We’re always expecting things.
I love that fake Shakespeare (Fakespeare?) quote, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” Man, that’s good stuff.
Once we start to think of ourselves as failures in our practice, then we start to suffer. The great thing about meditation is that there is no failure. Trying counts as doing. The only way to fail is to not try. And if you’re sitting on the cushion and just thinking about your cats or the plot of Spider-man: Homecoming or having a beer, that’s okay. Just cultivate awareness of these thoughts. And don’t be hard on yourself. Everyone is distracted all the time.
How’s this relate to other practices?
Well, it’s the same. We can beat ourselves up in our compassion practices too. “I could have been nicer. I could have been more helpful, etc.” We have a real tendency to tear ourselves down and think we’re not good enough, but the same thing applies. Have a passive attitude. Don’t attach so much importance to success. Just try your best. You’re not in competition with anyone (even yourself) and you are good enough. You are doing just fine, I promise. An aggressive attitude toward yourself doesn’t help, just try to be the best you can.
And the questioner also asked, “What about when this turns into an external aggression too?”
Being hard on others is also often harmful, of course. What can we do about it?
It’s the same, really. What we want to do is see others as equally important to us. We’re all just trying our best, that’s all we can do. It’s important to recognize that we’re all in this together. It would be hard for me to say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” while at the same time being hard on others.
A lot of our compassion/bodhisattva practices are based on helping us see others as equally important and I think that’s kind of what we’re talking about here. Once we learn how to stop being hard on ourselves, hopefully we can stop being hard on others too.
Life is a struggle for everyone and we’re all in it together.
I’m going to start taking questions. If you have something you want me to write about, write it in the comments.
Zen Meditation Group, Rime Buddhist Center, Kansas City, Missouri. 7pm-8pm
Dharma Talk: Faith in Mind, Daily Dharma Gathering, online 7-7:30pm
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