Okay. So, what I’m about to post here has taken me almost a year to flesh out and wrap my brain around. Here goes.
In our Buddhist practice tradition, we have this teaching: This is because that is. Short-handing it, it means: Everything happens for a reason, based on a myriad of causes and conditions. On a similar note, I see as though we have two large components of life backwards, and one leads to the other.
The first thing we commonly have backwards:
A) We often see and regard ourselves as being separate/independent/unique in times when we would do well to strengthen our ability to look with the eyes of interbeing and get in touch with our similarities, shared humanity, and true sense of connection.
B) We often see and regard ourselves as being the same in times when we would do well to cultivate a deeper understanding of our individuality.
And because of this first thing we commonly have backwards, it leads to this second thing we commonly have backwards:
C) We try to lone-wolf it in times when we would do well to lean on our loved ones for care, support, and nourishment.
D) We rely on others in times when we would do well to cultivate and/or strengthen our sovereignty.
So, D is because of B and C is because of A. This is because that is.
I realize this might be confusing, like I said: it’s taken me a year to flesh this out. Here are some practical examples that will hopefully help a bit (with corresponding letters that match with the points above):
It’s so very common for beginning meditators to have these kind of thoughts: No one is having a hard time at this but me; I am really bad at this; maybe I can’t/shouldn’t meditate; my mind is just way too busy; my mind is way busier than anyone else’s. As the program director of our Be Here Now Sangha for 16+ years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these same sentiments by folks who’ve come to sit with us. Time and time again, people are falsely assuming that others are having an easier time at settling and stilling their minds then they are – and it’s just simply not true.
This also extends to levels of happiness and joy and an overall sense of well-being. People commonly regard others they deem to “have it together” as possessing some kind of special quality that affords them the natural ability to be happy and content. Oh, well sure THEY are happy, they have it so much easier than I do. They don’t have any real challenges to contend with. We often suffer from the great misperception that our life story and the experiences we have had in the past, equate to a certain unique level of hardship and struggle that no one else can understand or appreciate. And when we live in this mental and emotional landscape, we set ourselves up as victims, unable to do anything constructive to transform our situation.
In order to take responsibility for our lives and stop living as a victim, we must learn to see that while yes the details of our life story are unduplicated, it is not at all unique in the greater sense of things. And furthermore, it does nothing helpful for us to get caught up in the comparison game, as in: My struggles are worse than yours. This sort of thinking indicates that we are still stuck in victimizing ourselves, which only serves to further our feelings of separation.
Let’s say that two friends listen to the same rap song. One of them super likes it and the other one super doesn’t. The one person is all like: This song has a killer beat! And I really dig the rapper’s voice. And the other person is all like: This song is so degrading towards women, it’s awful! Maybe person one says to their friend: It’s just a song, what’s the big deal? And maybe person two says: How can you listen to that?! Both remarks posed as questions are coming from a place of judgement that the other person should share their opinion of the song. The thing is: it’s not a competition. There is no universal right or wrong answer to land on. One person’s take of a song is just as valid as another person’s opposing take of the same song.
I mean, a couple of weeks ago, when I went to the convenience store to get a Rockstar energy drink for my husband, there were 19 different kinds to choose from (I counted). If there are 19 kinds of one brand of energy drink, I’m thinking that coming up with a musical playlist that suits everyone’s fancy is on a serious, no-joke level of impossible.
Another unfortunate commonality I’ve seen over the years of serving as the program director for our sangha and moving into a spiritual leadership role, is the propensity for folks to feel as though they need to go it alone in times of great upset. When we’re super stressed out, really down or possibly even clinically depressed, or overwhelmed by a strong emotion such as grief, loss, anger, fear, anxiety, or worry, we pull hard towards thinking such things as: I just need to pull it together; I’m fine, it’s cool; getting support = I’m weak; if people knew what I was REALLY going through, they wouldn’t like me.
When the seas of inner turmoil swell, rather than flailing to keep our heads above water, we would be much better served to learn how to lean on our people for love and support.
Scenario: there’s a film showing or public talk happening that we’re really interested in but we can’t seem to find anyone who can or wants to go with us. What to do? Well, under the premise of relying on others in times when we’d do well to cultivate/strengthen our own sovereignty, many of us would likely choose not to go to said film/public talk. And not only would we choose not to go but we might also think to our self: Gosh, I am such a loser, no one wants to go with me! And/or: My friends are such losers, what the hell is wrong with them?!
Here’s another way this can show up: let’s say we DO go to said film/public talk but we go steeped in a reliance on others to validate our own self-worth, so we sit there by our self in the audience thinking: Everyone is staring at me! They’re totally wondering why I’m here by myself and thinking I’m a loser because I don’t have any friends!
There is another possibility here. We could go to the film/talk solo and work on checking our self-consciousness at the door. Because the chances are, those people you think are thinking about you, totally aren’t. Or at least not nearly as much as you think they are. There’s a really high probability that no one cares an iota about you sitting by yourself. It’s your own mental trip that is being layered and projected onto those around you. No one is thinking: Oh man, that poor girl, she’s here all by herself, what a pity! In actuality, they’re probably thinking: I should check Facebook on my phone real quick again because probably something exciting happened on it since last I checked it 30-seconds ago and they have no freaking idea you’re sitting 2 seats away from them.
To wrap up:
I reckon that balance is the key to life. The balance of: rest & action; joy & sorrow; work & play; self-care & care of others; dwelling in the present moment & planning for the future; solitude & hang with people time; and so on. The balance of looking with the eyes of interbeing & looking with the eyes of self-reliance and individuality; when to lean on others for nourishment and support & when to strengthen our sovereignty. And it’s important that we develop a close relationship with our own self, as it’s the only way we will be able to ascertain which moment calls for which action.