Ending our own War
Confronted with the six hour drive from Pittsburgh to the Himalayan Institute, there is nothing more frustrating than the road work, the two lane busy interstate with truckers who get in the passing lane and stay there even on the steep hills that make up the Pennsylvania terrain. I made it with no time to spare to jump on the call for a online course. The course ran until bedtime. This morning waking and finally able to slow down and absorb the essence of this place, recognition dawns.
Sitting in meditation in a group meditation space, there are people coming and going, shuffling of movement, all creating distraction and a similiar feeling of annoyance I had toward those truckers the day before. I contemplated leaving and meditating in my room. However, when I first awoke, I pondered, go to meditate now? There are fewer people, avoid the group? I intentionally chose to wait and enjoy the prayers and meditation with the group because I often choose isolation.
As I sat, pulled from the depth of meditation into a state of contemplation and reflection, I asked myself, what do I gain from avoiding groups? The answer, I don't have to feel this angst when things are not the way I think they should be. I don't experience the suffering of feeling frustrated with others.
In the Yoga Sutras, there is a practice...
Be happy for those who are happy.
Feel compassion for those who are suffering.
Cultivate cheerfulness for those who are virtuous.
Cultivate equanimity for those whose values (actions) oppose your own.
Contemplating these folks who make noise as they move into the meditation space, plopping their blanket down, shuffling the sand in the cushion and then preparing their meditation beads, apparently with no concern for the experience of others, HOW can I cultivate equanimity?
The words of Byron Katie come to mind... where am I having no concern for the experience of others? Ahhhh... such a great question. And a great reflection on how others were confused, perhaps annoyed by this woman seated in the tea room on her computer at a retreat space where they came to get away from the feel of the busy cafe. Perhaps my colleagues were envious or frustrated that I slipped away early from the clean up of the Summit. Perhaps folks felt frustrated by the speed at which I was driving along that highway.
Recognition of my own impact on others, softens the irritation toward others. That opens the door to equanimity. It also can dampen that negative feeling born from envy or desire. These models who have slim, fit and healthy young bodies, while I continue to age and decline in strength and slimness. Can I cultivate happiness for their happiness? Can I recognize that they too may judge themselves as harshly and unkindly as I am judging myself? We are suffering together if that is true.
The drive to Pittsburgh, I listened to David Goggins' book, Can't Hurt Me. On one hand I was impressed with his mental toughness, and on the other I was appalled by his blatant disregard for his physical wellbeing, his attitude toward women, and his colleagues, and his impact on others. Throughout the book he continues to talk about being at war with the mind. Absolutely agree that the mind is an incredible tool that is constantly driving us toward comfort and ease, safety. I drove fast because I did not want to show up late for the course. Being on time would protect me from being seen as unprofessional, unable to manage my time well. I have a false sense of wanting to always be seen as competent and professional. That desire for others to see me in a particular way limited my ability to be compassionate toward myself and others during the drive. And while I was focusing on one group seeing me in a certain way, I was ignoring the way others would see me in the anonymity of my vehicle. The result... war.
War happens when reconciliation is not possible. It occurs when two sides cannot and chose to no longer allow for the other side's opinion or experience. When my experience is more important than the experience of others here at a retreat centre, I have gone to war... at a retreat centre.
But we can choose compassion or equanimity, we can choose cheerfulness and being happy for others, especially when we choose to question where we have also done the human thing we are witnessing. Where have I behaved, acted like David Goggins? Arrogant, intensely toward others, not listened or acknowledged the pain and suffering. Well, I know a number of folks who could raise their hands and tell you all about those times.
At the very end of David Goggins' book, when he starts dying, he realizes the mistake of not paying attention to his body, of disregarding what his body was telling him. And in the confrontation of the end of life he also realizes his impact on others and how perhaps he could have done things better. He sees the shadow of his own lack of self acceptance.
As a coach, I have coached mental toughness, I value mental toughness. I also value preparation. I value critical thinking and awareness of where to do better. I also strongly value not treating myself or others like we are at war. I prefer to treat myself and others in a collaborative way and that requires active listening, critical review of my impact on others, and compassion. A willingness to be aware and make change.
That is how we end war.