Our Lojong slogan for November is, as phrased by Zen teacher Norman Fischer, Turn All Mishaps Into The Path.
This 11th slogan kicks off the next section of slogans, “Transform Bad Circumstances Into The Path”.
As Fischer describes it:
Turn all mishaps into the path, sounds at first blush completely impossible. How would you do that? When things go all right we are cheerful, we feel good and have good spiritual feelings, but as soon as bad things start happening, we get depressed, we fall apart, or at the very best, we hang on and cope. We certainly do not transform our mishaps into the path. And why would we want to? We don’t want the mishaps to be there, we want them gone as soon as possible. They are certainly not the path! The path is love and light, compassion, joy, and so on, we think.
But keep in mind that Transform bad circumstances into the path is the third point of mind training. It comes after the first slogan, Train in the preliminaries, which one presumably has done thoroughly, and after the practices of generating compassion, as we’ve discussed. Having established all of that, we have shaken up our conventional point of view. We are beginning to be more like the Bird’s Nest Roshi than the poet below him, beginning to recognize that perhaps our habitual ways of thinking about our lives need to be reexamined. Also, we have been training in the practice of slogans, repeating them over and over, reflecting on them repeatedly, so that now they often pop up naturally, unbidden, when we need them. Now when something difficult or terrible happens to us, a loss, a setback, a frustration, an insult, naturally we immediately feel dismay or anger or disappointment or resentment just as everyone does, just as we always have— but now also a slogan pops into our minds, because we have trained ourselves in it. Turn all of this into the path, the slogan tells us.
So we practice patience
So we practice patience: we catch ourselves running away and we reverse course, turning toward our afflictive emotions, understanding that they are natural in these circumstances but that avoiding them won’t work and that there is no use blaming ourselves or wishing that things were otherwise. We know that this is how the human heart works, this is how we all are. We forestall our flailing around with these emotions and instead allow them to be present with dignity. We forgive ourselves for having them, we forgive whoever we might be blaming for our difficulties, and with that spontaneous forgiveness comes a feeling of relief and even gratitude. We think: “Oh, yes, I really am angry right now, I am pretty upset right now, but this doesn’t belong to me, this upset is what people feel under such conditions, and of course I feel this way. And I am grateful to feel what everyone feels under such conditions. I am glad to stand in solidarity and understanding with other human beings who are probably, right now, in this very moment, also feeling this.”
This may strike you as a bit far-fetched, but it is not. Yet it does take training: we are, after all, not talking about miracles, we are not talking about affirmations or wishful thinking. We are talking about training the mind. If you were to meditate daily, bringing up this slogan, Turn all mishaps into the path, in your sitting, writing it down, repeating it many times a day, reflecting on it, reading the words of this book many times and thinking about them, then you could see that a change of heart and mind could take place in just the way I am describing. It simply makes sense. The mind and heart react according to their well-worn habits. Whatever habit of mind you have now comes from your actions and thoughts of the past (however unexamined or unintentional they may have been). Whatever habits of mind you will have in future depend on what you do or don’t do from now on. The way you spontaneously react in times of trouble is not fixed. Your mind, your heart, can be trained. Once you have a single experience of reacting differently, you will be encouraged. Next time it is more likely that you will take yourself in hand. Each time becomes easier than the last. And little by little you establish a new habit. When something difficult happens, you will train yourself to stop saying, “Damn! Why did this have to happen!” and begin saying, “Yes, of course, this is how it is, let me turn toward it, let me practice with it, let me go beyond entanglement to gratitude.” Because you will have realized that because you are alive and not dead, because you have a human body and not some other kind of a body, because the world is a physical world and not an ethereal world, and because all of us together as people are the way we are, bad things are going to happen. It’s the most natural, the most normal, the most inevitable thing in the world. It is not a mistake, and it isn’t anyone’s fault. And we can make use of it to drive our gratitude and our compassion deeper.
Fischer, Norman. Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong (pp. 47-50). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.
Please join us Wednesday, November 1, at 6:10 pm as we sit for 30 minutes. We’ll follow this first meditation period with 10 minutes of walking meditation and a final 30 minutes of seated meditation.
You may also wish to join us for early morning meditation at 6:10 am on Wednesday.
Enjoy your Sunday!