Practice of the Week
Turn Things Around
Turn Things Around
Adapted from Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion
There is a slogan from the Buddhist tradition:
"Three objects, three poisons, three seeds of virtue.""Turn things around" means turning the three objects and poisons into seeds of virtue.
Three objects refers to three categories of objects, and object isn't exclusively a physical object (thoughts and feelings are "objects" of consciousness, as physical objects are objects of perception.) The "three objects," then, are: attractive, repellent, and neutral. Objects themselves do not have these qualities, but our reactions to the objects do. Whatever comes into our consciousness will spur a reaction in us, and this reaction will be one of these three: we will either like, dislike, or be neutral to the object.
Three poisons refers to greed, hate, and delusion. These are the emotional activities we indulge in response to the three objects. We are greedy for attractive objectives; we hate repellent objects; we are confused or indifferent about neutral objects.
The three objects and three poisons describe basic ordinary daily life. "Objects" constantly arise, and we are constantly trying to grab them and make them stay or push them away as soon as possible, depending on the style of our reactivity and emotion. The flow of these objects and emotions goes on constantly, usually below the level of conscious awareness. We wake up in the morning and feel too cold or too hot or just right. This makes us feel pleasant or irritated or neutral. Our coffee is tasty or not so tasty, and we're slightly pleased or annoyed. Our thoughts are pleasant or not so pleasant. All day long objects appear to our perception, feeling, and thought, and all day long we are reacting in simple, basic ways to each and every object: wonderful, let's keep this one; terrible, let's get rid of this one; neutral, I don't care about this one.
All day long this flows on, usually without much discernible problem. But occasionally our likes or dislikes become strongly activated by objects, and then we become powerfully happy or miserable, overcome with lust or desire or anger or fear.
Quite often we cannot avoid losing what we find attractive and having to put up with what we find repellent. And in the biggest picture of our lives, we always end up losing what we want (our loved ones, our health) and having to put up with what we don't want (our aging, our illness, our death, and the loss of our loved ones). If we insist on trying desperately to control things we can't control, we eventually become very desperate and unhappy -- the world begins to seem like a very hostile and unjust place, and we can become quite paranoid and upset about almost everything. Once you decide that the world is a hostile and inhospitable place and the people in it untrustworthy and venal, things begin to get worse and worse and worse. So the three objects and three poisons are lamentable realities. If we don't pay attention to them, if we don't figure out a way to cooperate with rather than resist their pressure, they can ruin our lives.
Three seeds of virtue appear when the three poisons are turned around. We don't have control of much, but we do have control of whether to turn around the greed, hate, and delusion that appears in our lives.
Contrary to what we might think, the three objects and three poisons are not problems and traps. They are seeds of virtue. The basic human mess of likes and dislikes, in which we seem to be trapped and which seems to be so dangerous and troublesome, is actually wonderful, a real treasure. Our messes and our problems are our treasures! Our suffering, our troubles, our problems, the things that we really don't like and want to get rid of but can't, or the losses we feel, the things we wanted to keep and sadly cannot -- all of this is a treasure to us if only we can understand it in the right way. Everything painful and difficult has the potential to bring us great joy and deep spiritual riches.
We can turn toward and appreciate our suffering, our problems, and the suffering and problems of others. Given the power of our likes and dislikes and the intractability of the world (which doesn't organize itself according to our needs), it won't do not to deal with our likes and dislikes in some way other than simply trying constantly to fulfill them. So naturally we imagine somehow trying to modify or eliminate them. But this is not what "turn things around" means. It means something radically different. It means recognizing that our very likes and dislikes and the suffering they bring us, can be the source of spiritual growth.
Write down "turn things around." Contemplate it carefully. Bring it up when you find yourself annoyed or upset by instances of liking and disliking that are causing you suffering. This practice might help you to let go a little in that moment. Even if you don't believe it and are only a little intrigued by it, it can be helpful to practice this slogan. It will have the effect of causing you to stop your lamentation for a moment and recall that it might just be possible that there is something potentially good and positive in this agony in which you are right now enmeshed.
The earlier Practice, "Real Compassion" (SEE HERE), trains us to see and feel that our pain and difficulty in this life, and the pain and the difficulty of others, is the gateway that will lead us down the path of love. We don't need to avoid or protect ourselves from pain. Quite the contrary. When pain and suffering are present, we need to turn toward them, breathe them in. And through this practice of suffering, we can transform it, and transform ourselves. Turning things around -- turning the three objects and poisons into seeds of virtue -- fits with the sending and receiving of Real Compassion.
What a difference this would make in your life if you actually knew that when things happen that you don't like, that are difficult or painful, you don't need to complain and try fruitlessly to change them (when they can't be changed), and that you don't need to find someone to blame and then do battle with that blameworthy person, as if you were a victim, but instead you can have a profound and heartfelt sense of acceptance and love. You can breathe in the difficulty and transform it into ease and healing through your body.
The practice of turning things around requires cultivation over time, persistence, diligence, and strength. It requires keeping up the effort, all of the time, in everything we do.
Suppose you understood all of your pain and suffering as raw materials for transformation and healing. Your life would be completely different.
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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"