Practice of the Week
Turn All Mishaps Into the Path
Turn All Mishaps Into the Path
Category: Slogans to Live By: Practices for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in each of these areas as you go about your day, and sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling. The titles of these practices are guiding slogans to live by.
"Here is the rule to remember in the future, When anything tempts you to be bitter: not, 'This is a misfortune' but 'To bear this worthily is good fortune.'" --Marcus Aurelius
"Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune." --William James
Adapted from Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion
When things go all right we are cheerful, we feel good, but as soon as bad things start happening, we get depressed, 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 spiritual path toward wholeness -- we think.
Previous "Practices of the Week" have included: "See Everything As a Dream," "Rest in the Openness of Mind," "Think Long and Hard on Four Points," "Examine the Nature of Awareness," "Don't Get Stuck on Peace," "Be a Child of Illusion," "Real Compassion," "Turn Things Around," and "Patience." Simply by treating these titles as slogans and repeating these, and other slogans from our "Practice of the Week" titles, to ourselves over and over, and reflecting on them repeatedly, they will begin to pop up naturally, unbidden, when we need them. This week's Practice introduces the slogan: "Turn All Mishaps Into the Path."
When something difficult or terrible happens to us -- a loss, a setback, a frustration, an insult -- naturally we immediately feel dismay, anger, disappointment, or resentment, just as everyone does and just as we always have. But now we have a slogan to train with until, in the midst of bad circumstances, it pops into mind: Turn all of this in the path!
When we catch ourselves trying to run away from the things that make us feel bad, we can, instead, reverse course. We can turn toward our afflictive emotions, understanding that they are natural, under the circumstances, and understanding that avoiding them won't work. Dismay, annoyance, anger, anxiety, resentment arise sometimes for all of us -- this is how the human heart works. Instead of denying, repressing, or (trying to) ignore these emotions, we can allow them to be present with dignity.
Forgive yourself for having the negative emotions. Forgive others -- whoever you might be blaming for your difficulties. With these forgivenesses come relief and even gratitude. We can say to ourselves, for example:
"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 animals feel under such conditions -- so of course I feel this way. And I am grateful to feel what anyone, under such circumstances, would feel. I am glad to stand in solidarity and understanding with other human beings/primates/mammals/vertebrates who are probably, right now, in this very moment, also feeling these emotions."This is not far-fetched. It does, however, take training. We are not talking about miracles, nor about affirmations or wishful thinking. We are talking about training the mind.
Repeat this slogan, turn all mishaps into the path, to yourself at various points during your day. Write it in your journal, along with your reflections on how it is working in your life: do this every day for a week, or a month -- until it is thoroughly internalized. 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 mammalian 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 are the animals that we are, bad things are going to happen. It's the most natural, the most normal, the most inevitable thing in the world. Don't think "mistake," or "fault (my own or someone else's)." When mishaps occur, we can make use of them to drive our gratitude and our compassion deeper.
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from Judith Lief, "When the World is Filled with Evil, Transform All Mishaps into the Path of Bodhi," Tricycle
When things go wrong, when we encounter obstacles, the last thing on our minds is the dharma. Instead, what is the first thing on our minds? Ourselves! It is all about how we are being inconvenienced, burdened, put upon, attacked, misunderstood, rejected—you name it. Not only do we lose track of the path, but our concern for others goes into hibernation as we focus front and center on our own particular problem.
Is it possible to use the very obstacles that block us and cause us to close down as a means of awakening? If so, it would be great, as there is certain to be no shortage of mishaps, and who can think of a time when the world was not filled with evil? When all was harmonious and at peace?
According to this slogan, you do not have to pretend that everything is okay. And you do not have to wait for things to get better in order to practice. Instead of viewing mishaps as personal attacks, you can include them in your practice. You might even welcome them, for it is when you face difficulties, not when things are going smoothly, that you learn the most. That is what tests the strength of your practice.
Transformation does not mean that all our problems go away or that we overcome all our difficulties. It does not mean that the world is suddenly all rosy. It means that the path of dharma is big enough to accommodate whatever arises, good or bad. When you work with mishaps using the tools of mindfulness and loving-kindness, your relationship to such mishaps is transformed—and in the process, so are you.
As obstacles arise throughout the day, pay particular attention to your immediate response and the assumptions embedded in that response. Where is the awakening and where do you get stuck?
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