Don't Be So Predictable

Practice of the Week
Don't Be So Predictable

Imagine being yourself for the love of discovering every day who you are in relation to others.

Category: Slogans to Live By: Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these maxims, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.

Adapted from Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion, "Don't Be So Predictable."

You are unfathomable. Everyone you know is unfathomable. Why, then, do you persist in imagining that you know who you and everyone else are? Why do you assume that your fixed ideas about yourself and others allow you to predict your behavior and that of others?

Freshness and openness and a capacity for surprise are hallmarks of mind training, which is one reason why it is so much fun. It is not, as it might seem to us (mapping onto it our received sense of morality or upright conduct), a matter of being ethical and sober in all of our actions. It is very much the opposite: we view with bemused curiosity our various responses and habits, even when it is clear that they are not too wholesome or even sane. With mind training we are quite honest about what is going on, never pretending, never whitewashing or denying, but at the same time not assuming that we have to give in to or believe our every impulse and thought.

We are all quite predictable because we are all fixated on identities we have constructed (with the help of our families and friends) that we consider to be accurate reflections of our possibilities. But they are not.

Yes, maybe you are an angry person, and you can't help but notice that anger arises in you frequently when certain sorts of events trigger it. But, anger having arisen, what now do you do with it? Don't be so predictable! There are many possibilities. I have never been angry in this moment before, so why would I want to project onto this moment all of my past moments of having been angry?

Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind few." Don't be so predictable is telling us to cultivate beginner's mind in relation to ourselves and our own experiences. It’s telling us to stop being such experts on ourselves.

We should all stop becoming professional selves and become amateur selves. An amateur is someone who does what he does for the love of it, not for advancement or money. Imagine being yourself for the love of discovering every day who you are in relation to others: loving them, and yourself in the process of loving them. In this sense we are all a bit too professional about our lives and our relationships, engaging in them for self-advantage, which reduces the love—and the fun. Amateurs always have more fun than professionals. Professionals have to be predictable; amateurs can't be.

Adapted from Judith Lief, "Don't Be So Predictable."

When we work with mind training and the development of bodhichitta, we are interrupting our usual way of going about business. We find that many of our actions are programmed and extremely predictable and we notice that in other people as well. This is why it is so easy to push each other’s buttons. It is why it is so easy to manipulate and to be manipulated.

If we do not make an effort to do otherwise, if we do not pay attention, then much of what we do will be in the form of automatic reactions. We can see this whole process as it is happening, although often we do not. We might recognize it in the sinking feeling of “Here I go again.” We might see it coming, but our reaction is so fast that we can’t stop ourselves.

This kind of predictability is fueled by the self-centered undercurrent of fascination with our own concerns and uninterest in others except to the extent that they either threaten or feed our own desires. When someone does us harm, we hang onto our grudge about that for a very long time. But when someone helps us, we take it for granted, and soon forget it.

We do not have to be so programmed and predictable. If we cultivate awareness enough to step back a bit from simply reacting, we can insert a gap or a pause before being carried away. In that little gap there is the freedom to respond in a fresh way, less predetermined. When we respond from a more dispassionate perspective, and are not just caught in the game of defending or promoting our ego, it is as though a different world opens up. We begin to see how our limited focus has prevented us from developing a bigger vision of what is going on and how best to respond to it.


When you feel threatened, don’t get defensive. Pause before you respond. When you are praised, don’t just lap it up. Pause before you respond. What do you notice? Explore the contrast between using experience to further your own agenda and seeing it from a broader perspective.

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