Saturday, August 18, 2012

coincidence? you decide

Here is what happened when I sat down at my computer tonight.  I saw a headline on the page where I access one of my e-mail accounts that said (candidate for X political party) is blaming (Y problem) on (Z the other political party).  And I immediately got enraged, because Z is my political party, and there is not a chance in hell that Y is our fault.  My stomach clenched up, my neck got tight, and the top of my head might have blown off a little bit.

Then I clicked on my Inbox, and there was an e-mail there from Pema Chodron.  I haven't mentioned her in awhile, but she is a Buddhist nun, and she is one of my favorite teachers.  I don't think I will ever actually become Buddhist, but I've been heavily influenced by the books of hers that I've read. So I signed up awhile ago to get weekly e-mails from her publisher, which are short excerpts of her writing with a bit of commentary.  It takes about two minutes to read them.

So here is what this one said. (an aside:  I know we've been talking about copyright issues over on another blog, but it is legal to quote brief snippets of text as long as you acknowledge your source, so: this quote comes from Pema Chodron's book When Things Fall Apart, and her webpage is here.)
There’s a [Buddhist] slogan that says, 'Drive all blames into oneself.' The essence of this slogan is, “When it hurts so bad, it’s because I am hanging on so tight.” ...What it implies is that pain comes from holding so tightly to having it our own way and that one of the main exits we take when we find ourselves uncomfortable, when we find ourselves in an unwanted situation or an unwanted place, is to blame. 
In other words, when we're afraid or uncomfortable or angry, we have a tendency to look around for someone to blame.  Or we want to identify something that is capital-w WRONG and has to be fixed.  But when we do this, it results in pain, tightness, gnashing of teeth.  It doesn't lead to peaceful centeredness, it leads to exactly what happened when I saw that headline: anger, rage, the tightened jaw, the clenched stomach.

And the funny thing is, I think my friends who are conservative Republicans would have exactly the same reaction to that headline if the parties were reversed.  We're all so sure we know what is right.  But shifting blame doesn't help, for one thing because the other side will just shift it right back. Identifying something that is W-R-O-N-G is just our point of view.  Even if I can trace my opinion back to some source that I feel is Right, that source can almost always be interpreted in a different way by someone with different opinions.  No good can come from clinging to the belief that there is only one right way to see things and I know what it is.

I've read that forgiveness is not a matter of justice being served, it's a matter of letting go of the hardness of your own heart.  Pema reminded me that this is similar:  it's not a matter of who's right and who's wrong, it's a matter of choosing to be curious about the world, of letting go of the preconceptions that bind your mind and being willing to soften your heart.

The excerpt concludes:  This slogan is a helpful and interesting suggestion that we could begin to shift that deep-seated, ancient, habitual tendency to hang on to having everything on our own terms. The way to start would be, first, when we feel the tendency to blame, to try to get in touch with what it feels like to be holding on to ourselves so tightly.

Something I'll be thinking about during this election season.


  1. well, much to my surprise, a situation like this came up this morning with a certain group I am involved in, and it had nothing to do with politics. I edited the post slightly just now. I guess it's just human nature.

  2. Thanks for this reminder. The election season is a continual assault on the kind of person that I aspire to be. Unfortunately, self-centeredness is a basic component of advertising, electioneering, and consumerism. They'll be an unholy trinity until November.

    1. Hi, Clayton-- I know, I wish I could just buy a ticket to Nepal or Portugal or something and disappear until it's over.

  3. This is a little silly, but . . . when I catch a cold, I always want to know who I caught it from. I guess so I cam blame them for giving it to me, but it's not like knowing where it came from makes me feel any better.

    If my head doesn't explode before November 11th, it's going to be a miracle. It's all blame, blame, blame, and no good here's a concrete plan to make X better, or here's some good planning for the future. It's just pure negativity.

    1. I know! I wish we could just ship them all to the moon or something. (see above plan for leaving the country for a few months. :-) )