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Earlier this week an old blogging friend posted this quote on Facebook; it is an old favorite of mine, and in reading it again I saw something in it that I never noticed before.

Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. (Rainer Maria Rilke).

For a number of years I have practiced Buddhist  Lojong, also known as Buddhist Mind Training. Just looking at the name makes one think it must be something like brainwashing, doesn’t it? It is, quite simply, learning to think differently. In fact, the practice makes the human mind more flexible and facile, it actually removes the effects of a lifetime of literal and figurative brainwashing. At first, we start just watching the way our mind works, we notice the mind is on autopilot an awful lot of the time. We see how the mind seems to have rigid grooves worn in it over the course of our lifetime, from automatically reacting the same way to similar stimuli over and over again.

For example, have you ever had a conversation with someone who appeared to be listening with full attention to your words, and yet completely missed the point of what you were saying? Sometimes this is the result of a deep groove in that person’s cognitive process that has them automatically reacting to something in the words you spoke. Something you said triggered an automatic reaction in them, and in effect, they have a subconscious expectation that you are talking about some other thing, or that you mean something else and even though they seem to be paying attention, they literally are not hearing what you are saying.

At its most extreme that automatic cognitive mechanism, sometimes humorously called a mindless reaction, is what causes one person to take something personally and get hurt or angry, when the person who was speaking had absolutely no intent to communicate the thing that caused the offense. We’ve probably all had the experience of someone taking offense at something we said, when we either did not actually say the words that caused offense, or perhaps we said the words but did not mean them the way they were understood; it is all due to just this kind of mindless reaction.

Lojong softens and evens out those grooves so one can just be open and present; it allows you to listen without projecting your own concepts on to what someone else is saying, and the potential for misapprehension is minimized.

Perhaps this is a story for another day, but a further benefit of the practice is we learn to stop taking many things in life so personally. Can you imagine how different the world might be if people were able to communicate with more ease and take offense less frequently? It would dial back the ambient emotional temperature considerably.

One more benefit of the practice is learning to be comfortable with uncertainty. In this messy disordered world we long for certainty. Good people suffer, law breakers prosper, we yearn for assurances, and we hunger for the certainty of knowing exactly who to blame for all the suffering we both witness and experience. The human mind, until it learns to think differently, craves certainty. However once we find that the comfort arising from certainty lasts only moments before the restless mind is on to the next thing, we learn to loosen our attachment to the need for certainty.

Finally, this brings me back to Rilke’s quote, “Try to love the questions…” This week’s reading of the quote suggests something deeper to me than merely learning to be comfortable with life’s burning questions, it hints at learning to be comfortable with uncertainty in general. “…It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question.” Because when we become certain about anything in life, the questions along with the opportunities to learn anything new cease to exist.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips for finding something completely new (15+ / 0-)

    In something old, familiar and well loved.

    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.--Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act I, scene 5

    by Ooooh on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 06:32:51 AM PDT

  •  Thank you for these thoughtful words. (12+ / 0-)

    Learning how not to be stuck in those grooves would have saved my sorry a** at certain Very Important Moments in my life. Wish I'd learned better, earlier. :-)

    There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

    by slksfca on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 07:01:58 AM PDT

  •  Interesting perspective. (9+ / 0-)

    Of course, we can't completely set aside our personal experiences as we read or listen any more than the writer or speaker has set aside their personal experiences when they write or speak. How we receive is directly tied to how we were formed as a person.

    In cases where we have built relationships with the author of the words, we can easily pause before we react to something that feels hurtful but which may not have been intended that way.

    I have one question, though. In cases where there is a history of hurtful comments, it is difficult to call an angry reaction "mindless". Can you expand on that a bit?

    Words have meaning. Our words will reflect what is in our souls.

    by JanF on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 07:09:03 AM PDT

    •  Mindless reactions (9+ / 0-)

      Yes, in the case where there is a history of being hurt, those reactions are especially mindless, we go from zero to sixty in a nanosecond, there is no time for thought. These are truly mindless reactions.

      However, with regard to "hurtful comments" Lojong teaches one to understand suffering differently, so someone who has been practicing lojong successfully would most likely not see the comments as hurtful in the first place.

      When we are doing the practice, we first see how our minds work, then we begin to notice that everyone else's mind works the exact same way. It isn't immediately apparent in life because we get so distracted by the stories, but once we just watch the mind and see how it all happens, there is just no longer any need to take things personally. That reaction of taking offense dissipates in the new awareness of both how hurtful intentions arise, and how our thinking causes our own suffering.

      There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.--Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act I, scene 5

      by Ooooh on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 07:19:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wise words, ooooh. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ooooh, nomandates, Glen The Plumber
        .... our thinking causes our own suffering.
        How many times I have experienced this and experienced others experiencing it!

        You've given me much to ponder here.

        Oh, and p.s. - it is so good to see you.

        Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it. --- Bob Dylan.

        by figbash on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 09:03:18 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  :-)) It's good to see you to figgy. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          figbash, nomandates, Glen The Plumber

          It really is amazing how we make ourselves suffer. I don't mean we choose to suffer, it is entirely unconscious of course, no one would choose to suffer. But we really do hold the key to happiness, if we only knew it.

          There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.--Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act I, scene 5

          by Ooooh on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 09:18:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Not completely to my point, but I think I (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ooooh, Glen The Plumber

        understand what you are saying.

        In my progressive tradition, standing up for those who are abused or exploited and who cannot or will not speak up for themselves is important. So what you may see as a "personal reaction to an offense" and what others may see as some sort of "ancient unhealed psychological wound" causing a specific reaction, I see as something quite different.

        Some things are morally wrong and some things are morally right without a lot of nuance.

        I suspect I would flunk the Lojong course.

        Words have meaning. Our words will reflect what is in our souls.

        by JanF on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 09:23:43 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Lojong practice is not about politics (3+ / 0-)

          It is about becoming familiar with the way your own mind works, the way it causes you to suffer, and then ultimately the way the collective human mind works the same way in everyone, causing collective suffering.

          Politics is only one of the infinite stories we get hung up on, when we see below the surface stories and understand the way the collective human mind works, it is then possible to really help reduce the suffering in the world. First we learn to reduce our own suffering by changing training our mind to think differently, and then we can offer more to the rest of the world both through our example of being non-reactive, and by actively helping reduce the suffering of others.

          There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.--Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act I, scene 5

          by Ooooh on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 09:38:56 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Being progressive is not always about politics (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Ooooh, Glen The Plumber

            either. Working for political change to make people's lives better is only one way we can show people we care about them. Sometimes simply showing people that we care that they are treated respectfully can make an impact on their lives.

            Also, if we have to wait until we ourselves are pain-free before we can help others, there will likely be no progress. I don't know anyone who does not have some sort of pain they are working through, whether emotional or physical. It is how we transcend the pain and reach out to help others who are suffering that defines us.

            I suspect that our "differences" are like those of the contemplative orders versus the active orders of religious people. We need those who sit quietly and pray for people to gain wisdom and we also need those who go out and feed the poor.

            Thank you for this thoughtful conversation, Ooooh.

            Words have meaning. Our words will reflect what is in our souls.

            by JanF on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 10:07:56 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Lojong practice is also not about being inactive (3+ / 0-)

              It is meant to use everything that arises in life as a method for awakening and learning to have compassion for ourselves and others; it is not a practice meant for sitting on the cushion. One thing that comes to mind in response to your thought about not waiting until we are pain free, is when the oxygen masks drop on an airplane, parents are advised to put their own mask on first before attending to their children. The truth is difficult situations and circumstances are never going to stop arising in life, there is no such thing as living a life without suffering, it is a part of life. Lojong is meant to help us work with the difficult parts of life, and to use them to grow in compassion. We can't stop bad things from happening, we can use them as fertile ground for learning compassion though.

              Lojong teaches us to have compassion for ourselves and our own imperfections as a way of learning to have compassion for others and their imperfections. And by doing so we can reduce our own and other peoples' suffering.

              I'll offer up this quote to explain what I mean about compassion because your use of the word and mine in this discussion are not the same:

              Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”---Pema Chodron
              Beyond that, I can say I have no interest in trying to defend Lojong or convince anyone about its "rightness." Lojong isn't a practice for everyone. Some time ago I read that Tibetan Buddhists did not share Lojong with everyone, it was saved for special students. I was appalled on reading that, but now I understand, not everyone is ready to loosen their grasp on certain concepts, and having the courage to loosen one's hold on certainty, and other concepts, is necessary in order to benefit from the practice. It does take courage to let go, once we step off the solid ground of certainty reality becomes like quick sand, there is nothing to grab on to.

              There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.--Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act I, scene 5

              by Ooooh on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 10:49:00 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  when i was a child (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Ooooh, Glen The Plumber

            and unhappy for some reason or other, my wise father often told me "just change your mind"

            at the time i thought i couldn't do it, but little did i know

            •  Wise grandfather (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Glen The Plumber

              It's funny how we think we just can't let go of certain ideas, and then when we finally do we wonder why we made it so difficult. Changing our minds is both the hardest and easiest thing to do.

              There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.--Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act I, scene 5

              by Ooooh on Sun Jul 22, 2012 at 06:47:07 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this thoughtful dairy, Ooooh. (9+ / 0-)

    I like the concepts of "watching the way our mind works" and of flattening the grooves.

    Introspection and open mindedness are good things.

    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others." --Groucho Marx

    by Dragon5616 on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 07:12:57 AM PDT

  •  I sometimes wonder if I can't find the answer... (7+ / 0-)

    because I don't understand...or know enough facts...but often realize...it is unknowable...this is a great diary...and I will ponder your words...I read...I learn.

    We are not broke, we are being robbed.

    by Glen The Plumber on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 07:19:48 AM PDT

  •  Excellent diary, (7+ / 0-)

    and especially well timed for my own personal needs (talk about taking things personally....).

    I've just finished reading the Dalai Lama's Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World. The notion of trying to change the way I think / respond to others' statements and actions seems almost impossible. But I'm going to try this as part of my spiritual (not religious) walk on the Camino de Santiago, beginning Sept. 3. I hope that age isn't a factor. ;)

    Being the single intellectual in a village of 1,100 souls ain't much fun, especially when 1,099 of those don't think you're all that smart.--Lucy Marsden

    by Miniaussiefan on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 07:39:37 AM PDT

    •  Thank you, and good luck on El Camino! (5+ / 0-)

      It's never too late to change the way we think. If you are interested in learning more about the practice, I recommend this book, it is a really quick read and won't interfere with your preparations for El Camino. But any of Pema Chodron's books on Lojong are great teachers.

      Again, I really wish you the best on your trek, are you doing a portion or the whole thing?

      There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.--Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act I, scene 5

      by Ooooh on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 07:51:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The whole thing, (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ooooh, Glen The Plumber

        or as much as the time I've allotted allows - Sept 3 - Oct 3. I'll start in St. Jean de Pied Port on the French side of the Pyrenees, then up and over, and onward. ;)  (And up a couple of more times after that further on.) I thought that I might not have a chance to do this again so I elected to try for the whole route, figuring to take transportation somewhere mid-Camino to make up some time.

        Thanks for the good wishes, and for the recommended reading.

        Being the single intellectual in a village of 1,100 souls ain't much fun, especially when 1,099 of those don't think you're all that smart.--Lucy Marsden

        by Miniaussiefan on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 10:15:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this insightful post. n/t (5+ / 0-)
  •  Very nice post, Ooooh, (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ooooh, slksfca, figbash, Glen The Plumber

    and nicer to see you this morning. Individual's with anxiety or previous trauma have difficulty living in the moment... encouraging this type of present experience would have the effect of working in the here and now and hanging on to it to the next here and now moment. Fitting diary in our tumultuous political climate and our personal lives so affected by the shaping of where we come from and where we think we are going... stop. It's hard to take in what other's have created for us at times; we must experience it and bring meaning to it.

    "Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass... it is about learning to dance in the rain." ~ Vivanne Grenne

    by remembrance on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 08:01:21 AM PDT

    •  One of the benefits of the practice (4+ / 0-)

      is it helps one to let go of anxiety. Worry is always out there in the future, learning to just be where we are helps us to relax with what is.

      Trauma, of course, is another story. But it too can be helped by the practice...it isn't a panacea, but it is surprising just how much relief a person can accomplish when their thinking becomes truly clear.

      There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.--Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act I, scene 5

      by Ooooh on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 08:14:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  A very interesting diary. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ooooh, Glen The Plumber

    Thank you. I hope you'll write more about this, maybe some more detail about the practice. I'd love to know more.

    Wear Your Love Like Heaven ~ Donovan

    by One Pissed Off Liberal on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 09:15:12 AM PDT

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