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Lions Roar : March 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2013 42 While trying to avoid difficulty may be natural and understandable, it actually doesn’t work. We think it makes sense to protect ourselves from pain, but our self- protection ends up causing us deeper pain. We think we have to hold on to what we have, but our very holding on causes us to lose what we have. We’re attached to what we like and try to avoid what we don’t like, but we can’t keep the attractive object and we can’t avoid the unwanted object. So, counterintuitive though it may be, avoiding life’s difficulties is actually not the path of least resistance; it is a dangerous way to live. If you want to have a full and happy life, in good times and bad, you have to get used to the idea that facing misfortune squarely is better than trying to escape from it. This is not a matter of grimly focusing on life’s diffi- culties. It is simply the smoothest possible approach to happiness. Of course, when we can prevent difficulty, we do it. The world may be upside down, but we still have to live in this upside-down world, and we have to be practical on its terms. The teaching on transform- ing bad circumstances into the path doesn’t deny that. What it addresses is the underlying attitude of anxi- ety, fear, and narrow-mindedness that makes our lives unhappy, fearful, and small. Transforming bad circumstances into the path is associated with the practice of patience. There are six mind-training (lojong) slogans connected with this: Turn all mishaps into the path. Drive all blames into one. Be grateful to everyone. See confusion as buddha and practice emptiness. Do good, avoid evil, appreciate your lunacy, pray for help. Whatever you meet is the path. 1. Turn All Mishaps Into the Path The first slogan, Turn all mishaps into the path, sounds at first blush completely impossible. How would you do that? When things go alright we are cheerful—we feel good and have positive spiritual feelings—but as soon as bad things start happening, we get depressed, we 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. Yet, the slogan tells us, we can turn all of this into the path. We do that by practic- ing patience, my all-time favorite spiritual quality. Patience is the capacity to welcome difficulty when it comes, with a spirit of strength, endurance, forbearance, and dig- nity rather than fear, anxiety, and avoidance. None of us likes to be oppressed or defeated, yet if we can endure oppression and defeat with strength, without whining, we are ennobled by it. Patience makes this pos- sible. In our culture, we think of patience as passive and unglamorous; other quali- ties like love or compassion or insight are much more popular. But when tough times cause our love to fray into annoyance, our compassion to be overwhelmed by our fear, and our insight to evaporate, then patience begins to make sense. To me it is the most substantial, most serviceable, and most reli- able of all spiritual qualities. Without it, all other qualities are shaky. The practice of patience is simple enough. When difficulty arises, notice the obvious and not so obvious ways we try to