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Lions Roar : November 2013
powerful teaching “Start where you are.” Don’t be surprised if that starting point is one of aversion to the whole notion of ill- ness. That’s your cultural conditioning coming into play. If this happens, begin by acknowledging your aversion, without judg- ment. Recognize that due to past conditioning, you’ve never developed the skill of treating illness as a natural and normal part of life. Be aware, also, that the Buddha offered encouraging words about conditioning. He said that the mind is as soft and pliant as the balsam tree (something that modern neuroscien- tists are now confirming). This means that mental habits are not set in stone. The mind can be, in effect, reconditioned. The most effective way to begin loosening the grip of condi- tioning is to cultivate compassion for your unease and appre- hension. I recommend crafting phrases that speak directly to your suffering, then repeating them silently or softly to yourself. You might say, “It’s painful to feel uncomfortable about visiting a friend I care about so deeply” or “Sickness scares me but it’s not my fault.” With self-compassion at your side, now set your intention to be kind, compassionate, and generous and contact your friend. You might settle ahead of time on a sentence with which to open the conversation. This can ease any suffering that might arise from stressful thoughts such as “I have no idea what to say.” Pogrebin’s book can help you decide on a good first sentence: “It’s nice to see you,” or “I’m so sorry this has happened to you,” or “Tell me how I can help.” Having broken the ice with your rehearsed greeting, simply be present for your friend and let the interaction unfold. The Buddha suggested that the more you practice something, the easier it becomes. He said, “Whatever a person frequently thinks and ponders upon, that becomes the inclination of his mind.” I understand this to mean that every time your speech or action is motivated by a kind, compassionate, or generous inten- tion, your inclination to behave that way is strengthened. You’re planting a behavioral seed of kindness that with mindful attention to your intentions and diligent practice can grow into a habit. Yet keep in mind that in the fifth remembrance, the Buddha said that the only thing you control is your actions; he didn’t say you control the results of those actions. You may speak or act with the best of intentions and still not be well received. What should you do then? I recommend cultivating the evenness of temper and calmness of mind that characterize equanimity. To do this, recognize that you can’t control how a friend might react no matter how well intentioned you are. Life is a mixed bag; sometimes you’ll succeed in your efforts and sometimes you won’t. It’s that way for everyone. Then, with forgiveness and compassion in your heart for both you and your friend, try again. Shunryu Suzuki said that we can find perfect existence through imperfect existence. Look upon yourself as a perfectly imperfect “friend to a friend who is sick” and dive on in with a kind, compassionate, and generous intention—and with Pogre- bin’s book as a guide. Then you can rest in the peace of knowing you’ve done the best you can. ♦ scholarship. meditation. service 1119 SE Market Street | Portland, Oregon 97214 telephone: 503-235-2477 | email: