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Lions Roar : November 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2012 52 like a monarch—like a king or a queen. This means getting our own kingdom together, then on the basis of that strength, taking care of our subjects. The anal- ogy is, I work on myself and get my own life together so that I can benefit others. To the degree that I’m not triggered anymore, I can stay present and not close my mind and heart. Our motivation is to be there for other people more and more as the years go by. Parents get good training in this. Most moth- ers and fathers aspire to give their children a good life—one free of aggression or meanness. But then there’s the reality of how infuriating children can be. There’s the reality of losing your temper and yelling, the reality of being irritable, unreasonable, imma- ture. When we see the discrepancy between our good intentions and our actions, it motivates us to work with our minds, to work with our habitual reactions and our impatience. It motivates us to get better at knowing our triggers and refraining from acting out or repressing. We gladly work on ourselves in order to be more skillful and loving parents. People in the caring professions also get plenty of training in entering like a monarch. Maybe you want to work with homeless teenagers because you were once one yourself. Your desire is to make a differ- ence in even one person’s life, so they can feel that someone is there for them. Then before long, you find yourself so activated by the behavior of young people that you totally lose it and can’t be there for them anymore. At that point, you turn to meditation or to the first commitment to support you in being present and open to whatever presents itself, includ- ing feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, or shame. The next way to approach the warrior commitment is with the attitude of the ferryman. We cross the river in the company of all sentient beings—we open to our true nature together. Here the analogy is, My pain will become the stepping-stone for understanding the pain of others. Rather than our own suffering making us more self-absorbed, it becomes the means by which we genu- inely open to others’ suffering. A number of cancer survivors have told me that this attitude is what gave them the strength to go through the physical and psychological misery of che- motherapy. They couldn’t eat or drink because every- thing hurt too much. They had sores in their mouths. They were dehydrated. They had tremendous nau- sea. Then they received instruction in tonglen. Their world got bigger and bigger as they opened to all the other people who were experiencing the same physi- cal pain they were, as well as the loneliness, anger, and other emotional distress that goes along with it. Their pain became a stepping-stone to understanding the distress of others in the same boat. I remember one woman telling me, “It couldn’t have gotten any worse, so I had no problem breath- ing in and saying, ‘Since the pain is here anyway, may I take it in fully and completely with the wish that nobody else will have to feel like this.’ And I had no problem sending out relief.” It’s not as if your nausea goes away, she said. It’s not as if you can suddenly eat and drink. But the practice gives meaning to your suffering. Your attitude shifts. The feeling of resis- tance to the pain, the feeling of utter helplessness, and the feeling of hopelessness disappear. There’s no way to make a dreadful situation pretty. But we can use the pain of it to recognize our sameness with other people. Shantideva said that since all sen- tient beings suffer from strong, conflicting emotions, and all sentient beings get what they don’t want and can’t hold on to what they do want, and all sentient beings have physical distress, why am I making such a big deal about just me? Since we’re all in this together, why am I making such a big deal about myself? The attitude of the ferryman is that whatever usually drags us down and causes us to withdraw into ourselves is the stepping-stone for awakening our compassion and for contacting the vast, unbiased mind of the warrior. The third attitude is that of the shepherd and PHOTOBYCAROLINECOMMINS