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Lions Roar : Nov 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2007 33 Talk Radio The country is awash in wrong speech, political style. Divisive, infuriating, and often wrong, it’s a perfect contemplation for SYLVIA BOORSTEIN. MY FRIEND TONY HAS BEEN TELLING ME about his habit of using his driving time to listen to call-in talk shows on his car radio. He particularly chooses those that present polarized, confron- tational viewpoints and encourage combative responses. Tony says it helps him cultivate equanimity. I, on the other hand, often turn off my radio when a politician with whom I strongly disagree begins to speak. For one thing, I am unnerved by derision, and political state- ments often include hostile statements about “the other side.” Even more upsetting to me are my feelings that the truth is being misrep- resented and that I am powerless to make a difference. In my clearer moments, though, I realize that feeling powerless is a derivative of confusion. There is always something I can do to reestablish in my mind a sense of caring connection that would be, at the least, a con- solation to me. It all seems to depend on noticing that I’ve become frightened, and then figuring out how to calm down. I often think of the advice of Shantideva, the sixth-century Bud- dhist commentator. In the chapter on patience in A Guide to the Bodhisatva’s Way of Life, he offers techniques for counteracting the anger that instinctively arises when the mind is startled. (In this case, I am broadening Shantideva’s example from the personal, “If you hear that someone makes a statement that you feel defames you...” to the communal, “If someone makes a statement that you consider false and potentially hurtful to many people...”) Reflect, Shantideva suggests, on whether or not there is any truth in what is being said, anything that can be learned. If so, he says, it could be useful to you. Most important to me is Shantideva’s reminder that I have the power, even if the information is false, to not take it personally. I do not need to respond as if I have been attacked. For me, the key word in Shantideva’s advice is “reflect.” If I reflect, if with discriminating attention I consider what is being said, I can decide on an appropriate response and bypass the confusing trap of anger. Well, maybe I can. I’m working on it. My current initial response to the startle of hearing something and thinking, “That’s not true!” is trying to remember that everyone’s reality, including mine, is based on limited information. No matter how fervently I hold a particular view to be true, it is still just a view. I say to myself: I could be wrong. (“Probably not,” I immediately think, “but maybe...”) I might learn something valuable from listening to other peo- ple’s views. (My responses would, perhaps, be better informed.) Anger clouds my mind. (This is always true.) I can’t listen carefully while I’m mad. Since this person, whose view is different from mine, wants tobehappyasmuchasIdo,Idonotneedtoseethemas“my enemy.” If I do, I’ll create a war in my mind, and I’ll suffer. (This piece of advice is the most difficult for me to follow, but His Holi- ness the Dalai Lama repeats it often, which always inspires me.) And, perhaps most important of all: I am not really powerless. In addition to reestablishing good- will in my mind, there are things I can do in the world—writing letters to newspapers, signing petitions, voting—all of which I’ll do better if my mind is not inflamed. Many years ago, early in my meditation practice, I heard my teacher Joseph Goldstein say, “I am practicing so that I will have a clearer view of suffering.” I would say, now, that I am motivated by the same intention. My goal is maintaining the understand- ing that things are the way they are because of everything that has ever happened. The suffering in me, and the suffering in the world, are the consequences of confusion. What I do, and what everyone else does, determines the future. This is the wisdom that keeps me engaged in my life in a way that feels meaningful. I’m glad to know about Tony’s habit, although I have not made it mine. It clarifies for me the difference between a practice and a technique. Practitioners of the dharma, by definition, practice developing wisdom on behalf of compassion. Each of us finds techniques that suit our temperaments and nervous systems. My friend Mary says the important technique question to ask one- self, or anyone else, is, “What do I (or you) hope to accomplish?” And the follow-up question, “Is it working?” ♦ SYLVIA BOORSTEIN is a psychotherapist, author, wife, grandmother, and cofounding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. Her new book, Happiness Is an Inside Job, will be published by Ballantine in January. ILLUSTRATIONBYMISSYCHIMOVITZ NOV 18-39.indd 33 NOV 18-39.indd 33 8/30/07 3:16:46 PM 8/30/07 3:16:46 PM