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Lions Roar : May 2018
to be itself my “I” must assert itself against another who is asserting itself against me. So self naturally assumes an aggres- sive or defensive crouch, with little room for ease. Self is an inherently painful illusion. So the Buddha taught. This explains why people are often difficult. If you are in constant need of safety, and must scan the world for threats and slights, you are going to find yourself in conflict a lot of the time. Conflict isn’t abnormal, it’s not a failure: it’s the rule. And it’s almost always the case that though people in conflict think they are fighting about this or that, actually they are fighting over identity, over each one’s right to be who they are, and the need to justify that right, against the claims of another. So-called difficult people are bothered nearly all the time with some hurt, some wound, that tells them it’s not okay to be as and who they are. And yet they are as they are. Rather than trying to cope with their own suffering (which feels too overwhelming to approach) they lash out, which makes dealing with them nearly impossible. Whatever you do will be wrong. If you accommodate, they take advantage. If you resist, it only fuels their attack. It’s a trap to think that some- how, despite their recriminations, it’s your fault. It’s also a trap to think the fault is theirs: in fact, they have not really chosen to be that way. The biggest trap of all is to think you can do something to change them. There’s only one option: to understand and appreciate why they are as they are. And when you can do that you can love them anyway. And then they will be less difficult, or, at least, will appear less difficult to you. This is not as impossible to accomplish as it might seem, because you are also a difficult person! All of us are at times defensive or aggressive when we feel threatened. The feeling we have at those times is unpleasant and does not bring out the best in us. So, we have incentive to deal with it. If, with the aid of meditation practice, some good teaching, and intentional training, we study ourselves closely, we will come to understand others too. When we humbly appreciate why we are as we are, we will appreciate why the difficult person is as they are. Like us, they’re subject to their conditioning. When they manifest difficult behavior, they are not happy people. Knowing this helps us forgive them, at least a little. Then we can appreciate Shantideva’s great teaching that difficult people are precious treasures, rare individuals who force us to develop the wis- dom and compassion we need to find some peace and stabil- ity in this troubled world. ZOKETSU NORMAN FISCHER is a writer, poet, and founder of the Everyday Zen Foundation. How to Hold Your Seat PEMA CHÖDRÖN shares four practical methods for keeping your cool when difficult people are at their worst. The practice of “holding your seat” is one of the most important ways to work with difficult people and circum- stances. Holding your seat means maintaining your stability, equanimity, and sense of self in the face of provocation, without giving in to reactivity or unskillful anger. If you try to practice this, you will find very quickly that it is not so easy. Often, before you know it, someone has pro- voked you and either directly or indirectly, you’ve let them have it. Therefore, when our intention is sincere but the going gets rough, most of us could use some help. These four methods for holding your seat, which come to us from the Kadampa masters of eleventh-century Tibet, provide just such support for developing the patience to stay open to what’s happening, instead of acting on automatic pilot. 1. Don’t Set Up the Target for the Arrow If you have not set up the target it cannot be hit by an arrow. This is to say that each time you retaliate with words and actions that hurt, you are strengthening the habit of anger. LION’S ROAR | MAY 2018 53