Jerks

Some people are just jerks. And we have to accept that.

In our lives, we will come across a multitude of people, some good, some bad, some indifferent. Realising that we have no control over how they behave, we come to the conclusion that the only thing we can control is how we in turn behave towards them. This is the true measure of our integrity.

In Zen philosophy, it’s often stated that everyone is perfect for where they are in their lives. Even if they are being a perfect jerk. What that essentially means is that we have to allow them to be a jerk, because we can’t really change them anyway. A person has to want to change themselves, and no one can do it for them. We might be able to perhaps point a finger in the direction we would wish them to go, hopefully in the direction of being less of a jerk, but in the end it’s up to them to do the walking. And it’s up to us to do the accepting that they may or may not take those steps.

jerkThis is awfully hard to do. Acceptance of the fact that some people are jerks, and that there is nothing we can do about it is tough. We’re so often coming across slogans and maxims such as “you can change the world” but really, all we can do is influence our own lives, work on our own behaviour, and if we’re lucky, some of that will ripple outwards into our community and into the wider stream of being. We can inspire others. But we can’t change other people, much as we would like.

We will come across jerks in our working life, in our home life, in all spheres of living. We will also come across some beautiful people, inspiring human beings that can help us to continue in our own journeys with a self-reflective quality that is not self-centred or self-obsessed. However, we often allow the jerks the most time, living and re-living our experiences with them over and over. We need to stop this cycle and focus on the important things.

It’s not easy, as I’ve said before. I do it, and have to consciously stop myself from doing it. I could have twenty lovely people support me and my work, and then have one work colleague who is a jerk about it. I can let that one person monopolise my thoughts, when they’ve been outnumbered twenty to one in real life. What I really should be doing is not seeking any external validation for the work I do, but hey, we’re all human and a little interaction and validation can go a long way. I suppose there’s a difference between support and validation, but that is another blog topic post!

I’ve had trouble with work colleagues: bullying, incompetence and outright lying just for starters. I’ve done all that I can in those situations that should have been done: reporting the problem, asking for assistance and calling people up on their actions. Some outcomes have been acceptable, some not, others just left unresolved. So what is one to do?  Just leave it? Let them be incompetent? Let them continue lying and deceiving others? Let them be jerks?

Well, yes.

Hard as it may seem, especially to someone who holds concepts of honour and integrity so highly, to allow others to be horrid, awful, wilfully mean or just plain inept is all a part of maintaining my own sanity. I do what I can in each situation, but at the end of the day I’ve done what I can, and it’s not in my hands anymore. Sometimes there will be a resolution that I agree with, but for the most part it won’t be satisfactory in the least.

This radiates outwards in all aspects of life. People will cut you off on the motorway. People will be rude to you down the phone. People will jump in front of you in line. People will take out their own troubles in life while you stand behind the counter wondering what you have done to deserve this. People will talk crap about you. People will say one thing and do another. And the only thing we can control is our own response to these situations.

Will we replay it again and again in our heads, allowing them all that time to make us angry, hurt or depressed? Or will we turn our thoughts to that which nourishes us, strengthens us, makes us want to share the inspiration that we’ve in turn been inspired by in the endless cycle and flow of awen?

The choice is yours. Just like it’s their choice whether to be a jerk or not.

Can we accept that?

 

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The Stoic Druid – Part Three

The ancient Stoics typically adopted the traditional four cardinal virtues of wisdom, justice, courage and self-discipline. The main goal of the Stoic is to live in accordance with nature, or live in accordance with virtue. In my work on the Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training Course I’ve been asked to think of examples, of people who inspire me in how they conduct themselves, in the way that they walk their talk. I’m also reminded of those people who I simply do not want to be, ruled by their shadow selves, causing destruction wherever they go.

Wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation, are the cardinal virtues in Stoicism, and their opposites are vices. Epictetus sums up the key Stoic indifferents as “health, wealth, and reputation”. Your status in society, your bank account, your reputation, all these are matters that are not entirely under your control. If they are not under your control, then they are indifferent. Indifferents also don’t necessarily contribute or detract from your happiness and well-being, from your peace of mind. Some may be preferential over others, such as being healthy, but ultimately even if we are ill, we are still able to live as well as we can, with the Stoic virtues of wisdom, justice, courage and self-discipline. If we are ruled by our reactions to that which is indifferent, then we will never progress, instead living reactionary lives, ruled by our shadows, making bad decisions, treating others unfairly, becoming fearful and lashing out with bad behaviour.

From the online site Stoic Ethics, we have it summed up here:

“The Stoics elaborated a detailed taxonomy of virtue, dividing virtue into four main types: wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation. Wisdom is subdivided into good sense, good calculation, quick-wittedness, discretion, and resourcefulness. Justice is subdivided into piety, honesty, equity, and fair dealing. Courage is subdivided into endurance, confidence, high-mindedness, cheerfulness, and industriousness. Moderation is subdivided into good discipline, seemliness, modesty, and self-control. Similarly, the Stoics divide vice into foolishness, injustice, cowardice, intemperance, and the rest. The Stoics further maintained that the virtues are inter-entailing and constitute a unity: to have one is to have them all. They held that the same virtuous mind is wise, just, courageous, and moderate. Thus, the virtuous person is disposed in a certain way with respect to each of the individual virtues. To support their doctrine of the unity of virtue, the Stoics offered an analogy: just as someone is both a poet and an orator and a general but is still one individual, so too the virtues are unified but apply to different spheres of action.”

This sits very well with my many years of studying Zen Buddhism. The notion of compassion is central to Zen Buddhism, and combined with the Western Stoic notion of virtue can make even more sense to the practitioner. I’m sure the Buddha would have loved to have had a chat with Marcus Aurelius, or Epictetus!

At some points in our lives, we will all be faced by difficult challenges. How we rise to these challenges is what defines us, morally, spiritually, ethically. Our actions may not always bring about peace. We may be required to call people to account for their actions, or to stand up for another. We may have to do things we would prefer not to, to be uncomfortable, to make unpopular choices. But in staying true to nature, to the virtues, and working with compassion we ennoble our hearts and our souls in the journey of a life well-lived.

In my studies, after now having defined what the above virtues mean, and applied them to my own life, I’m moving on to suspending value judgements and towards what the Buddhist would call Right View, albeit in a Stoic context. It will be interesting to see how these two philosophies overlap, and where they differ. It should also be interesting at this point in my life as well, where I am called to challenge bad behaviour and try to cease further suffering by making a stand in certain areas. After having spent the last couple of weeks defining my goals in Week Two, I’m now moving once again into a deep study of my thought processes, reactions and behaviour in Week Three. Self-monitoring is always a fun, and very useful, exercise. 🙂

Letting Go: Beware the Children of Anger

Letting go is truly a difficult thing to do, and yet seems so simple. Human beings, with their human consciousness, are just not that simple.

I’ve written before on how letting go is a process we have to repeat over and over again; it’s not a one-time event. We have to continually make the choice to let go, in order to truly live our lives in the present moment, in the here and now, emotionally responsible for ourselves and finding an ethically sound way of being in the world. I haven’t discussed the finer process of letting go, however, in any great detail and here are a few words from my own experience.

People are going to hurt us in one way or another, based upon expectations, behaviour, upbringing, environment and a whole host of factors that we simply have no control over. Our response to this is what is most important: our response-ability. When we have the ability to respond in a thoughtful, compassionate way then we are truly working to be a part of the world, a weave of the web that strengthens the whole.

Yet it is so hard to be compassionate when people deliberately hurt us, and sometimes even when it’s not deliberate but perhaps uncontrolled aggression from their past experience, current physical pain or more. But the ability to understand that there are more factors involved in any given situation that you are simply unable to perceive is at the heart of compassion. Compassion is a willingness to understand.

People have hurt me in the past, willingly and unwillingly. Colleagues and co-workers, lovers, strangers; there is no telling where the next experience will come from. However, noticing the stages that we go through when we are being hurt can help us on the path to letting go with an awareness that will allow us to not slip into the easy patterns of denial, whether that is of our own behaviour or that of others.

When we are hurt, usually our first response is anger. For most people, anger is something that time heals, though the length of time is relative to the person and their situation. Anger isn’t the most difficult thing to move through, as we can recognise anger much more easily than its children: pity being one of them. Often when we move through anger towards pity, we don’t know that we are still dealing with anger, with an abstract notion of the other person. Pity does not have empathy. Pity does not have anything to do with compasssion. Pity is the result of dualistic thinking, of an Us and Them mentality. We pity someone because we are separate from them. Pity is so often tinged with bitterness and anger that they are almost inseparable. When we have finished being angry with someone, we move on towards pitying them, in a passive/aggressive way of still attacking them. Pity the poor fool.

When we bypass pity through working around our anger, we find empathy instead, which holds no judgement of the individual.

Sometimes pity is replaced with its older sibling: contempt. We have been a victim of someone’s abuse, and though we realise we are no longer going to take their crap, we hold them in high contempt for putting us through that. They may have spent months trying to hurt us in various ways; we are so over that now and could they just get in with their own lives, please? So trapped in their little world, so lost…

Contempt is just as easy a trap to fall into as pity. Again, contempt has absolutely no compassion, no element of trying to understand involved in its process; it seeks only to make us feel better about ourselves. In the web of existence, we can’t just work on ourselves: we have to work on the whole.

We don’t have to stick around for further abuse, but we do have to be on our guard for feelings such as pity and contempt to flag up the fact that we haven’t actually moved on, we haven’t let go of our anger, we’ve only put a new hat on it and deceived ourselves with its shiny new appearance. When we find ourselves dancing with the feelings of contempt or pity, we can stop, untangle ourselves, bow and walk away, breathing into the wild winds of change. We know that we can choose our dance partners, and in that choosing find glorious freedom and self-expression. We know that we are part of an eco-system, part of a whole, where every part is acknowledged and sacred. The flows of the gods of humanity that we choose to dance with, however, it entirely up to us.

Rafting the currents of emotion

Tomorrow my students and colleagues gather round for our second weekend of Druid College in the lovely Essex countryside. During this first year, we are introducing and exploring the three realms of land, sea and sky, as well as sacred fire at the centre for the final weekend. This coming weekend, we move from the realm of the land to the realm of the sea.

A part of working with the realm of the sea is learning to work with emotions. As living creatures, we experience all sorts of things and transmute that experience into thoughts and memories, forming our worldview. We are creatures that feel, and feel very deeply, with a wide range of emotions. What I will be exploring with my students this weekend is the current of emotion that runs through humanity, and how we can better work in the world by rafting these currents with skill and compassion.

I’m sure we all know people whose emotions seem to rule their entire world: people who lead reactionary lives. If they are upset or experience any sort of negative emotion, they lash out, immediately trying to hurt another in response to a hurt that they have experienced themselves. This is a cycle that is self-perpetuating, but only if we engage with it. When we become actively involved in our emotions, rather than reactionary, we are better able to deal with situations that could otherwise cause harm both to ourselves and to others.

As Druids, we understand that we are part of a wider functioning of the world, that we are part of an eco-system. We know that in order for us to survive, we must work towards the benefit of the whole rather than just our own well-being and satisfaction. We must work together to create a cohesive, sustaining environment in which to live, and that will continue to ensure the survival of the whole. We know that there is no separation.

If we allow our emotions to rule us, we disassociate ourselves from this integrated perspective, and become self-centred in our point of view. Often it comes in the form of “saving face”, or seeking to undermine others, all the variants that our brilliant minds can come up with or order to justify bad behaviour. We are such intelligent creatures that we are able to delude ourselves in order for our egos to remain intact.

When we step away from this ego self-preservation in its abusive context, we are able to raft the currents of emotion with much better skill. We are not ruled by our emotions, but rather allow them to inform us of our experience in life, and then take the useful information and use it without prejudice in order to provide our lives with a balance and harmony that any healthy ecosystem enjoys. We know that this doesn’t mean that we don’t feel emotions, but rather we feel them even more deeply, because we are thinking about them as well as feeling them. We are able to put them into a context, seeing the reason why we do the things we do, and better able to understand others in the process. Even in the face of an emotional storm, we are able to see the situation more clearly, feel the emotion more deeply, and work towards a resolution that is not self-destructive or that perpetuates abuse in any shape or form.

It takes time, energy and skill to be able to do this, but the key component is compassion. When we see in others all that is negative in ourselves, we are able to understand and in understanding lies the heart of compassion. When we are able to see all that is positive in another being, we are inspired and in that inspiration lies the heart of the quest in Druidry: awen.

We think deeply, we feel deeply. Yet we are responsible for our actions, our behaviour. We take this responsibility very seriously, and work to stop destructive habits and emotions that threaten the wellbeing of the ecosystem in whatever shape or form it takes.

Being aware of your emotions is not something easily done. It’s so easy to think that we are self-aware, but even thinking that can be a delusion. What we can do is work to the best of our ability to be self-aware, and remember that the integration, the part of being a whole is at the heart of Druidry, enabling us to create long-lasting, deep sustainable relationships. We put aside our self-centredness and see the vast perception of a holistic worldview that is truly and deeply inspiring, allowing us a freedom that we never thought possible.

The Zen of Jeremy Corbyn

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18:  Jeremy Corbyn answers questions from the media outside King's Cross Station on August 18, 2015 in London, England. Jeremy Corbyn was launching his rail nationalisation plans today as action for Rail held protests at stations in England and Scotland against fare rises which has risen almost three times faster than wages over the past five years according to a new report.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 18: Jeremy Corbyn answers questions from the media outside King’s Cross Station on August 18, 2015 in London, England. Jeremy Corbyn was launching his rail nationalisation plans today as action for Rail held protests at stations in England and Scotland against fare rises which has risen almost three times faster than wages over the past five years according to a new report. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party in the UK, might not be the first thing someone would imagine when they think of Zen. However, this Islington resident shows us the way in focusing on important work, without letting the ego and the self get in the way, doing what is necessary without resorting to the usual slander and back-stabbing that is so prevalent in politics today.

The 66 year old has been an MP for Islington North since 1983. He has worked on the issues that matter to him with real dedication to the values that he holds dear, such as social equality, world peace and the end of nuclear weapons, just to name a few. He was able to get on with his work fairly inconspicuously, until he baffled his opponents in the leadership race and became the head of the Labour Party through his dedication to change politics, largely thanks to a grass-roots movement that supported him not unlike Justin Trudeau, the new Prime Minister of Canada who came out of “nowhere” (his party was third in the race and not predicted to win) recently to take the election by storm through voters who wanted change.

While Corbyn might not have the swooning good looks and charisma of Trudeau, they hold many things in common, including the dedication of their followers and supporters. This writer does indeed have a nerd crush on Corbyn, totally in love with his morals and ethics, his way of working. He is a Zen master, and here’s why.

In the face of public denigration by the Conservative party, who try to put Corbyn down any way they can through personal attacks, not once has Corbyn retaliated. Corbyn cares about the issues, not about his ego. He does the work and considers it important, without considering himself important. He works with the “I”, without letting the “Me” get in the way.

Even in the face out outright lies about his character, such as at the Cenotaph memorial story presented by the Conservative-backed “newspaper” The Sun, Corbyn has just gotten on with his work. In the Prime Minister’s Questions, when he is regularly personally attacked by the Prime Minister he simply reminds Cameron of the original questions, despite the boos, jeers and laughter from Cameron’s cronies. Corbyn presents the questions from the people, taking a personal step back to allow other voices to be “heard” (among the laughter and jeers from opposition in so called “civilised debate”). It’s not all about Corbyn, but about the people that he represents.

trudeau 2

Justin Trudeau

This is a real-life example of how we can live in the face of adversity with honour and integrity. Not once has Corbyn resorted to mud-slinging in retaliation to anything thrown at him. He responds with pushing forward the issues that need attention, and doing his job to the best of his ability. We can be inspired by his behaviour in order to make the world a better place. When someone is trying to take us down, we can take a step back from our egos and focus on what really matters, instead of throwing insults back and forth across some imaginary playground. When all the playground bullies can do is insult the person, not the agenda, then it becomes clear who is in the right and who is in the wrong. We’ve seen time and again how Conservative media is trying to portray Corbyn in a bad light, and we can see the desperation behind that because they’ve got nothing on him (similar to Trudeau and the Conservatives’ campaign against him: “nice hair though“). We don’t spend all our energy defending our fragile ego, but instead doing the work without letting it get in the way.

When we’re suffering the slings and arrows of those who are trying to undermine and attack us, we can let it go and focus on what’s important. What is important is the work that we are doing and the way that we live our lives. When we are able to let go of a self-centred point of view, with the “me” being all-consuming, then we broaden our perspective to encompass everyone and everything. This is compassion in its truest form.

Let the haters hate. Do the work, be true to yourself and see with the eyes of compassion. This is what makes Jeremy Corbyn Zen.

Karma – It’s not about what we do…

This is a brilliant article by Culadasa and Matthew Immergut on the nature of Karma, what it is and isn’t in relation to the Buddha’s teachings: specifically, the teaching of “no self”.  Click HERE for the full article.

Karma: that word that gets thrown around a lot.

People talk about “good” karma versus “bad” karma, or “your” karma versus “mine.”

But despite the term’s popularity, it seems like everybody has a different idea about what it actually means. If karma is truly one of the Buddha’s most important teachings, as he himself repeatedly emphasized, then to follow in his footsteps, we need to be clear about its definition.

The Problems with “Agricultural” Karma

Probably one of the most popular misunderstandings about Buddhist Karma is the idea that everything that happens to us is our karma. If we win the lottery or have an attractive partner, it’s because we performed good deeds in the past—we have “good” karma. If we get hit by a truck or our partner cheats on us, it’s because we misbehaved and have “bad” karma. And, of course, what we do now will determine our future results. Let’s just call this the agricultural view of karma: we reap what we sow.

So, what’s wrong with this idea? Well, whether we’re Buddhist or not, it creates lots of intellectual problems.

READ MORE…

Choosing your battles

We often spend so much of our energy needlessly. Disputes, arguments, feuds, grudges, long-held anger and frustration are just some examples. We need to choose our battles wisely, for they are not all worth fighting.

Sometimes there is nothing we can do. When faced with ignorance or denial, we are often facing an impassable wall upon which we can either hurl ourselves time and again, or simply shrug and walk away. It is not our duty to make the ignorant wise, or to force someone into changing their mind. That can only change from within. Our energy is a precious resource that must be used wisely. There are many fights that are worthy of our time, but we don’t have to attend every argument that we are invited to.

Think about the energy used in holding a grudge against someone, for a few days, a few weeks, a few months or a few years. How could that energy have been better spent? How much energy is involved in a family feud, from all sides involved? How much time is wasted arguing on social media, trying to prove your point and making a stranger change their mind? How much energy is spent talking behind people’s backs, trying to get people “on your side”? Is it really worth it?

Even if it’s something you truly believe in, proselytising the issue doesn’t really do much. In fact, it can even have the adverse effect of pushing away those who are either in agreement or disagreement: they’re simply tired of the hearing of your message over and over again. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have opinions, and that we shouldn’t share them, but when we spend so much energy shouting into empty space then maybe it’s time to rethink the situation.

People fall out with each other over the silliest of things sometimes. Letting ego get in the way, they don’t want to listen to anyone’s version of events other than their own. To do so would compromise their reality, the story that they have told of themselves. People often don’t want to change their story, for it may put them in an unflattering light. We have to evaluate the situation and say, “Right. I can offer my version of events, I can try to communicate with compassion, but I will only spend X amount of time of this. I’m not here to change anyone, because I know that true change must come from within. I can walk away at any time, for there are no “winners” or “losers” in this situation, only wasted time”. When we set these parameters, we can work with others without losing our minds.

People are going to behave in any number of ways. We can’t change their behaviour. What we can change is our response to their bad behaviour. We can let them know that we do not approve, and then we can walk away, wishing them well and focusing on the things that really matter in our own lives. Let it go. Walking away is not losing. It is opening up a new path for you to find better things to spend your time on.

I have seen ridiculous grudge matches and people trying to save face on all manner of social media. I have known families who don’t talk to each other for reasons which are entirely inaccurate, the transgression being entirely made up in their own heads. I have seen people treat others very poorly in face to face interactions. We need to find the balance point between standing up for ourselves and learning when we are expending energy needlessly.

Some battles are worth fighting for. We just need to have the right goals in mind when we are fighting. If we are trying to change all our friends’ eating habits to match ours because we are vegan, what really is our agenda here? Instead of spending time arguing or posting social media comments about it, why not spend time volunteering at an animal shelter if your ultimate goal is to help ease the suffering of other animals? If we are spending time trying to undermine someone’s work or persona, what is the real agenda there? Why would we want to do that? Wouldn’t the time be better spent focusing on yourself? Blowing out someone’s candle does not make yours burn any brighter. If we refuse to speak to a family member because they did something wrong in the past, shouldn’t we look to our own lives and remember the ways that we too have failed or wronged someone? These are only a few examples, and some may be rather simplistic. They all have multiple ways of dealing with the issue at hand.  What matters most is our intention.

We don’t have to put up with anyone’s crap, if you’ll pardon my vernacular. But we don’t have to start slinging our own either. Either way, you’ll just end up with a stink in the air.

I’ve walked away from people and situations in order to focus on what really matters. Even when I was totally “right”. It has saved me a lot of time and trouble. I could have spent months trying to change other people’s minds, but instead I worked on what really matters to me. I can say with all honesty that the energy was well spent, and the outcome even more positive than I had dreamt of in terms of benefiting myself and my work/goals/life. I can’t change other people, they’ll do what they will do, with their own demons to fight, their own achievements and successes to encourage them. I have to live my life, not try to please or fit into theirs. I can walk away into better experiences.

Choose your battles wisely. This present moment is what really matters. Live it, instead of losing yourself in a battle that doesn’t or shouldn’t even exist. Life has difficulties enough already. Be kind, be compassionate and be mindful. You may find the battles beginning to lessen, and a peace of mind settling deep within. Enjoy that, for that is what life is all about.