Shooting the messenger? - How (not) to be a messenger for a 3,000 year old wisdom (Buddhism)
Yesterday I attended a talk given by a nun. It had a very intriguing title, but more than that I have been exploring and practising Buddhism for quite some time now, and it was a celebration to go there.
Sometimes you must learn more from what is not than from what is. That was the kind of evening it was for me.
So I wanted to take this opportunity to speak from my own experience and wisdom, which is very much drawing from the principles of Buddhism: to learn and grow to become your own boss your own therapist your own creator by using the wisdom you can extract from your very own experiences.
What struck me the most is the way the nun got angry at people’s questions and their responses to her answers. I mean, she really got angry. • There is never a wrong or stupid question - One of the most powerful tools for reaching wisdom in Buddhism is through exploration. Exploration is done by asking questions. Even if the question is not the most sophisticated, roundedly articulated or accurate it will always bring you closer to the wisdom you're seeking. Many people find it difficult to ask questions both in groups and with themselves. So we are not doing any service by belittling, dismissing or disproving someone else's question quality. We can offer guidance instead, tweak a question to help them have a better reach with their wisdom.
• Handling trauma and deep pain - One person asked ‘how does the Buddhist philosophy handle people who have experienced trauma?’. This is where I felt the nun’s answer to fall the shortest. I might add here that the majority of the talk focused on presenting Buddhism as cognitive psychology. Words like ‘techniques’, ‘methods’, ‘facts’, and many others borrowed from scientific jargon were used, and I felt - where is the heart? Can we give it a little bit of room? So the gist of the nun’s answer was ‘I speak to you, who came here and can take responsibility for yourself. I wouldn't speak like that to someone who cannot hear these words and this message about responsibility.’ Later on she also added ‘I might use my techniques to teach them how to meet their feelings. I know people who where abused in their childhood and don't feel traumatised and people whose their father shouted at them and feel traumatised.’ I do wonder if that woman really received her valuable answer to such a valuable question. Hearing the question, the memories of my beloved grandfather came to my mind. He experienced horrific abuse as a teenager captive in the ghettos of the Holocaust. Having been subjected to “medical” experimentation, his neurological system was bruised forever. Each night was a crossing through a tunnel of nightmare all the way to the end of his 84 years of age. Believe me when I say my grandfather didn't want to name his feelings and meet his feelings. Using what I have understood from my Buddhist journey I wanted to offer my grandfather something new. I offered him love. I offered him something that has the capacity to take him a little bit away from the pain. Maybe, really only maybe, with no expectations, he might have been carried by the love far away enough from the pain to where a different kind of conversation could start with the memories and the pain. I offered him something that has the capacity to heal. We were together in this love and he was not alone, he had someone to share himself with just as he is with whatever he brings to the table. That's what the Dharma taught me. If I had to choose, I would choose to drop all techniques and offer only love.
• Please leave your ego next to the shoes outside the door - One person asked ‘can you please give me practical advice on how to use the philosophy you are offering in everyday life?’ The nun’s response: ‘because everything I said so far is not practical?!??!!?!?!!!!’. Need I say more? Apparently so. Because I have seen that before in consultants, coaches and other professionals. If you have a valuable message, there’s no promise that other people will be ready, ripe or even interested in your message. They might genuinely not get you and will ask you again. You can experience that as a sign of interest and just offer your message in a new way, maybe this time it will go in.
• Buddhism is not trying to sell you anything - Now this is extremely important. And is utterly different from what is offered to people in the self-help movement. There is after all wisdom that has carried itself for 3000 years. No representative of Buddhism, the Dharma, meditation, was ever asked to sell that wisdom. It speaks for itself, and that is beautiful. Translating that wisdom into practical matters of business and life is a skill, a beautiful skill, and if done with alignment and loyalty to that core quality, then your business that grows from these roots will also carry itself. It's a great relief to not be always attacked by the need to buy or sell.
• Authority - has, Has, to grow with or through flexibility. Like a bamboo, like a tree in the wind, like a cat in a fall, like the one knowing what's hers can never be taken away from her. So often teachers, doctors, strategists use their knowledge as a mask to create a distance between you and them so when they meet something they haven't experienced before or haven’t understood yet they will use the “authority” as an armour against the threat of being perceived as lacking authority. How about this: ‘I don't know about what you are pointing to, but here is my experience and if it has in it anything of value to you you're welcome to freely take it and use it’. Being flexible enough to explore and experience, alone or together, is the basis of the Buddhist path.
• Fear, last but not least - I want to use here a beautiful story told by Pema Chödron: “Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.” When teachers speak clearly and slowly it serves a good purpose. If you are attacked by high-speed racing talk the chances for you to be able to contemplate on what is being offered to you through the words are quite low.
May your voice be carried with clarity and wisdom on the wings of love.
Painting: Ebba by Maggie Siner