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Thread: 10/19 - Practicing with Relationships p.82

  1. #1

    10/19 - Practicing with Relationships p.82

    A very good place to Practice ...

  2. #2
    Hi, all.
    I finally got caught up with the group on the reading list . . . I recently read a book called The Wild, White Goose by Jiyu Kennett Roshi. It is a chronicle of her experiences in Japanese Zen in the middle of the 20th century. One of the points she makes early is that the idealized, peaceful image many folks have about monastic life is mostly wrong. The world she writes of is a kind or pressure-cooker that amplifies the normal day-to-day irritations and battles that we all go through daily. Anyway, to come back to Beck's book, I think that living with another person is similar in that it amplifies aspects of human interaction that we might be able to avoid if we were solitary.
    I particularly identified with the idea that relationships serve as mirrors for looking at our self/no-self. I see from the interactions with my wife and children where my ideas (and ideals) about who I am differ from the reality of who I am in action. Zazen has helped me put a brake in between circumstance and reacting so that I am a bit better (a small bit!) at catching myself before I allow impatience or anger to grow from a simple emotion to an angry plan of action. Life simply moves, it is my attitude toward it that determines if I am miserable or not.

    Looking forward to participating in the book club form here on,

    Bill

  3. #3
    Sometimes I feel this books reads like an advertisement for sitting zazen. I mean: I know it is good for me, otherwise I would not be reading this book! Maybe this is because it are actually talks that are not meant to be read all at once.

    The subject of this chapter resonated with me a lot. I sometimes say that having a child (and being a stay at home mom) IS my spiritual practice nowadays.

    What I find interesting is that I noticed that my reactions to behaviour are completely different depending on the person. When my daughter was a toddler and peeled her first tangerine, I was so proud! Look at her, she peeled a tangerine all by herself! And I kindly threw away the peels in the garbage. Now that she is four, I start to get a little irritated when she does not throw away the peel. And if my husband would leave the peel on the table AGAIN (I totally made up this example), I would get even more irritated. On the other hand, if a visitor left tangerine peel somewhere in my house, I would just assume that they forgot to throw it away or did not think about it, and I would throw it away without irritation. The situation is exactly the same (there is tangerine peel on the table) but my reactions are totally different.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill
    Life simply moves, it is my attitude toward it that determines if I am miserable or not.
    That reminds me of stories I read from peope in super conservative communities. I was very surprised at how different your life is, if divorce simply is not an option. Some of these women had arranged marriages and they were happy, just because they decided to be happy. They did not get irritated with their husband's irritating tendencies, because they knew that this was what it was. Of course this becomes very different if there is abuse - but it worked very well for normal irritations.

    Best regards, Helena (also starting the book club today)

  4. #4
    You know, this discussion is making me look at Joko's book a lot more carefully and I am finding myself being more critical of it. For instance, the idea that the other person in a relationship holds up a mirror of ourselves, is to me, suspect. Why would their view of me be any better than my own? I think we have to see and work with own faults, not someone else's idea of what they are. Of course, in a relationship, our reactions to the other person will give us plenty to work on. But I think life provides this material in plenty of other ways. And you could have an abusive partner who keeps pointing out your faults. Is facing that negativity daily a good practice for us?

    I am not even sure that being in a relationship is all that much better than being single. Being single also has its pressures. You are often, especially women, treated as a social misfit, and you miss out on the encouragement and support of a partner.

    Gassho,
    John

  5. #5
    Hi, John.
    We may be interpreting things a bit differently. The way I understand it, the mirroring is done not by the other person's actions or words toward us, but by the simple act of being in close proximity to another person with whom we have to get along. Their opinion of us is irrelevant. Familiarity breeds contempt--but in mindfulness that contempt can be transformed (at least on our end of the equation) into a tool for viewing self/no-self.
    Of course, the exceptions are instances of abuse, but exceptions are just that, exceptions. For most of us, having to get along with other people on a day-to-day basis is a good way to practice. People are part of life, if we can't practice while being with others, our practice would seem to be almost useless. But, I may be interpreting her incorrectly.

    I am not even sure that being in a relationship is all that much better than being single. Being single also has its pressures. You are often, especially women, treated as a social misfit, and you miss out on the encouragement and support of a partner.
    I agree with you. But, I think her point is not that practicing in a relationship is better, it is simply another way to practice. My feeling is that she is pulling apart daily life into as many common experiences as she can so that by the end of the book we understand her primary thesis that Zen is about everything in our lives, not just the cushion.

    The alienation of being single is a great koan of sorts. So is being a father. So is going to the bathroom. So is slipping and falling.

    I'm going on and on now, and I hope this doesn't sound argumentative because that is not my intent.

    My best and thanks for the post,
    Bill

  6. #6
    I agree with you Bill, and as Helena pointed out, it’s more about our own reactions to a person than the faults the other person has. Our reactions to others hopefully slowly change for the better . I guess we have to see through our habituated patterns before we can shift them through our practice. At least we can make ourselves easier to live with. Perhaps what Joko is mainly trying to do in this chapter is to disabuse us of the conditioned notion that most of us seem to have, especially when we are young, that when we meet our Mr/Mrs Right, our ideal partner, then all our problems will be solved and we will live in marital bliss and harmony for the rest of our lives. We need a better way of dealing with the fading of this illusion than just running to the divorce courts,

    I like the way Joko uses practical examples to demonstrate how Zen practice can be used in ordinary life and I suppose we shouldn’t take the examples too literally (as I think I was doing in my last post),


    Gassho,
    John

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by John
    Perhaps what Joko is mainly trying to do in this chapter is to disabuse us of the conditioned notion that most of us seem to have, especially when we are young, that when we meet our Mr/Mrs Right, our ideal partner, then all our problems will be solved and we will live in marital bliss and harmony for the rest of our lives.
    Good point. I encounter many college students especially who have this idealistic and selfish idea of who a partner should be. They spend so much time in the "if only . . ." world that they miss out on the real relationships they could cultivate.

    Bill

  8. #8
    Issues with other people and our relationships with them often boil down to our expectations, we expect people to act the way we would act, or to do what we would like them to do. . . but guess what? They don't because they are not us, they have their own free will, drats huh?

    I try to remember this when I find myself being upset at another person, easier said than done!

    I think I'm still the same asshole I've always been, just that now due to my practice I see myself for what I am, lol. Sometimes I even catch myself quicker. . . even occasionally I'll catch myself before I act out, but I'll chalk that up luck alone and not any merit on my part.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Gregor
    Issues with other people and our relationships with them often boil down to our expectations, we expect people to act the way we would act, or to do what we would like them to do. . . but guess what? They don't because they are not us, they have their own free will, drats huh?
    That's a very interesting point Gregor. I wonder why we have all these expectations of others? It might be a way of trying to predict and control the future by reducing people to stereotypes that we think we can manipulate to our own advantage? The problem is that we kind of 'freeze' people by assigning a limiting minimum of character and behavioral patterns to them. It's no wonder we are surprised when they rebel against that!

    I suppose what we need to do is to practice not having any expectations at all -- to remain open and sensitive to others and treat them as the impermanent changing beings that they are.

    I think we also need to apply this to ourselves. we shouldn't really have such high expectations of ourselves because we are often depressed when we don't fulfil them. And it's probably our own egocentricity that often causes us problems by making us so self-centred, unaware and insensitive to others and thereby projecting unrealistic expectations onto them,

    Sorry for rabbiting on so much, but I find this subject interesting,

    Gassho,
    John

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by DontKnow
    We may be interpreting things a bit differently. The way I understand it, the mirroring is done not by the other person's actions or words toward us, but by the simple act of being in close proximity to another person with whom we have to get along.
    I agree with everything you say. I like to see myself as a peaceful, friendly and loving person. But there have been times when this was SO HARD! When my daughter would not leave my sight for even thirty seconds, when I could not go to the bathroom alone. There were times that simply taking a shower, all by myself, felt like the best thing in the world. But that was hard, because I did not want to be the person that wanted to get away from her child. I wanted to be the kind of person that always smiles, always is friendly and patient and understanding. Of course, that is unrealistic. And I think these kinds of situations are the things Joko meant, in this chapter. It is, in any case, what I meant when I said that having a child was my spiritual practice. I learned so much about myself, just by being there for her every moment. But I would not for a moment say that having children is "better" than not having children. I am in agreement with Bill about this. The world is everybody's teacher. John is right that being single can have its own unique challenges.

    I think my main gripe with this chapter is that it is too easy to say that all relationship problems stem from the other person being different than you expect them to be. In a way, I really understand this and I agree with it. Even though I am aware of this problem, I still notice it often in myself. For example: I made a delicious meal from a new recipe. We have dinner and my husband says nothing. I ask if he likes it. He says "Oh, it's okay". My daughter complains that there are pieces of things that she does not recognize and refuses to eat anything. I love the food. I get irritated because I have this fantasy of this idyllic family that sits together, eats and enjoys wholesome meals and thanks the cook, or something. Obviously it is useless to become upset (even if it is just a little bit) about my family not living up to my fantasies and almost letting that irritation ruin a wonderful meal. There are many examples like this in my day, and I think I am already happier for recognizing it.

    But what if the issues are more serious? I am not convinced that all relationship issues are solvable by changing your expectations. Surely Buddhism does not teach us to be doormats, for example? What I saw quite often in parenting forums were mothers who complained about their husbands not changing a thing in their lives, whereas their lives completely turned around after having a child. Sometimes, the husband would go out for beer with his friends every day. He would come home drunk or almost drunk, insist on sex, which was the last thing on the mind of the wife, after having a baby attached to her the entire day. The husband would not change a diaper or feed the baby ("Hey, my job puts food on the table, you put it in his mouth"). I understand that this is a one sided account of a situation, but I just wanted an example of a situation, that, if you take it at face value, seems unacceptable to me. Sure, the woman can change her expectations while keeping her boundaries, and realize that no relationship is perfect, that things will change, etc. But still...

    Quote Originally Posted by John
    I think we also need to apply this to ourselves. we shouldn't really have such high expectations of ourselves because we are often depressed when we don't fulfil them.
    I totally agree with this.

    Sorry this got so long. This subject is interesting to me as well.

  11. #11
    Hi Folks,

    I can relate to much of what everyone has written here about relationships; much has "touched home." Thank you. So, I don't really have much to add but I wanted to post before we switch to the next chapter.

    What I find interesting in Joko's book, and in many others, is the idea that so few people actually practice Zen. Many read but not many practice. I was like this for 15 years, and sometimes I still am. Brad Warner talks about how so many people read his books and email him, but so few actually sit with his group (granted, not everyone lives in his area but the point is well taken). Joko consistently writes about how difficult it all is and how it takes a lifetime, and how those moments when "openness meets openness" are so rare, etc. Is it any wonder why so few practice? If this was the first Zen book that I ever read, I'm not sure that it would have inspired me to practice. This isn't a criticism of Joko or her book. I appreciate her directness and honestly; I'm simply making an observation.

    I do believe it is our ego/self-centeredness, the fact that we're very busy and tired, and sometimes our just plain laziness that get in our way. There's a lot to cut through to finally get our butts down on the cushion. I know it was, and sometimes still is, for me.

    Gassho,
    Keith

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by helena
    Quote Originally Posted by DontKnow

    But what if the issues are more serious? I am not convinced that all relationship issues are solvable by changing your expectations. Surely Buddhism does not teach us to be doormats, for example? What I saw quite often in parenting forums were mothers who complained about their husbands not changing a thing in their lives, whereas their lives completely turned around after having a child. Sometimes, the husband would go out for beer with his friends every day. He would come home drunk or almost drunk, insist on sex, which was the last thing on the mind of the wife, after having a baby attached to her the entire day. The husband would not change a diaper or feed the baby ("Hey, my job puts food on the table, you put it in his mouth"). I understand that this is a one sided account of a situation, but I just wanted an example of a situation, that, if you take it at face value, seems unacceptable to me. Sure, the woman can change her expectations while keeping her boundaries, and realize that no relationship is perfect, that things will change, etc. But still...
    This is a quote from Ordinary Mind zendo:
    About Relationships

    ……Joko pretty much summed up her attitude about this in her first book saying "relationships don't work". It was a talk that stirred up a lot of controversy for people. In a way she was deliberately trying to define a certain one sided perspective that basically brings an attitude of no gain to relationships. She was looking at all the ways relationships would go awry when people want it treated as an antidote to their problems, saying: if only I weren't alone, if only he was more this way and she was more supportive or he would stop drinking. For Joko that kind of thinking about relationships meant always externalizing the problem, always assuming the thing that's going to change your life is outside yourself and in another person. If only they would get their act together, then life would go the way I want it. Joko always wanted to bring people back to their own fear and insecurity, their own uncertainty. They are ours to practice with, and we can't ask anyone else including a teacher, to do that work for us. To be in a real relationship, a loving relationship, is simply to be willing to respond and be there for the other person without the notion about what am I going to get out of it. It was a kind of model of selfless responsiveness or giving that defines a certain picture of practice where we just give and give and give.

    The problem was that lots of people would come to her and say I have been in lots of relationships where I would give and give and give, and for them it wasn't enlightenment, it was masochism, and I think what was one sided about her original account was that she didn't give a good description of what relationships are actually for - what the good part was. Maybe some of that comes from the fact if you talk to a 75 or 80 year old woman, you're going to get a different kind of perspective about relationship than if you ask someone half that age……
    http://www.ordinarymind.com/dharma_talks_frameset.html

    Gassho,
    John

  13. #13
    Hi everyone,

    I’m running a bit behind schedule this week as well, but also wanted to express my thanks for all of your insights. In my case, being married is definitely beneficial for my practice -- as well as being a continual test of it’s genuineness, especially since my wife is not a Buddhist. She is supportive, but also critical of my practice, which means there’s no room for me to entertain fantasies about what a good Buddhist I am or would like to be if it’s not the real thing. If my practice doesn’t manifest itself in my day to day life, someone's always there to remind me of it. :wink:

    Gassho
    Kenneth

  14. #14

    relationships

    Hellos to all:
    I found my book!! I have some catching up to do...and a lot of reading. Rather than comment on others' remarks here, I'll just give my response to this chapter.

    For me, the pivot, the fulcum is Joko's statement:
    "Only people of intelligence, energy, and patience will find that still point on which the universe turns."

    This statement reinforces for me Nishijima Roshi's clarification that buddhism is not a philosophy of idealism, or materialism, but a philosophy of action. Intelligence, energy, and patience are not static states. These are living actions, activities, much as zazen is an activity, not a passivity.

    These actions are relationship simplified in most elementary forms, in primary colors.
    It is a living state: relationship is not a 'thing' but a living activity in constant motion.
    It is ceaseless, this shaving the inside of the head of the 'stuff' (habituated 'thought') that 'grows' there. We keep a 'central casting office' around and constantly put others into roles 'good guy,' 'bad guy,' 'put upon housewife,' 'alienated husband,' 'n'er do well,' 'busybody,' roles are a form of shorthand for proscribed (read that 'scripted') interactions, and are not relationship.
    Roles make it 'easy' as we all encounter each other, but they also make it less real--we are acting, responding 'as if' someone is the role we have assigned them, or categorized them to be. Everywhere you look this is constantly done--we didn't 'invent' this method of approach to others, we were born into it, society reinforces it, culture endoctrinates us into it...To cast it aside is quite the trick.*
    It is very unsettling to others to not have a box to put you in. It is unsettling when you don't have a category handy for someone. It is freeing, and consequently threatening.

    It is confusing to see a person who is out of bounds, and within bounds at the same time. Kind of like a zen teacher (at least ones I've expereinced), you might say: completely unbound by rules, yet from their behavior, it appears they follow rules.
    To be in relationship to someone like this couldn't be easier, but it is not easy (however I don't think it's any more painful than being in a relationship with people following assigned roles, either). Most people like to cherry pick: they like it when it is easy, going their way--they don't like it when it's not easy.
    The difference for those who practice zen is that they don't get particularly jazzed about what's 'easy' and don't get particularly jangled when things get 'hard.'
    You slave all day to bake them a cake on their birthday, they're happy. You buy them a store-bought cake, they're happy. You forget it was their birthday, they're happy. How exasperating--their happiness is not increased/decreased by anything you do! They get a flat tire, the bus won't stop for them, they get soaked in the rain waiting for the next one--they don't seem particularly fazed--a cup of hot tea, a hot soak in the bath, there they are happy! Their schedule is all screwed up for the next day because of the car out there in the rain with it's flat tire, but they aren't turned all inside out about it. How odd--their happiness/unhappiness is not increased/decreased by circumstances that happen to them!)
    What is wrong with these people?
    Partners can have a very difficult time with folks like this. They don't make any sense--and then, just when you think you've got them 'pegged' they DO get upset when you've forgotten something and they DO get pissed at circumstances. I mean, why at this and not at that or those other things? What's this all-too-human stuff coming up now for, when it hasn't all the other times you would have expected it?
    What is wrong with these people?
    Partner's claim they want someone who is 'normal.' They may even leave. They may even come back--they've gotten a taste of this freely flowing alive stuff--they've gotten a taste of 'secondhand zen' (maybe like secondhand smoke?) and they can't name it, put a finger on it, but it is something they've come to appreciate. (No matter that while in your company they vilified it.)
    At least this has been part of my experience.

    I've had a number of partners. It seems that the very aspects of my nature/personality which caught their eye, caught their fancy in the beginning, were the very things they couldn't stand about me in the end...
    Well, at least there was no false advertising before living together! Maybe after my son is finished raising me I'll be fit for co-habitation! In the meantime...I go to bed happy, I wake up happy...it ain't broke, there's nothing to fix.

    Just 'cause I don't have a partner, doesn't get me a free pass out of them--ah, relationships!

    gassho
    keishin

  15. #15
    Keishin wrote:
    Roles make it 'easy' as we all encounter each other, but they also make it less real--we are acting, responding 'as if' someone is the role we have assigned them, or categorized them to be. Everywhere you look this is constantly done--we didn't 'invent' this method of approach to others, we were born into it, society reinforces it, culture endoctrinates us into it...To cast it aside is quite the trick.*
    I agree. Roles make society as a whole run smoothly most of the time but they don't lead to the individual actors' happiness in many cases. Those societal roles would have disappeared if they didn't help things work (at least for the folks in power) but that doesn't mean that they can't be transcended for a 'better' life for individuals and ultimately everyone. I see practice as a move away from unquestioned acceptance of societal norms/roles. Not being different to simply be different, but to produce a meaningful alternative to sleepwalking through life.

    Bill

  16. #16
    Thank you John, for the quote from the Ordinary Mind Zendo. That addressed my questions almost exactly indeed! I also liked this part of that talk:
    There are some aspects of ourselves that don't develop except under the right circumstances. It would be like being the only person in the world with a fax machine or a telephone. If there's only one of them it doesn't do you much good - they only begin to function when there are others like them.

  17. #17
    I read a chapter in Eknath Easwaran's "The Mantram Handbook". Sometimes, wisdom comes from unexpected sources I thought it was very fitting in this discussion.

    If we really want to make progress on the spiritual path, there is no substitute for putting others first. It is the give-and-take of innumerable little encounters with others in our daily life that really wears off the angles and corners of the ego. Unless we reduce our self-will like this, we will simply have too wide a load of self-will to get through some of the strait and narrow gates into our deeper consciousness.

    This is why I repeat everywhere that the spiritual life is best led in the midst of people. If we leave our family, give up our job, or drop out of school to go live in a cave high on the Himalayas, three days' journey from the nearest human being, we may find a certain peace of mind, but this is not the kind of peace that lasts. The trees won't offend us; the squirrels won't contradict us; our self-will will play dead because there is no one to rouse it, and we may say, "Ah, how calm and spiritual I am!" But when we come back into the midst of life, dealing with people whose ways are not our ways, we will be more agitated than ever. So let me assure you that whatever your present situation is, it is an excellent one for taking up the spiritual life.

    Someone once asked me in very graphic language if putting the other person first all the time doesn't mean making yourself into a doormat. Not at all. We are not really putting others first if we connive at their mistakes or if we let them have their way when they want to go in some wrong direction. It is a sign of great love and great maturity to be able to oppose the other person tenderly and resolutely when he or she is going in the wrong direction. When it seems necessary to say no, we should be able to say it gently and without the slightest trace of resentment or retaliation. We can all learn to disagree without being disagreeable.

  18. #18
    Good quote Helena. Similarly, sometimes I find myself wanting to withdraw from unpleasant situations with people instead of sticking with it right to the end,

    Gassho,
    John

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