"If we were to come up with one word about each of the troublemakers in our lives, we would find ourselves with a list of descriptions of our own rejected qualities, which we project onto the outside world. In traditional teachings on lojong it is put another way: other people trigger the karma that we haven't worked out. They mirror us and give us the chance to befriend all of that ancient stuff that we carry around like a backpack full of granite boulders." -Pema Chodron
Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living (Shambhala Library)
We are celebrating Thanksgiving this week in the United States, and so I have been contemplating this particular lojong slogan. It is a tough one. It is so tough that I often feel that if I was truly successful in following its teaching, I might actually wake up. Can I really be grateful to everyone? Not only that, but can I really be grateful to every circumstance that arises, no matter how challenging?
It is easy to appreciate the good things in our lives, the people and circumstances that make us happier. But to appreciate the other stuff - the people and situations that only cause us trouble and agita - well, that seems to take some practice. "Be grateful to everyone" is a radical way to live. It requires you to open up and let go when you would really prefer to close down, lash out, be right, hold onto a preference or opinion, and maybe just crawl into bed and stay there all day. It requires me to thank those circumstances and those sentient beings that I find difficult, distasteful or distressing. Because without them, I would have no opportunity to see where I still get stuck, caught up in this illusion/delusion of "me" and "mine". I would ultimately have no path to walk, nothing to transform. The difficult people and circumstances are the friendly reminders to me to wake up. They are the constant feedback telling me which way to go on the path, what I still need to make friends with. They show me where I still create suffering for myself and others.
In his teaching on this slogan, Chogyam Trungpa says some truly radical, ego shattering things. He also says a very small thing that always sticks with me: "if there is no noise outside during our sitting meditation, we cannot develop mindfulness". Our usual modus operandi is to try and protect ourselves from the noise, to shut it out. We want to try and wrap the world in bubble wrap rather than relate to the phenomena that arise constantly to disturb our peace of mind. But if we are really committed to manifesting our basic goodness and to getting unstuck, we need that noise, and we need those people - you know - those people that make us want to run away and wrap ourselves in bubble wrap. As I gather with family this week during the holiday, I will be holding this slogan sharply in focus. Our families are often so hard to be grateful to, especially when all gathered together with the expectation of having a celebratory day. So many buttons can be pushed during this time together. It is a good time to practice our mindfulness, especially with our children watching. A good time to practice gratitude for the troublemakers we know in our own inner circle - who hook us into our habitual pattern, into our old karma.
This is ultimately a friendly practice. It doesn't mean that we allow people to abuse us or walk all over us. If we need to set a boundary, then we do so. We can do that out of compassion for ourselves and our troublemakers, and not out of aggression. We do it out of gratitude. They are teaching us how to take care of ourselves, and by extension, others. This slogan can be contemplated on a daily basis, and I have found it invaluable in my own life with small children. There are times when I don't feel particularly grateful to my children even, and it is in those times that I bring this slogan to mind. It helps. I see where I am stuck. I see where I am not very friendly to myself and others. Slowly, I let go. Gentleness grows. Appreciation dawns.
So this Thanksgiving, try this slogan out for size when you feel like grabbing the turkey leg and running out the door. Or when the children are screaming in the car, when the person behind you in traffic cuts you off, when your mother-in-law makes her passive aggressive comment about your parenting, or whatever. Happy Thanksgiving, and as always, be gentle.