Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Things That Fall

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Everywhere I go, things that fall find rest. (Do they fall, or let go?)

Today, as promised, I’ll feature further selections from Gordon Peerman’s Blessed Relief: What Christians Can Learn from Buddhists About Suffering. Today’s passages offer practical suggestions.

From “Bearing Suffering”:

…Suffering nobly borne may lead to wisdom, or redemption. But some suffering leads to neither. The Buddhist teacher Ajahn Chan wisely said that there are two kinds of suffering: suffering that leads to more suffering, and suffering that leads to freedom. Whether we find freedom or wisdom or redemption, what helps in Buddhist and Greek and Christian teaching is not so much an explanation of suffering as a way to follow when suffering has come upon us.

…When Sylvia Boorstein says that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional, I understand her to say that human beings and human bodies are heir to a host of pains, physical, emotional, and spiritual. These pains come with the fact of incarnation, with the package of this “precious human birth,” as Buddhists call it. We have pain because we have bodies and because we have relationships, both of which sometimes bring us pleasure and sometimes bring us pain. But suffering, in the Buddha’s teaching, is what we add to the pain. Suffering is our thoughts and stories about whatever is happening, our resistance to what is. In the Buddhist account, it is this resistance that is at the heart of suffering.

If it’s true that pain is inevitable and suffering is optional, then a possibility for genuine freedom arises in how we choose to respond to pain. Pain does not necessarily need to lead to suffering, though the two are often linked as though they were one: pain-and-suffering. If we can learn to distinguish the two, a different possibility opens up, a possibility that is as liberating as it is challenging. This possibility is the freedom of becoming responsible for our mind states, no matter what the situation.

“Responsible for our mind states” – what does this mean? It means that no one else is responsible for your thoughts and stories, for your reactions to painful stimuli… Pain may come your way, but you do not have to add to this pain the suffering of thoughts and stories about why it happened and what should or should not be happening. If those thoughts and stories of suffering do arise, you can learn to work mindfully, skillfully (as Buddhist teachers say) with your thoughts or feelings…

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Here is one practical tool, summarized very briefly here…

From “The Work”

Jack Kornfield observes that “Questioning our thoughts is at the heart of Buddhist practice.” One teacher who has helped me work with thoughts that lead to suffering is Byron Katie…

…The first phase of The Work [a method Katie elucidates] invites us to go ahead and “judge your neighbor,” as Katie puts it, to judge reality. This is an invitation to be as petty, judgmental, and unkind as we often silently (or not so silently) are about people or events in our life, and to put these judgments on paper. In essence, these judgments are about how others should and should not be, how reality should and should not be.

Once we write our judging thoughts down, we can take our time investigating them. The second phase of The Work is a matter of asking ourselves four questions and writing our responses to each:

1. Is it true?

2. Can I absolutely know that this is true?

3. How do I react when I think this thought?

4. Who or what would I be without the thought?

*

… Do any of the following judgments sound familiar to you?

She should be more considerate…
I really need to lose some weight…
It’s too hot/cold/dry/wet/gloomy/bright…
He needs to be more disciplined…
I’m too quiet/loud/stupid/busy/boring…
You’re too quiet/loud/stupid/busy/boring…
He’s an idiot…
I’m an idiot…

Judgments can feel quite personal. After all, it’s my judgment about you or your judgment about me that causes us to contract, defend, withdraw, or attack. But the energy of judgment is actually quite impersonal. it can be very helpful to view the activities of the mind, especially thoughts and feelings, not personally, as me or mine, but impersonally, as the thought or the feeling. For example, seeing these energies as the judgment, the anger, the depression, and the jealousy instead of my judgment provides us a little distance from them From this distance, we can actually begin to work with the judgments, instead of being impossibly entangled and identified with them, as we were when we view them as personal faults.

When you notice that your judging mind is activated, you can note its presence with a gentle, “Ah, there’s my old friend, the judging mind.” You can take a breath in and watch that breath go out. You might turn inward to see where the judging is manifesting as contraction in your body. You might then ask yourself the first question of The Work. Is this judgment true?

As a way of assessing the second question of The Work, Can I be absolutely sure my judgment is true? Byron Katie suggests probing a bit further; And whose business is this judgment? Katie teaches that there are three possible answers to this inquiry: it’s your business, someone else’s businesss, or God’s business. Quite often, you’ll find that the judgment in your mind is not your business. Discerning what action might best be taken in the face of a challenge is your business, but judging is not. This discovery is freeing in itself. If judging is not your business, then you can drop it!

Mindfulness of thoughts and feelings can reveal just how often you are busy with someone else’s business, whether with their words or appearance or actions, and mindfulness can also show how monumentally unhelpful this preoccupation is. When the judging mind is active, ask yourself the third question of The Work: How do I react when I think this judging thought? Consider: What is the effect on me? How do I treat the person I’m judging? When judging, do I become tight, cold, superior, and sometimes anxious about whether I’m showing how critical I feel? Do I begin to feel separate from others and sometimes lonely?

Then you can move to the fourth question of The Work: Who would I be without this judging thought? When you ask this question, you may find that, without the judging thought, you’re more relaxed, open, friendly – in short, a happier camper. You might drop the ancient habit of trying to be in control of the world. Why continue down this judging path if the effect on others and on yourself is suffering, and dropping the story of judgment is liberating?

The Work is a practical way to put into action Jesus’s’ liberating words to his disciples, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). When we clear judgment away from the lens of the projector, we know for ourselves the freedom of nonjudgment, of forgiveness. It’s a blessed relief.

 

4 Comments

  1. So much to consider. Where to begin? Maybe adding suffering to pain. What a challenge not to. Barbara Gregg Phiilips

  2. Gordon Peerman, Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle’s work have been impactful to me. The themes are similar. A few months ago I pulled out one of my Byron Katie’s books. I realized that I have Gordon’s book and want to find it and read it again. Thank you for reminding me of these sources of healing.

  3. I’m so glad I discovered this post today (a week after it appeared)! It’s exactly what I needed this morning–but Bacon always is. You are a gift, and so is Bacon. Thank you, beautiful friend. xo

  4. Wow! Thank you for sharing these deep reflections. Much to think about indeed, and may shed some light on why I don’t have a problem treating pain but can not bear to read stories of suffering.

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