Dustin LindenSmith

father | musician | writer

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on inner conflict, and conflict in relationships

I just came across another gem from the winter 2009 issue of Buddhadharma. It's a magazine I used to read frequently but haven't picked up in awhile. This issue keeps drawing me in though, and I've enjoyed lots of the stuff I've read in it so far. The following excerpt, from a Tibetan Dzogchen lineage holder I'd never previously heard of named Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, really resonated with me in terms of the struggles I've been having recently with my youngest two kids: boys aged 22 months and 3 years. So often each day I run into situations with them where they seem to be working actively against my expectations for their behaviour, for their safety, or for the safety for our treasured goods in our home. These words made me think about how I could develop more acceptance around situations which rail against my petty expectations.
The moment we experience disruption in our practice or in our life is in fact an opportunity, or doorway, to let go and radically open. What we often do instead is react with aversion, tensing our body and becoming angry. We are trying to maintain continuity of our sense of self, our focus, our agenda. This is the opposite of meditation practice. In our meditation practice we should not have a fixed goal, or idea, or agenda to attain. Rather, our practice should support us in recognizing each moment in its aliveness and in connecting with clear, open awareness. Open awareness is not something we produce, but something we recognize. As we continue to practice meditation, we become increasingly familiar with openness. We discover that openness is the source of all postiive qualities, such as loving-kindness or compassion for another.

Ego is a complication, or obscuration, of this fundamental openness. There is a "me" who is absorbed and now interrupted, a "me" who becomes argumentative with an "other", etc. This back and forth internal dialog, which of course can become external and lead to many unpleasant complications and dramas, can simply be abandoned on the spot if one is willing to experience in a raw and direct way whatever sensations and feelings are present. If we simply feel what we feel -- without judging or elaborating -- the feelings and sensations come, stay for a moment, and then leave on their own. This is a natural process when we don't interfere by engaging our conceptual mind. In this process we can directly observe this "who" that is interrupted.

Naked observation, without commentary or analysis, is very powerful. In the presence of our naked observation, the structure of ego dissolves. It simply cannot remain if we are not feeding it with our conceptual mind. So what begins as a feeling of interruption, insult, or injury, instantly becomes a reminder to observe directly. As we observe, our reaction dissolves, and what remains is openness. And there we can rest, or abide. Even if this is only a glimpse of openness, perhaps lasting for only thirty seconds, it is the foundation upon which to build one's dharma practice. Remember, the space that opens up is the source of all positive qualities, which do not have to be coerced or forced but are naturally and increasingly available as we become more familiar with open awareness. We have so many challenges in life that can become opportunities to let go and open. In this way, irritation itself becomes the doorway to the inner pure space of our natural mind, the mind of all the buddhas.
Now don't get me wrong. What he's describing isn't easy. He's asking us to use apparently negative and frustrating experiences and conflicts in our everyday lives as opportunities to develop pure awareness of our true nature -- in other words, to use conflict as a means towards spiritual practice. But as idealistic as this may sound, I believe it's very sage advice. It's not natural to try and deny the anger or frustration we feel in conflict situations; however, if we can experience it fully, observe it objectively, and then let it move through us without hanging on to it and feeding it with our own petty psychic energy, then those negative feelings will pass pretty quickly and we can move on to the next situation in life.

God knows this is what most young kids do. Despite the frequent blow-ups that my 3-year-old has over a toy not working the way he wants it to or his little brother taking something away from him, within literally seconds he's usually moved on to a different activity and the conflict he just had is apparently erased from his memory. Little kids live inherently in the present moment, they let their emotions run wild, but they also let their emotions burn out as quickly as they came on if you give them the space to do so. More and more, I find these conflict scenarios in childrearing to be fertile learning experiences for my own spiritual awakening.

Even though they really piss me off sometimes.

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shannonkringen December 6th, 2009
i love this line "Naked observation, without commentary or analysis, is very powerful. In the presence of our naked observation, the structure of ego dissolves."

iamom December 7th, 2009
Hey sweetheart, he's not talking about observing naked people!!! :)

Just kidding, just kidding... :) lol

shannonkringen December 7th, 2009

dizziedumb December 7th, 2009
If we simply feel what we feel -- without judging or elaborating -- the feelings and sensations come, stay for a moment, and then leave on their own. This is a natural process when we don't interfere by engaging our conceptual mind. In this process we can directly observe this "who" that is interrupted.

this to me is the most basic of dharmas- and also a very slippery one. mindfulness, with also the wisdom to release attachment, is one of those things that just keeps coming up in life. i have gotten to be able to recognize myself in the midst of a dramatic episode, letting the ego run away with me- and i'll think "ah, here i am again!" but that doesn't necessarily mean that i'm ready to abandon the grip i have on the issue at hand. sometimes yes, sometimes no. since these issues pop up in our most intimate relations, we tend to take them that much more seriously or perhaps they catch us off guard. and then we start to think, "why do i feel this way?" or "maybe i shouldn't have reacted like that?" which is just perpetuating the drama, instead of simply witnessing it and moving on. as a yogini friend of mine often says, "observe what is and then let go of everything that isn't neccessary."

thanks for sharing!

vyus December 7th, 2009
one of the things i found out at burning man is that alcohol (surprise) inhibits my ability to observe myself, and creates momentum to push me into the mental/emotional tides rather than ride the crests/falls.



i'm very surprised how capable i am of watching myself in tough situations. but part of that is because i have, to a large degree, detached from expectations of people.

you are *responsible* for these rugrats. that's so not the same as relationships between adults. so much of traditional zen is "letting things be."

but you can't easily "let things be" with a child that you are teaching and are responsible for. there must be a finer granulation of teaching and creating expectation (since that seems to be necessary for gross-level interaction) and zen practice. i am convinced that there is some usefulness in differing discipline techniques at different stages of development. seems to me that kids who have attempted to be "reasoned with" at too early an age are the most insolent. maybe they grow out of that, or another factor is at play...

i am naive at things involving children (constantly amazed that their arms don't get pulled out of their sockets more often). but i'd hazard to say that zen with children is a particularly challenging task.

anyway, ha ha you signed up for this ;)

iamom December 9th, 2009
Well man, you raise some interesting and sympathetic points. Thank you. I hadn't thought about the sheer responsibility of childrearing as perhaps warranting a more intensive, proactive form of zen practice other than just "letting things be." I think you're bang on with that, though -- there's quite a bit of "letting things be" in childrearing these days, much to the detriment of the children involved.

I do, however, still think that there's some wisdom in using a zen approach to dealing with conflict in childrearing. I don't believe that my kids are well-served by angry outbursts by me when they do ordinary child-like things that piss me off, for example. Even if I'm totally sick of cleaning up their repeated, avoidable messes, they don't deserve to have me fly off the handle at them because of it. (That's not my standard reaction, by the way, but it's not as rare as I'd like it to be.)

I'm also terribly mindful of their right not to be exposed to violence in words or action -- at least while they're in their youngest, formative years. And I desperately don't want to model coping skills and behaviours for them which are violent and angry over everyday things. I already see my middle son having screaming fits and outbursts over really ordinary things that I don't believe he'd have so easily if he hadn't seen me do that a bunch of times already.

Young kids are such incredible sponges and mimics with their parents' behaviour, it's unbelievable. It's biological, I guess, but it still surprises me how often something I say or the way that I do something gets parroted back to me later in the day. They seem to notice everything! And it often comes back to bite me. :)

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