Thursday, May 2, 2013

Slightly smarter than a dog

There is a hexagram in the iChing, #51 - The Arousing (Shock), which is proving to be one of the best teachers for me. It comes around when you are going to be faced with a situation or event that comes (no surprise) as a shock. The shock could be a challenge to what you believe or expect from something or someone - or, at least in my case, the shock often comes from a surprise revelation about yourself and typically not the kind you jump up and down for joy and throw a party about.

Too often we are lulled into believing that self- revelation comes only in quiet rooms on comfortable cushions. Most often it comes under the glare of fluorescent lights while we are out around others. The "shock" aspect is what prevents us from being able to escape behind apology.   It is that shock...that immediate sense of tightness in the stomach that becomes recognized as shame and guilt later that hexagram #51 addresses. It is what you do with shame and guilt that lends an apology its healing power.

Hexagram #51 emphasizes that within this shock of guilt, shame or disaster lies an opportunity to learn and grow. That what is important is this "arousing" to move yourself out of a complacent behavior and into an active, positive practice that will prevent such things from happening again. In other words, the silver lining of guilt and shame is that it shows us where we can improve ourselves.

In my case, I was out doing some errands on a day when I was seriously compromised by exhaustion, hormones and the typical rising and falling amounts of financial stress. My errands revolved around trying to resolve an issue concerning an item I had bought (very needed and practical but for me a very expensive investment), that now needed some additional (and necessary) accessories. More expense. And I had to go to a store that was a little bit notorious for being pushy towards the expensive rather than responsive to a customer on a budget. To top it off, as I came in and outlined the problem, I told the fellow that I had had a similar problem a year ago and purchased - what to me - was an expensive accessory that proved to be a lemon....and then he immediately recommended the very same accessory as the solution to the problem I was currently having.

I promptly switched into full toddler tantrum. Not only did I snap at him and rave about how miserable and awful it was but when the friend who had so kindly driven me to the store came up to say they would wait outside...I graciously snapped "what?!" at them as they tried to get my attention. Now freed of all self-restraint, I paid for my items and off the friend and I went to lunch - where I promptly bitched in front of the waiter that the bubble tea I ordered was not made the way I was used to it being made and how I didn't like it tantrum tantrum tantrum. 

In short...I behaved badly, or as another friend put it, dropped the Zen ball. the midst of all my tantruming...I was not unaware of my loss of control and it made me very uncomfortable but I seemed unable to stop it. By the time I got home and calmed down, I felt a deep sense of shame over my behavior.

Someone said, "Well, you're human, it's to be expected."
But behaving in that manner, that type of loss of self-control where suddenly your emotions and your immediate gratification and your comfort and satisfaction is the most important thing and you get to say and do whatever you want because you are (pick one) tired, stressed, hormonal, sick, overwhelmed and so one without regard for how you affect the people around you....that is not being human...that is a very animalistic response. 

Being human means you act with consideration to how you contribute to the cause and effect of your life and the environment around you which affects others. It is about learning that you are never the center of the universe or the most important person in the room. That at no given time is anyone more important than anyone else so all should be taken into consideration when acting in a way that impacts others.

Dogs are very smart and adaptable. Studies have proven that they can learn over 2,000 words of English and change their behavior according to how they perceive an environment - but only to a degree. A dog trained not to take food off the table will often do so if no one is in the room or, the light in the room is turned off. 
Part of the Karmic beliefs of Buddhism is that those paying particularly bad Karma come back as animals because they have no means of changing themselves; they are at the mercy of their environment and the predators around them. They cannot evolve their karma through action and merit. Evolving Karma through action and merit is the province and challenge of a human being only.

When I was in the military and when I was in the field as a rod buster, you could never have a day that you wrote off bad self-control to being physically compromised or mentally distracted - you would have lost everyone's respect and trust. I have the evidence in my life that yes, I can so too control my behavior no matter what my physical, emotional, spiritual or mental state so I do not cause disharmony or disruption to others. Somehow, since leaving those fields, it became OK for me not to exert self-control at times.

This week, it became not OK again. So how do you regain and sustain control when compromised? Say the Amitabha Buddha's name before you speak or act in public, before you react to what someone says and do this when you are not compromised so that when you are - you are already in practice.

That positive practice reminds you of the role self-control plays in compassion and maintaining an attitude of no-self that promotes the six harmonies.

That positive practice is what will give the verbal apology its healing weight. It does little good to just mentally decide how you will handle a similar situation in the future (even with a little role playing). The "shock' should cause you to look at how a positive practice can elevate your living on every level so that when that situation arises - you are different in it. A dog can never be anything but a dog no matter how well trained or how much a dog learns about living around a human - the dog will always be at the mercy of their circumstance and the only choice they have is sacrifice. A human always has the additional choice of activating change within themselves that can transform their circumstances, even if they cannot change them.

No matter where you are in life or in practice, there will always be areas revealed where one needs work. 99% of the time you may be compassionate and in control, but it is that 1% that needs active contemplation and diligent work to correct. Correct that 1% and you will reveal another level of living in your life that you can begin working towards the perfection of diligence in.