Observe the Mind in All Situations
As a result of a meditation regimen through the years, we begin to shed some of our coarser characteristics and become more amiable, peaceful, harmonious, and equanimous — or so we like to think. If all goes well this is indeed the direction a practitioner will be heading during mental cultivation. The trick is being able to accurately assess the effects the training has had on the mind. All too often we are lured into a false sense of confidence feeling we have eradicated anger, only to realize that we are still prone to frustration, anger’s stealthy companion. There are definite reasons practitioners are prone to reality checks like this and continue to fall into a false sense of accomplishment. To know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are Gandhi-like and have an accurate assessment of our meditative prowess it is necessary to intentionally spend time with our nemesis.
A nemesis, for our purposes here, doesn’t necessarily have to be your archenemy. This person is effectively someone that you clash with in a major way. Your cogs never quite seem to align. Perhaps you make some innocent remark and he misconstrues it causing an altercation to ensue. This is the person who always threatens to cause the perception of a tranquil mind you have, or others perceive you having, to come crashing down. Quite simply, he brings the worst out in you.
What people end up doing concerning such people is avoid them, and rightfully so. It could very well be the definition of masochism if you were to willing go out of your way to sit down and socialize with such a personage. It’s this very avoidance credo we live by that is the cause of overestimating our defilement-free mind. Monastics seem to be extremely prone to this phenomenon. The reason being is because monastics live a secluded and sheltered life, existing in a sterile social bubble. Even if they live in a town or big city, they are still secluded and sheltered. They live a life where people follow behavioral protocols when interacting with them. Additionally, they have left the worldly pursuits behind them. A renunciant’s life doesn’t afford him the opportunities to apply the practice to everyday situations as a layperson experiences them. Therefore, they never have the occasion to do structural integrity tests on their mind. I’m using monastics here as an example because they are the most extreme example of how we avoid or don’t have situations that we can test or apply our practice, and believe me, I have seen more than a few situations where a monastic, including myself, has failed miserably when it comes time to draw upon the cultivated mind.
I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the Dalai Lama or Thích Nhất Hạnh were subjected to the daily dosage of everyday life most others face. How long would it take before we saw a glimpse of anger, or frustration from them when having no choice but to deal with someone being utterly irrational, if for no other reason than to be disagreeable? Of course we would like to think they would pass with flying colors, and I’m not suggesting otherwise. The point is that we, and they, don’t know for sure because of not being in situations where this occurs. In the case of monastics, they are shielded by all the etiquette and protocols that are adhered to when dealing with such figures. If we are to evaluate, learn, and grow in the practice then we must leave our comfort zone occasionally seeking out opportunities to place ourselves in less than desirable situations, such as dealing with our nemesis. It will reveal what further work needs to be done, which would otherwise likely not have been uncovered. This is the only way that we will be able to gain an accurate perspective of what’s going on inside us and hone our ability to remain mindful of the subtle shifts taking place in the mind. Most importantly, we need to be able to objectively analyze the results of the interaction later from both you and the other person’s perspectives. This is the other side of practice often neglected.
Challenge yourself to think of a person or situation that you are renowned for having a difficult time dealing with and allow yourself to be placed back in that environment for an extended time. Reflect on what welled up in the mind, scrutinize your words and behavior. It’s easy to have a tranquil mind and demeanor when secluded in the wilderness with nothing but the melody of birds to serenade you. The fallacy comes when we delude ourselves into thinking we have a tranquil mind after only seeing it in this one scenario. To uncover the true state of our mind we need to see it in all situations.