When you're trying to figure out the cause and solution for your frustrations: look in the mirror, and you'll find both. That's a quote by Timber Hawkeye, author of the bestseller 'Buddhist Boot Camp'. In this episode he explains how we are responsible for our own situation in life.
Hi Timber, welcome in our studio.
Hello, thank you for having me.
Today we have a special topic. We're going to talk a little bit about Buddhism, but more especially what we can learn from it in our modern society. So we are responsible for our own situation in life. Is that always true?
I think what we're responsible for is how we respond to the various situations in life. We may not have complete control over certain circumstances, but how we react to them has a tremendous effect on how much the event itself affects us. All of Buddhism can be put into a nutshell of: "pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional". And that's because as we go through life, it's inevitable for us to feel pain, whether it be from old age or sickness or death. But how we respond to that, the amount of suffering that something like that can have on us is our personal responsibility. If that makes any sense. Yeah, it does make sense.
But that's easy to say, just like that. But if you're in a situation where you are hurt by somebody else, how do you react on such a situation?
Well, I try not to react. I try to act. And I think... What you've said is "when you feel hurt by somebody else". When you say that, you're implying that somebody else can affect how you feel, but Eleanor Roosevelt said: "no one can make you feel inferior without your consent", and I do not only agree with her but I believe: "no one can make you feel anything without your consent". We are in complete control of how we feel. And I learned this during a guided meditation exercise, where a group of us was asked to sit down with our eyes closed, and we were guided back to a memory of the saddest time in our life. And whenever it was... And we were asked to think back to the colours and the textures and who was with us and what we were... And a lot of people in the room started crying again. Their shoulders slouched. They started feeling all those feelings again. And then when we were asked to think back to the happiest time in our lives, everyone's postures changed, their faces lit u, they started smiling. The beauty of that exercise for me was that in that moment we were in complete control of how we felt. And the way that we could do that is through the power of our thoughts. And so when someone says something, when someone does something... If it we take it personally, if we take it on, and we feel like we have to defend or protect ourselves, it stems from a place within us where we have some already living discomfort. Because if you were to tell me: "Timber, you look terrible in purple", then I can just sit here and go: "okay, that's your opinion and you're entitled to it. I like purple, so I'm going to keep wearing purple, because I'm confident enough with who I am, and your opinion, while valued, is not the end-all-be-all. It's just your perspective". And so I know that no one can make me feel anything. You can say something offensive, and I can choose not to be offended. And in the workplace in a day-by-day exercise, you can be in a stressful situation and choose not to be stressed. So that distinction again between pain and suffering is: we can be in a less than ideal situation, but it's our personal responsibility of how we react to that situation.
What would you need to do to get in that kind of state? Is it meditation then?
Yeah, I do believe meditation is a really big part of it. A lot of people are turning to meditation, thinking that if they sit quietly for 20 minutes that at the end of those 20 minutes they're going to feel blissful and they're going to feel the immediate results of meditation right there and then. But meditation doesn't work that way. If you do 20 minutes of meditation every single day, for the course of a few years or months, then the benefits of meditation will not present themselves at the end of the meditation but throughout the day. The reason for that... The point of meditation is to learn to control the mind. To learn to control our thoughts. So when you're sitting there and when you're telling yourself: "Okay, for the next 20 minutes, even if I feel an itch on my foot, or my leg falls asleep, or I feel like there's a fly crawling on my head... It doesn't matter what's going on in the next 20 minutes: I'm committed to staying in this seated position without moving. Without reacting to anything that's happening. I'm just going to commit for the next 20 minutes". And it sounds really simple, but the benefit of that is what we talked about earlier. It's that you can go through life and say: "I'm going to go through the day today, and no matter what happens, I'm not going to react. I'm not going to immediately reach over and try to fix situations. I'm going to take a step back and look at the big picture". And I think that that stepping back, zooming out, is something that we don't initially do. We immediately zoom in, is our initial tendency. We look at the problem and we attack in. And then later, we go back to the person we got into an argument with, and we say: "I'm sorry, I said things I shouldn't have said". And this cycle just repeats itself, whether we react at work, or we react at home, with our children, with our siblings, with parents... It doesn't matter who we're around. We keep repeating this cycle of zooming in, attacking the problem and reacting, and then later seeing the situation more clearly. Meditation allows us to see the situation more clearly, right there and then, and know that there is no harm in waiting. You know: bell goes off, and 20 minutes later then you're better collected and better able to deal with the situation in front of you, whatever it is. So zooming out is this constant practice of just... Even if you say something that's extremely hurtful, I can just take a step back and say: "this has nothing to do with me. You must be having a difficult day, and I know I've said some things I didn't mean, and I don't have to take it personally. I can choose to, but I don't have to".
You put it in the right words, I think. You said: "you have to practice on it". And then invest the time in the meditation or whatever is helpful for you.
Absolutely, because what we are is a result of years of habitual tendencies. We have this habitual pattern of responding to certain situations in certain ways. I like to compared to... I don't have a piece here, but if you have a piece of paper and you fold it in half, you create a crease, and every time you open it and fold it again, it's going to want to fold back in the exact same crease that you've created. But what practice does, is that it says: "I don't want to keep responding this way. I know it's habitual. I know I've been doing it for years, but I don't want to always be angry. I don't want to drive on the freeway and always be impatient with the people around me. I want to create a new pattern". And so the reason practice is so important is because if I want to fold this paper again in half, it's going to want to fold in the old crease. In order to fold it in a new, more mindful crease, I need to create a new one and I have to be very deliberate in my intention. When I'm tempted to fold, I have to say: "hold on there. I have this old pattern here. I don't want to repeat it. I want to be very mindful of how I respond when I'm in traffic". And traffic is a big thing for people. I don't know what traffic is like where you live.
Always traffic jams.
Exactly. And people say: "I'm stuck in traffic", but in reality you are traffic. Saying: "I'm stuck in traffic" is implying that everybody is in your way. When you put it that way, yeah... You're kind of part of the problem. The way to deal with that is to just again zoom out and look at the situation and go: "what is really the problem here?" And it may have nothing to do with you or the person in front of you especially. I had one woman in class one day who said that every time someone cuts her off on the freeway... Instead of getting really angry or calling them names, she just tells herself: "they just really have to pee". And that's why they're in a hurry. And then she's able to relate and she just moves on. She doesn't take it personally. She just goes on with her day. And instead of creating that story, that habitual tendency of: "they're a jerk and they're a jerk", there's something going on in their life that I don't know anything about and just allow. So yes, you're right: it's a practice. It's just a continuous, intentional practice to create a new pattern. And we are capable of creating new patterns. The old crease, so to speak, is always going to be there. I look at it like a scar. It's always there. Now, I don't have to keep going back to it. It just reminds me of how I used to be, and that helps us see progress in how far we've come. We can be in a situation... I don't know if this happened to you... Where something happens and you respond very mindfully, but you're thinking: "wow, a year ago I would've just started a screaming match with this person, and now I was able to just go: "go ahead. Even though you cut me in line, even though you feel entitled: go ahead. I'm not in any hurry". And people respond very surprisingly to that, whether you're in line at the post office or whatnot. When you allow someone to go ahead of you, they're like: "what?" It's so unheard of because they're so used to everyone wanting to be in front. Even when I go to the cash register and the cashier is so apologetic, like: "I'm really sorry, I'm having problems with the computer and all that". Instead of rolling my eyes at her or getting upset, I'm like: "take your time". And they're like: "oh, thank you". Like they've never hear someone tell them to take their time. And yes, some of it has to do with the fact that I've been a cashier before, so I know what it could be like.
You know the situation, yeah.
Yeah, but I don't think we have to have had every single job in the world to be able to sympathize with the other human beings trying to just go about their day. And so the benefit of the practice during meditation is to be able to remain that calm, not during those 20 minutes. It's easy for most of us to just sit... Well, maybe not easy, but... It's easier for most of us to sit quietly for 20 minutes when we're in the comfort of our own home, but can you do that in the emergency room? Can you do that in the instance of an accident? I did have somebody hit my car and she started crying. And she was totally apologetic, because it was her fault. I just gave her a hug and I said: "it's okay, this is why we have insurance". And she's like: "you're right!" But it was years of practice.
We were now talking about meditation. But how does Buddhism for you come in then?
Buddhism... I always try to get people to focus less on trying to be a Buddhist, so to speak, and be more Buddha-like. Or to not be so focused about being a Christian. You know, the label: "I'm a Christian". Because your beliefs are not encapsulated by what you wear around your neck, but by your behaviour in the world. And I think Buddhism has been... I have a tremendous amount of faith. And a lot of people associate faith with God or faith with religion, but in fact the title of my next book is Faithfully Religionless. Because I have a lot of faith, but I don't have a lot of religion. And the reason for that is that Buddhism does not attempt to answer questions that we don't have answers for. On my continuous search for answers, every religion says how the world began, and there's a God Theory, there's a Creation Theory, there's all of that. And when you ask a Buddhist how the world began, they'll say: "I don't know". I love that honesty. I love that just allowing that mystery to be. And just trusting that it's perhaps irrelevant to where I am today. I read a book. It was called: Buddhism Without Beliefs. I forget the author's name, I'll think about it. And he also wrote Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist. Because this man has been a monk for many, many years, but he had a difficult time accepting Buddhism as a religion, of sorts. Of saying: "if I'm going to believe in Buddhism, that means I'm going to have to believe in reincarnation, and..." What I like about Buddhism is that there are no rules. There's no such thing as a good Buddhist or a bad Buddhist. There are no commandments. There are invitations for us to just be the best version of ourselves we can be. And whatever that is. Even the Dalai Lama said: "don't try to use what you've learned from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Just use it to be a better whatever you already are". So be a better Christian, a better Jew, a better Atheist. Whatever you could be. Just be really good at it. And I love that gentle invitation instead of the harsh dogma, if that makes sense. So that's kind of my journey.
It does make sense, Timber. Thank you very much for your time.
No, thank you!
And you at home: thank you for watching our show, I hope to see you next week.