I just came from a weekend seminar at NalandaWest in Seattle with a wonderful Tibetan teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, author of the new book, Open Heart, Open Mind. He has a down to earth, humorous way of presenting the teachings, filled with personal anecdotes.
I find it most helpful to hear about the personal struggles of great teachers. I don’t think I am alone in getting caught sometimes by a subtle attitude of disappointment in the company of a spiritual teacher – disappointment in myself and a nagging sense that they’re disappointed in my shortcomings. The attitude is something like, “They’re perfect, I’m not. They can’t possibly have the problems I have, especially not now. Maybe they struggled as a child, but not now.”
So when a spiritual teacher share about having emotional issues as an adult, it helps me relax. I can identify with the problem — it’s OK to have a problem. And if they had a problem and overcame it, that means I can do it, too!
Rinpoche shared about dealing with his own fear of flying, which at first was appropriate. He was trapped in a small plane flying through a windstorm in the Himalayas! But then he found he had the reaction in modern jet liners. He applied mindfulness and analysis to the problem. I think it is notable that this wasn’t an abstract analysis. He talked to his mind as a partner; he reasoned with his mind. The first step was respectA “These feelings are real” he said to his mind, “but are they true, are they based on actual present conditions?” He gave his mind space to consider this. He also asked his mind, “Are you creating this fear based on past conditions?”
He shared that he would repeat this again and again until his mind would relax — recognizing, bit by bit, that the fear was not about present conditions, but instead was something brought forward into this moment from a past situation.
I’ve worked with many clients on issues involving fear and anxiety. Rinpoche’s technique doesn’t work for most people. Many people share with me that they tried this method and it didn’t work. It is a common complaint – “I tried to talk myself out of it; I know it was ridiculous, but I couldn’t stop being afraid.” So why did it work for Rinpoche?
What is commonly missing for us in the West (that was not missing for Rinpoche, who had a rigorous monastic education) is patience, perseverance, and confidence in repetition.
Where we quickly give up after trying something a few times because we have the belief that if something doesn’t work after a few times “it isn’t going to work,” Rinpoche’s training taught him that if you keep repeating with a good attitude of patience and perseverance, it will work! He shared that he condensed his healing inner conversation into a mantra after his conversation with his mind started to work: “Real But Not True.” That mantra then held the power of his efforts talking with his mind: repeated honoring of feelings, followed by analysis – reasoning and questions.
You can read his blog post at Huff Post where he has several blog posts, all worth reading – Real But Not True. Here is one of many You Tube clips of Rinpoche:
And I invite you to consider that the impatience we seem to have cultivated in the West may be due, in large part, to our having made things so fast and easy for ourselves on the outside. This has cost us an inner patience and calm, and it has also cost us an inner confidence that we can make a change in our mind.
When we end up believing we have an inherent lack of ability to help ourselves, when we believe we’re unable to work with our mind, we are susceptible to despair and discouragement. Most of the time the problem is not an inherent inability at all — it is simply a lack of perseverance backed up by faith in ourselves. This lack of perseverance is usually one of many learned attitudes from our early “schooling” that does not serve us.
Please take some time to feel what happens inside when you entertain embracing the tool of repetition with faith and even with an attitude to make it fun!
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