Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

"The problem is never other people."
— Charlotte Joko Beck

Man, oh man, am I crazy about this interview with Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck. I wanna wrap my whole yoga practice in her words. She's bursting with wisdom.

I was never good at sitting. And seated meditation still kicks my ass, every time, unless I'm coming into it from 90 minutes of intense asana. But I find, more and more, that in my yoga practice on the mat (and equally in my life practice off the mat), the 90 minutes or the 24 hours are turning into an exercise not so much in strength or flexibility, but into just watching. Watching the moment when I suddenly turn irritable out of nowhere in Vira B. Watching the breath when, out of the blue, it grows shallow and frightened as I walk down the street. Watching the thoughts as they churn from peaceful and grounded to flighty and fearful in the course of just a few seconds.

Just watching, and choosing how to react.

This reasonable act of choosing, this constant awareness of deliberate reactivity? Therein lies the power of transformation. Therein lies the palpable shift in the day-to-day, in the relationships, in the work, in the mundane.

I see it in my own life. I grew up — as I suspect many of us do — watching adults close to me instinctively respond to difficulty or challenge by either yelling or shutting down, and in that model, in that shadow, as a child, I learned to do the same thing. (Just ask my beloved co-workers and best friends, who've seen me at my irritable, crabby, reactive worst, slinging drinks behind a bar on a crazy-busy Friday night circa 2005 or so.) And in the wake of years of practice, years of learning to watch, to slip into that witness mentality, now in this adult body I know how to consciously choose not to replicate that behavior, to resist slipping into that pattern, that samskara, that groove, in every situation of my life, whether it's in falling out of Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana or in getting disappointing news and feeling my stomach drop in the hearing.

We choose. We choose whether to freak out and live in perpetual high drama, or to step back, take a breath, and think to ourselves, "Isn't that interesting? I feel angry [disappointed, afraid, resentful, sad] right now. And even though I feel that here, now, in this breath, it will pass. But I can watch it with a certain curiosity and a sense of gentle compassion, and know that I am not that anger [disappointment, fear, resentment, sadness]." And then we can radiate that same sensibility, that compassion, that non-reactivity, past ourselves and into the way we interact with the people around us, be they bus drivers or DMV clerks or whiny toddlers or longtime best friends.

And damn, that's powerful stuff!

Anyway — read the whole thing. Joko rawks.

On finding teachers everywhere you look:
With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn. Whether you stay home or work in an office or whatever, the next teacher is going to pop right up. Let’s say you notice that you have no patience with a certain person. Well, right there, you pay attention: “What’s this impatience?” As long as you’re capable of being annoyed, you can be sure that something will annoy you. When you no longer can be annoyed by little monkeyshines, you’ll find most everything agreeable. And of course, you have to watch your own monkeyshines. It’s great fun, really. It is! It’s fascinating to begin to watch our life unroll and to see what’s really going on.
On reactivity and the power of practice:

In your books, you keep saying that “the problem is never other people.”

Never. ....

You’re saying life isn’t a problem.

Exactly, it’s you who’s a problem. It’s your reactivity. See, if you could really cease being angry with her, you would be a different person, not just with her but in hundreds of situations in which an attack seems to be coming your way. Your life would be more calm, you’d be better for yourself and other people. See, that person isn’t a monster. She’s a human being who is ignorant, or else she wouldn’t be doing what she’s doing. And if, as practitioners, our aim is to save all sentient beings — to use a goody-goody-sounding phrase — we want to benefit her in our interaction with her.

This is the enlightenment process. One idea that really hampers us is to believe that people get “enlightened,” and then they’re that way forever and ever. We may have our moments, and if we get sick and have lots of things happening, we may fall back. But a person who practices consistently over years and years is more that way, more of the time, all the time. And that’s enough.
On unmet expectations and the gift of disappointment:
See, we usually live our lives out of the ceaseless hopes and expectations of this self-centered mind or ego. And if that works, if you’re unfortunate enough that it works — you want the ideal man, you get the ideal man; you get the ideal job; everybody loves you — then you forge ahead in your usual way until something comes along that stops you in your tracks. Usually, it’s a disappointment or disaster of some sort. What most people do then, naturally, is try harder. They want to be happy, so they look for a new formula, and that’s when they take up some sort of a practice, or go to church, or do something.

If you’re lucky, though, you continue to meet painful disappointment. “Gosh, it just doesn’t work; I don’t know what to do next — I’m baffled.” I always congratulate people who arrive at this crossroads — “Aren’t you lucky!” — because now the true path can be glimpsed. A real practice can begin. It doesn’t mean that if I get disappointed, I like it. But I know it now for what it is.

Aren't we lucky? We get to be painfully disappointed! Gurus everywhere, indeed.

Life's Not a Problem (Tricycle)


Anonymous said…
thank you for the words. thank you for the light. thank you for you.

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