Cultivating healthy relationships: How to make peace instead of retaliate

When somebody harms us our first reaction is to retaliate.  We usually do this out of anger, with the wish to get the person back or teach them a lesson not to do this to us again in the future.  But in general, retaliation only makes the situation worse.  To understand this we need to examine who really benefits and who is really harmed when someone acts towards us in a way that would normally harm us.  If we check, we realize we actually benefit.  We have now paid off a long-standing karmic debt.  If we practice patience, our inner qualities are improved.  The other person loses – they create the causes to experience suffering in the future, and were miserable in the experience because they got angry.  It was our fault they did what they did to us anyway, since we created the cause for them to do it to us.  So actually it is we who should feel sorry towards the other person.

But non-retaliation does not mean that we become everyone’s favourite doormat, or that there aren’t circumstances where we need to be firm.  Here we make a distinction between wrathful actions and angry actions.  Anger is necessarily an uncontrolled deluded mind, whereas wrathful actions are engaged in with total control, knowing exactly what we are doing.  Anger is necessarily motivated by self-cherishing, whereas wrathful actions are necessarily motivated by compassion and the wish to help the other person.  We need to be honest with ourselves and check if it is sincerely for the sake of the other person that we are wrathful with them or are we just using Dharma to rationalize the conclusions of our self-cherishing and angry mind.  Anger is directed towards the another person, whereas wrathful actions are necessarily directed towards delusions.  Anger is directed towards anyone who harms us, whereas wrathful actions are generally directed towards those who have sufficient faith in us.  So we need to check how much faith the person has in us.  Anger is necessarily a reckless action, whereas wrathful actions require tremendous skill.  In general, they almost always backfire unless you have extreme skill.

How to resolve conflicts with others

What follows is some step-by-step advice we can follow for resolving conflicts with others:

  1. Face up to your own mistakes and faults.  The first step is admitting that you have done something wrong.  Normally we blame the other person for all conflicts, and then we come up with a million reasons justifying why we are faultless and they are to blame.  This just causes things to degenerate into a blame game, increasing defensiveness and the problems.  It is totally useless to do this because it leaves the solution to the problem in the court of the other person.  It is much better to take the responsibility all into our court, so that the solution is all in our court.  It is particularly useful to look at ourself from the perspective of the other person.  Try see yourself the way the other person sees you.  This will help you identify where you have made mistakes and will make your facing up to your faults more effective with the other person.  The key to wisdom is being able to view the world from the perspective of others.  By facing up to your own faults, and apologizing for what you have done wrong creates the space for the other person to do the same.  The key here is you need to be sincere.  It doesn’t work to just say, ‘it was all me’, when you don’t really believe that.  The key here is not to expect anything in return.  We can get mighty upset when we apologize for what we did wrong, and then the other person doesn’t reciprocate.  We should do the right thing, regardless of what the other person does.
  2. We need to relate to the other person’s pure intentions.  Nobody is evil in their own mind, even Stalin, Hitler, and Osama Bin Laden thought they were good.  So you need to put yourself into the mind of the other person and understand what their good intentions are, and relate to that.  A good example is those family members who care so much about you that they smother and control you because they cannot stand to see you suffer.  Of course, their controlling behaviour makes things worse, but it is coming from a good place.  Likewise, we all know people who want all the right things but they use all the wrong means to attain them.  By relating to the person’s pure potential, it functions to draw it out, and shows them that you understand their position.
  3. Start first by establishing common ground.  When we are in a conflict we tend to focus so much on the differences that we lose sight of the much more significant commonalities.  In most conflict situations, it is inappropriate attention to focus on the minor differences and neglect the vast swaths of commonality.  It is from the space of common ground that differences can be resolved.
  4. In working through the differences try the following approach:  For those issues which are not important, or you are wrong, graciously practice accepting defeat and offering the victory.  There are so many things that we fight for that are really irrelevant.  For those issues that are important and that there are differences on, stand your ground without getting angry and clarify your intention.

These steps will help lay the groundwork for de-escalating the conflict in your life.  The other person will see you are trying to make things better and you are trying to act constructively.  It is much harder to act unreasonably in response to somebody who is being reasonable and constructive.  This helps not only you, but it also helps them.

Finally, if we want to eliminate even the possibility of being harmed, we need to surrender our lives and our karma completely to our Dharma protector Dorje Shugden.  We get angry because we wish things were different than they are.  When we rely on Dorje Shugden, everything is perfect for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  The situation may be uncomfortable and even painful, but we will know it is good for us.  We will know it is by working through this emotional challenge that we will grow spiritually and move closer to enlightenment.  We will gain the realizations we need to help others in the future who are suffering from similar problems.  In short, our difficulties will have a clear spiritual purpose.  If we genuinely feel that things are indeed “perfect”, then there is no basis for us wishing things were different than they are.  Therefore, there will be no basis for an angry response to arise in our mind when we are harmed.  Conflict may still occur, but we will not experience that conflict as a problem.  Through our not adding fuel to the fires of anger in the world, gradually the relationships around us will become increasingly harmonious, peaceful and rewarding.

Cultivating healthy relationships: How to resolve conflicts in our relationships

For most people, conflict is the main problem they have in their relationships.  There is virtually no one who does not have conflict in their relationships.  In this post I will try explain what are the causes of conflict in our relationships, how to overcome our own anger and how to resolve conflicts with others

What are the causes of conflict in our relationships

Self-cherishing is the root cause of all problems in our relationships.  It is because we are pursuing our own interests, often at the expense of others, that our relationships have difficulties and conflict.  From self-cherishing comes attachment – where we view other people as a cause of our happiness.  They are there to make us happy.  From self-cherishing also comes anger – the mind that things that other people are the cause of our suffering.

So how does attachment cause problems in our relationships:  mostly through our expectations of others.  We expect so many things of others, and then when they don’t live up to our expectations of them, we feel like they have failed us, and we are unhappy or angry.  We have expectations that others treat us in a certain way, for example talking to us in a certain way or treating us with respect. We have expectations that others do or not do certain things for us, for example our parents paying for our university or our partner bringing us flowers on Valentine’s day.  We have expectations that others behave in a particular way, for example of wanting our kids to go to bed. But others did not ask us to have these expectations of them, so it is mighty unfair to judge them when they don’t live up to them.

So how does anger create problems in our relationships?  We can get angry about anything and anger always makes the situation worse.  It always escalates the conflict or harm.  Even if we deter the other person from doing what we don’t want with our anger, we just create resentment which provokes other problems, it leaves us miserable and from a spiritual perspective, it destroys all our merit.

How do we overcome our own anger in our relationships?

In the final analysis, it is better to have zero expectations of anyone or anything.  Then we are never disappointed.  Take the example of how we are all taught to manage the expectations of our boss.  If he gives us some project to do and asks us how long do we think it will take to complete it, we always give ourselves a little more time than we will actually need.  Why do we do this?  If we think the project is going to take us 1.5 weeks to complete and we say that, then if we turn it in in 1.5 weeks it will be expected and if it takes longer than 1.5 weeks we are late.  If instead we say 2 weeks, then if we turn it in after 1.5 weeks we are a hero, whereas if we turn it in in 2 weeks it is not a problem.  We manage our boss’ expectations.  But we need to manage our own expectations of others.  If we expect great things – or for that matter, if we expect anything – from others, then we set ourselves up for disappointment.  If they meet our expectations, we are not happy because it was expected.  If they fall short of our expectations, we are unhappy.  Either way we lose.  If instead we expect absolutely nothing from others, then even the smallest thing they do will exceed our expectations and we will be happy and grateful.  Ironically, by expecting nothing of others we can become grateful for everything.

In every situation if we check carefully we will see there are two possibilities:  We can do something about it or we can’t.  If we can do something about it, we should do so.  Then no problem.  No need to make a big drama out of it (which we usually do).  If we can’t do something about it, then we practice patient acceptance.  This is a mind that happily and wholeheartedly accepts difficult situations.  It is not just bear with it, but genuinely welcome the situation.  Since there is nothing you can do about it, you have a choice of either be upset about the unavoidable or transform the experience into something meaningful.  If with two cancer patients, one accepts their illness and the other does not, surely the latter suffers far more.

How do we practice patient acceptance?  We find ways of transforming the situation into an opportunity to increase our own inner qualities. We consider the situation a lesson in the law of karma.  We created the cause to experience whatever is happening to us.  So we are paying off a long-standing debt – like paying off the last mortgage payment.  We can use the situation to increase our determination to treat others as we would want to be treated:  kindly.  It is important to not feel any guilt here.  Guilt differs from regret in two ways:  (1) regret is forward looking, and (2) regret blames our delusions (not ourselves).  We can consider it a lesson in the need to overcome our delusions.  The only reason why we suffer in a situation is because we respond to it in a deluded way, and because motivated by delusions we created the karmic cause to experience this problem.  So we can identify what delusions are present in our mind, and try to overcome them.  We can consider it a lesson in compassion for others.  Others are suffering from far worse, and so instead of thinking about ourselves, we can think about others and generate the compassionate wish to actively dedicate ourselves to helping relieve others of their suffering.

In the next post we will talk about how to not-retaliate, and instead to make peace.


Cultivating healthy relationships: What is a healthy relationship?

With the background of the previous post in mind, we can now turn to what exactly is a healthy relationship.  A healthy relationship is one where we grow internally as a result of the relationship.  Where within the context of the relationship we are able to increase our own inner qualities and abandon our own inner faults.  It is worth noting that this definition is strictly internal.  We can’t judge whether our relationships are healthy or not by external appearance, but only by the effect they are having on our mind.  Whether we grow or not grow internally in our relationships depends entirely upon ourselves, and not the other person.  If we relate to our relationships with others in a constructive, beneficial way, we can grow from them, no matter how difficult they may be.  Thus what externally may seem like a non-healthy relationship, for us can be extremely rewarding and beneficial.  Remember whether we are happy or not has nothing to do with our external circumstance, but instead depends entirely upon our mind.

This is important because it means whether we have healthy relationships or not is completely and utterly in our control.  The extent to which we hold on to the notion that the health of our relationships is outside of our control is the extent to which we deny ourselves the possibility to have all our relationships be healthy and rewarding.  A mutually healthy relationship would be one where two or more people grow internally as a result of the relationship.

So what is the difference between true love and dependency or attachment? We all want loving relationships, but unfortunately we have no idea what they really are. Society says love says, “I love you because you make me happy.”  We love other people for what they bring us, such as good food, company, support when we need it, etc.  I am not just talking about in relationships with our partners, but also with our friends, families, etc.  Here the object of concern is oneself.  At best, this can be called self-love, but more accurately, it is a contract.  Conditioning our happiness on something the other person is doing is called dependency, or attachment.  When both people are doing it, it is called co-dependency.  The principal motivation for relationships like this is ‘self-cherishing’, the mind that thinks one’s own happiness is supremely important, or the mind that values one’s own happiness over others.  Others derive their importance from their relation to us.  This attachment and self-cherishing are the root causes of ALL dysfunctional relationships.  It is a very useful exercise to identify how behind every problem we have in our relationships, we find attachment and self-cherishing.

True love, in contrast, says ‘I love you, how can I make you happy?’  Here the object of concern is the other person.  It is this distinction that makes our feelings towards others true love.  The mind of true love is what we call a ‘virtuous state of mind’, where it’s very presence in our mind makes our mind more peaceful and controlled and happy.  A loving mind is a happy mind.  True love doesn’t expect anything in return.  It just thinks about the other person and works to secure their happiness.   The principal motivation for relationships like this is the mind of ‘cherishing others’, which is a mind that values others’ happiness as important.  True love and cherishing others are the root causes of all functional relationships.  It is a very useful exercise to identify how a pure heart of cherishing others is present in all functional, healthy, and rewarding relationships.

So how do we generate true love for others?  There are three different levels of love.  Affectionate love is where we are delighted to see or think about the other person.  Like a mother when she is reunited with her child.  Cherishing love is a love that values, or considers to be precious and importance, the happiness of others.  Wishing love is a love that wishes the other person to be happy, and actively works towards accomplishing that goal.  This is the highest form of love.

At the end of the day, love is a daily choice.  To generate true love, or the mind that values and works for others happiness, all we need to do is understand why we need to do so, and then make the decision to do it.  The more we familiarize ourselves with this determination, the more we naturally change our heart until we naturally feel pure warm hearted love for everyone we meet.

There are two main valid reasons for generating the good heart of love for others.  First, they are so kind.  If we check carefully everything we have comes from the kindness of others.  Cars, roads, our body, our mind, our language, etc.  It does not matter that others don’t intend to be kind to us, from our perspective we still receive benefit and thus they are kind to us.  So what appears is the various things, but what we understand is the kindness of everyone.  We live in a web of kindness.  It is so beneficial to do.  All problems and all suffering come from self-cherishing, and all happiness and all good fortune come from the mind of cherishing others.  When we sincerely cherish others, we are liked by everyone, we easily establish rewarding relationships, and we are able to keep a positive attitude all the time.  Ultimately, all spiritual realizations flow from this mind as well.  It is like the first domino on the way to enlightenment.  Love is the opponent to all jealousy.  Jealousy is a mind that is unhappy at others good fortune.  Love, or rejoicing, is happy that others are happy.  With rejoicing we can enjoy all the happiness that exists in the world.  Love is the opponent to all loneliness.  Loneliness comes from thinking of oneself and from viewing others as objects for our own happiness.  With love we think about others, not ourselves, and we view ourselves as there to help others be happy, not the other way around.

The inner mechanism of self-cherishing, attachment, and anger is inappropriate attention.  We focus all our attention on our own good qualities and on other’s faults.  We need to examine whether this is a beneficial thing to do or not.  What are the disadvantages of ignoring our faults and focusing on the faults of others?  We develop a highly distorted, self-important view of ourself, and an arrogant, disrespectful attitude towards others. We perform many negative actions resulting in lower rebirth.  It prevents us from overcoming our faults.  If we can’t identify them we can’t get rid of them.  If we can’t get rid of them they will continue to cause us problems.  It is no different than someone pretending that they don’t have cancer.  It is a useless mind because it neither increases our qualities nor reduces our faults, and it does not cause others to share our exalted opinion of ourself.

What are the advantages of facing up to our faults and focusing on others good qualities?  It decreases our deluded pride.  Pride prevents us from learning anything.  Water does not collect at the top of a mountain.  Cherishing love flows naturally from focusing on other’s qualities.  The inner mechanism for being able to develop cherishing love for others is changing our attention.  If we do this, cherishing love comes easily and effortlessly.  We shall gain the respect and friendship of many people.  Understanding it is more beneficial to put our attention on our own faults and focus on other’s good qualities we make the determination to do so.

Cultivating healthy relationships: Motivation for series

The goal of this series of posts is to examine some of the Kadampa tools we have available for making our relationships more healthy, stable and rewarding.  Ever since the publication of Modern Buddhism, the main mission of the tradition has been to attain the union of Kadam Dharma and modern life.  Our modern lives are the field of our practice of the Kadam Dharma.  Just as there is the field of accumulating merit and the field of all living beings, so too there is the field of our practice.  The field of our practice is like our personally emanated training ground/camp to forge us into the Buddha we need to become.  If we wish, our drill sergeant can be Dorje Shugden.  Part of our modern life is our modern relationships with other modern people.  Conventionally, we can’t accomplish anything, spiritual or worldly, if we don’t know how to maintain good relationships with everyone.  Ultimately, we cannot attain enlightenment until we realize the emptiness of all other beings and our relationships with them.  We see them all as the dance of the fabric of our mind.

Will part of our motivation for wanting to fix our relationships be worldly?  Of course it will.  This is normal.  When we all come into the Dharma, one of the main reasons is because our relationships are so bad and we are seeking some solutions.  Learning these methods for worldly reasons is not bad.  Seeking the solution to our worldly problems with spiritual means is better than seeking solutions to our worldly problems with worldly means.  We don’t stop doing the right thing if our motivation is less than perfect.  We will want to do so for both worldly and spiritual reasons in the beginning, but over time the spiritual reasons will gradually purify the worldly ones until eventually our motivation is entirely spiritual.

There are no quick fix solutions to problems with our relationships, but there are proven methods for gradually breaking free from all dysfunctional patterns in our relationships.  I want to make this series of posts very relevant to our actual modern life situations.  If all of this remains academic information, there is actually little value.  We need to dig deep into our actual situations, and try come up with more healthy ways to deal with them.  As you read through these posts, I encourage you to try think of them directly in the context of your relationships.  Mentally try these ideas to see how they might work.  Please also feel free to post questions in the comments section and I will try answer them.  If we do this, we will also be able to learn from other’s situations as well.  This is why the Facebook groups are so important.  They enable us all to learn from one another and keep the Dharma relevant to our lives.  We should not expect that just because we read a few posts on a blog that we are going to be able to fix all our problems in our relationships.  Our goal should be to gain some valuable tools, and to get yourself started on a fresh way of approaching our situation.

This series of posts will have three main parts:  The first is “what is a healthy relationship”, the second is “how to resolve conflict in our relationships”, and the third is “how to bring out the best in others and ourselves.”

Before we begin with the topic, it is worthwhile going back to basics.  We all want happiness all of the time.  We mistakenly think our happiness depends upon external things, and as a result certain external things are seen as causes of our happiness and other external things are seen as causes of our suffering.  We will then develop attachment for the former and aversion for the latter.  But the reality is our happiness is a state of mind, it is an internal feeling.  Since its effect is internal, its cause must be so also.  The cause of happiness is inner peace.  When our mind is at peace, we will feel happy even in the worst of external conditions.  When our peace of mind has been disturbed, we will feel unhappy even in the best of external conditions.  From this, we can see that the essential condition for happiness is inner peace.  This then raises the question, “what is the cause of inner peace?”  Delusions, by definition, function to destroy our inner peace.  We know a particular mind is a delusion if it functions to destroy our inner peace.  In other words, any mind that destroys our inner peace is, by definition, what we call a delusion.  In the same way, virtuous states of mind, by definition cause our mind to become more peaceful.  We know a state of mind is a virtuous one if it functions to make our mind more peaceful.  All of Dharma practice, therefore, is training our mind to abandon its delusions and train our mind to cultivate virtuous states of mind.  The more we do this, the more peaceful our mind will become in all circumstances, and the happier we will be all of the time.

In the context of our relationships, we have countless opportunities to do this.  Some relationships generate delusions in us, such as attachment and anger; and some relationships generate virtuous state of mind in us, such as love and caring.  Most relationships have a mixture of both.  If we want to make our relationships healthy, stable and meaningful, we seek to abandon all deluded reactions on our part in our relationships and instead cultivate only virtuous responses to whatever may arise.  By learning how to do this, and by transforming any adversities that come our way, we will position our mind in a space where no matter what happens in our relationships, good or bad, it will function to generate virtuous states of mind in us.  In this space, even if there are problems in our relationship, they won’t be “problems” for us – they will be just another opportunity to practice abandoning harming others and learning to cherish them fully.

We have no control over what other’s do, so our main focus should be on getting our own actions correct.  We waste so much time thinking about what others need to do to change, and we fail to look at what we need to do.  We need to reverse this.  We need to redefine the problem.  Normally we define our problems in our relationships in external terms:  what others are doing, whether we are with somebody or not, and so forth.  Here we make an important distinction between situations and problems.  The situation is what it is, but whether it is a problem or not depends upon our mind.  It is our mind that makes our situation a problem.  Geshe-la says we should distinguish the outer problem from the inner problem.  He uses the example of a car that has broken down.  Normally, we say, “I have a problem.”  But this is not correct, the car has a problem.  Whether we have a problem depends on how our mind relates to the outer problem.  If our reaction is deluded, then we have an inner problem.  If our reaction is virtuous, then we have no inner problem, and we remain happy.  Our focus here will be to redefine our problem to be how our mind relates to the situation, not the situation itself.  The advantage of this is it puts you in total control of your own experience.  Geshe-la gives the example of imagine we had to cross a large, rocky surface.  What would make more sense, covering the entire surface with leather or just covering our feet.  It is certainly more efficient to just cover our feet.  In the same way, when we are confronted with the endless series of outer problems we call samsara, we have a choice:  either try make the external conditions exactly as we want them all of the time (good luck with that!) or we learn to make our mind react virtuously to whatever arises.  Surely a more effective strategy.

Whether we are happy or not in a situation depends 100% on our mind, and actually has nothing to do with the external situation.  It is our belief that we have no choice about our emotional response to the world we experience that leaves us the constant victim, and creates all our problems.  When we accept that it all depends upon our mind then we take things completely into the domain of something that we have total control over, namely our reaction to events, a solution becomes possible.  As long as we condition the solution to our problems on what others do, then our freedom will always be arbitrary, fragile, and outside our control. True happiness is inner peace, the ability to remain calm and positive regardless of our external situation.

The main focus of this series of posts is give us the internal tools we need to learn how to interact in our relationships in a more beneficial way.  We will explore more beneficial ways of looking at the situations we face, and we will find ways of being able to grow internally from every situation, regardless of whether it is good or bad externally.  If we can do this, then even if we remain in a difficult situation, for us it is good and we grow from it.  Our external sitaution may not have changed, but its status as a ‘problem’ for us has changed.  The extent to which we are happy depends upon the degree to which we have beneficial, healthy states of mind.

A tribute to my Dad on Father’s Day

We always talk about the kindness of our mothers, but I think it is equally important to take the time to think about the kindness of our fathers as well.  We quite often take for granted all that our mothers do, but I think we even more so take for granted all that our fathers do.  For myself, I have spent now 40 years of my life thinking more about everything my father didn’t do (and resenting him for that).  It is only now that I am beginning to see and appreciate him.  So I thought I would share with you my reflections on all that my Dad has done for me.

Of course I must begin with his greatest contribution of all.  Pretty much everything I have accomplished in my life, I have done so through having been fortunate enough to be born with a pretty good brain.  Where did that come from?  While my mother was of course smart, my father’s intellect is unparalleled.  Yes, hard work is important, but a high performing engine and hard work will really take you places.  I am very lucky to have been born into his genes.  I guess to go even further, the very fact that I have had any experiences at all is thanks to him, because without him having me (or keeping me) I wouldn’t have anything.  So in this sense, I owe him everything.

Second, he has instilled in me (all of my brothers really) a locomotive-like work ethic.  Nothing can be accomplished without working for it.  My father never stop working, and he has taught us to do the same.  And I don’t just mean working in our professional jobs, I mean working at all aspects of our life (family, fun, studies and jobs).  Even in his retirement, he always has projects he is working on.  This is a fantastic example.  He doesn’t waste a moment of his life, and he has taught me to do the same.  My wife was laughing at me the other day saying, “you are just like your Dad, you always are working on some project.”  It’s true (and she meant it as a compliment).  I am at my happiest when I feel like I am being productive.  So many people think the goal of life is to not have to do anything.  My father has taught me the opposite lesson – the goal of life is to do as much as we possibly can, to live our life to its fullest.

Third, his belief in me has given me the confidence to accomplish anything.  I think of all of the various “wise mantras” he repeated again and again as we were growing up, the one that I remember most (and that resonates most) is “there is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it.”  Perhaps we groaned a little as kids as he kept saying it, but again and again he hammered that message deep into our respective psyches.  The result?  He filled us with the confidence that it is true.  The reality is if people don’t think something is doable, then they don’t even try.  But he has removed that particular mental obstacle for me by helping me believe/know anything and everything, even enlightenment, is doable for us if we decide to do it.

Fourth, he has taught me how to be responsible with money.  Of course there may be some differences on the margin, but despite the fact I am fairly liberal at the macro level, there is no doubt I am quite conservative at the level of personal finance.  I remember whenI was little going to Minnesota in a Winnebago to visit my Grandma for a family reunuion and my Dad put on these tapes he had on responsible living.  Doug Klepper, I think was his name…  I was quite young at the time and had no concept of saving, but the tapes talked about always saving at least 10%, but preferably 20% of everything one makes and it explained why that was necessary.  My father explained again and again as we were kids the importance of saving up for the future, and he lived his life according to that example.  The results speak for themselves.  When I was teaching in Geneva, one of the courses I taught was on Personal Finance.  While there was a textbook, what I really taught was everything my father taught me.  And this concept of saving does not just apply to money, but to all aspects of resources (saving up favors, saving up a good reputation, etc.).  At a spiritual level, I very much think of the spiritual path in similar terms.  What does it mean to be a spiritual person?  It means to use this life to prepare for our future lives.  We are saving up our karma for the long road ahead.  We are investing our merit in the highest and best spiritual uses.  It is really exactly the same.

Fifth, he has been incredibly generous with his family.  It is no exaggeration to say he has given far more to his family than the rest of the family combined.  And how much has he asked in return?  To my knowledge absolutely nothing.  Do people express appropriate gratitude for all that he has given?  No, they don’t, they generally take it for granted (myself included).  Has that stopped him from continuing to be very generous?  Not at all.  That is quite a testament to his being.  He supported us as kids, he supported us to get our education, he flew us back when we were young adults and had nothing so we could maintain contact with the family, he always paid for meals whenever we would go out, and hugely he kept his lake cabin for us (at great expense) so that our kids can now enjoy it as they do.  Of all the things he has ever spent his money on, I can’t think of anything that has brought greater benefit and enjoyment than this lake cabin.  It is not just an issue of all of the fun things we can do at the lake, it is more how the lake provides a locus for bringing (and keeping) together my entire family.  At a more personal level, he has year after year made his home available for us to use in the Summers.  This has enabled us to come back again and again, and due to that we have been able to stay close to the rest of our family.  The real fruit of this is seen every day of the summer and how close my kids are to my brother’s kids.  How close my wife is to my brother’s wife.  How close my family is to my uncle’s family.  How much closer I am to my brother.  NONE of this would be possible if he wasn’t so generous in offering up his home.  We could not afford both the travel to Spokane and the lodging while there, so the end result would have been us not going back and none of the above would be possible.  Coming back to Spokane every year has so incredibly shaped my kids for the better, and he has made it all possible.

Sixth, he serves as a constant intellectual point of reference in my thinking about pretty much everything.  I really don’t interact with any Republicans.  Everyone in Europe (right and left alike) are far to the left of pretty much everyone in the U.S., and pretty much everybody in the State Department is from the left as well.  I don’t want to be a hack.  I don’t want to be partisan.  I want to support those ideas which work best, and that is necessarily some combination of views from both sides.  Even though I don’t have contact with many people to the right of me, I know very well what my father thinks and how he thinks, and I always ask myself “what would my Dad think about this?”  He is always in my mind offering his perspective on things.  This helps keep me balanced in my views in more ways than he probably realizes.

Seventh, he has also taught us how to play.  I think the go-cart was probably the funnest toy we had as kids.  No, I take that back, the little boat was the best.  By a big margin, in fact, the little boat was the best.  But on top of that, four wheelers, snowmobiles, his planes, his boats, everything!  Man, who gets to do all of those things as a kid?  While it is important to work hard, it is also important to know how to have fun and enjoy life.  He has shown us how to do that and he has allowed us to share in his fun.  He actually built a stunt plane on his own, and it is a blast to go up in it!

Lastly (but by no means least), he showed a great example of what it means to be a supportive husband.  I was too young to know what really happened with my mother, but I do remember she herself explaining to me many times that the divorce was her fault.  In many ways, she viewed divorcing my father as her biggest mistake, and her subsequent bitterness towards him was in many ways driven more by personal regret from having made such a mistake than anything else.  With my Dad’s second wife, he gave her every opportunity possible.  It is not his fault she turned to alcohol and drugs.  He stuck with her, trying to help her and support her through her difficulties far longer than pretty much anybody else would.  And he took her son from another marriage in as his full and equal son, and he continued to do so even after he and his second wife split.  And most significantly in my book, he was (and continue to be) nothing short of a super-star when it comes to supporting his now third wife.  I may have not had anything useful to say when the two of them were going through those darkest of days with chemo and radiation treatment, but that doesn’t in any way diminish my admiration for how he did it.  He was there for her 100%.  While she, of course, had it the worst; it is easy to overlook how hard all of that must have been on him.  But that was not his concern, he was concerned only with her.  Love, in my view, is when we care for others without asking anything in return; and true love is when we care for others joyfully even when it involves great personal sacrifice.  That’s what he has done, that is the example he has shown. This is the example I hope to emulate.

So I wanted to publicly express my gratitude to my father for all that he has done.  I can be a bit of a pain in the ass sometimes with him and I often take for granted all that he has done.  I am really at keeping in touch with him and expressing my gratitude.  But I am grateful.  What I have said above is what I really think about him.  What I have said above is the overwhelming majority of my thoughts when I think about him.  It is an unfortunate fact of life that almost all relationships are consumed by talking about the differences and problems that we easily lose sight of the vast commonalities and shared enjoyments.  This can create a false impression that the differences and problems are all we think about the people around us, when in reality it is not that at all.

So how can I pay my father back for all of the above?  I can think of no better way than to try to do the same for my kids in the hopes they do the same for their kids.  In this way, his kindness, wisdom and generosity will continue on hopefully for many generations to come.

Happy Father’s Day.

Reconnecting with our roots

I am on home leave right now.  The purpose of home leave is for us to reconnect with our roots.  When we spend a lot of time abroad or away from home, it is easy to lose the connection with a sense of home.  Yet home is a very important concept:  it is the place we can go back to to refind ourselves and our roots.  Why is this important?  Because it provides us with a good mirror for seeing how much we have changed, and also for seeing how much we haven’t changed.  When we are with ourselves every day, we find it difficult to identify these changes, but by going home and reconnecting with our roots we can see this more clearly.  From a Dharma perspective, I find it useful to see how my mind relates to the different people I met.  What is interesting, is my thoughts are almost exclusively deluded!  Identifying this, though, is the first of the three difficulties.  Just diagnosing how our mind is sick is itself an important spiritual practice.

For the last couple of weeks I have been on a whirlwind tour of my past.  First, I went to L.A. to visit some friends from college.  The first friends I saw were C & B.  C is a Senior Partner of a large private equity firm that invests in commercial real estate.  He manages a $1.4 billion dollar portfolio in Southern California.  His wife is a doctor.  They are extremely successful in their careers and are basically swimming in money.  I found myself jealous of their success.  I found myself thinking, “I was smarter and more capable than them in college, I should be doing even better than they are.”  Ugly thought.  The spiritual lesson I learned from visiting them was to not be jealous of others’ successes, but to instead rejoice in them and realize we each have our own path.

I then met with my mother in law for breakfast.  She is one of the most amazing and genuinely kind and giving people you will ever meet.  There is nothing she wouldn’t do for others.  She has had a very hard life, but her response to all the hate that has been thrown at her has been to become even kinder.  They say you are not marrying the daughter, you are actually marrying her mother because the daughter becomes the mother over time.  If this is so, I am sure glad I married my wife because her mother is fabulous.

I then met with my old debate coach.  College, for me, was a pretext to debate.  I don’t really know what I learned in college, everything I took from it was from debate.  My debate coach is basically one of the founding fathers of modern debate.  He is a social activist who teaches debate around the world as a means of promoting participatory democracy.  He has projects throughout Eastern Europe, Africa and some of the most troubled neighborhoods in the U.S.  He will soon put his debate courses on-line, where his ideas will touch millions around the world.  I asked him, “why do you do all that you do?”  He said, “because one should.  If you have a skill, it is your responsibility to share it with others.  This is one thing the Communists got right.”  Very inspiring example of what one dedicated individual can do in the world.

I then met my old debate partner.  When we were in college, he was a radical leftist seeking to overthrow “the man.”  He is now a corporate lawyer defending bankers being sued for securities fraud!  He is making a ton of money, but is miserable.  He has become quite cynical about ever being able to make a positive difference in the world.  He has no idea he is in a body (literally, this is true), has ate his way to type-2 diabetes, works about 90 hours a week, hardly ever sleeps, has a completely disorganized life and knows that he is heading towards some sort of train wreck with his life.  Yet, it was great to see him again.  We were able to have one of our classic late night “jam sessions” where we discuss the cosmic implications of everything.  The spiritual lessons I learned from my visit is it is important to have our life together, to keep our body healthy and in alignment with our mind, and to never forget that we can make any work meaningful if we relate to it in a meaningful way.

I then went to Portland where I went to High School.  I visited my old elementary, middle and high schools.  I stayed with my best friend from first grade through 12th grade.  His fireball of a Philipino mom basically raised me.  When I walked into her house, she looked at me and said “what happened to you?!?  You’re bald and you got fat!”  She says it like it is, but she is always right – the quality of her family is testament to that.  My friend is working as a chip maker for Intel, but his real passion is coaching soccer for the teams his kids are on.  He coaches 4 different soccer teams.  He showed me the importance of investing time in your kids and the importance of sports to a kids development.  We desperately wanted to play our old favorite board game Axis and Allies, but couldn’t find it.  Why?  Because his house was a total mess!  Interesting how most of my old friends are slobs!  hee hee  Another reason why I am lucky to have my wife who has established a very high standard of cleanliness and organization in our home.  I also saw the parents of my high school girlfriend.  The mom now has M.S. and is falling apart.  The Dad is the same as always.  They too helped raise me and seeing them helped me remember that.  I then saw another old friend who used to be a young Republican but is now a hippy environmentalist.  She was with a guy who was a real jerk to her and who wanted them to be a “power couple”, now she is with a guitar player.  Externally, most people conclude he is a real loser, but in reality he is a quality human being who loves her and their kids very much.  Success takes many different forms.

I then flew up to Seattle.  I saw an old high school friend who is one of those pure geniuses.  He graduated from CalTech and has been at the cutting edge of invention his whole life.  First he did all sorts of work with lasers, from guidance systems to computer networking.  He is now working on the technology which will one day allow cars and trucks to drive themselves.  He met his wife on, she is also brilliant and teaches mythology to gifted students around the world through on-line courses.  Their kids likewise glow with brilliance.  In high school, he would have been the last person who you would expect to be married with a healthy, stable family.  Now, he has a model family.

I then went up to see one of my brothers.  He was an undercover narcotics detective, but now works with the canine drug detection unit.  He intentionally chooses to work night shifts, part because he likes the freedom and part escapism.  His son, unfortunately, talks only of the bars he visits and the computer games he plays despite having a very young baby with a now ex-girlfriend who he hates.  My brother is a little ashamed of his life and his family and so winds up avoiding my father who has high expectations.  The spiritual lesson I took from my visit with him is the importance of accepting people as they are and that avoidance can become such a habit that it is almost impossible to come back from.

I then went to visit my family in Spokane.  My father leads a very charmed life, flying his own plane between his home in Palm Springs in the Winter, his beautiful home in Spokane overlooking the valley for Spring and Fall, and his boat in the Summer.  His third wife is finally the right one for him and she is fantastic – a good friend of his dating back 45 years.  His problem, though, is he has a tendency to stand in judgment of everyone around him who falls short of his very high expectations.  He doesn’t mean to do this, he thinks he is just encouraging people to live up to (his vision of) their potential, but it has the effect of making people feel judged, so they then avoid him.  He then laments how everyone avoids him or neglects him and he doesn’t understand why.  He is extremely rich and gives more in absolute terms than probably everybody else in the family combined, but in percentage terms he gives very little and people judge him as being miserly.  This is also a source of constant frustration for him.  He says nothing is more important to him than family, but he struggles to spend any time with his family or invest in their lives.  He has worked so hard his whole life providing for others, he feels he now has to cherish himself while he is still healthy and still can.  He is a very good guy, but has no spiritual foundations in him at all – in fact, he has a rejection of anything spiritual as being a bunch of superstitious non-sense.  My problem is I constantly judge him through the lens of Dharma.  I focus more on resentment for what he didn’t give than gratitude for what he did give.  I constantly feel the need to try to change him or get him to embrace goodness, when in reality I am just trying to get him to accept me.  I find myself EXTREMELY preoccupied with whether he approves of me and my choices, so much so you would think I was 10 years old.  There is so much we can learn about ourselves by looking into the mirror of our parents.

I also saw my other brother with whom I have grown very close over the years.  He has basically adopted my father’s life (took over his practice, basically walking exactly in my father’s footsteps).  But he is doing it right.  He invests completely in his kids, even though he sometimes overdoes it on pumping them up with how great they are.  His kids are great, but it does not help them to breed pride into them.  That small mistake aside, he is a great human being who has saved my butt many many times.  I love him very much. I also saw my extended family, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.  We have a huge family in Spokane and it is great to bring them all together.  It is from this that I have a love of large families.  My Sangha is my global vajra family that I hope to be reborn into life after life.

Sorry this was a long post, but I wanted to get all of this down.  I guess the main point is it is useful from time to time to reconnect with our roots.  We can learn so much about ourself and our path by doing so.

Reflections on healing our heart

Once we see the negative in one thing, we will soon see it in all things.

Getting distance, mentally or physically, is not the same as running away.

We can’t repress our anger, we need to let it go.

We are right that others behavior is wrong. We are wrong to not forgive them for it.

First fix what is wrong in your own heart, then forgive others for what is wrong in theirs.

There is little in this world more beautiful than a heart big enough to forgive others for their mistakes, especially when they can’t even see or admit them.

We should not expect others to get it right.  How could they? They have no guide and don’t even know they are lost.

At the core of it, we just want people to love us without judgment.  This begins by doing the same for them.

Be with others in their suffering, but do not join them in its cause.

If you want to help others, first heal your own mind of what ails them.

When you need strength, pray.