Tuesday, June 23, 2009

MPOW #22 - "Gain and victory to others; loss and defeat to myself."

"Gain and victory to others; loss and defeat to myself." - Tibetan Buddhist saying

Pema Chodron explains this powerful slogan to cultivate generosity and vulnerability in Start Where You Are. This writing borrows a lot from that and from my own experience using it this past week. The slogan definitely needs some explaining. A big part of the Words Are Powerful observation is that words are often overloaded or miscommunicated, and this quotation particularly so.

Loss and defeat to myself does not mean to extend an invitation to the world to attack you with slings and arrows. It is not encouragement to submit to having your bones broken and head kicked in. It is a reminder to allow your armor to come down and let yourself feel vulnerable. Every time that something hurts us, including emotionally, we have the tendency to fly, fight, or fortify. Likely this comes from the reptilian center of our brain's fight-or-flight response. Perhaps when we are socially ostracized, we feel that we are going to die. I recently heard Keith Ferrazzi (author of Never Eat Alone and recently Who's Got Your Back) deliver a presentation with vulnerability as a major theme. He spoke about how the feeling of sudden death due to embarrassment--"oh, I could just die"--likely has childhood roots. As young children, we are entirely dependent on our parents and guardians. If we are embarrassed, the mammalian centers of our brains fear rejection that will exclude us from this circle upon which we completely rely, which may leave us without sustenence and loving connection. So, from a young age, we have built up a response to treat even emotional dings from social slights as physical threats.

So, from youth, we build up an armor, layers and layers of constricting mail, a helmet, a shield, gloves, and boots. Every time we put up another shield, it makes our world a little smaller, every layer makes us a little more removed from the world as it is. Our protection in response to our fears makes a weaker version of ourselves hiding in a shell. It's not a bad thing; it's a trade-off. Though, it is a trade-off that makes us less and less flexible, our perspective more and more narrow, and removes the expansive potential of our world. Another thing that we learn over time, is that this defense isn't reliable. It doesn't really work. There's always a chink in the armor, or a time when it's down; we let it down sometimes when we connect with others. Then, we accidentally get hurt only to return to the armory for renewed fortifications to avoid being hurt. And this may work for another week or two.

There's an alternative. For your mindfulness practice, discover your armor, the ways that you protect yourself. See if you can peel off the armor and be as you are. Intentionally and methodically allow yourself to be vulnerable. Challenge your comfort to go out into the world without armor and experience it naturally. Allow yourself to realize that you can survive loss and defeat.

During this time of vulnerability, you have an excellent opportunity to cultivate your generosity. Rather than using your energy to inflate yourself at the expense of others, do the opposite. Put your energy into helping others win. Celebrate their victories. There are many things to notice. Here are three of them that I find curious and charming. First, of the six point seven billion people in the world, there are a lot more victories and gains to celebrate than if you only celebrate your own. The second is that you come to realize your connectedness with others, you find a unity in humanity. The third one is ironic, working toward the gain and victory of others often brings positivity back to you in as possibly a karmic effect of "no good deed goes unrewarded." Be careful of the trap here, though. Remember loss and defeat unto yourself, the point is the gain and victory unto others, not funding your own karmic bank.

For this week's mindfulness practice, keep that slogan in mind through your day and through your actions. This vulnerability is a sweet and elegant thing. It's what I mean when I wrote On Cracking Creme Brulee.

This post is dedicated to my friend Mariko Hosokawa, who loves creme brulee, She is as charmingly vulnerable as can be, every bit of her essence is the creme brulee that she loves so much.

No comments:

Post a Comment