Dharma can come from unlikely places. Last night I was watching a pottery contest on TV – you know the kind, where someone is ejected in tears every week. The judge was talking to a contestant who was avoiding something she didn't like doing, and he said, “I have a saying. Know what you're good at, but more importantly, know what you're not good at.
There are plenty of things I'm not good at, and I avoid them like the plague. I don't have the patience to attend long, boring meetings where not much is done and, as a freelancer, I very rarely attend. I don't have an eye for detail so I avoid DIY jobs where cleanliness is important. After years of horrible physical education classes at school, you won't take me near a gym or a running club.
Avoiding these activities is quite simple. However, as I get older, I discover another class of activity, things I'm good at but just don't. It takes me a lot longer to "know" this about myself, partly because some of these things are activities that I feel I should be doing.
I recently led a reading group here at the temple on the mode of therapy I practice, Internal Family Systems (IFS). Most of the participants benefited a lot from the group, and I think I did a good job of facilitating, but I often felt drained at the end of the sessions. It reminded me of a job I had decades ago when I was a trainer for a big company. I knew I was good at it, but a 20-executive training day always took a lot out of me.
When I reflect on my experience, I can see that when I hold a group, there are parts of me that mesh very closely with the experience of each member of the group. These parts of me developed when I was very young, and they are excellent at being alert, at spotting when something is wrong. I remember once being in a crowded car and noticing an older man, several rows back from my seat, who was beginning to look in pain. I spent some time keeping an eye on him, and also watched my fellow travelers who were all unconscious. I was the only one who noticed and listened to her suffering. This is the specialty of these vigilant parts of me, and they spend a lot of energy doing their job.
Therefore, when I lead a group – especially a group in which people's vulnerabilities surface or where there is potential for conflict – I am on high alert. These parts of me believe that everyone in the group should be happy, comfortable and engaged at all times. For some reason, that's not the case when I'm working with someone on a one-to-one basis. During a therapy session, if my client is angry with me or someone else, it feels good to explore it. If they feel deep emotional distress, I can sit with their pain with equanimity and tenderness.
When I think back to the words of the pottery show judge, I'd like to include "running groups" as something I'm not good at. I can do it, and I usually do it well, but it costs me disproportionately to the actual work involved. It's a relief to admit that, because it means I can stop pushing myself to lead so many bands. When I lead them, I can accommodate those parts of my character, perhaps having a co-host to support me or allocating time to rest and recover if I need to after the group is over.
During my studies over the past two years with Reverend Gyomay Kubose, the Japanese-American Buddhist teacher, I have come across his teaching on “being yourself” time and time again. He says, “Look within and find yourself and be yourself. He says, “Make good decisions by listening to the inner heart. He says, “Know your limits. He says: “You are an artist of life, whatever your profession. »
I would summarize this thread of his teachings as “just be Satya”. Of course, sometimes we have to do things we don't want to do. Parents do not have the possibility of not caring for their sick children if they do not feel very well there. Self-employed people cannot refuse to fill out their tax forms because they are not good with numbers. Sometimes we have to do things that are out of our comfort zone, and that's part of life.
What we can do when tackling tasks that aren't right for us is to be kinder to ourselves. There are two parts to this. The first is that we can ask for help when possible and swap tasks for those we prefer. I am delighted that our plumber fixed our toilets and he can be delighted in return that I am happy to do the work of listening to people in distress.
This is what the Buddhist sangha is for. Between us, we are capable of doing the job. When we have mindful care mornings here at the temple, I encourage people to choose an assignment that suits them, especially if they are new to the group. It helps them relax, and when they are relaxed they are more likely to enjoy working alongside other people and becoming friends with them. Between us, there are generally people who prefer to cut the big branches, and people who prefer to do the delicate weeding. It's fine to try something different sometimes and try an activity that's uncomfortable, but I tend to think that life is hard enough without us having additional opportunities to feel grounded. challenge.
The second part of being kind is that when we have to participate in activities that aren't right for us, we can manage the situation to make things as easy as possible for ourselves. Another example of something I find difficult is organizing retreat days – something we do about once a month. I can find it tiring to keep the band going for a whole day, so one of the things we did was schedule lots of breaks so that the band and I could take some time off. Some people chat among themselves over tea in the dining room and others retire to the library to read a Dharma book. We also include activities such as silent, mindful walks in the Malvern Hills, where group interaction is minimized and people can slip deeper into their own processes.
As a result, I enjoy retreat days much more. I lead them as Satya needs to lead them, rather than some mythical “ideal Buddhist teacher” – someone who would start the group at 5 a.m. with a two-hour session, then maybe dive into a group of intense psychological process two hours before breakfast. The way we organize our events here suits some people, and they stay. This does not sit well with the others, and they go in search of another Buddhist group. And that's fine with me. I can become another type of Buddhist teacher in the short term, but it's not sustainable. If you want to learn Buddhism with me, I can only do "Satya Buddhism".
It's not just me running the temple, and that's the huge benefit of having fellow teachers. My wife, Kaspa, compliments me in many ways. They are much better than me at process and procedure, and they can be a sensible stabilizing presence when I get carried away with my excitement. They bring their own unique and brilliant view of Dharma. We also have colleagues who use music to share the Dharma, those who specialize in speaking out for underrepresented groups, and those who have eco-activism at the center of their lives. Ideally, as a group, we create something much more complete than the sum of our parts. We learn from each other, we compensate for each other's weak points and we also help each other to feel accepted as we are.
I'm glad I heard this excerpt from Dharma on my evening of easy-to-watch television. It's further encouragement in the lifelong task of knowing myself, accepting my limitations, and then acting on them. Perhaps, as Reverend Kubose says, I can become an artist of life, whatever my profession. By accepting my limitations, I will discover the joy of just being me.