Day Thirty Three: Defense

Thich Nhat Hanh

If you’ve been reading magazines over the last few years, you may have noticed how popular “mindfulness meditation” has become recently. In fact, I just saw an article about it in the latest issue of Time Magazine.

What is mindfulness?

I’m going to look at the reverse first. What is the opposite of mindfulness? Is it “mindlessness”? One article suggested that  “experiential avoidance”  is the opposite of mindfulness. I also liked another answer on Reddit:

Desire, ill-will (fear), doubt, worry and laziness of body and mind. A mind that wanders to the past and future.You can mindfully think of past and future but it needs to be prompted. That intention along with the thought all need to be noticed.

I’ve never officially been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, but several of my friends and family members have suggested that I have this pathological condition and maybe should consider drug treatment for it. Then I learned about mindfulness, while reading some books about Buddhism. The staff were even doing a poor job of teaching mindfulness meditation at the psychiatric ward I was kept in for a few weeks last year. Once I read the book The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh, I began to really understand what mindfulness is, which he calls “the essential discipline”.

He sums mindfulness like this:

“While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh

When I’m washing the dishes, I’m usually not paying much attention to washing the dishes. I’m thinking about other things like:

  • How much I don’t enjoy washing dishes and can’t wait to get done to do something more fun.
  • What I’m going to do for fun this weekend.
  • What I’m going to buy soon.
  • How much I can’t wait to get done washing dishes so I can smoke another cigarette.
  • How much anger and ill will I have toward my ex (or other people who wronged me), which had become an obsession that prevented me from having any mindfulness at all for many years.
  • Random fantasies, like wishing I were a millionaire or a rock star, or on a nice vacation.
  • All of the above thoughts passing in and out of my stream of consciousness.

I’m not really washing the dishes at all. I’m probably not even paying attention to whether or not I’m doing a good job of washing the dishes most of the time.

In the book, Thich Nhat Hanh refers to a small book called “The Essential Discipline for Daily Use” by Doc The that he was given when he entered a monastery as a novice. He was instructed to memorize the book. You were supposed to recite passages from the book when you did ordinary things like putting on your robe, washing dishes, going to the bathroom, etc. I could not find this book online, however, I did find a similar website with a list of mindfulness exercises called “gathas”. Have a look at the site. Can you imagine being able to go through an entire day being mindful of every moment? To be driving and not thinking about something else while you are driving? To just be aware that you are driving? Ironically, I listened to this book as an audiobook, while I was not so mindfully working at my job, where headphones are allowed and I was listening to Thich Nhat Hanh discussing mindfulness instead of being fully aware and present as I worked .

There is first an entire list of passages to memorize, and recite to yourself all day as you do normal activities. I may consider that for a future challenge…

Deng Ming-Dao on Defense:

“Demons who enter your circle
Must be pushed out.”

This entry was one of the first, most powerful entries I read while skimming the book the day it came in the mail. It was a simple answer to the question of how to deal with psychopaths, manipulators, aggressive people, those who seem to have their sights set on your destruction, the crazymakers, and so on. You know some of these people.

Early in our lives, we were taught the value of tolerating insults, turning the other cheek, and loving our enemies.

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
-Jesus, in The Book of Matthew 5:38-41.

Buddhism would seem to also advocate the same idea as Jesus with turning the other cheek, although this Buddhist author and psychologist says turning the other cheek is “neither compassionate nor moral.”

Deng Ming-Dao says “Demons who enter your circle must be pushed out.”

While he acknowledges that compassion and humility are the greatest of all human virtues, they are useless when you are under attack, either physically in the case of assault, rape, murder, etc. or mental, as in shady business dealings or emotional abuse.

Personally, I’ve had a very difficult time fending off bullies and people who cross boundaries during my life. I’m not sure if that is a result of being raised around Christian ideas or being taught to fear and be timid by my parents, but this has been a lifelong struggle. I was never taught what boundaries are and what kind of treatment is acceptable and what is not. It was only in my 30s that I turned into Rambo and started lashing out at people who insulted or hurt me.

Tao says you do not have to tolerate abuse, and these people need to be pushed away from you. I consider that a better alternative to turning the other cheek. Of course, only violent if necessary.

Miyagi: Your friend, all karate student, eh?
Daniel: Friend? Oh, yeah, those guys.
Miyagi: Problem: attitude.
Daniel: No the problem is, I’m getting my ass kicked every other day, that’s the problem.
Miyagi: Hai, because boys have bad attitude. Karate for defense only.

-From the 1984 film The Karate Kid

The Daily Stoic:

Today, Ryan Holiday talks about how we are often slave to our impulses. If someone says something we disagree with, we have to argue. If we see junk food, we have to eat it. If someone does something we don’t like, we have to get mad. We need to be in control of our emotions, not slave to our emotions. This is probably the one thing people know about Stoicism, if they know about Stoicism at all. The idea of not responding with emotion. It’s a caricature with Mr. Spock from Star Trek, but it is still an essential Stoic idea you must understand and consider as an essential principle.

Today, I started running the Couch to 5K plan. Day One. I’m setting up a To Do List for working on improving my career, with things such as updating resume, checking internet for money making opportunities, and any other small steps toward making more money. I’m also working on the first draft of a book this month.

Busy, busy.



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