Be Ordinary

We must be willing to be completely ordinary people, which means accepting ourselves as we are without trying to become greater, purer, more spiritual, more insightful. If we can accept our imperfections as they are, quite ordinarily, then we can use them as part of the path.

But if we try to get rid of our imperfections, then they will be enemies, obstacles on the road to our “self-improvement.”

-Chogyam Trungpa

Autism and Buddhism (It’s Not What You Think)

There is a form of concern for self which is compatible with and even essential to altruism. The care for oneself which enables one to feel empathy with others can be termed “autism.” Autism is necessary for altruism, since it is necessary to be able to accept and even love oneself before one can show true empathy and compassion for others, before one can feel what they feel. Autism is not egoism. Egoism is the enemy of both autism and altruism. Egoism seeks to use others for the material welfare and gain of self. Its “love” is possessive and manipulative. Egoism has to be destroyed if karu.naa [compassion] is to develop.


Elizabeth J. Harris, on the notions of  Buddhist detachment and compassion.

It’s Not You, It’s Him: Men Who Gaslight

Yashar Ali  may be either a brilliant diabolical writer who wants to get laid or just an insightful guy who likes to be helpful.

Ali’s article “A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not ‘Crazy'” is one of those rare articles that gets it right and brings to light a topic that many women must struggle with.


You’re so sensitive. You’re so emotional. You’re defensive. You’re overreacting. Calm down. Relax. Stop freaking out! You’re crazy! I was just joking, don’t you have a sense of humor? You’re so dramatic. Just get over it already!


That dreaded feeling a woman gets when she wonders “Was I right to do or say that? Am I getting too angry about this or do I have the right to be angry over this?”  This nagging self-doubt can suck the confidence out of even the most well-adjusted, perfect woman.

This habit, whether it be because we’re woman and it’s an evolutionary trait or whether it be something that developed via cultural influence, it exists. And unfortunately, it is a habit that can be used against us.


Do you ever hear any of these comments from your spouse, partner, boss, friends, colleagues, or relatives after you have expressed frustration, sadness, or anger about something they have done or said?

When someone says these things to you, it’s not an example of inconsiderate behavior. When your spouse shows up half an hour late to dinner without calling — that’s inconsiderate behavior. A remark intended to shut you down like, “Calm down, you’re overreacting,” after you just addressed someone else’s bad behavior, is emotional manipulation, pure and simple.

And this is the sort of emotional manipulation that feeds an epidemic in our country, an epidemic that defines women as crazy, irrational, overly sensitive, unhinged. This epidemic helps fuel the idea that women need only the slightest provocation to unleash their (crazy) emotions. It’s patently false and unfair.

Women have a hard time sticking up  for themselves. I don’t mean the act of sticking up for themselves but being convinced they should stick up and keep sticking up for themselves.

It is far too easy for a man or significant other to simply say “you’re overreacting” and expect the conversation to end at that. If the conversation continues, the next steps will be convincing the woman she is also crazy or dependent or [insert defect here]. With all that negative feedback it’s hard for a woman to stand her ground. (And heaven forbid if she cry or show some kind of weakness because then she’s manipulating the person.)


I think it’s time to separate inconsiderate behavior from emotional manipulation, and we need to use a word not found in our normal vocabulary.

I want to introduce a helpful term to identify these reactions: gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a term often used by mental health professionals (I am not one) to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy.


Robin Stern Ph.D.  and author of the book The Gaslight Effect: Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Your Truth, writes that “Gaslighting is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality. This is done by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so – and, the gradual giving up on the part of the other person.”

Stern’s evaluation of gaslighting is a little cliche after that though, with her mention of the “Gaslight Tango” which is “the dance you do with your gaslighting partner, where you allow him to define your reality.” Cliched because like a lot of psychology authors, these authors somehow know that we know our realities and the thoughts that make our reality exactly; and because of that, are of course just as responsible as the person doing the gaslighting.


The form of gaslighting I’m addressing is not always pre-mediated or intentional, which makes it worse, because it means all of us, especially women, have dealt with it at one time or another.

Those who engage in gaslighting create a reaction — whether it’s anger, frustration, sadness — in the person they are dealing with. Then, when that person reacts, the gaslighter makes them feel uncomfortable and insecure by behaving as if their feelings aren’t rational or normal.

My friend Anna (all names changed to protect privacy) is married to a man who feels it necessary to make random and unprompted comments about her weight. Whenever she gets upset or frustrated with his insensitive comments, he responds in the same, defeating way, “You’re so sensitive. I’m just joking.”


Gaslighting can be as blunt as this or…


But gaslighting can be as simple as someone smiling and saying something like, “You’re so sensitive,” to somebody else. Such a comment may seem innocuous enough, but in that moment, the speaker is making a judgment about how someone else should feel.


Ali finishes his article with a conclusion about why women take such treatment and what it means if women continue to take this kind of treatment.



Because women bare the brunt of our neurosis. It is much easier for us to place our emotional burdens on the shoulders of our wives, our female friends, our girlfriends, our female employees, our female colleagues, than for us to impose them on the shoulders of men.

It’s a whole lot easier to emotionally manipulate someone who has been conditioned by our society to accept it. We continue to burden women because they don’t refuse our burdens as easily. It’s the ultimate cowardice.

Whether gaslighting is conscious or not, it produces the same result: It renders some women emotionally mute.

These women aren’t able to clearly express to their spouses that what is said or done to them is hurtful. They can’t tell their boss that his behavior is disrespectful and prevents them from doing their best work. They can’t tell their parents that, when they are being critical, they are doing more harm than good.

When these women receive any sort of push back to their reactions, they often brush it off by saying, “Forget it, it’s okay.”

That “forget it” isn’t just about dismissing a thought, it is about self-dismissal. It’s heartbreaking.

No wonder some women are unconsciously passive aggressive when expressing anger, sadness, or frustration. For years, they have been subjected to so much gaslighting that they can no longer express themselves in a way that feels authentic to them.

They say, “I’m sorry,” before giving their opinion. In an email or text message, they place a smiley face next to a serious question or concern, thereby reducing the impact of having to express their true feelings.

You know how it looks: “You’re late :)”

These are the same women who stay in relationships they don’t belong in, who don’t follow their dreams, who withdraw from the kind of life they want to live.

Since I have embarked on this feminist self-exploration in my life and in the lives of the women I know, this concept of women as “crazy” has really emerged as a major issue in society at large and an equally major frustration for the women in my life, in general.


As far as I am concerned, the epidemic of gaslighting is part of the struggle against the obstacles of inequality that women constantly face. Acts of gaslighting steal their most powerful tool: their voice. This is something we do to women every day, in many different ways.

I don’t think this idea that women are “crazy,” is based in some sort of massive conspiracy. Rather, I believe it’s connected to the slow and steady drumbeat of women being undermined and dismissed, on a daily basis. And gaslighting is one of many reasons why we are dealing with this public construction of women as “crazy.”

Read the rest and the comments that follow at  The Current Conscience.

(9/11/12 — Yes, as women are human, I am sure women gaslight men but as I am a woman who has been gaslighted by men, I only felt the need to speak about my own experience as a woman.)

White People Sh*t Wednesday

I saw this scene in this movie with Clint Eastwood. In the scene, Eastwood is teaching some “nip” kid how to speak like a “real man.”

The scene starts with Eastwood walking into a barber shop and saying:

“How ya doing Martin, you crazy Italian prick? “

The actor playing Martin responds:

“Walts! You cheap bastard! I should have known you’d come in, I was having such a pleasant day! “

Prior to the greet, the barber says this when Eastwood walks in with the “nip” kid:

“Perfect! A Polak and AND a Chink!”

So now Eastwood tells this kid.

“Now you go out and come back in and talk to him like a man, like a REAL man. Come on! Get your ass outta here! Come on back now. “

And the kid comes back in and says:

“What’s up ya old Italian prick? “

And Martin, the barber goes:

[pointing rifle at Thao] “Get out of my shop before I blow your head off, you goddamn dick sucker! Go! “

Eastwood goes:

“What the hell are you doing? Have you lost your mind? “

Thao, the character who’s trying to talk like a “real man” says:

“But that’s what you said. That’s what you said men say.”

And the scene ends like so:

Walt Kowalski: You don’t just come in and insult the man in his own shop! You just don’t do that. What happens if you meet some stranger? You get the wrong one, he’s gonna blow your gook head right off!**
Thao Vang Lor: What should I have said then?
Barber Martin: Well… why don’t you start with… eeehm… Hi or Hello…
Walt Kowalski: Yeah, just come in and say… eeeehm… Sir, I’d like a haircut if you have the time.
Barber Martin: Yeah, be polite, but don’t kiss ass.
Walt Kowalski: In fact you could talk about a construction job you just came from and bitch about your girlfriend and your car.
Barber Martin: eeeehm… Son of a bitch, I just got my brakes fixed and eeehmm those son of bitches really nailed me, I mean they screwed me right in the ass!
Walt Kowalski: Yeah, don’t swear AT the guy, just talk about people who are not in the room… eeeh… you could talk about your boss… eeeh… making you work extra time when there is bowling night.
Barber Martin: Right, or… eeeh… my old lady bitches for two goddamn hours about how… eeeeh… they don’t take expired coupons at the grocery stores. And the minute I turn on the fucking game, she starts crying how we never talk! ***

The point of this little rehash is about differences in culture and societal norms.

One afternoon, I was listening to a co-worker talk about how he was having an argument with a bus driver.

The back-story is this, the bus driver took off when this co-worker was standing at the door to the bus. This is the second time it had happened to him and the problem was that a bus only comes every hour and this was the bus he needed to get to work.

So he goes to a stop where he knows he can catch the bus.

The co-worker finally comes face-to-face with the bus driver and he recounts what he said to the bus driver to us.  At some point the co-worker called the bus driver  “motherfucker.” And the co-worker goes on to say that as soon as he did that, he realized that he lost the argument he was trying to make.

The bus driver called the co-worker in as “belligerent” and refused to move the bus any further. Reminder, this was not the first time my co-worker just got left by this bus driver. So you’d think he’d have every right to call him a motherfucker, but apparently not.

As Eastwood’s character says…“don’t swear AT the guy.”

My immediate reaction to this phenomenon that my co-worker described and even Eastwood’s character’s reaction was “white people shit.”

Where I come from swearing is a signal to another person that they have

A) crossed the line, and

B) pissed you off

And the gloves are off and we are one step away from fisticuffs or a brawl.

No decent human being wants to cuss out another. It is an uncouth practice and at the same time, if another person is already doing something uncouth, then to the person cussing, the situation has already been brought to an uncouth level. (Well hell, I tried to be good but you’re still being an ass and I will not be the toilet for your shitty dump.)

I’ve always understood that cussing, in my social world, is more like a warning signal.

It means that the person will not back down and that they are capable of going apeshit on your ass. It would be the same as giving someone a passive warning that this is the wrong way to go and you might get hurt if you continue down this path. (Not only that but apparently cussing makes you feel better.)

My reaction was uttered in mixed company, with white people and non-white people. The white side of the room remained quiet while the non-white people laughed.

I understand this “white people shit” difference (now) but as someone who is from a different social background, where this type of behavior is grounded in acceptance because it relates to a social identity, it really bugs me that others not from this background are so quick to judge people (specifically me) being like this.

It makes saying things like “It’s alright as long as it’s all white,” sound reasonable.

In professional relationships it’s one thing (it’s just not professional at all), in personal relationships it’s a big deal (this is how I was raised, this is my identity and its always been okay, until I met you. Plus, because everyone [in my community/society]knows the everyone is capable of  doing this, we do our best not to let it get to this level).

Even if you don’t like people swearing at you, to respond to this behavior with something like “this is not how proper people behave” is rude and insulting because as I wrote earlier:

Swearing is a signal to another person that they have

A) crossed the line, and

B) pissed you off

And the gloves are off and we are one step away from fisticuffs or a brawl.

So say you can’t handle that type of confrontation: Say that you want to talk but you want some ground rules. Or let them have their say and once you’ve listened to them and the problem has been settled, take the time to talk to them about things like this.

Is it so wrong to ask for others to accept your societal norms as much as you accept theirs?

But this sh*t?

“This is not how proper people behave”

Automatically leads to:

Kiss it (_|_)

I’m glad my co-worker relayed that story to me though. Now I know how I can relate better to others even if they aren’t sensitive enough to try and relate to me. (Jerks, assholes, punks, ccksckers. Hey, I’m making myself feel better.)

*I also considered naming this post, WASP Aspiration Wednesday, since the value I’m talking about it is more of a societal class value then an ethnic one but WASP Aspiration Wednesday doesn’t have quite the same ring at White People Sh*t Wednesday.

** My mom always said don’t try to make someone angry, you don’t know what type of crazy you’ll get.

*** See the movie scene below

Continue reading

The Uses of Fear

User Via Creative Commons SearchLike the feeling of anger, fear too gets bad of a rap.

We shouldn’t have fear.

We should be fearless.

Fear is weak, fear is the mind killer

(I’ll admit with the last one that fear can short-circuit thinking in ways that kill the mind and that can later harm us.) But let’s try and change the way we look at fear.

Again from the Access to Insight website (where I got the treatise  Buddha on Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Right & Wrong) is a treatise on how to use fear by the monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu of the Metta Forest Monastery in San Diego.

[Eds note: I was lazy so I didn’t cut this up like I normally would]

There are three qualities that the Buddha listed as the roots of unskillful behavior: greed, aversion, and delusion. Some psychotherapists have asked why he didn’t list fear as the fourth, because psychotherapy tends to see neurotic fear as the primary source of mental illness. Why didn’t the Buddha have the same understanding?

Because he saw that fear has its uses. It’s not always unskillful. If you go into a forest, it’s right to be fearful. If you weren’t fearful, you’d get complacent and careless. You could die. When you think about your own mortality — how fragile your life is, how fragile your health is, how fleeting your youth is — it’s right to feel a certain amount of fear for the future: How are you going to fare when aging, illness, and death hit you? Think of the Buddha when he was still a young prince, and how he saw an old person, a sick person, a dead person. Think of the fear he felt in realizing that all of the areas in which he looked for happiness in life were subject to aging, illness, and death as well.

The feeling he felt on realizing that is called samvega, which is sometimes translated as urgency, sometimes as a sense of dismay. But it can also be translated as terror: looking into the abyss and seeing you’re about to fall into it. But the story doesn’t stop there. The fourth person he saw was a forest mendicant. And the feeling he felt on seeing the mendicant was pasada, confidence: If there’s a way out, this is it.

This dynamic between terror and confidence informs all of the Buddha’s teachings, all of the Buddha’s practice. Which means that a sense of fear is a legitimate part of the practice. It’s a legitimate motivation for wanting to get your mind to settle down, for wanting to gain some insight into why you are suffering. You realize that if you don’t gain control over your mind, then when aging, illness, and death come, you’ll be at a total loss. At the same time, you have the confidence that if the mind is trained, then you can handle these things and not suffer.

So fear is a legitimate reason for coming to the practice. In fact, it’s probably the most legitimate of all. We don’t like the feeling of fear. The experience of fear is very uncomfortable. We feel small, weak, and threatened. This feeling can become unskillful when it gets mixed up with greed, aversion, and delusion. But a clear-sighted sense of fear combined with confidence that there is a way out can actually get you on the path.

This combination of fear and confidence is what translates into what the Buddha said is the root of all skillful behavior: heedfulness. You realize that there are dangers, but if you’re careful, you can avoid them. If the dangers were inevitable, there’d be no reason to be heedful, for nothing you might do could make any difference. If there were no dangers at all, there’d be no reason to be heedful, either. But there are dangers in life. And it turns out that the dangers lie not so much in aging, illness, and death, but in the way we think about things. Our greed, aversion, and delusion: These are the dangers. But the care with which we learn how to manage our thoughts, our words, and our deeds provides the way out.

So heedfulness reminds us of the dangers but also says, “If you’re careful, if you’re mindful, if you’re alert, if you’re discerning, you can gain release from those dangers.” That’s why we’re here meditating, learning how to train the mind so that it can recognize greed, anger, and delusion when they come. A large part of the problem is that we don’t recognize these qualities for what they are because delusion by definition can’t see itself; often it gets mixed up with the greed and the anger so we don’t recognize them either.

To get past that, you have to learn how to observe your own mind to sense what you’re doing that’s skillful, and what you’re doing that’s not. And to do that you have to observe your thoughts to see where they lead: to pleasure or pain. This is something we don’t normally do. We prefer to get involved in a thought world, totally in that world, trying to shape it whatever way we like. Then, for one reason or another, we drop that, move to another one, and then to another one. It’s like hopping trains. If you’ve ever tried to trace the trains of your thought, you know that they’re a lot more complicated than the railroad network here in America. You hop on a train of thought and find yourself in Burma, England, in the middle of Russia, up to the North Pole, down to the South Pole, out to Mars and Saturn, with brief stops along the way when you’re feeling hungry, tired, or hot.

It’s back-and-forth all over the place. And when our thoughts are totally out of control like this, no wonder they cause suffering. They can latch onto any object and worry it to death — and worry us to death. Unless the mind is trained, it has very little ability to step back and see what’s going on. You need to learn how to see where your thoughts go. In other words, you step out of the thought and see it as a part of a causal process. This thought leads to that reaction, that reaction leads to that thought, that thought leads to that reaction, and so on. To get out of these trains of thought, you also want to see how each thought gets put together. Why do thoughts arise to begin with?

When you understand these processes, then you can step back and — when you notice that a particular thought is leading toward suffering — you can drop it. You can disband it. The more alert, the more mindful you are, the more quickly you can do this until you get to the point where there’s just a brief stirring of a thought — even before it becomes a coherent thought — and you can zap it. You recognize that it’s going to go off in an unskillful direction and you stop it in its tracks by breathing right through the little knot or bundle of energy around which the thought was about to coalesce.

These are some of the skills you develop as you meditate. This is one of the reasons why we start with the breath. We start by thinking about the breath, because if you keep your thoughts concerned with something right here in the present moment, you can start to see the processes of thinking, what’s called fabrication, in action. The breath is called bodily fabrication. It’s what helps to create your sense of the body, the way you feel the body from within. And then you combine that with directed thought and evaluation, which are called verbal fabrication. In other words, you keep directing your thoughts to the breath and then you evaluate it: How does this breath feel? Is it comfortable? If it’s not comfortable, how can you make it better?

This brings in the other level of fabrication, which is mental fabrication: feelings and perceptions. Your perceptions are the labels you apply to things. In the case of the breathing process, this has to do with how you perceive what’s going on when you breathe. When you visualize the breathing process to yourself, what is that visualization like? Is it helpful or does it actually cause harm? If you think of the body as a bellows — pulling the breath in, pushing it out — it’s going to make the breathing process tedious, tiresome. If you learn how to perceive the breathing process more as an energy flow, not just the air in and out of the lungs, but the quality of the energy in the body as a whole — from the top of the head down to the face, down to the torso and down to the legs, and down the shoulders and out the arms — then the breathing is more pleasurable. The whole body is involved in this quality of breath, breathing, energy flow.

The body is wired in such a way that it can actually pick up energy from within itself, one part feeding another. The energy doesn’t have to come in with the air. In fact, the air coming in and out is simply a byproduct of the energy flow in the body. Try holding that perception in mind and see what it does for the breathing. See which parts of the body’s energy can feed the parts that feel starved. If that gets too complicated, just get back to directing your thoughts to the in-and-out breath, evaluating the in-and-out breath, and leave it at that. But as you get more sensitive to the full process of fabrication, you begin to realize what you’re doing is creating a thought world here that includes all forms of fabrication: breath, which is bodily fabrication; directed thought and evaluation — verbal fabrication; and your feelings and perceptions — mental fabrication. They’re all right here.

When they’re all right here, you’re in a better position to see how thoughts and emotions form, how they disintegrate, where they lead. Because it’s inevitable as you’re trying to focus on the breath that other things will come up. In the beginning you realize this only after they’ve taken you far away. You find yourself on the coast of Norway: “How did I get here?” But in the beginning, don’t try to trace it back just yet. Just say, “Okay, I’ve got to go back to the breath.” And fortunately you don’t have to travel every inch of the way from Norway back here. Just drop Norway and you’re here, back with the breath. With the next thought you’re in Africa. Okay, drop that, and come back to the breath. With the next thought you’re thinking about tomorrow’s meal: Drop that, come back to the breath.

An unskillful reaction to all this is to get frustrated. The skillful reaction is to realize that this is what the mind’s been doing all along, so it’s going to take time to change its habits. The important lesson to draw is not to be surprised when the mind wanders off like that. Learn to anticipate it. You realize, “Okay, it’s going to wander off again, so watch for the warning signs.” How does that happen? A sudden curtain falls over the mind and, when the curtain is raised, you’re off someplace else, as in a play. The curtain drops on Act One and when it rises again, you’re in Act Two, off someplace else. How and why does the mind hide these things from itself? And how do you know that it’s about to happen?

When you can anticipate that it’s about to happen, you’ll notice it’s because of a sense of irritation or boredom or antsiness in the mind. Even though you’re standing with the breath, the mind is beginning to look someplace else. When you can catch that happening, remind yourself that it’s a sign the breath isn’t interesting and comfortable enough. Start asking yourself more questions about the breath. How could it be more comfortable? What kind of breathing would feel really, really good, gratifying, refreshing right now? You can ask the different parts of the body. “Hand, what kind of breathing would feel good for you? Left hand, right hand, stomach, legs, chest, abdomen: What kind of breath would you like?” And then let them breathe in whatever way they like.

The more interesting the breathing process — the more you can see the good impact it’s having on the body — then the less likely that the mind will wander off. And the more easily it’ll come back. At the same time, you’re learning some important lessons about how the mind creates thought worlds, and how it creates suffering in the process. This way you can learn how not to engage in those processes, developing the skills that will protect the mind from its own worst habits.

So as you’re practicing breath meditation like this, you’re doing something concrete about all your realistic fears: If death comes, aging comes, illness comes, if somebody drops you off in the middle of nowhere in the dark, how can you keep your mind under control so you don’t suffer? By doing what you’re practicing right now. You’re giving yourself some concrete skills that can underlie a realistic sense of confidence that you can manage your mind, that you can learn how to train the mind, regardless of the situation. This combination of fear and confidence constitutes the heedfulness that underlies the whole path. You become heedful to try to develop skillful qualities, i.e., qualities of mind that will lead to good results, leading you away from suffering; and to abandon and avoid unskillful qualities, the ones that cause suffering. If you develop your mindfulness, your alertness, your concentration, you can do this.

So fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s an important part of wisdom, recognizing that there are dangers in life. It’s a necessary function of the mind, anticipating that dangers are going to happen. The important thing is not to let the fear get tied up in greed, aversion, or delusion. You want to bring more mindfulness, more clarity to the issues you fear, and to gain more skill in the qualities that will help you avoid those dangers.

That’s the important message of the Buddha’s teaching. After he saw the forest mendicant, he became a forest mendicant himself to test and see if the confidence he had placed in that way of living was really well placed. And his awakening proved that it was: It is possible to find a happiness that’s not touched by aging, illness, death, or separation. And as the Buddha said, this realization came not through any special qualities on his part. It came through developing qualities of mind that we all have, that we all can develop, such as ardency, alertness, and resolution, but especially heedfulness: the skillful sort of fear that can get you on the path and see you through to the end.

So don’t hate your fears or fear your fears. Learn how to educate them. When they’re educated and trained, they’re part of the path to the end of suffering. This is part of the Buddha’s genius: He took things that many of us don’t like about the mind, things that actually cause trouble in the mind, and learned how to tame them, to train them, so that they actually become part of the path to the end of suffering. In this way, you can reach a place in the mind where there really is no more reason to fear. As Ven. Ananda said, you use desire to come to the end of desire. In the same way, you can use fear, treating it wisely, to bring yourself to the end of fear. And as it turns out, that’s the only way you can get there.

You can read more of Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s writings here