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What is an ego if not a collection of judgments and opinions?
Throughout this month's Tricycle Retreat, "Relationships, Love, and Spiritual Practice," retreat leader Ezra Bayda has been offering very clear teachings not just on how to work on relationships, but how to work with one's own mind. Ezra emphasizes the cultivation of genuine giving, the importance of understanding expectations, and that the more honestly and clearly we can work with our own fears and judgments, the less they are going to dictate our negative behaviors.
In his Week 3 talk, Ezra cites an example from his own marriage. When he and his wife first got together 20 years ago, Ezra was working with his own tendencies to be critical and judgmental. Also seeing that his wife had no interest in being "fixed" by him, he made it his practice to avoid all judgments and criticisms whenever possible. Through this, Ezra learned something amazing, that his judgments were rarely about her and were almost always about him. He explains that he and his wife have very different styles regarding possessions, that he is a minimalist who likes to own very little and his wife likes to go to thrift stores and bring home all sorts of "little treasures." Ezra initially believed that his style was "more Zen like," but as he worked with the practice of withholding criticism, he began to see that his inner state driving his criticism was not some great Zen virtue but was actually just a fear of chaos and loss of control that was being triggered by his wife's rather ordinary, modest, and joyful patronage of thrift stores. Learning this, it became easy to withhold his criticisms because he realized they were really about him. He didn't have to ask his wife to take away his discomfort, he could just deal with it.
In response to Ezra Week 3 teaching, a participant writes:
I can't help but think that the hypotheses and solutions presented are overly simplistic - the concept that my judgments of another are really about me just doesn't ring true. But I am willing to look at it and try it. Are you saying that your understanding of your reaction to your wife's bringing home knick-knacks as your fear of chaos and need to control was transformative? That that simple realization made some sort of a significant difference (e.g. those items in your home and displayed no longer lead to irritation?) Hard to believe!
To which another participant writes:
I can remember when I did not believe that this kind of inner transformation of attitude toward outer circumstance was possible. Why should I trust someone else's word for it? Weren't they really just manipulating my mind to serve their own needs, to get me to do what they wanted me to do?
I wasn't ready to take this risk until I acknowledged complete defeat in my struggle to impose my will on others over the course of many decades. I finally gave up. And that's when I began to transform.
For me this "simple realization"--that I could find deep contentment in life without pushing my own agenda on other people--occurred many, many times before I was ready to place my faith in it. It grew over time. It IS a complex rather than a simple process.
But my part in it turned out to be quite simple and doable. Take the risk again and again, let go my fear, do something different--do nothing!--and observe what happens.
You know what? I didn't die. I didn't become humiliated, weak and miserable. I got smarter. I let go my false preconceptions about what would make me happy. I'm stronger and my relationships are stronger than ever before.
May the force--the dharma--be with you.
I don't want you to believe it just because i said it. If you're willing to try it for yourself then it will no longer be an empty intellectual debate —you'll have your own experience as a teacher.
The transformation is not just from seeing our fears—what is also required is that we stay present with them, truly feeling them. When we do this our fears lose their solidity, and the genuine connection that is possible in relationships is no longer blocked.
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Week 3 preview: