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Dharma Seed, a New Hampshire based non-profit that has been making the spoken teachings of Theravada Buddhism available to speakers of many different languages since the 1980s, has recently started converting its content from tapes and CDs to free audio files, available on their website at http://www.dharmaseed.org/. Listeners may download the talks or listen to them as streaming audio files online.
After listening to a recent talk, “Five Guidelines for Practicing with Conflict” by Donald Rothberg, a member of the Executive faculty at Saybrook Graduate School in San Francisco and the Teacher’s Council of Spirit Rock Meditation Center of Woodacre, California, I immediately wanted more. At the recommendation of a Dharma Seed member, I’m turning next to Guy Armstrong, an insight meditation practitioner for over thirty-years and another member of Spirit Rock’s Teacher’s Council.
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Five Guidelines for Practicing with Conflict
2008-05-26 Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Donald Rothberg’s “Five Guidelines for Practicing with Conflict” details advice for coping with conflict in a short forty-five minutes. Spiked with wry humor, often at Rothberg’s own expense, the talk is as enjoyable as it is instructive. The winning combination of personal accounts and an informal tone makes “Five Guidelines for Practicing with Conflict” an approachable and appealing one to listen to, Rothberg’s words amicable and accessible as he addresses the audience as complete equals.
I was immediately drawn in by Rothberg’s first point regarding reactivity. Increasingly over the past few years, I have been thinking about and experimenting with living reactively- that is, reacting to situations and to the people who arise in my life rather than imposing premeditated opinions or ideas that I would have formed out of context. Particularly when dealing with conflict, I think, reacting – considering the full breadth and depth of the conflict’s context and putting prejudgments and the like aside – is really worthy advice to heed.
Rothberg’s second point, that we should work with, instead of against or detached from, the body, is another important and valuable piece of advice. He recommends making a conscious effort to live in the body in order to, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, “move out of the mental stream that is so much of our culture.” Living with a keen sensitivitiy to our bodies can take us away from our inter and intra-personal, incessant “mind chatter.” Rothberg reminds us of the body’s intelligence, stressing that we should integrate the mind, body, and heart; we should not separate them or hold one over the other as a better or worse way of gaining information. He suggests that everyone engage in some kind of “body practice,” be it yoga or walking mediation. The practice may vary, but the goal should remain to rest in one’s own being.
Next Rothberg advises engaging in practices that cultivate joy. Where a body practice should let us rest in our own bodies, this practice should “let us rest in the heart.” Particularly relevant for a western audience, who – I think – does not put aside ample time to rejoice and celebrate life, this advice is as preventative as it is constructive when approaching conflict. Referencing the importance of song in the civil rights movement, for example, Rothberg wants us to find a daily practice that cultivates beauty in ourselves, our work, our relationships, and, indeed, our conflicts.
Both a nice follow-up to and processing of the prior two points, Rothberg’s fourth guideline for dealing with conflict tells us to remember “non-duality” in the course of the conflict. We ought to let the principle of non-duality guide us in our conscious, and hopefully (perhaps if we follow the aforementioned guidelines well?) in our unconscious, thoughts and actions
Finally, Rothberg’s fifth point calls upon us to cultivate “deep intention” so that we resist getting caught up in “moment to moment outcomes.” Acknowledging the paradox of deep intention and detachment, he stands by his advice to have patience, clarifying that we should approach conflict with a “long view,” so as to avoid the grip of disappointment that could strangle us if we expect immediacy. Engaging from start to finish, “Five Guidelines for Practicing with Conflict” is well worth the listen, and I’m looking forward to hearing more of Donald Rothberg’s wise words in the future.
For more talks by Donald Rothberg see: http://www.audiodharma.org/talks/DonaldRothberg.html