Don’t impose the wrong notion of what harmony is, what compassion is, what patience is, what generosity is. Don’t misinterpret what these things really are. There is compassion and there is idiot compassion; there is patience and there is idiot patience; there is generosity and there is idiot generosity.
For example, trying to smooth everything out to avoid confrontation, not to rock the boat, is not what’s meant by compassion or patience. It’s what is meant by control. Then you are not trying to step into unknown territory, to find yourself more naked with less protection and therefore more in contact with reality. Instead, you use the idiot forms of compassion and so forth just to get ground.
When you open the door and invite in all sentient beings as your guests, you have to drop your agenda. Many different people come in. Just when you think you have a little scheme that is going to work, it doesn’t work. It was very beneficial to Juan, but when you tried it on Mortimer, he looked at you as if you were crazy, and when you try it on Juanita, she gets insulted.
Coming up with a formula won’t work. If you invite all sentient beings as your guests while just wanting harmony, sooner or later you’ll find that one of your guests is behaving badly and that just sitting there cheerfully doing your tonglen and trying to cultivate harmony doesn’t work.
(For an introduction to the practice of tonglen, see: All-Embracing Compassion-The Heart-Practice of Tonglen)
So you sit there and you say, “Okay, now I’m going to make friends with the fact that I am hurting and afraid, and this is really awful.” But you are just trying to avoid conflict here; you just don’t want to make things worse. Then all the guests are misbehaving; you work hard all day and they just sit around, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, eating your food, and then beating you up. You think you’re being a warrior and a Bodhisattva by doing nothing and saying nothing, but what you’re being is a coward. You’re just afraid of making the situation worse. Finally they kick you out of your house and you’re sitting on the sidewalk. Somebody walks by and says, “What are you doing sitting out here?” You answer, “I am practicing patience and compassion.” That’s missing the point.
Even though you’ve dropped your agenda, even though you are trying to work WITH situations instead of struggling AGAINST them, nevertheless you may have to say, “You can stay here tonight, but tomorrow you’re going, and if you don’t get out of here, I am calling the police.” You don’t really know what’s going to benefit somebody, but it doesn’t benefit anybody to allow someone to beat you up, eat all your food, and put you out on the street.
So “Don’t misinterpret” really gets at the notion of the big squeeze. It’s saying that you don’t know what’s going to help, but you need to speak and act with clarity and decisiveness. Clarity and decisiveness come from the willingness to slow down, to listen to and look at what’s happening. They come from opening your heart and not running away. Then the action and the speech are in accord with what needs to be done, for you and for the other person.
We make a lot of mistakes. If you ask people whom you consider to be wise and courageous about their lives, you may find that they have hurt a lot of people and made a lot of mistakes, but that they used those occasions as opportunities to humble themselves and open their hearts. We don’t get wise by staying in a room with all the doors and windows closed.
From Start Where You Are : A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron (Copyright 1994, Shambhala Publications.)