Thursday, March 18, 2010

Giving Advantage

I have started leading a mindfulness study and discussion group with about twelve participants. The group is focused on how to reduce our suffering and increase our sense of happiness in daily life by dwelling more in the present moment.

In the first session, some very interesting points of discussion were brought forth. One member shared a daily practice that he has developed that involves mindful freeway driving. "Whenever I see someone signaling to come into the lane I'm in, I always give them space." This seems so simple, how could it possibly lead to a reduction of suffering?

Driving of any kind, but especially freeway driving, can be a tremendous source of anxiety, anger, and frustration. This is mostly because of the arising of self, of "I, me, and mine" during our travels. The lane we are using becomes "my" lane. Or, "I don't like the way that guy's driving." Or "that person is upsetting me by not signaling." The truth is, of course, that we are not in any of these situations. The lane is not mine and the other drivers are doing what they are doing, but they are not doing anything to me.

The more we give away of that which we incorrectly perceive to be ours, the more we actually have. We have an open hand, rather than a closed fist (which is not only a threatening and potentially violent gesture, but which also prevents anything from being received). We have a bit of peace where there was once distress. We have made a conscious choice, rather than becoming a victim of our habitual reactions. We have increased the amount of loving kindness in the world by just that much.

Another participant mentioned Father Gregory Boyle, a Catholic priest in Los Angeles, who founded an organization called "Homeboy Industries," which offers employment opportunities to gang members. When asked by a reporter if he ever worried that he might be taken advantage of by some of his employees, Father Boyle replied, "I give my advantage every day, so nobody's ever taken it from me."

For centuries, philosophers have stated, "Nothing comes from nothing." However, when we release attachment to that which is not ours to begin with (such as the space in a freeway driving lane), what we receive from giving away nothing is actually something quite substantial. 


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