Some Helpful Distinctions

The other side of the coin is meeting conflict. Here one needs different abilities: the ability to define and maintain appropriate boundaries, to survive conflict without being harmed, to destroy or let go of what is no longer suitable, to deal effectively with oppositional forces. Again, in Buddhist thought, there are specific teachings on how to meet conflict through the four stages of pacification, enrichment, magnetization, and destruction, the principle of having no territory to defend, etc. In social and judicial arenas, oppositional forces may be dealt with by structures that require individuals or organizations to face clearly and unambiguously the consequences of violating another’s rights, property or person. Oppositional training is most explicit in the military where the intention is to impose one’s will by whatever means are necessary.

Both abilities are essential. Without any training in connection, the abilities in meeting conflict degenerate into meaningless destruction. On the other hand, if a person has no ability in meeting conflict, their efforts in making connection and particularly in leadership will not be fruitful for they will have no effectiveness dealing with the inevitable conflicts that do arise in the course of relationships of any kind.

Area III: Training in Natural Presence

Finally, we come to the training in natural presence. This, in many ways, is the most subtle, the most difficult, and the most demanding area of the three. The work here is to hone our life to being present in each moment. As I said above, this is simultaneously the fruition and the path of our efforts. The internal work, the psychologically and spiritual practices mentioned above, are concerned with opening up this possibility in us. The interaction work, being able to connect and to meet conflict skillfully, is essential if we are to be present in the world of our experience. Now we need to make explicit efforts in our life so that it actually happens.

Many people approach this naively, feeling that a drastic simplification of their life will be sufficient (adoption of a monastic life, living simply in nature, stepping off the fast track, etc.), but we usually bring our baggage with us when we make these moves. The first effort here is to rid ourselves of accumulations from the past. We can let go of our past externally (clearing out closets, divesting ourselves of clothes, etc. from other stages of our life) or internally (letting go of the self images we have accumulated, letting go of our personal history). The essential point is to let go of our attachment to what we’ve been.

The second effort is to let go of the future. We then have access to an increasing range of possible responses to situations. We may need to experiment and act differently intentionally in given situations so that we know experientially that those possibilities are available to us. Internally, we will find the teachings on impermanence and suffering powerful aids to letting go of ideas about how the future should be for us.

Finally, we make efforts, again internally and externally, to be able to meet present circumstances as they are, without the prejudices and reactive tendencies that we have accumulated, or the expectations and desires we want to fulfill. Some of the best descriptions of what it is to live this way are found in Lao Tzu’s The Tao Te Ching. Remember that he is usually describing the results of these efforts, not the efforts themselves. For the efforts themselves, we need to turn to our practice, our path, and make that our life.

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