The Post – About That Whole “Mad” Thing

Just a note on a Saturday before grocery shopping.

I kept pondering yesterday’s post about giving a gift when you’re angry. All day long thoughts ran through my head, even in the shower last night. I suppose that’s the mark of a good spiritual master and his words, the mark of a good writer in general – whether he’s right or wrong, whether you agree or disagree, it makes you think. Kind of like Voltaire’s quote about judging a man by his questions rather than by his answers. The answers aren’t as important as stopping to ask the questions.

So questions ran through my mind all day and night about Thich Nhat Hanh’s quote to give a gift to defuse anger and reconnect with a loved one or friend. Like I said yesterday, I know it can work, and has many times. However, like the Buddha’s approach to life – the Middle Path, which means to go to neither one extreme nor the other – there is more to this subject. There is the context of the relationship and the nature of the disagreement.

This approach can work in relationships where love and respect exists, and both are committed to resolving differences. This approach certainly won’t work in abusive relationships. It won’t work when negotiating with another group or country who seeks destruction. Or maybe it does, except it’s the nature of the gift that changes. In those situations what might be needed is true compassion, the kind that draws a line and says this behavior is not acceptable. I am not the doormat. Even Thich Nhat Hanh, who was exiled from his native country of Vietnam until very recently, did not try to approach those bent on killing him with a gift. Instead, he offered the “gift” of continuing to work with love in the world, even love for his enemies, and followed his own path.

Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, wrote about “idiot compassion” in her book, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. She said:

” . . . idiot compassion . . . is when we avoid conflict and protect our good image by being kind when we should say a definite “no.” Compassion doesn’t imply only trying to be good. When we find ourselves in an aggressive relationship, we need to set clear boundaries. The kindest thing we can do for everyone concerned is to know when to say “enough.”

Her teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said that idiot compassion refers to the tendency of spiritual practitioners to give people what they want as opposed to what they need, all in the name of being nice and compassionate.

When your screaming toddler wants ice cream all the time or your surly teenager wants to stay out all night, idiot compassion would be to give in. To offer those things as gifts for peace, is not love.

I am curious about the context of yesterday’s statements by Thich Nhat Hanh, so curious, in fact, I need to read the rest of this book. I need to hear more about what this man of peace says about Anger, and how to cool its flames. I went to my old friend,, and in seconds with the click of a few buttons, I have a copy of his book winging its way here. My appetite is whetted. I need to know more.

Perhaps yesterday’s piece did its job. It made me ask questions.

Coming up in the future – I have this older book about American authors at home. It shows pictures of various authors in their workspace. I’m always curious about how people set up the area in which they create. I look at myself and realize I don’t just have a writer’s room, but a writer’s house. I’m a migratory writer and my projects have taken over ROOMS and WALLS and the GARAGE. I am like this bacteria I used to identify years ago when I worked in a microbiology lab: Proteus mirabilis. It starts out as one single round colony on an agar plate. Then it stealthily sends out microscopic “colonizing parties.” In a few hours the wavy swarm of the Proteus colony has overrun everything else on the plate. It does have the positive quality that when you lift the plate, it smells like chocolate cake, but still, it takes over everything. So…coming up – Proteus mirabilis – my approach to living the writing life at home.


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