May 11, 2014

How To Be Comfortable With Everyone

It’s very common for people on a meditative or spiritual path to develop a kind of sensitivity to the poison and pain of others. Sometimes it’s formulated with the phrase “I pick up all this negativity.” Sometimes it’s formulated with the phrase “People drain my energy.” A closely related perception runs something like this: “Now that I've developed some spiritual maturity, I find it difficult to relate to old friends/family/ordinary people; they so cluelessly cause themselves unneeded suffering; I no longer have much in common with them.”

Regarding such sentiments, there are several things to keep in mind. First: They represent a temporary stage that the practitioner eventually grows out of. Second: When you do grow out of it, it’s replaced by its exact opposite: the more clueless and messed up people are, the more you enjoy being around them. You can make the transition from that temporary stage to its opposite by realizing this:
When we’re around other people, we pick up on where they’re at. If they’re in a bad place, we pick up on that. One might refer to that as exogenous discomfort. It's discomfort whose origin (genesis) is from the outside (exo), i.e., you’re feeling uncomfortable because of what is going on in someone else. The term exogenous contrasts with the term endogenous. Endogenous discomfort is discomfort due to our own stuff. The main point to remember is that the discomfort, endogenous or exogenous, typically comes up as some combination of mental image, mental talk, and emotional body sensation. To the extent that one can experience that sensory arising completely, to that extent it does not cause suffering. It doesn't matter one wit whether the source of suffering is exogenous or endogenous or some combination of both. By “experience it completely” I simply mean experience it mindfully, i.e., experience it in a state of concentration, sensory clarity, and equanimity.
When the discomfort is endogenous and you experience it very mindfully, it doesn’t cause much suffering, it “tastes” like you’re being purified. When the discomfort is exogenous and you experience it very mindfully, not only does it not cause suffering, but it tastes like you and the other person both are being purified. In other words, how your consciousness processes another’s pain subtly teaches that person’s consciousness to do the same. The other person may not be aware that’s happening, but you’re aware of it. You’re aware that you are nourishing that person, and that subtly nurtures you. That’s why you eventually come to enjoy being around clueless messed up people. Paraphrasing the Blues Brothers, you’re “on a secret mission from God.” You walk through life like a giant air filter picking up the psychospheric pollution and automatically processing it, extracting from it energy and then radiating that energy as positivity. You know your job and you love it: recycling the karmic trash.

Collecte des déchets à Paris
By Kevin B

Needless to say, it may take a while to work up to this, but everyone on a path should aspire to this perspective.

This situation contrasts in an interesting way with the goals of psychology. In certain therapeutic approaches, the goal is to get the client to the point where they can distinguish “what’s me” from “what’s them.” In contemplative-based spirituality, the goal is to get to the point where you no longer care about that distinction!


  1. This seems like an accurate description of the tonglen practice.

  2. heartfulSoul@gmail.comMay 12, 2014 at 1:21 AM

    Another perspective on Shinzen's guidance
    is what might be called Consciousness
    Without an Object.

  3. But what if, you have,resistance to this kind if extra job of purifying others? what if the exogenous seems overwhelming?
    I'm reminded of a reply from Zen tradition:
    'Liking and hating are,easy, just cease to prefer the great way! "

    1. This is a great question, and the resistance you mention is so common that I thought this post would be worth putting together and putting out there. In the beginning, it is often the case that everything (or very specific things) from the outside seems overwhelming. This is one of those situations where impermanence works with and for us.

      If we "stay the course", a certain momentum in our personal practice develops. As that momentum is developing, though, it's really important to protect ourselves as needed--whether that involves a supportive community, the time and space to be completely free in who we are, a willingness to step back from too much interacting when necessary, etc. The willingness to step back (when necessary) in the beginning is a huge part of what supports and develops the ability to step up once the momentum in one's practice has developed. Another way of saying this is that being gentle with ourselves early on is practice for being gentle and involved with others later in the process. The gentleness itself helps to dissolve the value in asking the question, "Who's shit is this?" because the distinction between endogenous and exogenous ceases to matter. It's gentleness and appropriate responses all around.

  4. The Blues Brothers! Now that's a way to smile into the moment!

  5. I wondered about this. Good to hear that it is temporary.

  6. I'm thinking of the character Miserbella, as I just took my little boy to see a puppet show about the Moomins. Might this work on Facebook where friends' posts reveal they need help (posting endless illnesses, mishaps, endless 'snuggles' with children who could do with a bit more freedom.)

  7. Hearing this from Shinzen a huge load was taken off the shoulders and there were tears of joy.

    Thank you Shinzen.
    You pack into a page what would easily fill a book


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.