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February 7, 2017

The Wisdom of Picking Your Battles

by Seijaku Roshi

What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.
Aristotle

During this time of so much change and adversity, I am regularly reminded of some advise given me about parenting which has extended into all the roles I play at any given time.  “Pick your battles.”  Recently after making a decision back in November to spend less time watching cable news and visiting Pine Wind’s Facebook page, I made the error of visiting both the news media and social media a little more often than I would prefer to.  An error I have quickly corrected. However, for anyone who feels otherwise I would like to respectfully offer some advise.  Like so many I am sure, I find that more than necessary, repetition on current events and oppositional themes shot at me on Facebook. While one can certainly be entrapped by our emotions responding to every one of them, my advice is to “Pick Your Battles”.  (I also noticed one day while drinking my very large cup of coffee and getting lost in one of the cable news networks, that all they really do in the course of just two-hours is repeat over and over again the same news they reported just an hour ago, and they are masters at making it look like “Breaking News”.)  You don’t have to respond to each and every one of them.  In fact I think there is an important “lesson” to be learned in feeling that you do.

In Zen spirituality or Authentic Spirituality, the training or practice is always the same.  “Be mindful or aware of when my thoughts and my reactions are generated by an egotistical desire or need to react.”  Whenever that is the case, and especially when it comes to “emotional” reactions to stimuli, it rarely isn’t anything other than ego at play.  The rule then is to “forget it” or take a breath and move on.  Come back to the center, find the present, and stay there.  As Chogyam Trungpa points out in his book, “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism,” Ego can use anything, including spirituality, for its benefit.  Certainly when it comes to “politics”. Politics is nothing but ego’s playing field.  So it follows that if I find myself needing to react to “everything” I hear or read about in the news or on social media, then something other than “standing up for freedom” is at play. In fact how Am I “free” when I am just reacting and reacting over and over again to some other persons words or positions?  What’s really going on?

The “Wisdom of Picking Your Battles” is a function of an awareness of what Einstein meant when he wrote that, “A Human Being is part of a whole called by us Universe.” It comes from a deepening awareness that we are part of something much larger than, which political party is in the White House, or the current impermanent state of affairs. At all times we exist in both an immediate temporary reality and an infinite larger One. To live a balanced life is to find your center, train in staying there, and always keep things in proper perspective accordingly.  While it is important to be aware of one’s environment and current events, engaged and working to make changes wherever we can, we can’t change Greed by being greedy and wanting things only our way; Hatred by hating the opposition, or Indifference, while not caring about the oppositions position, no matter how much we may disagree with it.

Each of us can only give what we have.  We should only engage in battles we are truly prepared for.  By being prepared I mean that before we try to make the World more peaceful, we need to make sure we have achieved a level of inner peace ourselves; before we try to make everyone more loving and kind, we need to make sure we are loving and kind to ourselves and others; and before we try to make everyone else more caring and compassionate, we need to make sure make sure we have cultivated the ground for our lives to really care for those we want to change, including our enemies.  If in a gun battle we bring a knife, that doesn’t make us less violent, it makes us just as violent as our opponent and stupid. Hatred does not trump hatred, love trumps hatred.  Just being angry doesn’t change an angry world. Prejudging all of our opponents does not end bigotry.  So it is important to pick the battles we are truly ready to win, and not just fight.  We need to also be prepared to lose as well, because anyone who doesn’t know how to lose well is never going to succeed. Just as soldiers train to go to battle and athletes train to run the race, so must anyone who cares about any kind of real change in the world. If we have not trained we don’t belong in race.

Every morning, except sometimes, I awake and enter the Zendo (meditation hall) to sit for an hour or so, followed by prayers I pray for myself and “all sentient beings.”  I do this between 3:00 AM and 4:00 AM in the morning. Often I am asked, “Why do you get up at 4:00 AM?”

First because I’m a monk and I vowed to train. Second because I’d rather not. Real training begins when we come out of our comfort zones and engage what is difficult, not before then. Jesus taught, “What merit is there to only love those who love you.” So much of contemporary spirituality is about just feeling good. I like to feel good just as much as anyone. But that has nothing to do with training. Real spiritual training involves confronting my demons, my thoughts and words, and my actions which either create my personal suffering or creates the ground for healing and renewal. Training is never convenient or comfortable. It involves loving every moment with equanimity no matter the circumstance or situation. If you’ve ever really tried that you would know, “It takes training.” It’s not enough to just enter the ring every day and get your head punched in. That only worked for “Rocky,” a fictional character, in a Hollywood movie.  No real boxer would even have considered entering the ring before training. Developing the skills to remain peaceful through regular and sometimes intensive meditation is essential. Having a coach or teacher is not only necessary but smart. Last but not least, being a part of a community of fellow trainees is even smarter.

I often recall a childhood memory of mine. I was a teenager complaining to the parent of a friend of mine who was like a second parent to me about my father and my disagreements. After a while of just listening to me complain and moan about, “Why does he think he knows better and has the right to always tell me what to do?”, my friend’s Father simply replied, “He’s paid his dues. You haven’t yet.”  It would be many years later, before I would understand.

I Love you,

Seijaku Roshi

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