Flow Around

April 3, 2010

This is an old post from when we were first starting to find success with the Constructional Aggression Treatment as a method for rehabilitating aggressive dogs. 

The Momentary Mentor: Flow Around 9/2/06

A rather surprising thing has begun to happen in my life.  The things I’ve worked hard to achieve are coming to fruition.  It’s amazing, incredible, exciting!  My education, career and family are all coming along beautifully.  Hard work, sacrifice and persistence do eventually pay off. 

I would be able to say it couldn’t be better but for one disconcerting result of my fledgling professional success.  It’s pissing people off.

But it turns out that’s okay.    

I never set out to be in competition with anyone and it came as a complete surprise that some people want to spar.  I mostly like sorting out problems.  I have been interested in aggression in animals as well as humans for a long time, and the opportunity to help Jesus Rosales-Ruiz develop an aggression treatment procedure that also reveals some heretofore unrealized facts about behavior is an amazing experience. 

But what makes it even better is when other people take the procedure and use it in their work in creative and innovative ways, developing it, making it even better.  When people send me emails or call with news of their latest success, it is the absolute best thing ever!  What could be better than doing work that people can actually use successfully to make the world a better place?  In my view, that’s the ultimate success story.

And yet there are people who aren’t happy that we’re working with canine aggression, and they’re even less happy that we’re telling the world about it. 

That’s okay.

When we first began this research, I was just plain excited about it and talked about it a lot.  People soon began to criticize what we’re doing without knowing much about it.  How maddening!  But once I sat down and thought it through, I realized that many of these folks have been getting their reinforcers from working with aggression for a long time.  Many of them are darned good at it.  I’m the new kid on the block.  They deserve what they’ve worked to achieve.  I must still earn their respect if I’m to ever have it.  And maybe I won’t.  Others are struggling to make a name in the highly competitive world of dog training and animal behavior.  They see me as a challenge.

And that’s okay, too.  The thing is, I’m not competing.  If I have my way, they will become as successful as they are willing to work to become.

When I realized that even when someone is being unkind or even threatening, it’s still just behavior under the influence of the environment, it became easier to take.  It became much more natural to step back and look at things reasonably rather than taking everything personally.  It’s still not fun to receive criticism or to hear about it second hand.  But it is a different experience now than before I understood what they are working for.  From their perspectives other peoples’ successes in their field puts their access to their reinforcers in jeopardy. 

 When one person approached me, almost daring me to try to convince a certain group of highly experienced experts that our procedure was better than what they are doing, I realized that convincing people who don’t want to be convinced is not what I’m in this work for.  If they don’t want to be convinced, nothing I can show them is going to change their minds. 

As soon as I realized that, things began to get better for me, fast.  It wasn’t anything psychic or an intervention from the mystic collective unconscious or anything like that.  It was a simple change of focus.  Who does want to learn about our procedure?  Who needs it?  Who is willing to give it a fair shot at success?  That simple change of focus brought me new clients, new speaking opportunities, more professional options, and much less worry. 

I’m doing this work because I want a career where I can help people and animals.  A few paragraphs ago when I wrote how excited I get when people take our research and use it in the real world?  That’s where my reinforcers come from.  Not in breaking through to people who don’t want to be convinced.  So I stopped trying to convince them and went where there was no resistance. 

There are an estimated 4.7 million dog bites in this country each year according to the National Centers for Disease Control.  There are plenty of aggressive dogs to go around.  I don’t have to fight the current experts for the same dogs they’re working with.  That will just mean I’m fighting, fighting, fighting all the time, and that won’t get me any closer to the reinforcers I value.  What I have to do is find the people who care about some dogs’ behavior, who are looking for answers, and show them that I can do something to help. 

It turns out that’s as easy as water flowing down a stream. 

The first time I told this story, it turned into a parable.  In the two weeks since I first told it, I’ve found the opportunity to tell it several times.  In every case the listener has told me it made a difference.  I hope it will make a difference for you.  If not, just keep it stored away.  There may come a time when you can use it. 

Trying to convince those who are fighting not to be convinced is like water trying to flow through a stone.  The stone is strong and valuable on the Earth, but it is stone.  Instead of trying to penetrate stone, flow around.  In a hundred years the stone will still be strong and stationary, perhaps worn down a little on the side where the water has flowed around it, but still a stone.  But the water will be miles away, far along on its journey, transformed by the plants and animals that drink it, part of the clouds above it, part of the earth below it.    

If you come across people in your life who fight or resist you as you try to be everything you can be, honor them in those things for which they deserve honor.  Then flow around.

This is a rock.  I am water.  Flow around.

Kellie Snider

Copyright 2006

I got into Buddhism for some simple reasons. 

  1. It acknowledges that life involves suffering, and teaches you how to deal with it.
  2. It doesn’t assume that everyone is a sinner.  What you do creates suffering or it doesn’t, and the more you learn about living without suffering the more often you’ll choose not to do the things that make you suffer.  (One of the things that makes you suffer is creating suffering for other people.) 
  3. It doesn’t assume that the answer is “out there” somewhere.  It demonstrates that the answer has all about being aware of each moment, here, now.
  4. The question is not “How do I find the answer?”  But, “How do I stay awake right now?” Because if you’re searching for the answer you won’t find it.  You can only find it by staying awake. 

But I keep running across practices that absolutely didn’t fit that little outline.  For example, I picked up this book called A Buddha From Brooklyn.  It is about this Italian American chick that someone decided was a Buddha, so she started a meditation center.  She’s constantly getting married and unmarried.  Lots of suffering there for her and the guys and the people around them. She wears heels to meditation practice… not “wrong”, just not really practical. And it’s her goal over the course of this book to build the biggest stupa in her area … a tower with a certain  bulbous shape…  fill it with relics such as the finger bone of some dead teacher and some rice and beans so that when it’s finished if you walk around it in a clockwise circle you’ll be healed or have wishes granted.   She is believed to be clairvoyant. 

Oh, boy.  She wanted the biggest and best magical object.  Competition and the supernatural.  Dukkha in drag. 

So I asked some folks in my sangha about the supernatural.  Basically, does everyone here believe this kind of thing, and is everyone expected to believe it if they come here?  Because, honestly, I was going to have to do some serious thinking if that was the case.  The main answer I got was from Will, a guy I’ve come to respect a great deal who said, “I am a skeptic at heart and I hold my skepticism dear.  The Buddha said to be a light unto yourself and if what he said doesn’t match your experience, by all means go with your own experience.” 

Oh, whew.  But then he said to be open and explore each thing that comes your way… skepticism shouldn’t be about just discarding everything that is different from what you know now.  That’s just another kind of attachment.  And attachment causes suffering.  Oh my. 

Okay.  Alright.  Basically the basic Buddhist take is that the iconography is about helping you focus, and if it is distracting, you don’t need it.  You’re not worshiping when you bow, you’re focusing your attention. You’re not worshiping the buddha statue if you happen to have one (and there is not one in our sangha), you’re using it it acknowledge that he had a good idea when he figured out how much good being fully present in each moment does.  Such acknowledgement helps you center and focus on the now.  The rest is just decoration, and as such completely unnecessary.  In fact, our sangha’s shrine bears simple objects to symbolize each of the senses.  In behavior analysis we would call them discriminitive stimuli that act as cues to observe the environment.  Cool! 

Whenever people don’t fully understand something they think it’s magic, and where there is magical thinking, people do weird things.  More on that in a minute. 

So I asked another burning question that was more personal.  In the Buddhist teachings we are advised not to cause harm to any sentient being.  In my job sometimes I recommend euthanasia for animals that are behaviorally unsound.  The way I make my decisions is basically, if the animal is likely to cause someone harm or if the animal’s current suffering is so great as to be untenable and perhaps unresolvable, or if his condition is such that confinement is the only safe solution, and such confinement is likely to result in lifelong suffering for the animal, then I recommend euthanasia.  I do not technically have the last word, but in practice, when it comes to behavior issues, my decision is almost always the final one.  That’s hard, so I wondered if Buddhism offered any snappy answers to that one. 

This lead to some uneasiness in the sangha.  One advanced practitioner reminded me that we are called upon to engage in “Right Livelihood”, and while she was kind, it was clear that to her this meant I should be considering a job change at some point.  In fact, she approached me later and suggested that in a couple of years I might find that it was time to move away from this line of work.  She also suggested, completely innocently, that these animals be provided with sanctuary somewhere or even released into the wild.  Oh, my.  Knowing what I know, this would create really bad karma. I forget that most people really don’t know the whole story about animal suffering. Not even close.

One guy said, “The Dharma recommends not killing, but it also acknowledges that it is impossible not to kill.  There’s not solid right and wrong.”

That helped me distill my question down to, “What is more significant?  Prolonging life or eliminating suffering?”  

One guy suggested that perhaps this is one way I can either serve my Karma, or even create good Karma to carry forward.  He said, “Maybe you are meant to be there because you have the ability to protect other people from having to make such a hard decision.”  I wanted to hug him. 

I know that what I do prevents far more suffering than it creates.  But I often feel quite sad about it.  One time we had to euthanize this dog that the staff loved. He was a purebred pit bull who didn’t like other dogs and was just always right on the rough edge of our “he’s a keeper” policy for a long list of reasons. When he got sick and the decision was made to euthanize the staff was broken hearted, and some were quite angry.  My heart bled for them and for the dog, and it was one of those rare days that I broke my open door office policy and locked myself in to ponder the meaning of life and my place in it for a while.

Will said, “You’re not going to get a definite answer on this one.”  Hello, Buddha.

So I spent the next few days with some minor angst.  I even asked myself if maybe I should be thinking about finding different work.  That caused significant brain drama for a couple of days.  Talk about attachment causing suffering!  Just thinking about walking away from my job caused suffering. 

At one point in the discussion about the supernatural Will said that there are times in his work as a psycho-therapist when his clients think he’s psychic because he read their situation so clearly and even assumed correctly about some situation they had experienced but had not told him about. He said, “It’s not that I’m psychic.  It’s just that I’ve been doing this work for 30 years and I’ve seen the same patterns over and over again.”  It’s like me and the dogs.  Sometimes I know what they’re going to do next because I’ve seen the patterns before. 

Maybe that’s all clairvoyance is.  Maybe that’s what the supernatural is. It seems magical to Sam because he hasn’t seen it before, but Sue has seen it again and again and again, so she can predict what will happen next.  Sam worships at his altar filled with awe and longing, while Sue attends her shrine to remind her that it’s all available to her if she just pays attention, and she experiences no longing and is filled with peace. 

A day or two after the conversations, I found a book in my Kindle that I had not yet read.  Buddhism Pure and Simple by Steve Hagan.  It was the right book at the right time.  He wrote, “It’s not about whether you’re doing the right thing or the wrong thing.  It’s about being awake while you’re doing it.”  And if you are awake while you’re doing each thing, you will find yourself doing more things that cause less suffering and fewer things that cause more suffering.  You can only achieve this if you stay present in every moment.  The path doesn’t lead to anywhere out there, it only leads to right here where I am. 

Simple, but so alien. 

Peace (Shiwa) from the Meditator Tot.

Kellie

Shiwa Nyi-Tso

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you know that I have been studying Buddhism.  There is much to love about this practice for a heathen scientist, but it is tarnished with myth and a willingness to fall for anything just like other religions are.  It’s not supposed to be a religion, yet it has adherants who worship the Buddha rather than following the teachings of Siddhartha the human buddha.  And the writings of the human Buddha are rife with the influence of the age and place in which he lived.  How could they not be?  We learn by interactions with our environments. 

Mindfulness and meditation have made a huge difference in my life in the short time I’ve been practicing them.  I’ve been disillusioned by the beliefs of so many learned Buddhists that some guy was really and truly born out of a lotus flower, and that we can all become clairvoyant as we ascend to nirvana and other such nonsense. 

What mindfulness can really offer is the ability to observe one’s life better and stop running away from reality– the exact opposite of most religious practices.  And that’s pure science. Instead of distracting ourselves with doing acts because we are told to by mythical or historical characters who threaten us with rebirth as a toad or with hellfire and damnation, we can do things because we observe and figure out what the antecedents and consequences are for our actions. Once we know that we can adjust them to improve our lives and that of those around us. That’s behavior analysis.  That’s real. Meditation and mindfulness help us get there.

In my last post I wrote that I’m not really a Buddhist.  I am studying Buddhism, but I don’t want to be defined as a Buddhist any more than I want to be defined as a Christian. Both faiths are enmeshed with superstitions I choose not to embrace.  I embrace evidence.  When contradictory evidence comes along, I adjust my beliefs.  People aren’t born from Lotus flowers, nor are they born from virgins.  I know lots of folks who have edited their Christianity to exclude the silly stuff and include only the good stuff, like “turn the other cheek” and all that. But you’ve got to keep in mind, in the Christian scriptures, Jesus cursed a fig tree to death when it wouldn’t give him fruit, and God refused to save his only son when he was being crucified.  These aren’t stories that comfort me.  They make me nervous.  They make it okay to kill those who don’t serve you and to walk away from the one person they are supposed to love most.  If I had to worship a god, it would be one that whisked his kid off the cross, healed his wounds, and said, “Yo, People!  I’ll do the same for you!” 

Which is why the Buddha was originally so appealing.  He was born wealthy, but when he saw how the rest of the world was, he gave up his wealth and tried to figure out what was up with all that.  He finally determined that The Middle Way is the best way.  Not extreme asceticism… which makes me confused about why Buddhist monks are supposed to support themselves by begging.  Not extreme wealth… which makes me confused about all the gold encrusted Buddha statues and offerings.   But the Middle Way.  Moderation in all things. I think the Buddha has been skewed just like the Christ has.  But I also think I’m going to have a hard time with a guru that existed in a time when fact-based science and equality were hazy at best.

I found this article online and all the way through I was thinking, Yes!  Yes!  I’ve copied some quotes, but please go to the source, the Shambala Sun, to read the entire article:  http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=2903Itemid=247

“Given the degree to which religion still inspires human conflict, and impedes genuine inquiry, I believe that merely being a self-described “Buddhist” is to be complicit in the world’s violence and ignorance to an unacceptable degree.”  Sam Harris, author of Tne End of Faith in the Shambala Sun.  [Harris was commenting on the general idea most people have of Buddhism as a religion.  Among the people who hold this idea are some practicing Buddhists.]

Harris continues, “…there are ideas within Buddhism that are so incredible as to render the dogma of the virgin birth plausible by comparison…Among Western Buddhists, there are college-educated men and women who apparently believe that Guru Rinpoche was actually born from a lotus. This is not the spiritual breakthrough that civilization has been waiting for these many centuries.”  [Indeed.]

Harris:  “For the fact is that a person can embrace the Buddha’s teaching, and even become a genuine Buddhist contemplative (and, one must presume, a buddha) without believing anything on insufficient evidence… In many respects, Buddhism is very much like science.”  [Wow.]

Harris:  “…the methodology of Buddhism, if shorn of its religious encumbrances, could be one of our greatest resources as we struggle to develop our scientific understanding of human subjectivity.”  [Yes!]

“Why is religion such a potent source of violence? There is no other sphere of discourse in which human beings so fully articulate their differences from one another, or cast these differences in terms of everlasting rewards and punishments.”  [Yes, yes!]

“Religion is also the only area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give evidence in defense of their strongly held beliefs. And yet, these beliefs often determine what they live for, what they will die for, and—all too often—what they will kill for.”  [So true!]

“…once we develop a scientific account of the contemplative path, it will utterly transcend its religious associations.” 

A scientific account of the contempletive path.

This makes me want to go back to school and conduct mindfulness research. 

Good Karma,

Meditator Tot