Compassion in Action
Linda: Sylvia and Seymour have been married for more than 50 years. We consider them wise elders in our tribe. They still travel extensively and wherever they go they keep up their rigorous workout routine that includes swimming, biking, and walking. On a trip to Russia, they found a public swimming pool. Sylvia said, “I found that their pool etiquette was different from ours. The women stand around in the pool talking, right in the middle of the lanes. I had to continually swim around them. I noticed my mind filled with judgment. Why don’t they get out of the pool to kibbitz? They are in my way. Don’t they have any consideration for the people who really want to swim in the pool?” Each day she went to the pool, and each day her mind was full of irritation about these clusters of women being in her way.
“After days in a row, I was in the locker room putting on my bathing suit. Many of the women were nude, taking off their clothing to put on their swimsuits. I saw that many of the women were about my age, or even younger, but their bodies looked so much more worn than mine. I became acutely aware of how difficult their lives must be compared to my own for them to be aging so rapidly. My heart opened to these women. I felt admiration for what they had weathered. When I got into the pool to swim my laps, I was filled with affection for these wonderful women. They were still standing in the middle of the lane, but it didn’t bother me at all.”
Seymour said, “This is an important secret of how relationships work. If we can handle the fear and anger in our own mind, our relationship will fill up with love. Couples with strong marriages have accumulated vast reservoirs of attention, caring, and goodwill by making regular and frequent deposits in their emotional bank account. They have learned how to get vulnerable, learned to resist the temptation to blame, and have become humble enough to ask their partner for help. When one is vulnerable and says ‘I’m afraid and I need your help,’ it makes it very hard for the other partner to say no and to continue to fight. Couples with strong marriages defuse anger and fear so that it doesn’t close their hearts and rob them of precious life energies, and they know enough to apologize quickly when they screw up. If you don’t get frightened and angry, then you’ll naturally be loving. It takes a lot more time to come to terms with unfinished business from our families and our personal issues than people realize. It can take up to 20 years or even more. It’s a demanding practice with big returns and so worth the effort.”
Sylvia: “I have learned over the years how anger is poison in the mind. I have discovered that if I deliver the message without anger, I can say anything I want to Seymour, or anybody else in the world, both making my point and feeling heard. The important distinction is that I feel angry, but I don’t need to be giving a current demonstration of anger. I learned the Vinaya, many years ago, which is the compilation of guidelines offered by Buddha. I have attempted to live my life by these precious rules.
In due season will I speak, not out of season,
In truth will I speak, not in falsehood.
For his (her) benefit will I speak, not his (her) loss.
Gently will I speak, not harshly.
In kindness will I speak, not in anger.
The simple truth about making a relationship work is to hang in there and not give up. Just continue to practice and keep on doing your own work, then you have set the stage for the movement toward a wonderful relationship.
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