Compassionate Reflection

March 30, 2022

Defensiveness, blaminess, and self-righteousness get in the way of honest self reflection—the most valuable tool on the spiritual path. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

It's important for us as practitioners to be able to self-reflect and observe in an experiential way our condition so that we can be honest about where we're coming from.

There isn't really an external measure of blame versus, let's just say compassionate reflection, right? But we can check in with ourselves to discover what we're feeling, what our attitude is, what our bhava is when we're speaking with someone.

If we have the desire to really get to the bottom of our own limitations, if we really have a sincere and strong desire to experience the kind of open-heartedness that say, Ma was embodying, then we try our hardest to discover how we're really showing up.

In general, that's a very internal process.

So someone might remark, well, I feel like you're blaming. I don't feel like you're giving reflection. I feel like you're blaming.

And then if we really have that desire to be open-hearted, we're going to go inside and self-reflect and feel what condition we're really in. And a lot of the time we discover that we're in a mixed condition.

The problem is that when someone tells us, I don't think you're coming from a heartfelt place or an open-hearted place. For a lot of people, the initial response is to give reasons why what you're saying is right.

It doesn't matter whether what you're saying is right or not. That is the least important thing about the whole situation.

So the assumption that if what we're saying is correct, that means it's reflection and not blame—that is completely wrong.

Everyone who's been around for any number of years at Jaya Kula has seen me give someone reflection. And someone said to me, I don't agree with that, or I don't see that, or I don't feel that, or that doesn't seem right to me.

And if I still feel I'm right, I'll just say, okay, well just think about it.

You've heard me do that. You know, just put it somewhere in your back pocket and have a noodle around and consider it. And if you change your mind, let me know.

So first of all, I don't say, well, I'm right and you're wrong. I just think, well, okay, this is my insight. That person doesn't see that or doesn't feel that. And we'll find out over time whether or not that was a correct insight or a useful insight.

Other times I might have an insight or just think something, and I'll say, I'm not sure if this is right or not, but what do you think about this?

Or I'll say something and someone will say, no, that doesn't really resonate with me. And I'll give it a noodle around and I'll go, yeah, you're right. I wasn't— I didn't get that right, or something like that. You'll hear me say these kinds of things.

So that's what we should be doing. We should be like reflecting on what we are saying, and we should be actually communicating with the other person.

At no point— as practitioners who have a sincere desire to be open-hearted, to discover what that feels like to be open-hearted. At no point are we launching into some thing about being right.

That is utterly pointless. If we're wrong, it doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter. Have you ever heard me say, oh my God, I was so wrong, I feel so ashamed?

It's not that big of a deal, being wrong about something. There's just not that much at stake.

And I always remember what my Dzogchen teacher, Namkhai Norbu said. This was kind of one of his things that he said fairly regularly. He said something like, students and teachers find a way.

It's a process of relating to people. And that also goes for people who are in the Mandala together. We are just finding a way to be together. And that involves actual communication that isn't about being right. It also is not about pushing your brand on somebody.

And this, I find, happens very regularly in our culture at large, but also in the Mandala where you are having some kind of issue with somebody that's really about your brand.

Your brand is whatever you think you are or however you want to be seen.

And so then everyone gets involved, and everyone's trying to be very sincere. And everyone's being very earnest. And so there's not reflection actually being given in those circumstances.

It's just about my brand as a person who cares about X, Y, or Z. Or my brand as a person who is smart and has insights. Or my brand as— whatever it is.

So in no case is that ever reflection. [laughter] And again, it doesn't matter if you're right.

What matters is, what is happening internally for you. This is what we really need to be paying attention to and being honest, like being as to-the-bone honest as we can.

When we get feedback that what we have said does not resonate, or someone doesn't agree with it, or they think we're being blame-y or stomping around pushing our brand on them or whatever they think. Then our immediate first response should be self-reflection. Not self-defense.

So this is always going to be— you know, you asked about the difference between reflection and blame. And I know you meant giving other people reflection.

But please, let's reflect on ourselves first and foremost.

And of course, we have this problem with self-blame. And self-blame is in the way of self-reflection. So if someone tells us something that we don't want to deal with, someone tells us that what we just said was racist. Somebody tells us we're being judgy. Somebody tells us we're wrong.

And then our immediate feeling might be, I feel badly about myself. So I'm either going to launch into defensiveness, or I'm going to curl up into a ball. Or I'm going to be passive-aggressive.

Or [laughs] whatever it is, whatever your favorite flavor is. And then there's no possibility of self-reflection. There's no possibility of you being helpful to anybody else. And there's no possibility of you being helpful to yourself by reflecting on what your real condition is.

So don't worry so much about whether or not you should give reflection or you should this or that to somebody else. Have the focus be first and foremost on you. How can I deeply reflect, honestly reflect on where I'm coming from?

And if you can develop that tool instead of being defensive and just trying to prove your point or keep going with your brand, you know, ad nauseam, those things are just entirely unhelpful for you.

And the hallmark of someone who's really wanting, in the way that desire shapes practice and brings fruit, is that you are going to reflect on yourself and how you are. And you're going to develop internally the knowledge of how you are.

And your knowledge of yourself is going to become more refined so that you're going to, over the years, be able to tease out the subtler aspects of your defensiveness, and your blameiness, or whatever.

You know, all these defensivenesses and blameinesses and brandingnesses, they're all basically externalizing stuff that we don't want to deal with. They're basically strategies that you've developed over time to avoid yourself. That's what all of that is.

And of course, spiritual practice is about not avoiding yourself.

You can't even get on the path with self-avoidance. You can't get on the path of being right. You can't get on the path of being righteous. Our favorite brand these days, righteousness of some sort or another.

You know, none of this counts. [laughter] It's all completely beside the point. 150% beside the point.

And there's a great subtlety to spiritual life. And that involves how you go inside and get to know yourself. And how you work with yourself when you're in a state of defensiveness. And how you work with your habitual patterns in a subtle way.

And how you find the determination and courage to just see how you are and work with that and try to be more relaxed and open-hearted in the midst of all this.

That's what counts.

The rest of it does not count. You don't get brownie points. You don't get approval. You don't get admiration. You don't get awards.

You get nothing other than more of that. You just get nothing. You get more misery. You get more suffering. You get more lack of intimacy. That's all you get.

This isn't a metaphor.

It's like, that's what you get, more suffering when you go through life externalizing everything like that. Trying to avoid how you really are.

And then because we live in this culture, I mean, it just sucks. The way we have mistaken personal growth for feeling badly about ourselves. We think we should feel very badly about ourselves. If we're going to go inside, we're going to feel badly about ourselves. And that's good, because that means we're really getting to the work.

I just hate that. And it's so prevalent.

Of course we're going to see things we don't like. Of course. But simply feeling badly about ourselves is no sign of spiritual greatness or progress. [laughs]

The idea is that we're going to make contact with our eternal value and goodness and sweetness and wisdom. And we do have to go through some shit first. But we're not like putting the shit up on some pedestal and worshipping it.

So you're saying, step one is notice yourself. But is the step two, like, try to apply the feedback if it feels right?

Well, feedback. Hopefully in the best of circumstances, there's a more alchemical thing happening. Where the situation with the student is actually part of affecting some kind of transformation.

It's not just like feedback, like words without any energy.

Hopefully there's something being orchestrated in a bigger mandala of cause and effect and more of a transmission happening. So that there's something moving and changing between teacher and student.

I mean, otherwise it would be incredibly boring. And I might as well just send you all a PDF with an outline. [laughter]

So, you know, these are living situations between myself and you all and between you all as a community. And it's very complex, very multilayered, and there's alchemy involved.

So step two is you feel what's happening, and you use whatever tools you have to work with that. For instance, if something happens between you and me that seems to open something up, then you work with that using your sadhana to try to make that your new normal.

I don't know exactly. There's just so many situations, it's hard to say.

But I think we all have all these practices that we've been given. And we all come in with some degree of understanding of working with the teacher. Otherwise you wouldn't be here at all.

If someone really didn't get the whole teacher thing and student thing, why would they even be here?

So there's some degree of understanding. And you work with that to try to understand what is the play that's going on between me and the teacher? How can I work with that?

And then all the subtleties of things happening in your energy body, in your mind, and even your physical body. You have these tools, but you also just have the more subtle things of just going and being in a call-and-response with your own energy. And no one can tell you how to do that. And not everyone can do that.

So luckily we have gross practices. And I don't mean, eewie. I just mean, we have tangible practices that engage our physical body and our mind. And we can do those things without having to have a high degree of subtlety and they still affect profound transformation.

But step two is you start working with whatever condition you're in, using whatever tools seem appropriate to you. Or that feel like, good in your hand.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.