Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Stubbornness and Non-Stubborness

When Outcomes Aren’t Important

When winning isn’t important, when we no longer need to protect and defend our understandings and ideas and their rightness, when Self is weakened and we stop believing our fictions, non-stubbornness arises.

The Buddhist principle of non-stubbornness makes winning unimportant, makes getting our way unimportant, makes life about practice not outcomes. Greed loses its grip and process, not outcomes, becomes important.

The practice of non-stubbornness is transformational. It teaches us to avoid our self-centeredness and gives us the chance to build trusting, dependable, longterm spiritually based relationships. It moves us from silence or attack mode to reconciliation. It moves us from a stubborn preoccupation with the problem to communication aimed at resolution, without judging or defending, and without fist pounding or foot stomping. It moves us from focusing on the issue to focusing on learning and spiritual development.

Non-stubbornness resolves conflict by leading us to understand that, in any situation, both parties did their best. Perhaps not wisely, but they did, in that moment, with their karma, their understandings and the conditions as they saw them in that moment, they did the best they could. Non-stubbornness leads us to understand this deeply enough to shift our focus from getting our way, from winning, to a focus on empathy and compassion and patience.

Stubbornness is about greed and arrogance: What’s in it for me? When we practice with non-stubbornness can use the antidotes for these: generosity and humility and modesty. The outcome is not the issue. You do your best, and that is enough.

Stubbornness takes many forms. For example, there’s the stubbornness of an unrelenting 11-year old in combat with his mother over what he should eat for dinner. Herein we see stubbornness as a refusal to change one’s opinion or position. The more we challenge the child, the more dogged the insistence. “No I won’t, and you can’t make me” becomes the cry. As we grow the stubbornness become more subtle and complex, less obvious, but no less harmful.

What we see from this example is that, at its core, stubbornness is an entrenched resistance to change, even though it is maladaptive and we know it. Resisting change, resisting the basic nature of the universe, dooms us to a life of suffering. Fearing change, craving permanence, dooms us to unending dukkha.

Contrary to what we are often told, stubbornness is never admirable. Why? Because it makes the basic nature of things, which is change, into a personal problem. Stubbornnness, this overwhelming resistance to change that we all share, that prevents us from seeing clearly and living well, is at the heart of our problem with the universe.

With a concerted practice of non-stubbornness, we search for resolution to our fears and frustrations over change. We stop blocking the emergence of the next moment; instead, we settle comfortably into the newness in front of us. We stop trying to make the world into our image and respond to it as it genuinely is–every changing and impermanent. Seen in this context, the practice of non-stubbornness allows us to de-escalate our feelings and resistance; the practice of non-stubbornness allows us to see more clearly how to do our best.

The result: a world with which we are at ease–a world with which we cooperate and which cooperates with us to create a happy healthy life.