Detaching by Debriefing: Life as a Part of Meditation…

Release through discernment begins by pondering various events and aspects of the world until the mind slowly comes to rest and, once it’s still, gives rise intuitively to liberating insight (vipassana-nana): clear and true understanding in terms of the four Noble Truths (ariya sacca). In release through stillness of mind, thought, there’s not much pondering involved. The mind is simply forced to be quiet until it attains the stage of fixed penetration. That’s where intuitive insight will arise, enabling it to see things for what they are. This is release through stillness of mind: Concentration comes first, discernment later. –Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo

I recently participated in a mediated discussion with a group of women. Some of the women were offended that other women in that group were, seemingly inexplicably, not speaking to others in that same group. Interestingly enough, the majority of the women who often don’t speak when spoken to, eventually synopsized the situation by claiming that the women who were offended by not being spoken to should “stop taking things so personally.” One “non-speaking offender” said, “My life is complicated; I have problems; and I don’t always feel like speaking. It’s nothing personal. You should just understand that I don’t  have  to speak to anyone when, or if, I don’t want to.” Yet, this same woman was upset that the people to whom she formerly refused to speak, simply because  she  was in a bad mood, later refused to speak to her once she felt like speaking!

Please, don’t apologize. Take a few moments to reread what you just read. I have ruthlessly edited for simplicity’s sake; yet, I, myself, still can’t understand, or believe, what I’ve just written…

Now, for the really freaky part: There were two group facilitators, and each of them agreed with this woman. They claimed, that they, too, often had bad days where they didn’t feel like speaking, and because of this, it made them more “compassionate” when they encountered others who were not speaking because, obviously, they were in a bad mood. And because of their ability to be understanding and compassionate, if someone who refused to speak to them yesterday speaks to them today, they speak – because they’re just that “big.”

I had a problem with that – and I said so. I think they’re driven not by compassion, but by self-indulgence or Self-ishness  (in the Buddhist sense of the word). It seems to me that the women who were upset, if they were truly “compassionate,” would have been much more understanding, rather than complaining about being treated as they treated others. They were offended that certain people no longer spoke to them after they had previously squashed those people’s sincere greetings, or inquiries as to their health, or worse, stared them down with utter hostility because of being in a “bad mood.” In other words, they want the right to be rude, simply because, like a toddler, they don’t “feewul gwood,” but once they feel better, they believe it is everybody else’s responsibility to make sure that their happy state of mind continues by indulging them – even though they are incapable of paying anyone else the same courtesy. Additionally, they lack the understanding that other people’s words, actions, prejudices, etc., should not ever be the foundation for our “happiness”…

Compassion is complex. It is much more than “feeling sorry for someone.” In fact, I believe that ‘compassion’ would be concerned for another’s feelings at all times, no matter how it was feeling that day. I also believe that compassion would not want to hurt someone in a way that it truly understands “hurt” can be conveyed. So, this experience got me thinking about the sinister power of emotion. What follows is my actual post for today, the one I would have liked to have written without this seemingly circuitous introduction. This is what I would have liked to have said had we not all had to simply agree to disagree and drop the topic…

I have worked in the retail industry for the past four years. If a customer walks up to me, needing either information, or just feeling like shooting the breeze, and I am in a bad mood, I don’t have the option of pouting and not speaking. I didn’t have that option when I taught in the classroom, or when working at a service desk, either. I believe that most people would agree with me, here, and say that obviously, the whole “not-speaking thing” doesn’t apply to professional situations. Consequently, my question is “So, we can only abuse the people we love, or with whom we live, or upon whom our financial security does not depend?” Please. Think about it.

Emotions (how we feel) are not “us.” They don‘t have to color our lives. We can observe, but yet not be or become, those emotions. Emotions are not inescapable or inevitable; yet, if we treat them as if they are, they become not only “habit,” but also our prison. And ironically enough, we, too, can become the prison of emotion. We “store” these emotions/feelings (particularly the destructive ones) in our backs, arthritic fingers, necks, shoulders, and even breathing capacities.

Meditation facilitates our learning how to distance ourselves from emotion/feeling in a direct, purposeful way. I’m referring to detachment, not psychosis. Through the practice of meditation, we learn to conduct that same kind of observation in our daily flight; in the waking moments of a fitful sleep; and even as we are doing the seemingly most un-meditative things, like participating in an unfriendly discussion, or actually confronting, with scientific objectivity, our own pain, depression, fear, bitterness, or feeling of having been wronged. Oh, wait a minute, the latter is actually very “meditative!” It’s just not possible to do it in a detached manner until one first learns to meditate. And after benefitting from the discipline of meditation, when one feels wronged or hurt, they are less likely to want to hurt back, or to feel their hurt in a self-destructive way. Non-meditators call this type of observation or internal review “obsessing,” “brooding,” or “perseverating on the negative,” and rightly so, because in their case, that’s exactly what it is.

And then there’s the day, sometimes only after years of meditation, that you realize that the former “you,” when faced with a particularly trying situation, would have literally killed yourself, or most definitely “acted out” in ways that would have brought numerous and immense complications to your own life, as well as the lives of others, thus increasing your karmic debt load, exponentially…

Now, you are, at least, a little bit freer to be more compassionate; less judgmental, and poised on the precipice of promise…

Yep! That’s it for today! If it helps, I’m glad. If not, that’s understandable because as the Buddha said, each person must travel his or her own path. So, I’ve written this only to reach out and communicate the lessons in a personal experience, not “save” anyone — no one can do that no matter how hard they try. Liberation is a blossom of personal experience. Or so I have heard…



Dhammadharo, A. L. (1979). Keeping the breath in mind & Lessons in samadhi. Valley Center, CA: Metta Forest Monastery.






3 thoughts on “Detaching by Debriefing: Life as a Part of Meditation…

  1. Ha. “Non-meditators call this type of observation or internal review “obsessing,” “brooding,” or “perseverating on the negative,” My internal review is never-ceasing and I have been on the receiving end of such statements more times then I care to remember!

    Your post resonates with me as I have been grappling with a situation for the last 6 months which is similar in nature to the heart of the matter. A close colleague of mine suddenly got very quiet and uncommunicative with me. I have absolutely no idea what happened. None. Have tired to enter into conversation and the response is always that everything is “fine!” I’m left feeling misunderstood, about what, I have no idea, but something must have happened. And so I have been truly trying to detach from the situation, and trying to not take it personally (so hard). My current thinking is that she has exposed too much of her personal truth to me, and I have inadvertently become the carrier of truths she wishes to deny, and as a result has rejected me in the process. Who knows, but it bothers me. And it bothers me that it bothers me so much!

    Your post illuminates one of the gifts I must surely be receive from my meditation practice–the ability to detach in a moment of intense emotion, and be more purposeful in my response. There are always so many layers to peel back in your posts. This comment comes after the first peel-back. Thank you always for sharing your thoughts! I appreciate you!

    As for the ladies above, sounds as though a few of them are in full narcissistic-bloom. I suspect their grievances were not related to the purpose of your gathering. Sounds like you got something out of it, nonetheless.


    • Dear Amanda,

      It’s really difficult to deal with situations such as yours because our work colleagues are like another “family.” In fact, we sometimes spend more time with them than our own blood relatives. Nonetheless, the workplace can be a very dangerous place to “get personal,” especially when so much of getting personal entails gossip (however gentle) and complaining — two activities I find to be in violation of the 4th precept. I can tell that you’re a very intuitive person. If the situation with your colleague is as you believe, you definitely can’t force the issue. My gentle suggestion is that you simply try to embrace (if not enjoy) the silence. More and more, I’m learning that silence can be a very good thing. One of my favorite sayings is the Buddha’s “Do not speak unless it improves on silence.” And to get to the heart of things, I don’t think too many things can improve on silence. In no way am I anti-communication, or on the verge of becoming a “muni” — I just think that talking is over-rated and often, abused. Obviously, things aren’t “fine,” as this colleague claims. If she’s trying to make you feel uncomfortable, or “punish” you for some real or imagined slight, that says a great deal about her right there. If it’s just a case of her not yet knowing how to express her feelings, just give her time, keeping in mind that you might never know what “happened.”

      Truly, there is nothing you can “do” about her puzzling silence. We can only “do” ourselves. And here would be a good place to admit that I have, on more than one occasion, discovered to my horror that I did something very “unskillful,” but simply didn’t see it that way at the time. About a year ago, I finally figured out why a relative stopped speaking to me in 1993. You see, it all stemmed from something I did in 1987. I’d thought I was practicing “tough love,” but it turned out that I was simply insensitive. My point here is that I “perseverated” on it for all these years, to no avail; and I felt I had no choice but to perseverate because this person has refused to dialogue with me after that. And when I finally figured this all out, it wasn’t because I’d obsessed about it, but because I’d gained an “insight” — one I doubt I would have achieved without meditation… Though what I did was “justified” in worldly, “ignorant” sense, I could have acted differently, but didn’t because I did not have the knowledge or depth of compassion to do so. And yes, I’ve beaten myself up for being rather “slow” on the uptake… The result has been suffering for both of us. In fact, I have perceived a connection between this severed relationship and the ways in which others have treated me. And this has brought home to me the truth of our living a “conditioned existence,” as well as our seeking “the unconditioned” as the way to Liberation…

      I think your present experience can be a real gift to you. This brings to mind the story of the Buddha, who, when meditating on the eve of his enlightenment, was “accosted” by Mara. There are many paintings/representations that depict this episode as a large group of entities attacking the Buddha with spears, arrows, and other weapons (including beautiful naked women). The cool thing about these representations is that the arrows and spears all turn[ed] into flowers. And the Buddha is just sitting there, chillin’, in perfect peace. You already know what you need to do — now, you just need to do it. This is a wonderful opportunity to practice “letting go” in a way that you have not yet mastered! You can either become angry, create bad karma, and an ongoing negative karmic connection with this woman, or you can experience this “spear” turning into a flower by learning how to “let go” of both her, and your need to be seen in a certain way by her…

      And the only way we can learn to let go, until we are finally liberated, is to practice letting go — over and over again… Though I am far from liberated, this much I know…

      Thank you, so much, for your kind comments and wonderful sharing.

      Namaste, dear Amanda…

      On Sun, Feb 21, 2016 at 4:40 PM, Mindful Ejaculations: The Buddha In Us All wrote:



  2. Vivien, I have only just now read your response as my reader alerted me to your newest post and I made my way here. Thank you for your most thoughtful reply. Your words resonate truths that benefit me beyond words. You are wise in reminding me to be mindful of creating negative karma. It is the feeling of being misunderstood that bothers me so much. And it helps when I remember that my heart is well-intentioned, though it appears I have unknowingly caused offense. I hope a time will come when greater light will be shed on the situation. Until then I will be quiet.

    I love the idea of “enjoying the silence.”
    This I will do in-between my perseverating moments.

    Letting go.
    Again, and again, and again.

    (Btw, I just spent my morning making my way through the first pages of the first issue of “Lion’s Roar.” It is the new iteration on “Shambhala Sun.” Mentioning it in case you are not aware.)

    Now on to your newest post…


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