Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Buddhist Psychological Model: Impermanence, Suffering, and Not Self

The Buddhist Psychological Model: Impermanence, Suffering, and Not Self

September 10, 2013

Zuri’s First Day of School

I saw Zuri as she walked into the beginning of eighth grade, the first day of school. She was tired. She had cried herself to sleep the night before. She had a lot on her mind as she walked toward the chaos of her school. Kids running past, people laughing, busses rolling in, someone bumped her shoulder, hard, and didn’t say sorry- he just kept moving. She has no school supplies, none at all.

She was thinking about her brother. Now it’s been four days since he’s been home. Eric is 16 and he should be in his junior year at the high school. He missed so many classes last year that he almost didn't  pass. She is worried about him getting to school. A lot of the kids that live near her drop out after 10th grade. Eric is smart, but he’s into some hard stuff, she knows. He steals, he drinks, and he seems like he’s doing harder drugs. Ugh, she hates to think about it.

I see her later, walking out of school a big smile on her face. She has a friend on each side and they make a deal to do their homework together. She has a backpack and it is full of supplies. Turns out one of the teachers works hard all summer getting donations for kids like Zuri.  Mrs. Klein saw Zuri as she came in the front door and pulled her aside. She asked her where her school supplies were. Zuri just looked at her. Mrs. Klein discretely took Zuri to a room where she could choose the color of the backpack, the notebooks and pens, and pencils. Zuri thanked God for Mrs. Klein. Ready for school, she spent the rest of the day learning, laughing, and talking to her friends.

Mrs. Klein saw Zuri leaving school. They made eye contact and smiled. Mrs. Klein’s heart radiated that feeling, that feeling you get when things are okay.

The Process

The city schools are hard places to work. I have worked in the city, my husband works there now. The needs are overwhelming and you can feel like there is no one person you can help enough to make a difference. The Buddhist Psychological Model (Grabovac, Lau, & Willet, 2011)* gives us three tenants that can teach us how to stay present in our intention and greatness without becomming a big pile of reactions to all that surrounds us. In this way, Mrs. Klein was able to stay present and in action for Zuri.

1.     Impermanence- External experiences and our mental events (thoughts, memories, reactions) are transient. That is, they arise and they pass away.

2.     Suffering- Habitual reactions (i.e., attachment and aversion) to the transient external experiences or mental events (thoughts/feelings) can lead to suffering.

3.     Not Self- these events (internal and external) and habitual reactions to them (attachment or aversions) to not constitute anything lasting or do they comprise any part of the entity that you think of as self.

You are saying WHAT??? Does that mean??

I will explain using Mrs. Klein’s presence as an example.

1.     Impermanence: When Mrs. Klein goes to school and a student yells at or threatens her (which happens at school to the teachers no matter how much love they put out there), she knows that this too shall pass. She keeps her self safe. AND she has a sense that this is something that will pass, its transient.

2.     Suffering: Mrs. Klein has a reaction to that event- a feeling of how awful it was to be yelled at. In service of avoiding her difficult feelings, she could begin to ruminate on what happened. The ruminations would feel good. She could attach to them. Hold them in her mind. She would then be suffering. She could even identify as this experience. She then BECOMES that reaction. I AM ANGRY or I AM HURT. Do you see in the sentence structure?? I AM…. In that I AM, you become your reaction. Instead Mrs. Klein practices awareness. She says, “I feel myself hurting. I feel anger. What I experience is really uncomfortable and I feel myself in reaction.” With awareness, Mrs. Klein has choice. She can choose to be in her breath, in her full intention, in her love for the children, and her goal to bring peace and love to her school. In this way, she does not create suffering on top of the pain she has experienced. She has choice in her awareness.

3.     Not Self: As Mrs. Klein has chosen not to become her reaction (i.e., I AM MAD) or her situation (i.e., I AM A VICTIM), she has possibility. She has the freedom to be whom SHE IS- and she is an amazing young woman who brings hope, peace, and love to Zuri and many other kids like her.

We can all do this. You can choose to stay present, to see, to be in your intention. You are not your reactions or your circumstance. We ALL choose. You, me, Zuri, and Mrs. Klein. And, to be sure, Zuri and I are very, very glad that Mrs. Klein chose well.

* Grabovanc, A.D., & Lau, M., A., & Willett, B. R. (2011). Mechanisms of Mindfulness: A Buddhist Psychological Model. Mindfulness. DOI 10.1007/s12671-011-0054-5 

For an overview of the people in Zuri's life go here

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