With Right Effort, there can be a cool kind of acceptance of a situation rather than the panic that comes from thinking that it’s up to me to set everybody straight, make everything right and solve everybody’s problems. We do the best we can, but we also realise that it’s not up to us to do everything and make everything right.
At one time when I was at Wat Pah Pong with Ajahn Chah, I could see a lot of things going wrong with the monastery. So I went up to him and I said, ‘Ajahn Chah, these things are going wrong; you’ve got to do something about it.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Oh, you suffer a lot, Sumedho. You suffer a lot. It’ll change.’ I thought, ‘He doesn’t care! This is the monastery that he’s devoted his life to and he’s just letting it go down the drain!’ But he was right. After a while it began to change and, through just bearing with it, people began to see what they were doing. Sometimes we have to let things go down the drain in order for people to see and to experience that. Then we can learn how not to go down the drain.
Do you see what I mean? Sometimes situations in our life are just this way. There’s nothing one can do so we allow them to be that way; even if they get worse, we allow them to get worse. But it’s not a fatalistic or negative thing we’re doing; it’s a kind of patience – being willing to bear with something; allowing it to change naturally rather than egotistically trying to prop everything up and cleaning it all up out of our aversion and distaste for a mess.
Then, when people push our buttons, we’re not always offended, hurt or upset by the things that happen, or shattered and destroyed by the things that people say or do. One person I know tends to exaggerate everything. If something goes wrong today, she will say, ‘I’m utterly and absolutely shattered!’ – when all that has happened is that some little problem occurred. However, her mind exaggerates it to such an extent that a very small thing can absolutely destroy her for the day. When we see this, we should realise that there is a great imbalance because little things should not totally shatter anyone.
I realised that I could be easily offended so I took a vow not to be offended. I had noticed how easy it was for me to be offended by little things, whether intentional or unintentional. We can see how easy it is to feel hurt, wounded, offended, upset or worried – how something in us is always trying to be nice, but always feels a little offended by this or a little hurt by that.
With reflection, you can see that the world is like this; it’s a sensitive place. It is not always going to soothe you and make you feel happy, secure and positive. Life is full of things that can offend, hurt, wound or shatter. This is life. It is this way. If somebody speaks in a cross tone of voice, you are going to feel it. But then the mind can go on and be offended: ‘Oh, it really hurt when she said that to me; you know, that was not a very nice tone of voice. I felt quite wounded. I’ve never done anything to hurt her.’ The proliferating mind goes on like that, doesn’t it – you have been shattered, wounded or offended! But then if you contemplate, you realise it’s just sensitivity.
When you contemplate this way, it is not that you are trying not to feel. When somebody talks to you in an unkind tone of voice, it’s not that you don’t feel it at all. We are not trying to be insensitive. Rather, we are trying not to give it the wrong interpretation, not to take it on a personal level. Having balanced emotions means that people can say things that are offensive and you can take it. You have the balance and emotional strength not to be offended, wounded or shattered by what happens in life.
If you are someone who is always being wounded or offended by life, you always have to run off and hide or you have to find a group of obsequious sycophants to live with, people who say: ‘You’re wonderful, Ajahn Sumedho.’ ‘Am I really wonderful?’ ‘Yes, you are.’ ‘You’re just saying that, aren’t you?’ ‘No, no, I mean it from the bottom of my heart.’ ‘Well, that person over there doesn’t think I’m wonderful.’ ‘Well, he’s stupid!’ ‘That’s what I thought.’ It’s like the story of the emperor’s new clothes, isn’t it? You have to seek special environments so that everything is affirmed for you – safe and not threatening in anyway.