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There is a Cherokee legend that explains how each of us is torn by the fight between the two wolves within us:

“One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

According to Cherokee wisdom, the wolf that wins is the one we feed. The lesson this imparts is applicable to many different aspects of our lives.

Memories are our past. There are good memories and bad ones. Dementia may delete large swathes of them, and there may one day be an ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ solution that enables people to erase particular memories from their minds. But in the general scheme of things, memories are simply part of each individual’s life, having been instrumental in making each one of us who we are. Some memories give us a warm and happy feeling, but – as in most things – the downside is that even when we are looking at things that remind us of our good memories, some less welcome memories are invariably likely to surface as well.

There are belief systems that involve rewriting the past. I have my doubts that we are all capable of doing that well enough to expunge experiences that have left serious scars. I have the same doubts about telling our brain to disregard what it has just remembered – the judge may tell the jurors to disregard what they have just heard, but that may well imprint it even more indelibly in their minds.

Instead, I believe we have a different choice – we can try to apply the Two Wolves approach. The memories are there and are part of the film that is in the proverbial tin of the Hollywood metaphor. If both rewriting and disregarding are unlikely to be effective, we may as well open our door to all the memories that bubble up in our minds – if we don’t deal with them, they are likely to keep making repeat visits. We can thank them for coming by, much as we might be polite to people selling door-to-door, see whether they have something for us that we’d like to have or keep, and then wave them on. We don’t have to invite them in and give them space, time or energy. After all, the more we dwell on certain memories, feeding them, giving them new life and invigorating them, the more that wolf will win. We can nourish the good memories wolf or we can nourish the memories wolf that causes us pain and distress. It is important to accept that the things we recall all happened and were real. They have already had a major effect on our lives. But that was then. It is not written that we have to allow them to give us ‘Groundhog Day’ experiences that repeat over and over throughout our lives. We can choose to let the past go.

There is definitely no law that says we have to let the same dog (or wolf) bite us twice.

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Source: Primate Brow Flash Blog, formerly at http://www.phpsolvent.com/ wordpress/?p=135

83 Problems

I might rename this site to “83 problems”. From the lecture last night at Common Ground Meditation Center, the following Buddhist parable:

An ordinary guy came to see the Buddha to get help with his problems. “My roof leaks, I don’t have enough money, my neighbors are noisy, my boss hates me, my kids are messy and disrespectful, my knee hurts and I’m losing my hair. And don’t even get me started about my wife.” and he went on to describe all his problems in great detail while the buddha smiled and listened patiently.

When the guy was done complaining, he asked the Buddha, “So, how can you help me?”

“I can’t help you”, said the Buddha.

“HUH? What kind of teacher are you?”, said the guy, “why did I come all the way here for you to tell me that? And what the hell are you smiling about?”

The Buddha said, “Everyone has 83 problems. Sometimes we fix one, but it is guaranteed that another will pop up in its place. It’s just life. I can’t help you with your 83 problems, but I can fix your 84th problem.”

“What is my 84th problem?”

“Your 84th problem is that you don’t want to have any problems.”

This is the best answer to the question that everyone asks about the Buddhist principle of unattachment: if you melt down your ego and separate the “you” from all the things around you and start to relax a little bit, then where is the impetus for action to improve the world, shave, vacuum, etc.?

Well, those are examples of the 83 problems, and they are still problems that require our attention. Buddhism helps you with the 84th problem, which is suffering over the other 83 problems. If you can approach your other problems without the computational overhead of suffering over them, you can see them more clearly and act on them with more wisdom.

If I strip the threads on a pipe while fixing a minor plumbing problem, I might decide to punch the pipes REALLY HARD because it totally sucks to strip pipe threads, especially ones that disappear deep into the floor. Life is bitter and painful and stripped pipe threads are not even the half of it, as far as I can tell. Buddhism is not practicing to ignore, avoid, or be happy in spite of problems! The practice of Buddhism is the practice of learning to embrace the problem and not suffer over it. Grief exists, pain exists, and we all will feel them. And we all must accept them and feel the full force of these problems, but to truly suffer over it, we must wish it didn’t exist. To avoid the suffering, we must accept the pain.

It is not as simple as learning that punching stuff is a bad idea. I can figure that out for myself.

I also think it means something more than “always look on the bright side of life”. Practicing aversion towards all problems and only focusing on the positive is not the answer. Finding a way to appreciate the problems as part of your life is the answer, according to the Buddha. Think of the 83 problems as the water that you swim in. Samsara

So in this weblog, I recount the 83 problems, and recognize the 84th problem as an illusion.

The parable is used in an excellent editorial about computers that used to be available at http://www.osxfaq.com/Editorial/sobek/index12.ws 

but no longer seems to be there. Another version is available at http://www.lessons4living.com/wmaz_week204.htm

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