What’s Your Story?

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The thusness of our reactions — the old teachers called all of these responses Buddha Nature. That’s what we recognize in each other.

Article by John Tarrant published in Lion’s Roar magazine April 24, 2009

Meditation, financial crisis – they are made for each other. John Tarrant collected stories about how people dealt with the 2008 financial crisis.

I’ve thought to ask others, “What is it like without any practice to help you?” Here’s one example of the stories I’ve heard:

A woman hired a cabinet maker to make a piece of furniture and he didn’t turn up for the job. She called him: “Are you OK? You haven’t been around.”
“Yeah, I’ve been in bed all week.”
“I’m sorry, are you sick?”
“Not sick, I’m depressed. I’ve been in bed with the covers pulled up.”
“Really, why?”
“Yeah, well no one is hiring fine woodworkers, obviously. Grease Monkey advertised an $8 an hour job and I went down to apply. There were a thousand guys there for the job.”

I like the bit where the thought of not having work stopped him from doing the work he had. That’s a classic reaction to adversity, the deer freezing in the headlights. The old Buddhist manuals called that a hindrance—a hindrance is basically any story that you believe instead of what is actually happening.

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I also like that the person who hired him was kind and called him—another basic feature of consciousness.

Then I asked some people with spiritual practices how they were doing. 

Last summer a friend’s wife said, “I think we need to get out of stocks, now.”
He explained that that’s not what you do, that over the long haul the market is the best investment and that he is listening to good advisors.
“Are you sure, dear? Because I believe the people who are telling me this and I have a very strong feeling that we should get out.”
“No one can call the tops and bottoms. I want to do what you ask, but it would be irresponsible of me to sell.”
She wasn’t convinced, “OK we don’t need to fight about it.”

So I asked him, “Is she mad now?”

“No, she’s interested in reality, not what could have been. We might have to close down parts of her business but that’s a different issue. We both love what we do, and we’re happy doing that.” 

“Do you feel bad?” 

“I was wrong,” he replied, “but feeling guilty doesn’t help, does it?”

Not a lot of residue, except that next time he will be perhaps more likely to follow her financial intuitions.

I emailed another friend who trades and manages a hedge fund. He’s at the epicenter. He replied,

“I have had a very good trading run through this 16-month period. I didn’t predict the crisis, but as soon as it began in August 2007, I quickly re-oriented my view of the markets to get into alignment with the crash. No one in the market has ever seen anything like this, which makes the whole thing incredibly exciting and interesting. While I haven’t lost over the period as a whole, as a trader I am constantly making and losing money on trades. My reaction to losing money on trades is that I HATE HATE HATE it!”

Ah, that’s more like it. Enough of this Zen equanimity — “I HATE HATE HATE it!” is a satisfying reaction.

And so here’s what I came to: Two friends: One just went on with his life. That’s how he registers losing his money. The other feels passionate aversion when he loses at trades. He experiences a fierce, almost joyful, revulsion. He’s living to the hilt.

What interested me was not the obvious difference but the similarity in their responses. The thusness of things includes what we feel—having equanimity, hating losses, or thinking the daffodils look pretty.

And the woodworker with his blanket pulled up over his head might not be aware of it but he is also registering his unique and, to me, endearing reaction. Blanket over the head—I know what that feels like. Just the way I know what reacting to loss with a shrug feels like, or, my personal favorite, “I hate it!” 

I know what that feels like too.

The thusness of our reactions — the old teachers called all of these responses “Buddha Nature.” That’s what we recognize in each other.

So: how are you doing?

—John Tarrant

Link to original article: Practicing in Difficult Economic Times: What’s Your Story?