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 Meeting Others on Equal Ground
 War – Over There and Here

Waking Up to What You Do: A Zen Practice For Meeting Every Situation With Intelligence And Compassion

By Diane Eshin Rizzetto


Meeting Others on Equal Ground

Sometimes, placing ourselves above others can take the form of being the harder worker the more responsible person. Here’s an example. You and your partner come home from work and are very tired. The kids are hungry and it’s time to cook dinner. You know your partner is tired and he or she knows you’re tired. So who’s going to get dinner on the table? Your partner collapses on the couch and says to you, “You’ll have to cook.” There are two ways you might head for the kitchen. One is with the thought, I’m tired, but one of has to do it, and I guess it’s me. Another strategy would be to turn this situation into a way to elevate yourself. How do you suppose that process might go?


Student: In this kind of situation, maybe I’d have the thought, “When I’m really tired in the future, she better do it for me.”

Diane: Okay. First thought. What might come next?

Student: Maybe the thought, “What a good person I am.”

Another Student: For me, in that situation, I might note resentment or martyrdom.

Diane: “How good I am! What a good and suffering person I am.” Now there’s a very long measuring stick! Where does that thought put your partner? In other words, if I’m the good person, then what does she have to be?

Student: Less than good.

Diane: Less than good. Yes. As soon as we enter into a comparison, we have entered into a judgment that separates and places me above the other. So if I’m good, then she must be less than good. If I’m a martyr, then she’s got to be someone who needs to be saved. What about the resentment? The why me, Why do I have to be put into this situation? pattern of thinking. Well, guess who chose to cook the dinner? You did. But why the resentment? What’s that about?

Student: I think when I feel resentment, I haven’t really given over to just doing what needs to be done. I do it, but there’s a sense of holding back.

Diane: Yes. The hands move without the heart. The hands are really measuring.

Student: And if I’m not being recognized as good, the anger and resentment come in.

Diane: And what if you just cooked dinner because that action would best serve life in this particular set of circumstances?

Student: Then my heart would move my hands.

Diane: Without question.

Measuring Up

Measuring ourselves in terms of how much we do for others can be tricky. A good signal that we’re acting out of a requirement, however, can be if we note some upset if we are not acknowledged for our actions. When you don’t get appreciation, how to do you react? Do you have thoughts like, Look at all I’ve done and no one’s patting me on the back or telling me what a great job I did? Do you get angry or feel rejected and unappreciated? Of course, in a certain sense, we all like to be acknowledged when we do things for others. I am not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with this, but if we are doing for others in order to measure our self-worth in some way, or to measure up to someone else’s expectations, then I would say that our helping comes with a price tag.

You can work your fingers to the bone; you can be the most capable person on the job; you can be an understanding partner and a caring parent, but as long as you look for confirmation of self-worth through helping others, then there’s something to look at there.

Not only do we place ourselves above others, but also we can place ourselves below others. This is a particularly covert form of behavior and is worth exploration, If you find that you habitually compare yourself to others and place yourself on the short side of stick, then it’s important to explore this way of thinking. There’s a lot of me in the thought: He has more expertise on this subject than I and therefore, he’s better than I; I may just as well resign from this committee—I’m no use. Sound oversimplified? Some of us find ourselves in this pattern often if we’re in the game of comparing ourselves with others. What we don’t get so easily is that it’s really okay to not be good at every thing.

Whether we place ourselves above or below others, we are substituting an idea about who we or others are or should be for the simple truth that as human beings we are good at some things and not so good at other things. We fail and we succeed. We know and we don’t know. We accomplish some useful things and we mess up some other things. This is what it means to be human.

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Waking Up to What You Do: A Zen Practice For Meeting Every Situation With Intelligence And Compassion

By Diane Eshin Rizzetto


Supporting Life

War – Over There and Here

Another difficult arena to take up the way of supporting life is on the battlefield of war. Here is where we can find ourselves digging ourselves deeper and deeper into our convictions in a last-ditch effort to wiggle our way out of the paradox “going to war to save lives.” One truth, how-ever is very clear about all war: it is always a bloodbath and innocents always suffer. This is not news. The greatest writers and artists throughout history have sent us the message: war is brutal! Yet, we have not found our way out of viewing war as a solution to our conflicts.

Some argue that it’s better to go to war to take down an oppressive government so that we can save the future lives of many. Others have the firm conviction that war must never be an option. So the war in the air and on the fields of nations becomes the war between individuals in their hearts. How easy it is to make our own decision by blindly following the people who speak the loudest and with the most conviction. And it’s not limited to those who support killing in war. We can be just as blind in our outrage against war. Someone recently said, “Don’t make war out of peace. Don’t be against war; be for peace.” It’s not easy to give up the old patterns of self-defense. Many of us feel safe in our political domains. If we’re not careful, we can be talked into anything. How are we to keep this precept when cruel despots and tyrants threaten the annihilation of whole peoples? Do we stand by and let it happen? How are they to be stopped? And what if the threat comes to our own soil? The stakes are higher than we can ever know—”nothing that has once been done can ever be undone.” How do leaders go with an open heart to war when nuclear missiles are aimed at their people? I would say, they would go with grief, as if to a funeral. And I would answer the same way if asked how a person with an open heart would kill someone who was about to hurt another person, or would raise a glass to the lips of the suffering, dying human being about to swallow the pills to end her life.

Perhaps the real enemy of peace is our stubborn insistence that our solution is the only solution to a particular conflict. As excited as I am to see the recent images from the robot on the planet Mars, I wonder if we had taken all that collective brain power, energy, money, and creativity and directed it toward finding peaceful solutions to the present conflicts in the world, then couldn’t we have found another way besides war?

This precept places the responsibility directly with us, the individual. How easy it is for us to blame them—the enemy or the government. All of the precepts come together here in the directive don’t kill; support life. How do we block out, or kill, others’ points of view? How do we find ways to take natural resources that aren’t ours to take? How do we lie and lash out in anger? Whether we do it in our relationships, on the job, at a peace rally, or on the battlefield, what we do as individuals will find its way into our leadership. Stopping war begins with ourselves.


Watch yourself for a week. Watch for the ways you wage war in everyday events—a spilled glass of milk, a coworker who threatens to take the promotion you’re hoping for, a store cleric who insults you. What are your weapons and how do they escalate, as the perceived threat grows stronger? Does your shouting shoot down your child’s explanation of how the milk spilled? Do you find ways to kill your coworker’s chance for advancement or come back with a cutting comment to the insult? Maybe you will not pick up a gun or strike with a bat, but will you kill in your mind? You may be surprised how close you come. When you find yourself about to do, or already having done, battle, do the inquiry work and rest in whatever the dead spot reveals. Sit in the stillness of your experience, breathing in and out. If even for just a moment, this focused, clear attention will break the reactionary patterns of harming others.

If we aspire to living a life in which we support life, then first we must open the door when the killer in us knocks. Working with this precept openly can eventually reveal some aspects of ourselves we would rather keep hidden.

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