What’s the difference between being firm with my resolve and being fixed and solidified?

A Student asks:

What is the difference between being firm with my word and being fixed? I often find myself feeling I need to be firmer with resolves and intentions, but I will often become fixed and solidify them at the expense of responding spontaneously and appropriately – grasping after the preservation of a resolve or intention when it could be inappropriate to do so.

Then I begin to feel I need to let go and relax more and I tend to swing back to becoming vague and wishy washy…

Lama Shenpen responds:

It is important to be able to keep firmly on course and to be able to make resolves knowing you have the power to carry them through. Sometimes, as you say this seems to conflict with openness and going along with change.

However, if you have made a resolve it is very important to make a big deal out of it when the situation suggests that it’s no longer appropriate to follow that resolve through. I think that is the point here.

Stick to your resolve through thick and thin and that really shows that that is what gives you the power to be effective both for your own good and for the good of others.

When you find yourself in a situation where you can see that keeping the resolve is going to result in more harm than good then don’t just be sloppy – turn towards that conflict and be very clear about it.

Make a new resolve. Make a resolve that incorporates the whole new situation into itself.

For example, if you have made a resolve to stay in retreat and not go out at all, but then someone in the family is in distress and it really is up to you and there is something you can do that nobody else can – and you can see that what you should have done when you made your resolve was to say ‘I will not leave unless there is an emergency in the family’.

So you then make a deliberate change in your resolve to include this new proviso. And then be determined to keep it.

You  can add the proviso to all your resolves that you will do such and such unless in your judgement it is more harmful to yourself to do it than to not do it.

If you do not make these adjustments to your resolves in a clear strong way, when there is pressure on the boundaries – when there are temptations – there is the emotion of, ‘Oh dear we are getting near the boundary!’ and that is uncomfortable.

If you do not turn towards it and make a clear decision you get pushed nearer and nearer the edge and then you find you have gone over the edge and there is no way it can be justified within the terms of the original resolve – and that is when you realise you have lost your power of resolve.

You don’t believe in your resolve any more and neither do other people. It becomes impossible to keep to it any more and it’s very hard to set up a new resolve with conviction.

So it’s a very important point that you are raising here. On the other hand – you may be asking yourself, how do I know how beneficial it is to do one thing rather than another?

The only answer is to keep turning towards situations and keeping as close to what is actually happening as possible.

The more you are in touch with what is actually happening with both yourself and the situation as a whole the more naturally and appropriately you will respond – you will get a feel for how the situation is opening up and which way to go, how much to give and where you need to be firm.

Keeping in touch with the situation like this is quite different from thinking it all out all the time and trying to make decisions in advance – if you do this then you are always trying to work things out in the head and losing touch with the actual situation.

Often we take in too little information and work it over in our head and respond too late and quite blindly. We end up reacting and taking our assumptions and projections to be the real world instead of staying in touch and noticing, ‘Oh I didn’t understand that. Oh I might not have got the whole story yet. Where is that taking us? What is really happening here?’

The more you ask that kind of question the more in touch you are and so the more likely you are to respond appropriately rather than reacting.

So the resolves give you a general direction and structure to how you live while turning towards situations. Keeping in touch with what is going on in yourself and in the situation, allows you to work through the resolve in practice – clearly adapting the resolve to fit the developing situation as you go.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

Lama Shenpen’s students are participating in the Living the Awakened Heart Training – a structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training, which is open to all, brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at www.ahs.org.uk/training

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