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Frustration

There's a story about the great Tibetan guru Milarepa that describes the training he got from his Teacher, Marpa. It seems one day Marpa told Milarepa to build him a house, which this being Tibet, meant lugging and lifting hundreds and hundreds of stones and painstakingly placing them one on top of another....well, after the house was about half completed, Marpa comes by to inspect, and starts shouting, "No, No, you idiot, I wanted a round house, not a square house..." So Milarepa, slowly takes the whole thing apart, and rebuilds the house stone by stone. And again, when he 's about halfway through rebuilding the house, Marpa comes by,  and yells at him , "No., no, Not THIS hill, I wanted the house over on THAT hill." And so Milarepa starts over yet again, stone by stone rebuilding the house across the valley. Well, I don't remember how many times he had to build and re-build that house, but you get the idea. And of course, the idea is that each time, Milarepa not only has to take down the house, but take down his own anger and frustration as well.

I just read a modern version of the story in the newspaper the other day: A group of workfare workers was given the job of raking up leaves and gathering them all up into trash bags. Well, the job was supposed to occupy the whole day, but on this particular occasion, all the leaves had been raked and bagged by lunch time. So after lunch, their boss took all the bags of leaves and emptied them out again on the grass  and told them to rake them all up again. Well, maybe that technique worked for Marpa, but in this case, in the real world of New York City, all hell broke loose. And rightly so. That's no way to teach anything to a group of people whose lives are chronically filled with a sense of purposelessness, worthlessness and frustration. It isn't skillful means to just pile frustration on top of frustration onto people who  have no idea how to practice with it. Nowadays, Teachers shouldn't have to go out of their way to deliberately frustrate their students - they don't have to- modern life is frustrating enough! I, for one, am convinced that Marpa has been re-incarnated and is working for my computer technical support line. The real problem is that most of the time we don't learn anything from our frustrations. The Dilbert cartoons show a corporate enviornment as wonderfully frustrating as anything Marpa could come up with, but somehow the cartoon never concludes, "hearing that the manager was enlightened."

So how we practice with frustration is the key. And the answer is really simple to say, but of course, not so simple to practice in the midst of our daily lives. We practice with frustration by turning our attention inward, focussing on our reaction in body, thought and emotion, away from our usual attention to whoever or whatever out there has done something to frustrate us. Over and over we just inwardly experience that physical, emotional reaction, and the same time gradually learn to make conscious the implicit expectations or core beliefs we all carry around with us about how others, how Life, ought to treat us. Gradually, our basic orientation changes, from how is Life treating me, to how am I reacting to Life. That's all.