Over at Kloncke, Katie has an excellent post that manages to link Buddhist teachings, economic critique, dieting, police brutality, and the Planet of the Apes movies together. How did that just happen?
Anyway, one of the issues brought up is the notion of restraint, which is frequently viewed as a positive skill amongst Buddhists, and many other spiritual folks for that matter. Katie attempts - successfully in my opinion - to complicate the narrative around restraint in her post, offering examples that point out the following:
Sometimes, the concept of “restraint” is just another way of saying “Stay In Your Place.” Knowing one’s place is a matter of ‘respectability,’ which does not always foster dignity, and may in fact undermine it.
This brings up all sorts of examples for me. Here's a list for you:
1. The way that white folks often cite the anger and frustration of people of color as being "Un-Buddhist" or "not spiritual."
2. Restraining sexual expression due mostly to the guilt and shame that's continually reproduced in our society - and many others for that matter.
3. The little lies and obfuscations people use to avoid telling someone truths that might hurt in the short term, but actually could benefit them in the long term.
4. Adults withholding child-like expressions of joy, fun, and enjoyment out of a sense that "it's not proper" for adults to act like that.
5. Employees holding back ideas that might benefit the organization out of "protocol," fear of the leadership, or a belief that they aren't "good enough" have something to offer beyond their job description.
I actually think it might be helpful to consider restraint in two categories:
liberated restraint and habitual restraint.
Habitual restraint is the act of giving up, not doing, or not keeping on thinking about that's coming from a conditioned place. It might be a really good idea, like not letting your anger at someone drive you to kill them. Or it might be something that's much more debatable, like not telling your boss that his casual flirting is upsetting you. However, the way I see it, "habitual restraint" is mostly about external authority pressing inward, and you responding to it, often in a habitual way. Your mother told you a thousand times not to cuss as a child, and after getting smacked or yelled at a few times for copying your loud-mouthed father, you now resist the impulse to swear.
But does that kind of restraint lead to liberation?
Liberated restraint is the act of giving up, not doing, or not keeping on thinking about that's coming from you organically. It may be that after years or decades of more habitual restraint around something, you realize something that internalizes the action as being part of living an enlightened life. Or it might just be that you realize that the habitual patterns of restraint themselves are the roadblocks. In either case, whatever it is that is called restraint here isn't primarily driven by external pressures. It might look, for example, that you choose not to steal out of a fear of getting arrested. However, if it's liberated restraint, the act of not stealing just flows forth because you know there's no need to.
So, what do you make of all of this? Do you have any other examples you'd add to the list Katie and I have made so far?