Wednesday, November 14, 2012

You and I Are Probably Both Toddlers of Zen in the Grand Scheme of Things

Yesterday's post was sort of rushed, the kind of thing that comes when you want to say something, but are struggling with writer's block.

Anyway, I received the following comment on that post:

Yes, well perhaps you should actually find "peace and calm" before you attempt to push your idea of what it is onto other people.

If you must act as a mouthpiece for the dharma, we would prefer that you had something real to say about it.

That is just a quick tip from someone who's been practicing a hell of a lot longer than you.

And in that regard, it would benefit you to be open to that which has come before you, instead of pouting and stamping your feet like an indignant toddler whenever you are presented with something outside your comfort zone. As a student of the Japanese tradition, you should already understand that kind of relationship quite clearly, if you are actually serious about such matters.

At this time, I will step aside and allow nature to take its course with you - for better or worse. Good bye and good luck.

Usually, I just leave these comments go, but for a few minutes, I was just pissed off by this one. Not because I think the other post was "wise" or great by any stretch of the imagination, but because this just strikes me as flat out trolling. The kind of thing people do to just piss others off. The fact that it was anonymous just lends to that image, as does the deliberately insulting language.

There's been more of these kinds of comments in recent months. They might be from the same person, or they might be multiple people. I don't know. I have a couple of ideas as to individuals that could be behind them, but I'm not interested in moving beyond cursory level speculation.

One thing I have witnessed in the years of blogging about spiritual practice is a lot of people quitting their blogs over these kinds of comments. They give their writing away. Give their ideas, thoughts, and experiences - however muddled - away, and in return, they're body slammed by trolls and sometime regular readers as well. I'm not talking about bloggers who write obnoxious, inflammatory content. I'm talking about sincere folks, sometimes sharing deep from the heart, or taking a risk in offering something that might not be popular.

Not all of us have the ability to shake or laugh nasty responses off. And while some may argue that you should just develop a thick skin, I argue that if you're life is devoted to spiritual practice, your comments on blog posts should reflect that. Whether my words are soft and supportive, or more harsh and questioning, I try to consider how the other person will take them. Try to see if what I have to say might actually be about communication, and not just bashing someone on the head.

Anonymous, calling me an "indignant toddler" is an asshat move. You want to teach me something? Leave the insults out. If you think I'm a lost cause, that's fine. I never claimed to be an enlightened spokesperson for the practice. I'm a regular practitioner like most of the other readers here. Which I think you believe is a much higher number than it actually is. If your greatest concern is that I'm spreading "bad dharma" - don't worry, this blog's readership is tiny. Maybe you'd be better trolling the blogs of popular dharma teachers you disagree with. It's a better use of your time than pestering a small fry like myself.

What I think some readers easily forget about bloggers is that we're humans first, with all the usual struggles and maladies. Not every post is going to be gleaming with brilliance. Not every post is going to inspire nodding heads, even from the most aligned of readers. Furthermore, and perhaps most important, is the fact that we bloggers - even the most prolific amongst us - rarely cover the full spectrum of our thoughts and experiences of our chosen topic(s).

I'm well aware that public writing can give rise to all sorts of ego trips. I also am aware that I sometimes write contentious posts, during which I sometimes overstep the lines of what I know and don't know in terms of practice. As such, I'm grateful to regular readers who share a different take, show me where I've missed something, or even call out ways I might be violating the precepts I vow to uphold (Marcus, a former regular commenter, instantly comes to mind here.) There are times when even these kind of harsh, not terribly caring comments can arouse gratitude within me. But most days, I just think of all the folks who have quit writing, quit sharing their voices because they felt harassed and hated.

This post isn't a plea for personal sympathy. I've been a public writer for years, and rejection in its various forms doesn't destroy me. No, it's more a plea for more respectful discourse. Online and off. We can stand tall in very different positions and views without tearing each other to shreds. When I consider peace and calm, the ability to do this is one of the main things that comes to mind.

I vow to keep bringing this to mind, again and again, instead of letting the heat of emotion carry the day. That's all I really have to offer today. May you all be well.


Jeanne Desy said...

Well, obviously that writer has not been practicing any spiritual practice I'm familiar with longer than you - maybe not at all. What makes people want to be mean to someone like that? Anyway, you did well with it; this is the kind of thing that gives me the chance to practice equanimity really hard.

Steven Grant said...

I found your blog today and after reading this post I navigated back to read the comment you write about in context. This person is just a troll. I would just delete the post.

As a person who has been practicing a while I will say practicing a while does not give you any "authority". The comment proves this. We all really only have this moment.

Personal blogs are places where people share personal points of view and some folks don't understand that. They think that it's a form of journalism where you are posing as an expert of some kind.

As the saying goes, "haters gonna hate".

David said...

I fail to see what you wrote in that post that would irritate anyone. I found it thoughtful, which may sound somewhat lame but it’s the best word I can think of right now. Who indeed knows what actual calm and peace is, especially the sort of profound calm and peace Buddhism aims for. The title of this post says it succinctly; we’re just toddlers, taking baby steps. Keep on keeping on, Nathan.

Nathan said...

Thanks everyone. I agree Steven that length of time practiced does not equal wisdom and right to spiritual authority. There are plenty of examples overturning such views in the teachings.

I thought about letting the comment go like I tend to do with such comments, but decided to say something this time around.

And David, you're right. I was a little quick to dismiss the post I wrote yesterday. What's funny is that when I finished it, I felt like it could have been clearer - that I wasnt quite hitting the mark. I think the comment tapped into that "not good enough" writer voice that lingers from years of editing other peoples' work and dealing with rejections of my own.

Jeanne, I tend to think that some folks truly believe that a harsh comment will wake a person up somehow. To me, that can only work in a very intimate setting. Where the people involved know each other so well that the timing, and choice of words, would be such as to maximize the possibility of beneficial responses.

The rest of the harsh comments are just about stirring things up and ticking people off. The political blogs and websites are full of these kinds of comments. It's kind of amazing the awful crap people will say to each other behind the wall of a computer screen.

Mandy_Fish said...

I read the post too and I have no idea why it elicited such a strong response. That itself tells us much. I often remind myself that people's comments say more about them than they do about me. Who knows? Perhaps your blog post triggered something very personal and difficult for Anonymous. And that "something" had very little to do with your actual words. Well, this is what I tell myself when I receive such comments. And then I delete them. Heh.

Nathan said...

"Perhaps your blog post triggered something very personal and difficult for Anonymous. And that "something" had very little to do with your actual words." Yes, I can see this as well.

I tend to let comments through unless they are spam, or really obnoxious. But I get why you and others more liberally delete.

spldbch said...

All the negativity gets old, doesn't it? We've heard so much of it during the presidential election campaigns; I wonder if it's rubbed off on people?

Nathan said...

Yes. It's unnecessary negativity. I'm all for critical assessments and the like. But when it's just personal attacks and unfounded accusations - total waste of precious life.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pawel Gabrysiewicz said...

-- once again, because I noticed that despite my google account being set the blogger account appeared as unknown with no photo etc. (the comment starts with the word 'Hi', please remove all else)

I found your blog yesterday via a twitter conversation of my friends, and found the post and the comment in question quite interesting.
It's aggressive of course but I do not think it's a troll; I think he is probably making a point about 'the Japanese tradition' with the toddler example, which I do not understand (I'm not familiar with that tradition at all).
Of course length of practice can have no real meaning, but when he says about 'those that were there before you' maybe he refers to the understanding of the Shantideva verses that you mention?
There is another blogger that also mentions them, here:
for me this post seems to be much more related to personal experience of the author.
And there is also brilliant commentary to these verses by Traleg Kyabgon in 'The Practice of Lojong...', it relates directly the lines to the cultivation of the positive and I really can relate personally to that.
My best wishes and congratulations on your work,
Take care

Nathan said...

"when he says about 'those that were there before you' maybe he refers to the understanding of the Shantideva verses that you mention?"

This is possible, but unlikely. I'd certainly have welcomed a discussion about Shantideva. Those verses have been a practice area for me for a long time, but are now out of context from the original text. Which I have studied a few times, but can't claim any expertise on.

Nathan said...

I do think, though, that working with adversity is tied to peace and calmness. Those lines have frequently reminded me to keep facing the "little cares" that come up, and let go of what I desire to be different. And in doing so, I've felt more peacefulness and calm.

Pawel Gabrysiewicz said...

That's interesting; the facing of the little cares actually makes us grow stronger and develops our capacity, if we do it correct way - that is, actually use them to work with ourselves gently, and best meet them with peace and calm mind.

The commentary I was talking about is available online in google books and the related part is here:'s%20nothing%20that%20does%20not%20grow%20light%20through%20habit%20and%20familiarity%2C%20putting%20up%20with%20little%20cares%2C%20I'll%20train%20myself%20to%20bear%20with%20great%20adversity.%20%22&hl=pl&pg=PA125#v=onepage&q=%22There's%20nothing%20that%20does%20not%20grow%20light%20through%20habit%20and%20familiarity,%20putting%20up%20with%20little%20cares,%20I'll%20train%20myself%20to%20bear%20with%20great%20adversity.%20%22&f=false
(I don't know how to put longer links? hope it doesn't spoil the post)