Lojong Practice Journal: Don’t ponder others
The 59 slogans through a social justice lens
The 59 slogans through a social justice lens
“Don’t ponder others” may be a short slogan, but there is so much to unpack within these three words. It’s basically an instruction to mind our own business and not get so hung up on the motivations and actions of other people. Speculating about what others are or are not doing is a way for us to not own our minds and do the work we need to. As well as being a distraction, pondering others is a source of suffering.
When I first started contemplating this slogan, I thought of it in very lightweight terms. Mostly, I associated it with misunderstandings: Person A doesn’t get a reply from a text sent to person B. Person A begins to agonize over why person B has not responded. First, they worry they did something wrong. Then they get indignant that person B couldn’t just communicate clearly and has ghosted them. They spend days wondering about the motivations of person B, vacillating between different emotions, spinning out. Then person B texts, apologizing for the late response and explains that they had a family emergency. Their lack of response had nothing to do with person A at all. While this may sound familiar, and is certainly a time when not pondering others would serve well, it’s only a taste of the awareness this slogan has to offer.
When I think about this slogan in my own life, I think of how often pondering others has made me feel inadequate. I have looked to great leaders past and present and felt like I don’t have the same drive, the right charisma, or the platform they have. Pondering the monumental work being done by other people has made me think anything I do in comparison is pointless. Christina Feldman (p.93, Buddha’s Daughters) describes this as “inferiority conceit,” born of our perception that someone else, over there, is flawless, and we, somehow, are incapable of being just as “good.”
This perspective is rooted in individualism, perpetuated by whiteness and capitalism. Individualism falsely assumes that one person can achieve great things entirely on their own. It ignores that movements have never been about the actions of one person but about a community of people coming together, each offering what they can.
The flip side of pondering others in a social justice context is how we fixate on other people as the source of a problem without ever looking at our complicity in oppressive systems. This perspective is also rooted in individualism.
For years I thought of racism as a problem of other people’s regressive beliefs, rather than a systemic issue. I believed that racism was a problem caused by people with conscious biases who were overtly racist, entirely apart from myself. The problem wasn’t me, it was those white people, over there. This attitude of white exceptionalism prevented me from seeing that it doesn’t matter how “good” I think of myself, I am still racialized white in a white supremacist culture. I might not be consciously racist, but I am no less complicit than a white nationalist if my view is that white nationalists are the source of the problem, rather than a symptom. White nationalism isn’t an accident, and in order to understand that, I have had to turn my practice inward. I’ve had to look at how I am conditioned into and contribute to white supremacy.
Pondering others is a way to get out of taking personal responsibility in an interconnected world. As individuals, our choices matter, and learning to own those choices is what this slogan is pointing us to. We are the only one who can change our frame of mind and impact we have in the world. If we are white people who want to address racism, then we have to start with our own conditioning, rather than scapegoating. Examining our own biases will give us insight into the biases and radicalization of other white people, not the other way around. When we see how insidious white supremacy is in ourselves, we will see the work we need to do to change the culture.
Pondering others serves to solidify our ego either by thinking we are better than someone or thinking we are much worse. Both lines of thought cause undue suffering and are barriers to the potential we all have to wake up. There is a reason we instructed to start with ourselves and start where we are. We cannot change others, we can only change ourselves. Which I find to be a great relief!
To not ponder others is to let go of trying to “fix” or live up to someone else, and instead to take on a project that will have fruitful results: Pondering our own selves. Pondering our own mind gives us clarity and illuminates the agency we have within systems. When we change our own heart and mind, we change how we act, what we think, and what we say. Because the personal is social — because we are interconnected — these changes make a difference. They ripple out and serve in a way that pondering others never will.
This blog was originally published on Medium.
This is part of a series of posts I am doing to support my practice.
Visit www.KaitlynSCHatch.com to find out more about what I do.