Sunday, March 4, 2007

Not the Reality We Want But the Reality We're Faced With

I think I've heard Michael McAlister talk about it on his podcasts on Infinite Smile but the Buddhist concept is deceptively simple: We must deal with the reality we face rather than the reality we want or wish for.

Dr. C. George Boeree of the blog Towards a Buddhist Psychology, puts it this way:

A third aspect of attachment is avidya, meaning ignorance. At one level, it refers to the ignorance of these Four Noble Truths -- not understanding the truth of imperfection and so on. At a deeper level, it also means "not seeing," i.e. not directly experiencing reality, but instead seeing our personal interpretation of it. More than that, we take our interpretation of reality as more real than reality itself, and interpret any direct experiences of reality itself as illusions or "mere appearances!"

What's so difficult about this concept, you might ask? Reality is reality, isn't it?

It isn't if you let your emotions and wishes get in the way. Let me give you a real life example.

I am an attorney, a litigator. I try a few cases but settle many more through mediation. I am a firm believer in mediation, as it is a fair, quick, and satisfying way to settle lawsuits. No one gets everything they want, which is the essence of compromise. My clients tell their story, everybody gets in the same office to solve a "problem." I like the experience of dealing with mediators, who are typically former judges or skilled trial lawyers. They have patience like you wouldn't believe. It is admirable.

In my experience representing plaintiffs in mediations, while the Defendant's opening bids for settlement are often be way low-ball, there is typically a corresponding increase in their counteroffers as my client drops their demand. While things typically don't end up in the middle of the range (say, between $0 and $250,000), the settlement does typically reach an amount that bears a resemblance to the economic risks involved and the worth of the case.

It might take four to six rounds of shuttle diplomacy by the mediator between the parties to get the case settled.

Except a recent mediation. We went 12 rounds. The other party was using an incremental bargaining approach. Literally, $250 to $500 per move, when typical moves are in the thousands of dollars.

It was illogical. It was maddening. I was not happy. My client was not happy. I had never seen a Defendant operate in such a cheap manner. Even the mediator was confounded by the approach.

I could tell my client was getting as frustrated as I was. We had been back and forth and back and forth.

I was getting mad. I felt like I was being played and my client belittled.

It just wasn't fair and logical!

But guess what. That was the reality I was facing. It was not the reality of my previous negotiations. It was not the reality I wanted. It was the reality I was faced with. And frankly, how could I know the Defendant's motives. I was not in their room, I didn't know what was in their heart--or brain.

I took a short moment of meditation, trying to get some "space" for my increasingly negative thoughts.

I finally told the mediator that I had to deal with the reality in front of me, not the one I wanted.

I changed my negotiating strategy. We got the case settled.

Had I clung to my "perception" of reality, the mediation might have collapsed and I may have told the other side exactly what I thought of them. Which, of course, would have accomplished nothing for my client.

Dealing with the reality you face in your life may seem tougher than dealing with your manufactured reality, but to do so is delusional.

And, as the Buddha would remind us, delusion is about as far as you can get from mindfulness. Even for an attorney.

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1 comment:

Paul Sunstone said...

These real life stories of yours are wonderful and illustrate just how to apply Buddhist principles to ones life. When taken in the abstract, the principles sound easy to apply. But we find out that we have merely been told to hit a nail with a hammer and that it will take practice and practice to consistently do so well without bending the nail or missing it altogether.