I have met many of you at Shambhala meditation center, where I have been doing mind training at Monday Night Sangha. I’ve noticed a lot of connections between the Lojong (the Tibetan word for mind training) and the work I’ve been doing with Sonic Sandbox. I thought I’d share my thoughts about Monday’s Lojong slogan.
The most recent slogan at Monday Night Sangha (MNS) was “Be grateful to everyone.” This slogan is about acceptance. The gratefulness is for what we can learn from the impact another person’s actions has on us. I am reminded that we can only control our own actions. What we do has an impact on others, but we can’t control that impact in the same way we can control ourselves. We can influence others, but that’s not the same as control.
“Be grateful to everyone” is an attitude the Lojong suggests as a strategy for interactions with others. I think the main question is that since we have no control over others, what is the most useful way to interact with them? If we try to control them, we will inevitably have less of an influence than we want, and this can easily feel like failure. We’ll feel bad about ourselves. We’ll take responsibility for things that are outside our control. We’ll blame ourselves for not being good enough.
Does it help us to feel bad about ourselves? Does it help to feel ineffective? Like a failure?
On the other hand, if we acknowledge we have no control, and instead treat the actions of others as a force of nature — a kind of structure or boundary within our lives that we cannot violate, then we could cultivate another attitude. We could even be grateful. Grateful for what, though? Grateful for what this structure in our lives can teach us.
Do we seek to control gravity? Maybe, but if we do, we will fail. Should we feel bad about failing? Or can we learn from the experience? If we are grateful to gravity, then it is easier to learn about gravity and how it is an immutable force affecting our lives. We can’t do anything about gravity except learn to live with it the way it affects us. In doing so, we learn about gravity, and how it affects us and other things. We learn about the air and water and solid matter, all of which are attracted towards other masses by the force we call gravity. We can use this knowledge to make it possible to pursue our own agendas.
The same attitude can be cultivated towards other people. Other people are like forces of nature. They are themselves. They do what they do. We can be grateful to them, and learn to live with how their actions affect us. If we learn from each person, we can use this knowledge to make it possible to pursue our own agendas. If we keep on trying to deny other people and trying to make them into something other than what they are, it is the same as trying to turn gravity into something other than what it is. As we all know, that doesn’t work. That is like banging our heads against the wall and expecting the wall not to resist and not to hurt when we hit our heads against it. But if we accept the wall and are grateful to it, and accept our heads and skulls and nerves and are grateful to them, we may decide there’s little point in banging our heads against the wall.
So if we accept other people as they are, according to their established patterns of activity, we can learn from that. If we are grateful for what we learn, we will be better able to interact with them in ways that move us towards our own goals. We won’t try to change them. We’ll work with them, instead, using their patterns of behavior as best we can to help us, instead of trying to change their patterns, which, we know, will probably make them resist us.
In the Sonic Sandbox, we use sound and acceptance of what is in order to demonstrate this principle. Instead of trying to change people, by, say, judging them, and telling them the sound they are making is wrong or ineffective or not pretty, we simply accept whatever sounds they make. If we accept all sounds, then how can we pursue our own agendas? We are not in control. We can’t make anyone create a different sound than the one they are making. So how can we influence what is happening?
One way to influence what is happening is to be grateful for the sounds that others are making. How can we show our gratefulness? One way is to copy that sound. What happens when we copy the sound of someone else? When I ask people to reflect on the experience of being in the Sonic Sandbox, most people report feeling supported when other people copy them. They feel like leaders. They feel liked. Appreciated. Like others are grateful to them. This gives them a flush of pleasure and validation. And then what?
Being validated seems to encourage people to validate others. They get copied, and then they copy others, in return. The Sonic Sandbox can set up a positive feedback loop where people take turns supporting each other — being grateful to each other. What happens to the sounds people make when we are interested in each other and then show our gratefulness for what they do by copying them? Sounds converge. New things happen. A rhythm starts happening. A harmony happens. A sound texture happens. Maybe a melody happens. Sometimes everyone converges on the same thing. Sometimes different groups of people form, some doing a rhythm, others a harmony, and others a melody. Sometimes one person is off on their own while everyone else keeps a rhythm going. What happens? Music happens!
Sonic Sandbox is a live, interactive demonstration of many of the mind training ideas presented in the Lojong. Sonic Sandbox is also a fun, freeing experience where people can just be themselves without worry of judgment, and take joy in connecting sonically with others.