September 27, 2010

Gratitude and Petty Tyrants

My previous post on the blog was solicited by a particularly depressing series of events at a client site where it had become apparent that a newly appointed senior executive was about to trash all the hard organisational development work that had been done by the executive of the business over many years. On reflection what became apparent to me was far from the new appointee being a problem, they could actually enable tremendous inner growth among for all concerned. Far from being an enemy, this person was a most valuable ally.

The first issue that came to mind was a story that was told to me once regarding a Sufi shaykh called shaykh Muhammad Ibn al-Habib. This teacher was once approached by a student who was complaining bitterly about his wife. The shaykh listened for some time but eventually lost patience with the student and told him to shut up. Taken aback the student wanted to know why. “You clearly do not understand the purpose of a spouse,” the shaykh said. “The purpose of a spouse is like the relationship between water and a vessel. It is the nature of the water to find where the cracks in the vessel are. It is poor courtesy for the vessel to complain when the water finds the cracks!”

The event also reminded me of a wonderful collage of various quotes and insights from Carlos Castaneda regarding petty tyrants which my friend Shahied Baboo had cobbled together. Enjoy!

Castaneda on Petty Tyrants:

Self-importance is our greatest enemy. Think about it–what weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow men. Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone.      Every effort should be made to eradicate self-importance from the lives of warriors. Without self-importance we are invulnerable.

Self-importance can’t be fought with niceties.

Seers are divided into two categories. Those who are willing to exercise self-restraint and can channel their activities toward pragmatic goals, which would benefit other seers and man in general, and those who don’t care about self-restraint or about any pragmatic goals. The latter have failed to resolve the problem of self-importance.

Self-importance is not something simple and naive. On the one hand, it is the core of everything that is good in us, and on the other hand, the core of everything that is rotten. To get rid of the self-importance that is rotten requires a masterpiece of strategy.

In order to follow the path of knowledge one has to be very imaginative. In the path of knowledge nothing is as clear as we’d like it to be. Warriors fight self-importance as a matter of strategy, not principle.

Impeccability is nothing else but the proper use of energy. My statements have no inkling of morality. I’ve saved energy and that makes me impeccable. To understand this, you have to save enough energy yourself.

Warriors take strategic inventories. They list everything they do. Then they decide which of those things can be changed in order to allow themselves a respite, in terms of expending their energy.  The strategic inventory covers only behavioral patterns that are not essential to our survival and well-being.  In the strategic inventories of warriors, self-importance figures as the activity that consumes the greatest amount of energy, hence, their effort to eradicate it.

One of the first concerns of warriors is to free that energy in order to face the unknown with it. The action of rechanneling that energy is impeccability.   The most effective strategy for rechanneling that energy consists of six elements that interplay with one another. Five of them are called the attributes of warriorship: control, discipline, forbearance, timing, and will . They pertain to the world of the warrior who is fighting to lose self-importance. The sixth element, which is perhaps the most important of all, pertains to the outside world and is called the petty tyrant.  A petty tyrant is a tormentor. Someone who either holds the power of life and death over warriors or simply annoys them to distraction.

Petty tyrants teach us detachment. The ingredients of the new seers’ strategy shows how efficient and clever is the device of using a petty tyrant. The strategy not only gets rid of self-importance; it also prepares warriors for the final realization that impeccability is the only thing that counts in the path of knowledge.

Usually, only four attributes are played. The fifth, will , is always saved for an ultimate confrontation, when warriors are facing the firing squad, so to speak. Will belongs to another sphere, the unknown. The other four belong to the known, exactly where the petty tyrants are lodged. In fact, what turns human beings into petty tyrants is precisely the obsessive manipulation of the known. The interplay of all the five attributes of warriorship is done only by seers who are also impeccable warriors and have mastery over will . Such an interplay is a supreme maneuver that cannot be performed on the daily human stage.

Four attributes are all that is needed to deal with the worst of petty tyrants, provided, of course, that a petty tyrant has been found. The petty tyrant is the outside element, the one we cannot control and the element that is perhaps the most important of them all. The warrior who stumbles on a petty tyrant is a lucky one. You’re fortunate if you come upon one in your path, because if you don’t you have to go out and look for one.

If seers can hold their own in facing petty tyrants, they can certainly face the unknown with impunity, and then they can even stand the presence of the unknowable.  Nothing can temper the spirit of a warrior as much as the challenge of dealing with impossible people in positions of power. Only under those conditions can warriors acquire the sobriety and serenity to stand the pressure of the unknowable.

The perfect ingredient for the making of a superb seer is a petty tyrant with unlimited prerogatives. Seers have to go to extremes to find a worthy one. Most of the time they have to be satisfied with very small fry. Then warriors develop a strategy using the four attributes of warriorship: control, discipline, forbearance, and timing.  On the path of knowledge there are four steps. The first step is the decision to become apprentices. After the apprentices change their views about themselves and the world they take the second step and become warriors, which is to say, beings capable of the utmost discipline and control over themselves. The third step, after acquiring forbearance and timing, is to become men of knowledge. When men of knowledge learn to see they have taken the fourth step and have become seers.

Control and discipline refer to an inner state. A warrior is self-oriented, not in a selfish way but in the sense of a total examination of the self.  Forbearance and timing are not quite an inner state. They are in the domain of the man of knowledge. The idea of using a petty tyrant is not only for perfecting the warrior’s spirit, but also for enjoyment and happiness. Even the worst tyrants can bring delight, provided, of course, that one is a warrior.

The mistake average men make in confronting petty tyrants is not to have a strategy to fall back on; the fatal flaw is that average men take themselves too seriously; their actions and feelings, as well as those of the petty tyrants, are all-important. Warriors, on the other hand, not only have a well-thought-out strategy, but are free from self-importance. What restrains their self-importance is that they have understood that reality is an interpretation we make.

Petty tyrants take themselves with deadly seriousness while warriors do not. What usually exhausts us is the wear and tear on our self-importance. Any man who has an iota of pride is ripped apart by being made to feel worthless.  To tune the spirit when someone is trampling on you is called control. Instead of feeling sorry for himself a warrior immediately goes to work mapping the petty tyrant’s strong points, his weaknesses, his quirks of behavior.  To gather all this information while they are beating you up is called discipline. A perfect petty tyrant has no redeeming feature.

Forbearance is to wait patiently–no rush, no anxiety–a simple, joyful holding back of what is due.A warrior knows that he is waiting and what he is waiting for. Right there is the great joy of warriorship.  Timing is the quality that governs the release of all that is held back. Control, discipline, and forbearance are like a dam behind which everything is pooled. Timing is the gate in the dam.

Forbearance means holding back with the spirit something that the warrior knows is rightfully due. It doesn’t mean that a warrior goes around plotting to do anybody mischief, or planning to settle past scores. Forbearance is something independent. As long as the warrior has control, discipline, and timing, forbearance assures giving whatever is due to whoever deserves it.

To be defeated by a small-fry petty tyrant is not deadly, but devastating. Warriors who succumb to a small-fry petty tyrant are obliterated by their own sense of failure and unworthiness. Anyone who joins the petty tyrant is defeated. To act in anger, without control and discipline, to have no forbearance, is to be defeated.  After warriors are defeated they either regroup themselves or they abandon the quest for knowledge and join the ranks of the petty tyrants for life.

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