What could be more natural than that exultant feeling of victory? I love it, even if I've learned to hide my triumph.
Athletes do that really well. Mostly baseball players don't pump their fists when they hit a home run, they just jog the bases and pretend it's all nothing.
I always wonder what they're really thinking. Or what we're all really thinking. Because another way of thinking about victory is to wonder what it does to the mind.
Does it really create happiness? Or could it be doing the opposite?
Mindfulness is terrific at paradox, so here's one: what if victory leads to hate? That's actually what the teachings say. Can that be right? And if so, how?
Hi everyone, this is Judi Cohen and this is Wake Up Call 334. Today, while we’re all suffering under yet another onslaught of covid (and I hope you don’t have it), I want to talk about Chapter 15 of the Dhammapada, which is called, “Happiness.”
The chapter offers a number of beautiful prescriptions for happiness. It talks about living without hate among those who hate; living without misery among those in misery; living without attachments.
It also reminds us that there’s no happiness like peace. In a moment like this, I think it’s maybe it’s essential to remember that.
Not only peace as the antidote to war, or peace while the world is on fire, but also, peace in each moment. The way that in any moment, we can take one breath, feel our feet on the ground, and relax into whatever is happening. The peace that’s right here, right now.
No happiness like that kind of peace.
But those lovely reminders are not the whole chapter. There’s also one verse that seems to me almost like a stand-alone verse. It’s verse 201, and when I read it, I had one of those moments. Not because it’s so shocking. But because it’s almost like the teaching is speaking directly to lawyers.
Verse 201 says, victory gives birth to hate; the defeated sleep in anguish. Giving up both victory and defeat, those who have attained peace sleep happily.
Victory gives birth to hate. I want to break this down. First, victory itself. The law is an adversary system. It’s about victory and defeat. Sure, as a real estate transactional lawyer, some of my work wasn’t technically about victory and defeat. And yet it was. Two dozen consequential points in a lease, and I was either “winning” or “losing” them. And even if I soften the rhetoric, I always had a sense of having done well or not, which, if I’m being honest, translated into victory or defeat. Small victories, some: sure, and some were small defeats, but still, victories and defeats.
And many of you are explicitly inside that crucible of victory and defeat - public defenders, family law lawyers, litigators of all kinds, trial lawyers? Even in academia, and I’m just a lecturer so I sit outside the fray, it can look a lot like combat. In fact, so does the hazing we put our students through, or at least in my students’ journals – which is a small sampling – they say their days feel like victory and defeat.
Even when we’re doing something collaborative, like restorative justice, or mediation, the situation is arising out of a conflict that was pointing towards victory or defeat; or someone is threatening to head back into victory or defeat.
But if we work surrounded by conflict, which is one of the Four Perils and I really believe we do, still, how does victory gives birth to hate? Because if we win, theoretically aren’t we full of love, and feeling all generous and wonderful?
Maybe, but maybe not. Let’s start with the word “hate.” It would be easy to get tripped up here, but I think it’s a stand in. Hate in the mindfulness teachings generally doesn’t mean only hate. It means everything in the hate tent. It covers disgust, derision, cynicism, fear, frustration, anger – all the aversive emotions. So does victory give rise to any of those emotions? Or all of those emotions?
If I win, maybe I feel like I deserved to win. In which case I might, very naturally, view the other side as not deserving of the win. Otherwise, cognitive dissonance: it might be hard for me to be exultant. So in my mind, maybe the thought arises, they were ridiculous, they were dangerous. Or, more simply or benignly, they were just flat out wrong. There are any number of thoughts I might have, to have a more consonant set of thoughts, or even sensations in the body, around my having deserved to win…all of which may place them in the category of “other.” I’m glad they’re behind bars. I’m glad they lost custody. I’m glad they have to pay my client so much. They’re bad people. They’re not like me.
Othering. Forgetting – by the mind creating a more consonant experience – that we belong to one another. That feels like hatred, if I’m looking inside the big hate tent.
On a more subtle level, maybe I don’t entirely feel I deserved to win. I mean, I’m glad, but maybe I have doubt. Maybe deep down, but accessible to me, I feel like the other side had a point, but to be victorious, I needed to steamroller over that point. I couldn’t afford to allow for the possibility that the point was valid because I might have gotten distracted, or softened up when I needed to be tough, and then I might have lost. So I stuffed my doubt but it’s there, and it comes out as derision. They’re so dumb. They had a decent hand and they didn’t play it. Too bad for them. Suckers. Ha ha.
That feels like it fits inside the big tent of hate.
And what about when I really did care about the other side, and now I’ve won. And in winning, in being victorious, I’ve made sure they won’t get out for a decade. Or they won’t see their kids much. Or they’ll lose everything. Or be humiliated. How do I deal with knowing I didn’t follow my compassion – follow my conscience? Now do I hate myself?
Seems like victory really can give birth to hate, really does give birth to hate.
And is it just obvious that the defeated sleep in anguish? When I lost a point or a case, I felt anguish. On a bigger scale, I was once nonsuited as a baby lawyer, in my 20’s, right in front of the client at the beginning of a trial. I seriously considered driving straight out of town and never going back to my office, I was in such anguish. And I was awake. Ish. (Or not so awake, in my 20’s).
But that’s not all. For our tribe, the lawyers, what about persistent defeat? I don’t mean always losing cases or points in a deal. That person is probably finding a new field. I mean persistent defeat in the sense of this incredibly strong, perfectionistic tendency that I know I have, and maybe you can relate to, borne of the requirement that we get everything absolutely right all the time, and that seeps into the bones so that no matter how much I do, no matter how well I do it, I feel like I could have done more, I could have done better. I feel defeated. To this day, I’m sad to report, that can keep me up, in anguish.
At the same time, the teachings are not telling us to set our sights lower. Beings are numberless, I vow to save them all, that Zen chant: there is so much to do, the world is on fire, and as Jerry Seinfeld says, we are the only ones who’ve read the instructions on the inside of the box. So we have to step up. We have to be part of the solution. We have to at least plan on saving every client, winning every battle, going all out every day.
But can we do it without characterizing it as victory and defeat? Because we aren’t going to be victorious. We’re going to do what we can, for as long as we can, and then pass the baton. So can that be enough? The Bhagavad Gita says: do your duty and let go of outcome. Not victory, not defeat, just our duty, our job, the best we can possibly do, and then let go. If we can do that, then the verse says, we will have attained peace, and we can sleep happily. Because there’s no happiness like peace.