Yours in the Dharma:  Essays from a Buddhist perspective by Sandy Garson

This blog, Yours in the Dharma by Sandy Garson, is an effort to navigate life between the fast track and the breakdown lane, on the Buddhist path. It tries to use a heritage of precious, ancient teachings to steer clear of today's pain and confusion to clear the path to what's truly happening.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Force Options

The other night I found myself watching people one by one fire guns at other people, the real bang bang you're dead thing. Six men and women were experiencing a police academy training program called Force Options, and I was reporting on their civilian response to simulations of situations the police get into.

The Captain of the district--for whom I was working-- decided to respond to ongoing uproar about perception of police brutality by putting the public in a cop's shoes when an SOS comes to the station or patrol car. Finding themselves suddenly face to face with a robber in an alley, an agitated linebacker of a man in a hospital emergency room, a guy who pulls a knife in a traffic stop, what would they do? The program was called Force Options. The civilians facing the simulation screen were armed with all legally available choices: handcuffs, pepper spray, baton, gun and their own voice. The room went dark, the floor to ceiling screen lit up and suddenly a bruised woman was whispering that her husband was in the basement thinking to kill himself with a gun, "don't hurt him." The room went dark, the floor to ceiling screen lit up and a recently returned Iraq war veteran babbling out of his mind on his front porch jumped down, ran forward and pulled a gun. 

Bang bang! Just about every scenario, every civilian grabbed the gun and shot. Our primal flight or fight response is that powerful. So overwhelming that when the lights came on and the simulation was rerun, the six men and women discovered their optics had narrowed to just the danger point, meaning they had missed all the scene's cues and clues. They'd heard absolutely nothing the suspects said because hearing is the first sense panic shuts down. Cold sweat kept them from calmly weighing possibilities: they just shot, bang bang. Everyone of those peaceniks came away shocked and shaken.

The next afternoon I found myself in a Dharma group where people wanted to talk about responding to difficult circumstances, about how as Buddhists we might learn to transcend them. I found myself thinking about Force Options and the way those unprepared people had deployed them the night before. In a split second epiphany, it seemed to me all of us go around, go through our daily lives invisibly armed with force options. Calls come, like they do to a patrol car, when we find ourselves trapped in circumstances set by other people. We walk in and how fast we pull the gun, bang bang. "Deal with it" is very hard.

Frequently our most powerful reach-for weapon is money: it's supposed to talk but turns out to be the greatest silencer. Sometimes we pull out denial, but more often anger--simmering as the pepper spray of sarcasm or outright explosive, aggression being the Dharma synonym.  Our teachers are always telling us red hot anger is not really a useful restraint weapon. It's a hot coal we have in our hand ready to throw, but meanwhile our hand is the one getting burned and the person we want to throw it at can easily dodge, coming away unscathed. Trying to defend ourselves, we throw our anger at anyone who comes near us, which escalates collateral damage. Turns out to be the same problem firing a police gun: no guarantee you will hit the target because one or both of you is probably moving. No guarantee the bullet will even stop the other person; they can now shoot back at you. Worse, any bullet could hit an innocent person on the scene: collateral damage.

The Police Captain insisted the whole point of Force Options is de-escalation. To the police, that means using time to create distance between them and the immediate danger. The shorthand is: de-escalation =time+ distance. Talking someone down, talking directly to them in a way that encourages them to talk, to engage in a conversation that reveals their intent and motive so you can skillfully head toward a resolution deflates the energy of danger.  Literally defuses. It is pluperfect de-escalation. The district's policewoman trained to verbally defuse is lovingly called by her cohorts "the crime whisperer." 

Those of us trying to practice Dharma, trying as the Buddha said, to tame our minds are trying to get trained to that too. Using all the force options our Rinpoches give us, we try to de-escalate our inner conflicts. We are learning not to have our focus get so narrow we only see danger. Like police cadets, we are training in skillful means to stay awake, alert, to pick up all the clues of all the circumstances. We learn to stop talking to ourselves so we can actually hear what others are saying. That's the only way to do something positive about it. If we make peace with ourselves, we have the skill to make it with others--mainly because they're no longer a danger to us. If we realize we have no self to defend, we don't need to shoot. We have restraint, the time and distance to use a smile and a kind word as force options. That's actually what the Dalai Lama and my beloved Rinpoche rely on and nobody gets hurt.

~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

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