Notes on a Buddhist path

Button, button, who’s pushing my button?

May 14, 2011 By | 2 Comments

Last night at my hospice volunteer training we talked about triggers. Triggers in respect to our interactions with hospice patients and their families. Triggers as in the daughter waiting in the lounge who tells you all about her good-for-nothing brother who hasn’t held a job for more than a month his entire life yet who can’t seem to find the time to visit their dying dad. Or the wife who decides you will be her confessor to the cavalcade of  trysts she’s been a party to all these many years and how it would kill her husband if he knew. Or the patient who says you’re the best volunteer ever and maybe he’ll leave everything to you in his will. The point of it all being not be get side-swiped by the triggers of our past that can pull us into a family that is not ours. If you do you’ll find yourself out on the dance floor taking part in a waltz you were not invited to join.

The triggers are the lures. We all have a soft underbelly to temptations, to gossip, to self importance, to an insatiable craving to be liked that sometimes we jump into the mud with all the other folks wrestling with their angels. The triggers are the familiar and often painful buttons our family and friends seem to find on us and push with uncanny precision. Big, flashing, blinding red clown buttons that shout “You are not good enough or smart enough, and guess what? People really don’t like you.”

One of my buttons got pushed the other day. I was surprised how quickly it happened, how smoothly it was pressed, how fresh and old the pain felt. It knocked the wind out of me and sent me back to witness a part of myself I hadn’t experienced in nearly a decade. I instantly went on the defensive. Blame, criticism, anger, resentment. I’ll show him/her. Fear, loathing, remorse, guilt. The ticker tape parade of “Button, button, who’s got my button?” was raining down on me.

What was different on this button pushing round over the previous 858,456 ones was a remembrance to check in with my body. Where was I holding the pain of the button’s onslaught? I found it clenching my chest, shortening my breath, slouching my shoulders and head. Witnessing those sensations I was able to take a few deep breaths and feel the rock in my lungs melt and the pebbles wash away in the flow of my out breaths. The shame and the pain no longer were mine, but emotions I could look at like paintings on a wall. The distance took away their power and also dismantled the button, at least for now.

My friend Peter shared a post the other day talking about this issue as well. We live in a world where duality is the norm. If it’s not black, it’s white. If we’re not saved, we’re condemned. There comes a time when we have to look at the buttons and see them for what they truly are: more movie sets and fake facades that have no basis in what is real and what is true.

Those pesky buttons are like the man behind the curtain. Pay no undue attention to them. With all their smoke and mirrors, they’re neither good nor bad, just reminders to surrender. Surrender to the suchness of things, without contempt or judgment. Surrender, as Rumi writes, to “the dark thought, the shame, the malice. Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

(Excerpt from the poem “The Guest House” by Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī.)


  1. I LOVE Stuart!

  2. Ah yes, as Dan Fogelberg wrote in the song, it’s “that old familiar pain”. Almost feels good when it comes back for a visit (kind of like a long-term “Stockholm syndrome”). Sometimes it feels SO good, we choose to embrace it even as we recognize that it’s hurting us (but I want to feel this bad!). The trick is, as you pointed out, to remember Rumi: Invite the old friend in for tea, just don’t let them stay for dinner. Like the Bogarts of Harry Potter, laughter is the best defense. Hmmm, Dan Fogelberg to Stockholm to Rumi to Harry Potter. Spiritual teachings can be found anywhere! (From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere! Dr. Seuss)

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