Lately, I’ve been dealing with boredom. Never-ending school has finally ended. I can’t really work because of Barry’s health. I am resisting seeking outside stimulation. It is too easy to get sucked into the Internet’s swirl of images and time wasting. It’s about letting things be, living with emptiness, and wabi-sabi. There is dryness to what I’m talking about, like an autumn breeze rustling leaves on the sidewalk. It is a type of loneliness.
Pema Chodron says, “There are six ways of describing this kind of cool loneliness. They are: less desire, contentment, avoiding unnecessary activity, complete discipline, not wandering in the world of desire, and not seeking security from one’s discursive thoughts.” (“When Things Fall Apart,” p. 55) These instructions are so simple, and completely counter-cultural. Her ideas are true to her teacher’s, Chogyam Trungpa’s. If I follow her ideas, I will become more disciplined and equanimous. These are my values.
I never managed to develop these values, discipline and equanimity, as a Christian. Reading the Bible reinforced various opinions, but did not provide the transformation I longed for. The worst part was becoming like the people I respected least, opinionated without the self-control to hold my tongue. That’s how it works: if you do what other people do, you become just like them. Pick your role models carefully.
What I found as a Christian were words, emotional manipulation, and power-and-control dynamics. Developing true self-control puts one out of reach of authority figures that demand the right to control how you think, feel, act, and, most importantly, vote. Watching protestant TV is a lesson in emotional manipulation. If you want to see how to whip an audience into an emotional frenzy, watch charismatic services. If you can keep talking, using the right buzz words and gestures, someone will listen and be impressed beyond measure. You will develop a following of people looking for constant Christian stimulation. As a protestant, people would ask me for my theological opinion. I was shocked. My thoughts were, “Let me get this straight. I’ve been a Christian for 6 (or however many) years. You’ve been going to church for several decades. And you’re asking me for my theological opinion. What’s wrong with this picture?” If you can put people into an alpha brain state, they will likely follow you wherever you wish to lead them, with no discernment on their part.
Buddhist practices are not about creating an altered state of consciousness, but about withdrawal from “conditioned existence,” which includes over-stimulation of every kind. You cannot even know what you are thinking until you slowdown and stop the input. Then your thoughts become glaringly obvious. There is no need to control your feelings. That would just be another form of manipulation. You have a thought. And? The brain secretes thoughts as the pancreas secretes insulin and the stomach secretes acid. That is its job. And I have come to realize that my brain actually works much better if it is used carefully and deliberately, not allowed to run amok.
I am learning that the answer to any problem lies in first not reacting to it. If my response is a knee-jerk reaction from the past, all I can do is repeat the very problems I want to put behind me. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Maturing is about feeling your feeling and thinking your thoughts and deciding what you will do based on what will be in the best interest of you and your fellow humans in the long term. I am learning to let my thoughts and feelings cool off. It is all very unexciting when done properly.