I’ve always wrestled somewhat with OCD tendencies. It has always been easy for me to go off on tangents, both intellectually and emotionally. That’s how I’ve always done so well in school: I wanted to know everything about a subject and, whatever the findings, I found exceptions. “What about this over here? That over there? How did things get like that?” My mind has always been like a bulldog with a meaty bone.
Buddhism has helped me to stop valuing trains of thought that do not add value to my life. It is relatively easy to let go of something that you’ve experienced to its logical conclusion and still found wanting. Stop chasing the damn thought, like a dog chasing a car. What if it catches it? Then what? Is the dog’s life appreciably better?
As I have learned to let go of thoughts and emotions more easily, I am left with a low-grade emotional pain/emptiness. I am unsure what to do with it, but spending my entire life trying to avoid it is an unworthy expenditure of time and energy. Refusing to invest emotional energy into things has been incredibly freeing, but I see why people seek endless distractions. I totally understand why no one would want to feel this way. This is what my OCD was protecting me from.
The challenge at this point is how not to get caught in various emotional distractions. I now see some of my Christian history as my attempts to avoid this feeling. That made me vulnerable to manipulation of the basest sort. So much of American Christianity is emotionally manipulative. How can it not be? Few people jump at the chance to join a religion that opens you up to suffering, which is basically the definition of Mahayana Buddhism.
How do you avoid being manipulated in a culture where you are marketed to 24/7? All I can think of is to turn off the glowing screen. And refuse to participate in meetings where the leader is trying to hype up the audience. This could be a religious service or a corporate meeting. If you have to get emotionally charged to do something, it may not be worthy of doing at all. If facts and logic alone don’t get you to do something, maybe passing on participation is the only reasonable action.
“The path of mindfulness is the path of no preferences…We should not expect high degrees of tranquility if we are living in an environment where people are confused or not tranquil, or where we have a lot of responsibilities and duties. We should not think: ‘Oh! I want to be somewhere else; I don’t want to be here.’ Then we are making a preference. We should observe the kind of life that we have, whether we like it or not-it is changing, anyway; it does not matter.” Let Go of Fire, by Ajahn Sumedho, Posted on 14 April 2010 by Buddhism Now
This speaks to me. I want that tranquility, but my life is full of responsibilities. I frequently find myself thinking, “I wish I were elsewhere.” Feeling stuck in Michigan is unpleasant at best.
“[W]hether we like it or not—it is changing anyway.” That’s where my reality rests. I live in a quickly changing world. I don’t know what I want, but being stuck is more illusion than reality; it is just a feeling. The world is not stuck. My path of movement may not be the one preferred by me, but movement is not only possible, but inevitable.
My mind feels very empty right now. I was starting to wonder if something was wrong with me. Today, I felt what was going on. I am not investing emotional energy into anything right now. This is freedom. I surf the internet and let it be. I am not fighting someone else’s battles.
I have been carefully, deliberately getting rid of things and doing some minor “spring cleaning” of my house and mind. I have been creating a vacuum. So far, nothing has rushed in to fill it. What I like about minimalism is the deliberateness of everything. Keep whatever you see as truly adding value to your life. Let go of the rest. Don’t go chasing after someone else’s goals. It looks different for everyone. For example, we have a TV. Barry can’t do much besides watch TV at this point. It gives a lot of value to his life because his mind is slipping away and his body is losing coordination. Will I keep it after he’s gone? I don’t know, but I don’t need to make that choice now.
I can enjoy the pleasures available to me now while fulfilling my current responsibilities. The only thing I am sure of at this point is the ever-changing-ness of reality. However wonderful or terrible something may seem now, just wait. It won’t last. The next situation will have an entirely different set of responsibilities and pleasures.
Today was Easter, for both Westerners and the Orthodox. I used to be Orthodox. This is my first spring not even pretending to observe.
My focus was upon my friend who is moving from Michigan to Maryland. She has a job and apartment out there, but was back for the weekend, getting as much of her stuff crammed into her son’s car as possible. It was hard to help her leave. I tried to leave her in better shape than when she arrived, added as much value to her life as I could. When I left her, she seemed sad and traumatized. I invited her to Biggby, to buy her her favorite espresso-based beverage, but she did not have time.
I went there without her. I was sipping my mocha and something did not seem right. The place was overly quiet. I could hear the music coming from the speakers, echoing a little too much. I sat and wondered what was wrong, what expectation of mine was being violated. I realized that I expected subconsciously for there to be more merriment, perhaps groups of happy Christians doing Bible studies, more noise, more life.
The place was close to dead, with only a group of three talking next to a window and a couple separated students slaving away in the glow of their laptops. Not so long ago, I was among them. I don’t recall it being this dead back then, but I was trying to pass my classes, so perhaps I simply did not notice.
Rejoicing was not on my to-do list. The Easter festivities seem so contrived now, a distraction from real issues, like one of my best friends leaving. The festal drama is manufactured, re-enacted in the same, exact way every year. Maybe if I wasn’t watching Lansing empty out one U-Haul at a time, I could show enthusiasm for artificial religiosity. I kind of miss it, like one misses watching reruns of a favorite sitcom. A meaningless diversion has been removed from my life, which I probably should rejoice over. But I just can’t.
Reading Everything That Remains feels so good. It gives me what I am looking for: an example of how the authors got from Point A (high-powered careers) to Point B (minimalism). It’s as close to a mentor as I may ever find. It offers the encouragement that if they can do it, I can too.
Not everything in the minimalism world is useful. I looked up images of minimalism online and found some fascinating architecture. I found cold starkness and weirdly sharp angles. It was more artistic than functional. One room had such a tight “corner” that I almost laughed. No vacuum cleaner was getting into that! The last thing I am interested in is one more thing I cannot clean.
I don’t know the specifics of what I want in life, but I do have some general principles. Number one, I am not interested in being a good, little victim. I don’t want to be the victim of my stuff, worrying about my crap when I go on vacation. I feel like my possessions tie me to a physical location, the location of the possessions. I have no passion for spending my golden years cleaning my stuff.
My refusal to be a victim of my possessions is related to my wanting to not be stuck in Michigan. I literally don’t want to be tied down geographically. Michigan is my place of origin—and humiliation. I am done with the bizarre expectations of MIT qualifications for jobs that pay Burger King wages and then employers trying to pass off the responsibility to the applicant. “You just didn’t meet our qualifications” translates in reality to “We plan on hiring so-and-so’s brother,” or “You might expect a more living wage and are therefore unfit for exploitation for our purposes.” I am fluent in HR-speak (my undergrad emphasis for my BBA was HR) and know that it is in the employer’s financial interest to make the candidate feel unqualified, rather than understand the truth. My friend that moved to Maryland left partly because her co-workers in Michigan routinely declared bankruptcy. Workers in Michigan are the epitome of the frog in the kettle. The economy has gone downhill slowly enough and been depressed long enough to the point that they think it is normal to declare bankruptcy every seven years. They take their economic victimization as a matter-of-course, not wanting to move elsewhere and perhaps learn a few more skills in order to increase their paycheck exponentially. Getting paid crap for high-skilled labor is pure Michigan. I choose self-respect and freedom, even if it means letting go of almost every possession I have. Such is the price of freedom.
I have been looking for a sense of purpose lately.What should I do when Barry passes? How do I make the best of now in the meantime?
Meanwhile, I have been gradually getting rid of things, intentionally creating a vacuum and being curious as to what might want to fill it.
Also, I have been frustrated by dysfunctional status quos that seem impervious to ever-changing reality. How do I help create something better? How do I deal with people that only seem interested in living in the past, which was apparently fabulous for them but holds no nostalgia for me?
For the past few days, I have noticed critical voices in my head. Today, the obvious occurred to me: these voices are from the past. Connecting the dots later, my thought was, “The past does not hold the solutions to today’s problems. These voices have no answers.”
How do I access today’s solutions? Accessing the silence and listening at least until the voices slow down.
It was Einstein that basically said that problems cannot be solved on the same level of thought that created them in the first place. I believe that totally and I also believe that things change so quickly that reaching backwards for answers is hopeless. No one can keep up with today’s changes, especially if one worships the status quo. The only way to even be aware of things going on now is to develop a high level of consciousness. Today’s world demands a level of flexibility impossible while living in the past.
I still don’t know what I should do, but I feel like I am no longer wasting my time and energy looking for answers where none can be found–in the voices of the past.
I wonder how I can dedicate my life to being creatively subversive. Hmmmmmm. What do I mean?
Many young people have great ideas. I could be an excellent sounding board. I could be supportive when they face opposition from older conservatives. I could help them find ways of getting their agendas accomplished without even coming onto conservative radar. Conservatives often live in their own faux news delusional world. (I know many such folks.) All I need to do is to help progressives not encounter the right wing nuts.
I know how young people think, having gone to school most of my adult life and being surrounded by energetic youth. I know what they care about.
On the other hand, I have spent much of my life surrounded by right wing nuts. My parents are flat-earthers (deniers of global warming). I spent about a decade in an extremely conservative Protestant church and then converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, which is so conservative it makes most Protestant churches look like lesbian covens. I know how they think and am watching the disintegration of conservative America. Finally!
Many conservative organizations and churches are dissolving from within, lacking the energy of and relevance to youth. I would like to accelerate the dissolution by providing the very things churches and conservative organizations promise, but are incapable of delivering: compassion, acceptance, encouragement, a listening ear, etc. I could help young people think for themselves and recover from the guilt- and shame inducing behaviors of so many conservative authority figures.
I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. To resist and fight something is to strengthen it. I want to immunize youth so that they are not tempted to spend their adulthoods seeking the approval of people whose very jobs depend upon them being easily emotionally manipulated. Like I was, for so long. I know what motivated me as I went through various phases and it would be nice to help some vulnerable person to simply avoid all the drama I put myself through. If I can help just one young person avoid wasting as many years as I did, it will all be worth it.
I feel like part of my calling in the world is to help create spaces for communication and relationships. People need to feel heard and safe.
Once people feel heard and safe, then a relationship can ensue.
Only after a relationship is established can accountability occur today.
I see older, conservative people trying to hold total strangers accountable. It doesn’t work. Today’s young people get criticized for being disconnected from the institutions of church and marriage. Those critics never stop and ask themselves, “Why would these young people not be interested in joining the church or getting married?”
The reality is that the younger generations are not disconnected from each other. They are the most connected generation ever. The young are tech savvy and have a lot to bargain with in the world. The world needs their skills. The elders are often unwilling to learn anything new and have no bargaining chip. What the older people do have is a serious attitude problem. The attitude of churches, businesses, and the GOP is “This is how we do things around here. Take it or leave it.” Young people respond, “Whatever. Bye. Good luck with that.”
So young people start their own businesses, cobble together their own spiritualities, and forge new family formations. And they have a great deal of support from their friends. Churches have no hold upon people that have never officially joined in the first place. A pastor cannot hold morally accountable a young person they have never so much as had a conversation with, especially if that young adult never joined but was only forced to attend with their parents. Young adults will not listen to a religious authority figure from their parents’ church.
Today, being listened to is something earned. It comes from relationship, feeling safe and accepted for who they are, and real support when the young person needs it most. All of these things must occur before any accountability will be real to the young person. Trying to hold the parish council member’s kid accountable when talking to them has never been a priority is a joke. Young people know this. When will older people listen? I’m guessing never.
This is a new world. People are stressed. The greatest need I run into in other people and even myself is a desperation to be heard. There has to be a way to make a living at something so basic. When it comes to people that have never helped me and demand a voice in my life, I can only quote Rhett Butler, “Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn.”
Tell us your tried and true techniques for focusing when that deadline looms and you need to get work done. In other words, how do you avoid wasted days and wasted nights?
If I know there is a deadline (a specified time when something will or is scheduled to happen), I can break the task into bite-sized pieces. Maybe I can’t spend an hour doing something, but I can work at it for ten minutes. Multiply that by a few days/weeks/months, and you can get a heck of a lot done. Using restless energy for good can accomplish much.
Part of focusing for me is knowing why I am doing something. If I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” and don’t instantly have a compelling answer, I am likely done with that activity. I’m kind of funny like that. Everything I do needs a point. The deadline might pass without my accomplishing the goal, but if it is not my deadline, I am unlikely to care. Manufacturing a sense of urgency without providing a sense of meaning only creates contempt for all goals. They all seem stupid if they don’t come from deep within.
A few weeks ago, in Detroit, a road crew was filling potholes. As they were doing so, the ground gave way and sucked in a couple vehicles. There was simply no ground beneath the road and the pressure put upon it resulted in collapse.
I kind of feel like my life is like that. I get rid of stuff and clean my house, but try to maintain the pretense that my life is remaining the same. The ground beneath my road is being shoveled away slowly. At some point, pressure will be applied and even the pretense of normalcy will be gone. The tectonic plates have shifted.
Part of the plates shifting comes from finding new, functional role models. I no longer look to a church. The people I admire are minimalists, Buddhists, systems-thinking business leaders, etc. What I admire is their extraordinarily clear values. They have what they need and do not seek more. They are off the consumerism carousel. They know what they are and what they want to be. They have a plan on how to get from point A to point B.
Many organizations that I have belonged to have been sinkholes. With no incoming youth or new ideas, the pretense of things going on as usual continues. Lalalalala. The older generation retires or dies and the organization fades away, but at least they didn’t have to change.
As I’ve been reading books on embodied leadership, I’ve realized that I need a vision, something radical enough to keep me going no matter what. I don’t have it and am hoping the books can help me find it. One thing I found out a few years ago is that nothing else will do. No self-improvement plan will do suffice. It must come from within or it will lack the oomph to motivate.
I have no inner vision now. This is serious. I am feeling like nothing in my life is going to change any time soon. That thought is so depressing I almost can’t stand it. Barry had an Uncle Bob with Huntington’s disease. Bob had a wife that actually died before he did. All I remember about her is her sleeping on the couch, just like me. Caretaking took such an emotional toll on her that she died before he did. I don’t want to be in her shoes. I need a bigger vision.
I’ve been struggling with my mood. I feel resentful. I just don’t care anymore. Not a very spiritual attitude. Funny how spirituality goes by the wayside in the face of day-to-day reality. I need a reason to live and I’m not finding it now. I can’t make myself care. I’m already medicated for depression, but pharmaceuticals are a poor substitute for a reason to live.
The only thing I can think of to do that will make me feel better is to get rid of something. I have put a boxful of books in my trunk to drag to the MSU recycling center. One of them is a parallel Bible with four translations that must weigh a good six pounds. I know it cost me about forty dollars over a decade ago, but I haven’t touched it in years. A few days ago, I took my cooler to my friend’s house for when she makes her brief to Michigan. Barry and I have probably used it all of twice in the past twenty years and not since we moved into the house a decade ago. Purging always makes me feel better.
I’ve spent years trying to make myself do things differently by trying to think differently. Now I shall approach from the opposite angle: I am seeking to think differently by physical practices. It all seems to dovetail with the zen books I’ve been reading. The books, especially those by Leo Babauta, all emphasize the importance of habits. Habits are how you get things done on a routine basis and keep things manageable on an ongoing basis. Do I have a choice?