Tag Archive | Buddhism

Evil is Real

I hang out with a New-Agey group. They are wonderful. They are everything that many church people claim to be but often aren’t.

I read a lot of books on spirituality and Buddhism, in particular. If forced to choose a religion, I would choose Buddhism.

However, Buddhism sometimes seems as fantasy-based as the Veggie-Tales theology I ran into as a Protestant. The kind of theology that says that evil is simply the absence of good. And some of my New-Agey friends are into “non-duality,” which says that everything is actually one. Non-duality sounds fabulous. My problem with it is that it denies the realities of evil and separation.

The famous people that practice non-duality seem to live in caves and can devote themselves full-time to developing their spirituality. Must be nice. I often wonder what they would done in my position. They have someone picking up their slack in real life, whereas I am the one picking up the slack for Barry.

I have been reading a lot about kundalini energy lately. I believe that it is part of what I am experiencing physically and spiritually lately. The more I read about it, the more I realize how my life is not conducive to fully processing this energy. There are all sorts of physical effects that go with the physical transformation of this energy that would make me completely non-functional. I do not have the option of taking time off from caring for Barry so I can turn into a puddle of spiritual energy or deal with horrific physical symptoms that would render me useless. I’m really hoping to deal with this energy gradually, in a way where I can function like a normal human. I believe this is why the most spiritually advanced people are often men–they have someone taking care of the real world while they go on retreats or become temporary hermits.

Sometimes, I fantasize about what I will do when Barry is gone. I can devote more of my time to spiritual pursuits. Or maybe I will be too busy trying to pay Sallie Mae back.

It’s easy to believe in non-duality—until you find out that you’ve been lied to by the insurance company or had someone almost hit you when they pull in front of you in traffic. Sometimes others do not care about you, at best, or are actively trying to make sure your needs are not met. I will believe in non-duality when your eating lunch fills my stomach with food. Separation is real. This is where concepts like “justice” come into play. It’s funny how the people espousing non-duality are usually at the top of the food chain, asserting their authority in comfort.

I am done being a good, little victim. I will use whatever powers I deem necessary to get my needs met. I am not into trying to create adversarial relationships, but I am also not into pretending that I am not in one even as I am lied to. I’m interested in what works, not what sounds good. It’s part of why I stopped being a Christian. I am empowered, not meek and mild.

Not Focused only on the Present

“But karma and rebirth focus on past and future. Doesn’t the dharma teach us to focus totally on simply being mindful—fully present—in the present moment?

“The Buddha talks about the importance of focusing on the present moment only in the context of karma: You focus on the present because you know that there’s work to be done in training the mind inn developing skillful present intentions, and you don’t know how much more time you have to accomplish that training. If you don’t train it now, you’ll suffer both now and on into the future.” The Buddha’s Baggage, Tricycle, Winter 2016 issue, page 83

 

I have been looking for months for a quote that explains my concept of present-moment-living and karma.

I have nothing against focusing on the moment. Good choices can only be made now. If you don’t deal with now very well, later ain’t looking too good, either.

My issue has always been with the “live for today” crowd. As if tomorrow will never occur.

I think of those people, back in the late 80s and early 90s, who got HIV+ diagnoses. All of their friends had died quickly from AIDS. So they went out and spent every penny they had, took all the vacations they had ever longed for, ate all the food they wanted, etc., thinking their deaths were imminent. And modern medicine started to have resources that enabled HIV+ people to live long. And they didn’t die. Oops. Then they were broke, having blown all their resources. Try finding housing being HIV+ and broke. Tomorrow did come.

I am trying to make decent choices today. Trying to rest up for the next phase of my life. After the holidays, I am going to get more aggressive regarding respite care. I need to work. I have an MBA and am doing nothing with it.

I also need to take care of my health. I am all about quality, not quantity, of life. If someone wanted to shoot me today, I would welcome that. It would put an end to the care-taking phase (and all other phases for that matter) of my life. My problem is not “What if I die?” No….My problem is “What if I live?” I don’t want someone else changing my diapers. I want to be as functional as possible for as long as possible, if I must live. So I exercise, try to keep my brain working, eat healthy, etc.

I believe in delayed gratification, as long as it doesn’t turn into no gratification. Delayed gratification is called “discipline.” Everyone needs some. Zero gratification makes life not really worth living. I believe girls are raised believing in delayed gratification, only to find out too late that often there will be no gratification whatsoever. I feel duped. Now I am pushing fifty and still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I have some anger here. I followed all the rules and did everything I thought I should and found out that there is no reward at all for doing so.

My philosophy is simple: Do whatever you want and try to learn from every mistake you make. Have fun in your twenties, thirties, and beyond. But don’t make the same mistakes when you are thirty as you made when you were twenty, at forty that you made when you were thirty, etc. There is a reasonable expectation that you should learn as you get older. People (rightfully) don’t have a lot of patience with fifty-year-old idiots doing the same crap twenty-year-olds do.

Living for today is good in some ways. But actions do have consequences. Sometimes tomorrow does come.

 

 

 

Reasons for Meditation

There are a couple main reasons I meditate: to create less karma and to change my consciousness.

I believe there is a limit as to how much bad karma I can create while meditating. My only hazard is to meditate to escape reality, which is very easy to do, especially when I feel like my reality sucks. Meditating to escape reality only puts me in the same category as all those holy-roller type that go to church to escape from the drudgery of real life. Been there, done that. Not creating trouble is always a good idea, on the other hand.

And then there is the consciousness-changing aspect. I believe that consciousness is the interface between science and spirituality, the overlap of their respective circles in a Venn diagram. And I believe that our minds are ever-changing, going from and to various states. The ability to consciously determine which state I want to be in is a lofty goal. Also,  I believe that two people in alpha or theta or whatever state have infinitely more in common than two people living under the same roof but in different brain states. I think one of the hazards of getting older is when one person in a relationship grows and the other does not. You can start out on the same page and end up in different libraries.

There is the Buddhist idea of annica, or so self. I still haven’t figured out if there actually is a real me or simply a conglomeration of temporary states and characteristics. I look forward to someday being able to find out, but that would require me to not have all of my needs drown out by care-taking responsibilities. Who am I when not the care-taking wife? I hope someday to find out who the real me is, if there is one.

No Rest

“We are always experiencing successive births and deaths. We feel the death of loved ones most acutely—there is something radical about the change in our reality. We are not given options, there is no room for negotiation, and the situation cannot be rationalized away or covered up by pretense. There is a total rupture in our who-I-am-ness, and we are forced to undergo a great and difficult transformation.

In bereavement, we come to appreciate at the deepest, most felt level exactly what it means to die while we are still alive. The Tibetan term bardo, or “intermediate state,” is not just a reference to the afterlife. It also refers more generally to these moments when gaps appear, interrupting the continuity that we otherwise project onto our lives. In American culture, we sometimes refer to this as having the rug pulled out from under us, or feeling ungrounded. These interruptions in our normal sense of certainty are what is being referred to by the term bardo. But to be precise, bardo refers to that state in which we have lost our old reality and it is no longer available to us.

Anyone who has experienced this kind of loss knows what it means to be disrupted, to be entombed between death and rebirth. We often label that a state of shock. In those moments, we lose our grip on the old reality and yet have no sense what a new one might be like. There is no ground, no certainty, and no reference point—there is, in a sense, no rest. [italics mine] This has always been the entry point in our lives for religion, because in that radical state of unreality we need profound reasoning—not just logic, but something beyond logic, something that speaks to us in a timeless, nonconceptual way. Milarepa referred to this disruption as a great marvel, singing from his cave, ‘The precious pot containing my riches becomes my teacher in the very moment it breaks.’”PEMA KHANDRO RINPOCHE, http://www.lionsroar.com/four-points-for-letting-go-bardo/

How much time and energy do you spend trying to get comfortable?

For anyone who has ever tried meditating, it quickly becomes comical. Your scalp itches. You try not to scratch it. Then your nose itches. Then your left knee hurts and you just know you would feel so much better if you shifted it. To some degree, it does not matter whether you shift or scratch or whatever. The point is the noticing and the practice of non-response, learning how not to sub-consciously react to every little thing. Noticing your own suffering without automatically reacting, learning how to have discipline and compassion for yourself, and realizing the universality of your irritation/suffering.

This scenario is woefully inadequate because it doesn’t include those jarring experiences that pull the rug out from under us. Trauma. I am talking about those happenings that are so painful that life simply can never go back to what it was before, the kind of experiences that have a “before” and “after” that forever bifurcate your life, a personal 9/11. These are bardo.

I was going to school in 2008 when Barry first got stage four tonsil cancer. I prepared as best I could for him to die. I continued going to school. He did not die. But the Huntington’s took away his capacity to contribute to the house or our relationship in any meaningful way. Now it’s 2016 and I’m stuck with a house I can’t take care of by myself and a husband that chronically goes downhill. I do everything. I am exhausted. Nothing ever changes. That house is now the tomb of my hopes, dreams, and career.

So I know about shock and I know about being “in-between” stages of life.

What all of this has done for me is to make me rethink absolutely everything. People proceed forward in life based on assumptions they have no way of knowing whether or not they are true. I am no longer capable of that. Sometimes I envy their denial and other times, I think, “If only you knew…”

And I see how much of my life I have tried to get comfortable. If only I had this or that…And now I am pushing 50, no more comfortable than when I was 21. I have scratched, shifted, etc., a gazillion times and it just doesn’t help.

How do you become whole when your life is shattered? Perhaps that is not the goal at all. And can you increase your awareness without having your life rupture in some way? And once you increase your level of consciousness, so what? Then what? Nobody seems to know.

 

I Stink at the Subtle Game

“But in the context of death and birth, shunyata refers to a direct experience of disruption felt at the core of our being, when there is no longer any use manufacturing artificial security.

We’re not talking about giving up our precious human life here, of course; we’re talking about giving up on this subtle game. We hold pictures of our ideal self in an ideal world. We imagine that if we could only manipulate our circumstances or other people enough, then that ideal self could be achieved, and in the meantime, we try to pretend to have it together. It’s the game we play all the time: we keep postponing our acceptance of this moment in order to pursue reality as we think it should be.

When we suffer disruption, we find we just can’t play that game anymore. The bardo teachings are really about recognizing the value of giving up the game, which we play without even giving it a second thought. But when we are severely ill or in hospice, and we have to cede control over our own bodily functions to strangers, holding it all together is not an option.” PEMA KHANDRO RINPOCHE, http://www.lionsroar.com/four-points-for-letting-go-bardo/

This article speaks to me in a way that is rare. It expresses exactly where I am.

I can’t hold it together. I can’t even pretend to hold it together. And I’m done playing the games. Love me, hate me, I just don’t care anymore.

I’m not saying that I accept this moment. Many times I don’t. All I have is the hope that eventually I can start my own life and not be an eternal caretaker anymore. Hope is not Buddhist. Perhaps this is a leftover from my Christian life.

I cannot manipulate anything or anyone. I wonder what it’s like to be a good manipulator, to have faith that one can get what they want from others when needed. Perhaps that kind of security is delusional. But it would still be nice to have.

 

The Poignancy of Impermanence

There is a Beatles’ song, “You won’t see me”, that makes me want to cry. Here is my favorite tidbit: “I have had enough, so act your age/ We have lost the time that was so hard to find.” Who hasn’t had that experience, of trying to get together and simultaneously dealing with relationship drama?

I am aging and I feel the sting of impermanence every minute.

That is why I hate denial. I have been reading about grief and denial is always listed as the first stage. However, for some, it is a way of life. Barry doesn’t want to know what is going on with his health and so I no longer attempt to communicate with him about anything much. If he wants to be in denial, what’s the harm? The harm is the loss of time to do something meaningful.

Time is your life. No distinction can be made between how you spend your time and how you spend your life.

Denial is only a stage because reality always triumphs. Always.

Time is the currency of finding integrity. I quote A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer (p. 164):

“Courage comes as we understand that no punishment anyone might inflict on us could possibly be worse than the punishment we inflict on ourselves by living a divided life. The divided life ends in the sadness of never having been one’s true self.”

Time is short. Denial is not your friend. Wake up while you can.

Detritus

This issue of Tricycle has a fabulous article called The Dharma of Snow by Ayya Medhanandi Bhikkhuni. It talks about how meditation can be like melting snow: absolutely no progress may seem to be being made, and then suddenly there is a breakthrough and the snow has vanished.

Being from Michigan, this is the perfect article. I feel like today we turned a corner this winter. I don’t believe we will have any more days below twenty. All the forecasted temps are thirty and above. We will likely have one or two more days in the twenties, but the worst is likely over. We will, of course, get more snow, but it likely will not stick around more than 24 or 48 hours.

I feel like I am in the process of “thawing” on many levels. Last year, I lost the ability to repress anything, even things I think might have been better left repressed for the time being. Needless to say, there is no need to repress the wonderful and joyful. Things get repressed for very good and solid reasons. What gets repressed? Unexpressed rage and frustration. The knowledge that I can simply never be who I am around certain people and that it is worthless to try. It has all come up and it is not pretty. Ugh.

And there is also the biological aspect. I believe that whatever we are experiencing emotionally and whatever toxins we are ingesting when we gain weight get “frozen” into the fat. It’s kind of like the PBB poisoning of fish in the Great Lakes when I was a kid. We were told not to eat the fish because PBB is fat-soluble and eating the fish would transfer the toxin to us and our fat. Well…Think about it. Emotional or toxic crud gets solidified into our fat and then, ask yourself, what happens if and when you ever lose weight and that particular fat? I believe that whatever is in the fat (emotional and/or environmental toxins) gets released. Many times, people lose weight and feel like crap. I believe this is a big part of feeling yucky while losing weight.

It is similar to glaciers melting. Nobody ever talks about this. Everyone talks about rising water levels, which is a real problem. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s not the only problem. Imagine a woolly mammoth with a strange disease dying in northern Canada or Greenland. It freezes in place. It is in the next ice age, frozen and stationary. Then it thaws. What happens if we have no immunity to the bizarre mammoth disease it suffered from? What are these melting glaciers releasing into the water and air?

As anyone living in a northern climate knows, when the snow finally does melt, it is an ugly sight. All the crap getting shoveled along with the snow is now revealed on the pavement and your lawn. Ick. It is extremely unappealing.

Emotionally, we live in a culture where our real, lived lives are not acceptable to the average onlooker, let alone boss. We repress our feelings for emotional and financial survival. There is no shame in that. Or integrity.

And then there is the suddenness of the snow being gone when it has been there for days, months, or centuries. David R. Hawkins talks in many of his books about the potential of abrupt progress coming out of seemingly nowhere. The book Letting Go talks of it. Meditation also goes there, so to speak. Change is occurring continually and no visible progress is being made—then bam! You are at an advanced position, in new territory, now.

What can be done when repression is no longer an option? I am living that question. And I am losing weight. The emotional impacts are not pretty.

This is why I have such respect for the gays that come out of the closet and accept the rejection of family, friends, and religious organizations. To be who you are is courageous and potentially costly.

But Buddhism says that I have no real self or soul. If I rake up the emotional crud from my psychic lawn, is there anything left? Am I the lawn? I have been reading A Hidden Wholeness A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer. Palmer’s opinion is that, yes, absolutely, we have souls that are seeking expression. I am not sure of it. But then again, I am only now looking at the detritus of almost fifty years of emotional crud. And I have only just begun to rake.

Void, Zero, Shunyata, By Any Other Name…

 

I’ve been in a lot of emotional pain lately because all the traumas I’ve been dealing with this past year are calming down and all the feelings I had to repress to simply cope are springing to the surface, all at once, of course.

I have felt unimaginably stuck. Not metaphorically stuck. Metaphysically stuck. I could no longer move up, down, left, right, any which way. It is hard to want to live when no movement in any direction is possible. Who wants to spend the next umpteen years trapped in a box (or a bear trap, to illustrate the pain level)?

I have been trying to let everything go (or just let it be, however you want to look at it). I asked a New-Age-y friend for suggestions. (It’s amazing how un-picky one becomes for sources of advice when feeling so trapped all you want to do is gnaw your own leg off.) She suggested Ho’oponopono and the book Zero Limits by Joe Vitale.

What is it about? Getting to the Void (they call it “zero”). I recognized it as a part of the Buddhist concept of shunyata. Another key aspect is accepting absolute 100% responsibility for everything in your world. The emphasis is on the repetition of “I love you.” And repentance in in the form of “I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you.” You don’t say these things to another person but to yourself. You are the creator of your world and, therefore, if your life is messed up, you need to fix yourself first and foremost. It’s all about “cleaning” your subconscious.

The process claims miracles can happen. I asked myself, “What would a miracle look like? How would I recognize it?” I didn’t have to wait long. After talking with my dad, I started it (“I love you, I love you…”) and had a strange epiphany. I realized I no longer had a desire to participate in an aspect of our relationship that had previously exasperated me. I felt the temptation leave. When my dad tries to re-start that particular dynamic, I honestly don’t know what I’ll say or do, but the old dynamic is gone and he will have to find a way to deal with it. A shift has occurred within me. We’ll see what happens.

Continuing cleaning, I started to come up with ideas. Dad was talking about “illegal aliens” and how they are such a drain to our system. I am pretty sure some of my neighbors are illegals. I realized I might want to help my Hispanic friends. But how? Two words came to mind: Cristo Rey. It is a local community center founded by Hispanics. I want to be part of the solution, not the problem. I have volunteered for them in the past.

I still don’t know what I will do, but I feel more spacious inside. Where did these ideas come from? I certainly wasn’t thinking, “I really want to go volunteer at Cristo Rey. What excuse can I use to do so?”

Some people say that feelings shouldn’t matter in our decision making. They are idiots. Feelings go by other names: impetus, motivation, giving a damn, love, and hate. Try having motivation without some emotional component.

When emotional debris is cleared out, even a tiny bit, inspiration can occur. Otherwise, all you are doing is reacting from memories. I can attest to that. So many memories that chewing my emotional leg off to get a taste of freedom is a perfectly reasonable idea.

But you have to make space. Zen does that. Buddhism is full of aphorisms like “mind is like sky and thoughts are clouds.” Zen can be disruptive precisely because it makes so much space all at once that repressed garbage can flood in and be highly destabilizing. I believe it needs to be practiced with the spiritual supervision of someone who has “been there, done that.”

This past year has been hard, but I feel like I have some tools to improve things. And that’s all I care about this minute.

BuddhistAuthenticity

“Buddhism was a process; one did not need to delude oneself or pretend to be other than oneself, and one did not have to become completely passive in order to embrace the notion of peace.” Jan Willis, Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist, One Woman’s Spiritual Journey, p. 201

These are lessons she learned from experience. Having grown up Baptist, she enjoyed its fellowship and community, but it was always tinged with fear of the KKK. She held no illusions of her own safety. Spending time in India and Nepal showed her Buddhism in action and in exile.

Her remarks speak to the importance of authenticity. Willis understands the pain of rejection and fakery. Pretending to be other than oneself is exhausting. And an enormous waste of time and energy. The problem isn’t “What if they reject me?” No. The problem is “They love this person I am pretending to be. How much of my integrity am I willing to sacrifice to maintain their approval?”

I have felt compelled to leave various friendships and organizations over time. It is my firm conviction that you don’t know where the expectations/boundaries are until you violate them. Then, suddenly, people will come out of the woodwork to correct you and inform you of “your place.” Such organizations are seldom, if ever, worth the price of admission. To be rejected honestly is comparatively refreshing as opposed to having a manufactured persona accepted and admired. My needs and values of my twenties do not bear any resemblance to the ones I have today. Remaining true to the values of a Cindy who no longer exists is very empty.

Willis’ remarks also speak to having a “self.” What is this self? In Buddhism, it can be debated whether such a thing exists. But, being black, she can address this from the position of having her self reviled simply due to the color of her skin, an essentially meaningless, superficial feature. She is not arguing against its existence.

One problem Buddhism in America has is how it came from Asian masters directly into white middle- and upper-class America. Debating whether or not one has a self is a fine academic debate, devoid of meaning and real-life application. But violate those selfless expectations by advocating for a sangha community of color and watch how quickly people are put in their places. Also, I saw an article about “white trash Buddhists” in a Buddhist magazine. The author expressed some of the same frustrations I have: the cost and inconvenience of going on sesshins, dathuns, etc. Even poor whites have a rough time dealing with some of the unspoken expectations. You don’t know what the expectations are until you are incapable of or unwilling to live up to them.

I am uninterested in participating in relationships/organizations that require me to delude myself or be fake to ensure my continued acceptance. One thing this past year from hell has done for me is to simplify my life, involuntarily at times. I only have so much energy and I refuse to use what little I have to nurture connections that will be a never-ending drain on my psychic energy. I’m just too tired to pretend to be someone else.

Transformation, Religion, and Denial

I am not traumatized at this moment. This past year has been repeatedly traumatic. I have a hard time growing, learning, and maturing when I am constantly challenged to simply cope. Being frozen in trauma postpones the learning curve indefinitely.

I don’t know how well I’ve been doing lately. I am always trying to learn something from just about every situation because I do not want to keep repeating the same stupid mistakes as I age. There is nothing sadder than an elderly person who never really matured. Age without wisdom is disheartening. So I try to learn. And so do my friends. And I am unsure of how much they’ve been learning, either. Are we just ageing without growing? Our behavior doesn’t seem to reflect much transformation at times.

I have always been obsessed with transformation. How does it occur? I read personal stories all the time. I just read a book by a black lesbian Buddhist. I have started a different book by a woman who is black, Baptist, and Buddhist. I have read conversion stories from people that have gone from non-Christian to Christian, Protestant to Orthodox, Christian to atheist, etc. I want to understand the process, the logic, the emotional components, etc. How one goes from being A to being totally different B intrigues me.

I want my life to be transformed, but I also see the value in denial. Dealing with Barry’s end-of-life issues raises the question of how much information do you really want if there is nothing you plan on doing with it anyway? A Christian friend was extolling the value of religion’s ability to comfort people, even if none of it is true. Her attitude was, “What’s the problem if it helps you and comforts you?” Part of me wholeheartedly agreed. And the rest of me realized that we were basically confirming that Karl Marx had hit the nail on the head when he said religion was the opium of the people—designed for comfort and not for growth. I never thought I would be proving Karl Marx right.

I have always pursued growth. My religion has changed over the years because of that. I am perennially looking for answers. I get along fabulously with religious leaders, until, that is, I start of grow beyond their level. Independent thinking in the Christian world is referred to as “heresy.” Then, suddenly, leaders start warning others not to associate with me. I am dangerous, apparently. That has been my frustration with Christianity is general: the promise of transformation and then the absolute refusal to allow the very factors (such as independent thought) that would enable genuine metamorphosis to occur. The complete defense of a dysfunctional status quo is the opposite of spiritual growth, as far as I’m concerned. It is not progression but rather regression to an infantile-like state. The verbal promise of growth is belied by the forbiddance of any and all information that might lead a person to make an intelligent decision. “Let us take care of you. We’ll meet your needs.” Then you join and find out the truth: now you are the church and it is your job to meet everyone else’s needs (even though no one had any real intention of ever meeting yours). It is pure deception. But maybe it’s a necessary one. Who do you know that would join a religion that promised them nothing?

Lately, I’ve been doing some Buddhist chanting. Why? Because it feels good. Does it change anything? Probably not. But I am not caring now. Perhaps it is non-transformational, but it feels refreshing. As an Orthodox Christian, I understood the purpose of a mantra: using the bandwidth of your brain to undo habitual, obsessive thoughts and clear out the mental cobwebs. Of course, Christians deny using mantras, but even a casual observer can verify their use: the rosary for Catholics (Hail Mary…) and the Jesus Prayer for the Orthodox (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God…). To say Christians do not use mantras is to not understand what mantras actually are.

How many people in our culture are frozen in trauma and unable to break out on their own? Christianity could really grow if it ever learned how to help traumatized people. The gratitude factor alone would cause an explosion in attendance. Helping people get unstuck would confirm the transformative potential of religion, as opposed to revealing the church as the enemy of growth and maturity. My attraction to Buddhism has always been its profound understanding of suffering and its practicality in dealing with real life issues. (Read anything by Pema Chodron.) But its Asian, patriarchal version doesn’t always look much different than some of the more screwed-up American and European varieties of Christianity.

I think it is perfectly okay for someone, like Barry, who has cancer and a very limited life expectancy, to live in denial. But I feel like I am still way too young for this (“this” being lying to myself freely and shamelessly to make myself feel better). I soooooo wish Marx was wrong, but I see the validity of his position more every day.