“When Milarepa was young he killed thirty-five people. That’s a serious karmic load that would guarantee a difficult time in the bardo and almost certain rebirth into a lower realm. When he realized the karmic implications of his actions, he practiced as if there was no tomorrow. After twelve years of legendary hardship, Milarepa purified his karma and attained liberation….It was Milarepa’s fear of death that led him to conquer death….We should instill a similar level of wholesome anxiety….With Milarepa as our inspiration and guide, the uncompromising truths of Buddhism can speak for themselves. Let’s not dilute them for Western consumption…. Buddhism is an elegant but raw description of reality. It’s our job, as practitioners of the truth, to align ourselves with reality—not our versions of it.” [Italics added by Cindy Hoag] Preparing to Die by Andrew Holecek, p. 40-41
The Eightfold Path is composed of “Right”: View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration. If there is a “right” something, then that creates its dualistic opposite, the “wrong” something.
Wrong mindfulness is all about the present moment without context, as if our actions now affect nothing later—if “later” even exists. This is pop spirituality at its most pernicious. People will pay lots of money to be told that their actions now have no consequences ever.
What draws me to Buddhism has always been its unflinching examination of the mind, life, and death. Living in a culture in denial regarding death has left me feeling alone and adrift. Birth and death are the bookends of this physical existence. Pretending we will never die is delusional. Life has limits. One of my favorite quotes from Shunryu Suzuki comes from his dying process. “If you had a limitless life it would be a real problem for you.” What an understatement.
I am trying to give meaning and purpose to my actions, to give myself good karma. Given that I could easily live another few decades, I need to be functional in this life. Death is the default, like gravity. Life requires effort, like pulling oneself out of a hole. I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for death and now I’m trying to build a reality-based life. Post-modern America is not a great place to do that.
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.
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.
“We live on the promise that somehow, sometime, we will complete ourselves, we will fulfill the gift of this life. That completion is contingent on something out there: a person, a thought, an idea, a state of mind, a situation. And as much as we live our life like that we also enter spiritual practice like that. And much of practice, if not all of practice, has to do with recognizing those places where we are still invested and still holding on, trusting something other than that complete truth of our perfection within practice. It is about recognizing that truth, bringing it to light and then radically turning away from our attachment.” Trust Your Own Perfection,Dharma Discourse by Konrad Ryushin Marchaj Sensei,Gateless Gate, Case 45, Wuzu: “Who Is That Other?” Featured in Mountain Record 29.1, Fall 2010
My weakness is looking for the state of mind to make me feel better. I see life as a mood-altering experience. My clinging is to ideas or feelings that promise fulfillment. I have long let go of the hope in other people or situations to help me feel better. No person or organization has ever cut it, not even Jesus.
In general, I am more interested in meaning than pleasure. Having dealt with depression most of my life, I see pleasure as fleeting and suffering as more likely to endure. This makes me more of a natural Buddhist than a Christian any day. Meaning is consoling, whereas I can sometimes produce my own endorphins to make myself feel better.