"Self-liberate even the antidote."
In considering this Lojong slogan, I learned some Latin - reductio ad absurdum.
This is the formal term for following an argument or line of thought to the point at which the argument results in some kind of absurd conclusion. It's usage in philosophy is to point out the fundamental flaw in some argument. In common language, "it's a slippery slope". Taking one step in a particular direction makes it more likely that one will keep going in the same direction until one eventually jumps off of the proverbial cliff with their proverbial friends.
Pema Chödrön's commentary cautions us that being attached to nonattachment is folly. Yet, if one assiduously follows the teachings of nonattachment, that would surely be the outcome. In Buddhism, however, there is a safety buffer against this - the Middle Way. The site zen-buddhism.net puts it this way: "By 'middle', Buddha essentially meant that we need to embrace both spiritualism as well as materialism, just like the front and back sides of a sheet of paper." (love that image)
The Middle Way is a great protector against the human tendency to drift toward extremes. The idea that there is one right way to do or think about something is both comforting and seductive to us. The Middle Way on the other hand is messy. Everyone has a different idea about where to draw the line against absurdity. It takes prajna remember to analyze the pro's and con's of sustaining a given principle, especially when that principle is intertwined with your personal philosophy of life.
Lying is wrong. Don't lie. Still most people would likely stop short of ruining a surprise party for a friend even if entailed telling a lie. All people have a right to health care and should have equal access to care. Still if the health care providers go out of business or are starved for resources, no one gets adequate care. So...what do we do? That one's harder, right?
As usual, this is where Buddhism throws the responsibility for our enlightenment back on us: our thoughts, our views, our actions. There's no out for us by simply leaning on some general principle and continuing to repeat it. Man, who knew being awake would be so much work!
“Regard all dharmas as dreams.”
Have you ever had a lucid dream? It’s happened to me twice.
In the first, I was at the top of a large, wide staircase. The edges of the steps were made with some kind of stone, but most of the surface was covered with red carpet. It appeared that I was in some kind of gilded theatre. Instead of walking down the stairs, I wanted to fly. At each step I leapt up and floated for a short time, working my way down two or three steps at a time. Suddenly I realized I was dreaming and that if I really wanted to fly I should be able to just concentrate. Bingo! I was flying.
Then I woke up.
The second time was more complex. I “woke up” in my bed as usual, got up and walked out of my room into a hallway that contained cabinets, a mirror, and a sink. I was going to start getting ready for the day when I realized my house doesn’t have a room like this off of the bedroom. Yes! A lucid dream! Deciding to take advantage of being aware, I started walking around.
Then I woke up.
Still laying in bed, I thought about how cool it was that I’d had a lucid dream. I got out of bed and exited the room only to find myself once again in an unfamiliar floor plan. A lucid dream inside of a lucid dream! Cool! This time, I was determined to stay in the dream.
Then I woke up.
The world seems completely solid in a lucid dream. Lucid dreams are seductive. You can make things be just by thinking about them. Having done it twice, I want to do it again. I wish there was a switch I could flip to make it happen at will. So far it’s been a big goose egg.
Or so I thought until recently. In truth, lucid dreaming is just an exaggeration of what we do on a daily basis when we turn our attention inward to the alternate universes created by our minds. These realities appear so solid at times that they impact our body chemistry, facial expression and emotional state. The only thing lacking in comparison to a lucid dream is the absolute immersion of the visuals. Otherwise the illusion is just as complete.
When the world of our mind helps us envision how we might approach a problem or communicate something important to someone, it can be a useful tool. More often however we trend toward mindlessness, building elaborate fantasies about that we want to say but won’t. We imagine ourselves surmounting our intractable problems through acts of will or heroism that we will never realize. In these moments we reinforce our impotence in molding the world to our desires. In short we suffer.
It’s hard to imagine my life without my mind churning out stories all the time. As a creative person, these stories are the raw materials for my work. I can see though that I could gain significant benefit in terms of minimizing my own suffering if I could recognize my unproductive “mental lucid dreams” earlier and prompt myself to wake up as quickly as I do in the sleeping variety.
I’ll keep working on that.
It’s finally complete. After having been hacked almost a year ago, I have finally finished reconstructing the Average Buddhist Blog.
Yes, yes, yes…there’s the irony. I’m a Buddhist blogger who’s so attached to my past posts I was willing to dig through internet archives to get them back. (Of course keeping copies of them when I posted them would have been waaaaayyy too easy, right?) What could go wrong if they’re safely locked away in the WordPress interface?
What could go wrong indeed?
As much effort as it took to reassemble everything, it was an amazing experience to reread the posts, look back at all my old thoughts and perspectives. It was kind of like being able to travel in time…and since I’m a big Doctor Who fan, that’s all right with me.
So, it would seem that releasing attachment and burying and forgetting are different beasts. Keeping a thread of connection to the past can help illuminate a way forward.
While I’m here, I want to give a really, really, REALLY big shout out to the “Wayback Machine” a.k.a., the “Internet Archive”. They take snapshots of web sites and catalog and index them for retrieval or reference in the future. Through them, I was able to find all of the old snapshots of the Average Buddhist Blog as it existed back then. Thanks to them, I had the order, dates and most importantly the content of every post that was lost. (Except I think the very last one before I was locked out) I am beyond grateful that this service exists and plan on sending them a donation. I’m posting their information here, in case you’d like to do the same. If you have a blog, family site or anything that you would like to ensure doesn’t get lost to the impermanence of cyberspace, you’ll be happy they’re around. http://archive.org/donate/
I've come to the conclusion that I'm a compulsive eater. Somewhere along the line, hunger uncoupled itself from my eating behavior. I eat for any other reason: boredom, stress and just because it tastes good. It's not that the choices of what I eat are bad (usually...there are the mini chocolate bars in the snack closet at work), but once I stop eating I find it very difficult to stop. This is of course a current curse of our culture as well. So, I know I'm not alone here.
Recently, I had the good fortune to meet a woman named Ellen Glovsky. She is a registered dietician and expert in teaching Motivational Interviewing (a counseling method oriented toward helping people make behavioral change). She is also a big proponent of a Health At Every Size approach to diet. I hired her to come in to do a training for our staff on MI and at the end of the day I bought the book she edited, Wellness Not Weight. It was a real eye opener.
The scientist in me was drawn to the explanations of the enormous amount of research demonstrating that traditional approaches to diet don't work. The social observer in me was drawn to the historical perspectives of how our culture's approach to weight and diet developed. The Buddhist in me was drawn to part of the solution - mindful eating (a.k.a. Intuitive Eating).
I'm sure that many of you, like myself, have gone through the Jon Kabat Zinn observe the raisin before eating it mindful eating exercise. While it was interesting, I can't truly imagine making a practice of being so sensor ill tuned into my food as I eat it, particularly as I would rather be mindful of my family at dinner time. This mindful eating was different, however. This mindful eating asks us to tune into the cues our body is giving us in the present moment to guide when, what and how much we eat.
As I've observed my behaviors over the past couple of weeks and tried to observe my body cues, this has turned out to be harder than the raisin exercise. The irony is, the more I try to think about whether or not my body wants food and what it wants, the more I think about food. The more I think about food, the more I want to eat. It's a conundrum. Clearly, the key is going to be the ability to apply Don't Know Mind or even No Mind to the situation. But how?
Fortunately, I have a couple of private sessions coming up with Ellen to help me with this. In the meantime...raisins! Mmmmmmmmm!
[Disclaimer: no I have not received any free goods or services (or raisins) in exchange for this post.]
Photo: WikiCommons - Cary Bass
I’m sitting in my comfy chair at the Dancing Bear Guest House in Shelburn Falls, Massachusetts. This is the same bed and breakfast where I came with my husband several years ago to write The Average Buddhist Explores the Dharma. It’s a perfect writer’s retreat. My perch is covered with warm velour and has an extraordinary view of a pink and blue stained glass window. At lunchtime, I can walk ten minutes to the historic town center and work for a while at Mocha Maya’s the local coffee shop that rivals Starbucks for the quality of it’s latte. For lunch I’m known to stick to one of the locally baked blueberry muffins on display there.
As I struggle to conquer the first draft of my latest science fiction manuscript - always the most difficult and psychologically challenging part of any project - I am bothered by doubt over whether there is room in the current entertainment narrative for a story about hope. You see, as much as I enjoy stories of the struggle to conquer oppression, the current deluge of dystopias has become its own hegemony. Oppression seems to be winning. It makes me wonder if anyone wants to read about friendship and camaraderie any more? Is anyone willing to believe that life is hard sometimes, but doable with the help of family and friends?
Am I alone or are there other people out there who want to read stories about compassion, trust and love? The question is distracting me enough that I have been compelled to interrupt myself to write this post. There’s a major shenpa invasion going on here and it all started with a television spoiler.
Ordinarily spoilers don’t bother me all that much. Even though I have advance knowledge of some plot point or other, I love a good story. The fun part is finding out how they get there. To date, there have been only two exceptions to that rule.
The first was knowing in advance in exactly which episode the Tenth Doctor would regenerate in Doctor Who. I dreaded that episode thoroughly, but was compelled forward by the momentum of the story. My husband laughed at me as I surrounded myself with stuffed animals and a warm fuzzy blanket. When the time finally came, there was no getting around it. I cried. Those darn script writers and their final line. That darn David Tennant for being such a brilliant actor: “I don’t want to go.” Waaaaahhhhhh…<sniff>
Now I’m facing down my second dreaded spoiler, the final episode of The Glades. I didn’t know about this series when it was on the air. Netflix suggested it to me when I finished up The Finder, a heartwarming story about a man who is compelled to solve mysteries by finding lost items. I’d known all along there was only one season, since I knew one of the stars, Michael Clarke Duncan, had passed away. I didn't know how The Glades would go out.
In the three and a half seasons of The Glades I’ve watched so far I have come to appreciate how truly different this narrative is from the depressing zeitgeist of our time. Yes, the necessary plot ingredients are all present. Every episode introduces a compelling mystery to be solved. The main character, Detective Jim Longworth, is supported by a motley Scooby gang made up of the chief medical examiner, the police division chief and a plucky semi-official intern. Detective Longworth is of course somewhat rogue, but he gets the job done. So no one gets in his way. He’s cocky, but somehow everyone likes him anyway. The Glades is everything you’d expect from a contemporary police dramady.
The difference that makes this show stand out is the relationship between Jim Longworth and the lead female character, Callie Cargill. She is a nurse who at the beginning of the series is trying to take care of her teenage son and put herself through medical school while her husband is in prison for armed robbery. Okay, you already know the convict husband is jettisoned and Jim and Callie end up together. That’s not even worth calling a spoiler in this genre. But oh how they get there!
It took a while for even me to recognize it at first, but the development of the relationship between Jim and Callie is the healthiest and most partnership-driven I’ve ever seen come out of Hollywood. Yes, they have misunderstandings. Yes, they have stupid fights. The same is true for Callie and her son. Eventually though, each time they manage to find the courage to be honest with one another. In so doing, they created an intimacy that was upliftingly authentic.
As a person who loves romance, I have been turned off by the deluge of Fifty Shades wannabes. Hollywood doesn’t do much better spitting out story after story of relationships based on three days of intense circumstance most of which involve some set of major lies. In themselves, these stories are fine. It’s the lack of any alternative narrative that is discouraging.
In contrast, Callie and Jim got to know each other over the course of several years. They faced both personal and professional challenges. They experienced both elation and doubt in the ability of their relationship to survive, but they became gradually stronger together than they were apart. Furthermore, the show managed to present Jim Longworth as a tough and competent cop while also allowing him to be the kind of intimate partner any woman could envy.
Back to my spoiler.
Here it is 2015. Mr. Grey, a twisted control-freak predator got a movie and Jim Longworth got shot. That’s right. Shot.
The fourth season ender was Jim and Callie’s wedding. I’m to understand that Jim had secretly bought a house for a wedding gift. He is there before the wedding to take care of some final details at which point he’s shot. Apparently, we don’t even know why. Shortly after the episode aired, A&E announced they were canceling the show. Even though the episode generated extraordinary ratings, rather than building on their momentum, A&E canned it without even allowing the producers a chance to give Callie and Jim their well-deserved happy ending.
Yes, it’s only television, but I’m really angry. Furious in fact. There was one show, just one among the muck that’s shoveled onto screens every year that portrayed a healthy, loving couple making it work despite the odds. There was just one show where the man could be both archetypically guy-like and a supportive intimate partner at the same time. Well, we can't allow that. So they shot him. #jimandcalliedeservebetter!
Seriously. I want a real ending to this show a real happy ending where Jim doesn’t end up a vegetable or paraplegic from his injuries. If the show has to end, fine. Even M.A.S.H. had a final season. But give the viewers the gift of closure; the gift of story where investing in a deep, intimate relationship is worth it in the end. Give us just one story where allowing the characters to be vulnerable to one another doesn’t leave them bereft. Please! It’s only been a couple of years, A&E. The actors haven’t changed much. Give us a real finale you can be proud of as a network. Jim and Callie deserve better and so do we.
It’s close enough to New Year’s when I could write a wonderful post using “soap” as a metaphor for the cleaning out of the old year and cultivating a willingness to forge into the new year free of attachments and clinging. Alas, this is not that post. (If that’s what you’re looking for, go to our friend Google. I’m sure there’s one out there…)
No, this is literally a post about soap. An actual bar of soap. It was my favorite bar of soap. And now it’s gone. Sniff. Pout.
It smelled so good. I remember getting it at some kind of all natural store…but I can’t remember where. Since the label has long since hit the recycling, there’s no hope of finding it elsewhere. No. My favorite bar of soap is no more. There is no way to replace it. In the indelible words of Monty Python, this soap “has drawn the curtain and joined the choir invisible. It is an ex-soap.”
The human condition is so amusing, isn’t it? When I can find myself whining “awwwwwww…” at the end of this little sudsy reminder of impermanence. What a blessing though to be given at least one shenpa that is easy to release! Now that’s a New Year’s gift I can really be thankful for.
Alas, poor Soap. I knew you well.
I’ve been fighting the good fight against genetics and food for a while now. Like many people, I’m struggling with controlling my cholesterol. As you might imagine, I am not a person who likes to take a bunch of medications just to avoid making lifestyle changes. In general, I prefer behavioral approaches over medicinal ones.
Last month was the perfect timing for having a cholesterol test. I joined a gym back in July and have been faithful in going. The gym comes with personal training and I’ve been using that to guide my progress. Even better, a work colleague of mine and I concluded that we were having too many high carb, sugary snacks at work and set a goal for ourselves of no sugary snacks at work for 22 out of the 25 work days in that month. Yeah! I succeeded!
Confidently I strode into the lab for my test.
Results? Worse than ever. Boo!
Doctor’s recommendation? Statins. Boo!
I get my healthcare news from journal articles and sources such as NIH and Medscape. So, I’m usually pretty sure that the information I’m getting is of high quality. Frankly, the idea of taking statins terrifies me. Yes, they lower cholesterol, which is extremely important. It’s just that the cost in potential side effects is so high.
Now I’m thrown into the middle of an identity crisis. For self-reflection, I categorized my reactions from a Buddhist perspective…
I must bow to the lesson I have been given to learn. I must be grateful that I live in a time in human history when such a medication is even available. It would be foolish to increase my risk of stroke just so that I don’t have to get over myself. And so I go.
I just finished reading “Look Me In The Eye”, which is the story of a man with Asperger’s Syndrome, who didn’t know it until he was 40.
Near the end, the author discussed the way in which he was able make peace with his dysfunctional father prior to his father’s death. He recollected his conversations with him about the happier times of his childhood (much of it was not happy at all).
For some reason it reminded me of the last conversation I had with my grandfather in 2004 (I believe) – amazing that it’s already been 10 years. We called him “Tatsie”. He suddenly got ill with acute lymphoma. Although he had been a very healthy 88-year old going to the gym 3 – 4 times a week, doing a workout that rivals my own, the doctor’s seemed to just give up right away and say “He wouldn’t be strong enough to handle the treatment.”
It made me viciously angry. Even more I couldn’t understand the attitude of my grandparents. They kept saying things like “They’re the professionals, they know what they’re talking about. Don’t bother them with questions.”
As an aside, since I work in healthcare I understand how often “they” really don’t know what they’re talking about. It made me so angry at them that my grandparents and the doctors gave up without a fight! Without considering how physically strong he was before becoming ill. The doctors only saw a number on a page – his age – and left it at that. My grandparents never questioned their authority.
In our last conversation before I left his room, I told him that I loved him and was scared for him, but for some reason I was also scared for me. I really really didn’t want him to go. He died less than three weeks after diagnosis, without the medical establishment doing much of anything to even try to help him.
For some reason, more than almost anyone else I wonder for him what happens after death. He was a Christian. I suppose he believed in heaven, but come to think of it I never asked. Since I (think I) believe in the cycle of reincarnation until one reaches a state where they can join the universal energy that might be called nirvana – that would mean he could be somewhere else in the world right now. Or maybe in some alternate universe…which I would wish more for him, heaven or a new life in a new body, I can’t say with certainty.
I only know that all these years later, I still miss him
Why haven’t I made any posts in months?
Blah blah busy blah blah blah work blah blah moving offices blah blah blah…nothing “Buddhist enough” to say.
Yes, it’s true. After sixteen years of Buddhist practice I continue to fall victim to dualistic thinking and tie myself to attachments about the need to be profound in some way. Haha! I’m sure I’m not alone here and I do have a good sense of humor about it. Prajna is a process.
I mean really. The whole reason for calling the blog Average Buddhist is because I’m just an average person workin’ the Dharma. It’s about the small stuff.
Think small. Think small.
Suicide touches millions of lives in this world. Yet, somehow it’s always a surprise when someone you know commits suicide. You can’t help but think - I should have known. I should have seen it coming. We all carry this underlying assumption that we could have done something to prevent it.
Last December, my husband and I learned a good friend of his mother’s had passed away. There were no details at first. The fact of her death was difficult and hard to imagine, given her lifelong active and healthy lifestyle. Worse, particularly for my mother-in-law, was that we didn’t find out until three months later. After several days of phone tag, my mother-in-law learned that her friend had not died of natural causes, but from suicide. The few months over which they had fallen out of touch took on new meaning. All of us were left wondering - why?
I first met “E” in the late 1980′s or early 1990′s – I can’t recall which. She was someone who was very easy to connect with. She had a calming influence on every room she walked into. Her smile was contagious. She would go to any lengths to help a friend feel better. I know all of this sounds cliché given that E is no longer with us, but it’s actually true. It was hard to imagine E feeling so desperate that she would take her own life.
If only we’d known.
There’s the real cliché. The survivors seeking ground. We grasp onto the certainty of our own power to force our will to live on another person. If only we’d known, we could have stopped it. The certainty is laughable.
Earlier today, I managed to finally connect with another woman who knew E well, much better than me in truth. She and E used to either see each other or communicate at least once a week. She told me she had also been shocked by the news. She knew a recent illness-related death in E’s family had hit E hard emotionally. But there was apparently been no indication that E’s grieving was going so terribly wrong. Perhaps there was more going on. We’ll never know.
The truth is, it is a privilege when others open their thoughts to us. Whether those thoughts are full of sunshine or a tsunami of pain, every person is in control of whether they share it with the people they know and love. If they decide not to there is absolutely nothing to do for it. It’s not for us to say that we would have been smart enough, creative enough or forceful enough to stop someone from taking drastic measures. Despite numerous opportunities, E decided not to share.
As a member of the clan of people who has been left behind by E, I need to set aside my Tom-Cruise-saves-the-day story lines and instead come back to focusing on E. Grieve the loss. Make peace with the fact that I’ll never see her again. Bow to the internal pain that made her feel like suicide was her only best option.
Namasté, E. I will miss you.
Now buy the Book!