The Ones We Used to Know

Life is hard. We tumble through space and time, colliding with one another like cosmic bodies set adrift by some ancient explosion. I look through old photographs, and peruse the online profiles of people I used to know, and feel a deep sense of longing, and disconnection, but love still resides in my heart for long lost friends, and I wish I could take part in their lives now. Where, my friends, did we fall away from each other? I often wonder if our brief but passionate, and somewhat violent collisions in this life sent us hurling through space in opposite directions never to collide again, never to meet again. I hope that is not the case. You have impacted my life, helped to shape it, and helped to give it direction. May we all have the privilege of being forged in such a way, and I believe we are. And while friends come and go, while the loves of our lives are cast asunder by the circumstances of cause and effect, my hope is that we gain more than we lose, and learn more than regret. Even in those circumstances where our hearts once beat in unison with some other soul’s and became entwined may we look back happily and without regret, and see true purpose of such things. Our lives are not our own, but inextricably linked and bound to one another, no matter how brief or how passionate our contact with one another is. To all my friends past or present: Thank you for being a part of my life.

Advertisements

Prevent trouble…

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The giant pine tree
grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts beneath your feet.
Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
You ruin what was almost ripe.
Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains calm
at the end as at the beginning.
He has nothing
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is nondesire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares for nothing but the Tao [the Way].
Thus he can care for all things.

-Lao Tzu

I found this amazing quote in the book “Buddha Is As Buddha Does” by Lama Surya Das. It is exemplar of all I strive for as my purpose. Great quote! Great book.

A Personal Lesson in Craving

Yesterday i learned a valuable lesson about craving and attachment. It was my birthday and I was expecting my father to send me my birthday present of $200.00 via Moneygram as he does every year. I woke at 9:30 AM to my phone ringing. I answered and it was a man from Studio Time and Space a Buddhist Meditation Center in Springfield VT where the night before I had attended a Dharma Talk on Right Intention and Right View given by Yogi Lama Gursam. Apparently when I sat down on my cushion to meditate i took my wallet out of my back pocket as I always do, but this time I forgot it. I live in Keene NH, a 45 minute drive to Springfield VT and I have no vehicle, or license. I told the man that I would be up to get my wallet at some point during the day. After we ended the call I realized I had voicemail; it was from my father. “Nobody had to remind me! Happy Birthday, you little shit!” he said. I found it endearing. He has always had a dry and rough sense of humor, but there was no mention of the money he said he was going to send me. You see for a couple of days I had my heart set on this used laptop I saw at the local consignment shop. I wanted it so badly that when the money did not come i became increasingly saddened throughout the day. My family took me to the local beach, but my mind was still attached. I brought along my Zafu and Zabuton thinking that I could meditate, and dissipate the sankhara I had formed through my craving and aversion. I could only meditate for 10 minutes or so before I abandoned it and laid on the grass and fell to sleep in the sun. When I awoke I was startled. I had no idea where I was. The expanse of the blue sky and the sun in my eyes was very disorienting,but even so my longing relented. My mind was so focused on what i wanted that I was blinded to how my emotions and energy was effecting my family. They wanted so badly to make my birthday special, and everything they tried was not enough. They started to become agitated and sad that they couldn’t help lighten my mood.

When we got home I laid down, and at about 8 pm my mother got a call from my father. He had just sent me the $200.00, but yet there was still one problem. In order to pick up a money transfer you need photo ID. Mine was 45 minutes away. In one last ditch effort to help me my girlfriend and mother decided to drive me to VT to pick my ID up. We drove the 45 minutes, and I got my wallet, but problems persisted and to get home we needed to pick up the money so that I could put some gas in the car. The closest place to pick up the money at 11 pm at night was a Walmart Supercenter in Claremont NH; 25 minutes from Springfield VT. We made the trip, and I picked up the money. After all day of sulking I had the money in my hand. I had what my mind craved.

We walked around the Walmart in search of something for me to buy. My mom approached me with an outfit she liked and asked if I would buy it for her. I immediately became aggravated. The outfit was $15.86, and I still needed to put $20.00 worth of gas in the Jeep. the laptop I had my heart set on was $199.99. Craving led to more craving and I was blinded to gratitude, generosity, and kindness. I bought the outfit because i felt obligated because of all she does for me.I am a 30 year old recovering addict who she let move back home after all I put her through in my addiction. I didn’t buy it out of kindness or generosity, or gratitude. I bought because i felt like I had to. My expenditures began to add up in my head, and the laptop got further and further away.

When we got back to the car I began to gripe. My mother began to cry. She had done so much to make sure I got want I wanted, and she felt powerless. That’s when it dawned on me. The lessons I took from the Buddha on suffering and the cause of suffering poured from the recesses of my mind and I realized that even when I get what I want I want more, and being stuck in this cycle blinds me from living in harmony and making those I love happy. I could have responded to the challenges of the evening with Right Effort, and made my family feel amazing, but through my craving I caused suffering.

I can’t get the laptop now, but that’s okay. I have my family. I have the opportunity to keep our internet and cable on. I don’t watch much TV, but my mother and Amanda really enjoy their programs. Writing this blog is a very cathartic hobby of mine, and internet service is a must for that. I have a little extra money to buy a book or two, or maybe a camera so that I can take pictures when i go on my hikes.

The lesson learned? To always be grateful for what i have, and never lose sight of my true purpose of living for others. My practice is still evolving, and I have a lot of work to do to leave attachments behind.

Craving and aversion create chaos and suffering, and blind us from this moment. We lose sight of our purpose, and the things we are working to do to grow spiritually. 

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it”

-Thich Nhat Hanh

Here’s to turning 30

Today I am 30 years old. As I look back on this life I see a vibrant, at times turbulent and miserable, potpourri of experience. I am reminded of a couple of poems. The first:

“Alone”
By Edgar Allen Poe 

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—
Then—in my childhood—in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still—
From the torrent, or the fountain—
From the red cliff of the mountain—
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold—
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by—
From the thunder, and the storm—
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view—
 
And the second:
 
“The Men That Don’t Fit In”
By Robert W Service
 

There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
    A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
    And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
    And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
    And they don’t know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;
    They are strong and brave and true;
But they’re always tired of the things that are,
    And they want the strange and new.
They say: “Could I find my proper groove,
    What a deep mark I would make!”
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
    Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs
    With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones
    Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
    Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that’s dead,
    In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
    He has just done things by half.
Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,
    And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
    He was never meant to win;
He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
    He’s a man who won’t fit in.

These wonderful poems used to describe me. I identified with them. Now life is about drawing happiness and sorrow from a common well, and maintaining serenity, mindfulness, and peace.

Looking forward I can say that i finally see hope. I have found new purpose, and with it new direction. Compassion and generosity are becoming a way of life that gives me a joy I did not know i could have simply by reaching out to and for others. I look around and feel love now. I have a long way to go, but by living this way i can be there before I get there. I draw inspiration from the random acts of kindness I witness daily, and it gives me courage to do what i never thought was possible. I am grateful for everything I am given, and look forward for what’s to come, good or bad.

The Illusion of Self and the Voice of the Soul

ImageLost

I stood at the gateway of a complete overhaul of my entire way of life. I knew what I had to do to make a big change. It was simple; I had to get off of the drugs, and give up the foolish attempts to fix myself. I stood at the proverbial crossroads, and I felt deep within me the hollow nagging fear of not knowing who I was. My own identity evaded me. I had been defining myself by what others thought of me. Drugs and alcohol had become an extension of who I was, and I was lost. I felt as if I was cut adrift with no direction to go. How could I recreate myself? How could I find myself among the debris of the chaotic twisted steel and rubble of a life I so desperately wanted to leave behind? It was nearly impossible to face myself, and look at who I had become. For years I had hid what I didn’t want to accept deep down in the dark abyss of my heart and soul. I was terrified of people finding out about my traumas, about the things I had done to perpetuate my substance abuse problem. I couldn’t surmount the fear and shame I felt that I might be bi-sexual. I was raised to believe any sexual orientation other than heterosexual was a sin, and punishable by an eternity in hell. These are just a few of the hurdles I was trying to overcome, but I couldn’t figure who I was in any of it. I was having a very serious identity crisis, and it was keeping me from growing. I had no idea how to come to terms with all of these blinding truths. Acceptance seemed so far away, and it wasn’t until I found the practice and study of Buddhism that I was able to find peace. In it I discovered the idea of no-self, and liberation.

The Illusion of SelfImage

So who am I? My name is Michael, and I have preferences. I am an independent. I live in New Hampshire, am a recovering addict, and have fathered two children. Are these things me? Do these things define of me, or are they merely just parts of my personality, and things about my life? Am I my thoughts? Am I my beliefs? Am I how I feel? Am I the result of my past, the culmination of everything that has ever happened to me, or that I have ever done, said, or thought? Do all of these things define me as a human being? I believe if we look deeper we can find the answer.

“’Mind is an illusory reflection of cerebral fidgeting. It comprises all the random, uncontrollable thoughts that bubble into awareness from the subconscious. Consciousness is not mind; awareness is not mind; attention is not mind. Mind is an obstruction, an aggravation. It is a kind of evolutionary mistake in the human being … I have no use for mind.”

-Socrates, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior

Merriam-Webster defines personality “as the complex of characteristics that distinguishes an individual or a nation or group; especially: the totality of an individual’s behavioral and emotional characteristics.” Sure we have many behavioral and emotional characteristics, but is that all that we are, or is there something beneath all the characteristics of our personalities? If we look deeper we can see that there is personality and then beneath that there is also awareness of personality.

In theater, actors adopt a role, and take on a persona, but the persona is not who the actor is. Instead the persona is like a mask the actor peers through. Such are our personalities, traits, flaws, and characteristics. The self, like the persona, is an illusion. We see the world through the mask of the mind, and believe we are the mask. Looking deeply we can see that we are the awareness behind the mask, and that the mask is a tool we use to relate with others, and to function as members of a society.

In each moment we have the potential to be reborn, and just be. If there is no self then there is no identity to find. We can live moment to moment aware of the thoughts, emotions, and characteristics we experience. This allows us to touch them, feel them, and choose how to respond to them skillfully. It was because of this realization that I found freedom. Though I may have made mistakes, may have fears, and possibly be bisexual, I can accept life as it happens instead of reacting to it. Although this is simple it is by no stretch easy. I have to practice every day. I am still searching my feelings about my sexual orientation, but I am slowly becoming capable of letting go of my fears. It really takes practice, and that is where meditation really becomes practical.

“To really get it, you must observe yourself to see what I mean. You have an angry thought bubble up and you become angry. It is the same with all your emotions. They’re your kneejerk responses to thoughts you can’t control. Your thoughts are like wild monkeys stung by a scorpion.”

-Socrates, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior

In this way meditation can become an invaluable resource. Sitting quietly in a chair or on a cushion becomes a way to observe the mental noise for what it is, “cerebral fidgeting.” In meditation we practice seeing things exactly as they are. When a thought arises we don’t resist it if it is unpleasant, nor do we try to hold onto it if it is pleasing. We begin to realize thoughts, emotions, and desires are impermanent. Even physical sensations come and go. An overwhelming itch that compels us to scratch soon can simply be noted and we can choose to just feel it. After a time of meditation I can notice the benefits almost immediately. I feel rested and rejuvenated. I am more aware of my thoughts and emotions as well as the effect those thoughts and feelings have on my physiology. The best thing about meditation is that anyone can do it, and benefit from it. You do not have to be Buddhist or religious at all to use it.

 
The Voice of the Soul

“Meditation is the tongue of the soul, and the language of our spirit.”

-Jeremy Taylor

First you will want to find a place you will not be disturbed for a little while. You can choose to sit in a chair. I find a chair without armrests is best, but you can sit in any chair really, or you can choose to sit on a cushion cross-legged. Either way your back should be erect but not rigid. You might close your eyes, but some people find it more beneficial to keep them open. Feel free to adapt a practice that works for you. The attitude is what matters, but you will want to stay alert. Meditation can be very relaxing and entrancing. I have been meditating at my local practice center and heard my friends sawing logs many times, and have fallen asleep myself.

To begin, place your attention gently on your breath. There’s no need to make your breath faster or slower or even. Just breathe, know that you are breathing and follow each breath. What do you notice most about your breathing? Do you feel it mostly in your chest, your stomach? Is it slow, fast, deep, or shallow? Sometimes it might be easier to focus if you begin by counting your breaths, making the mental notation: One I am aware that I am breathing in. One I am aware that I am breathing out. Two I am aware that I am breathing in. Two I am aware that I am breathing out, and so on. Try to feel every breath like that until you get to five, and then start over. After a while your breathing will become even, and you will be able to abandon counting. If thoughts bubble up, as they will and you catch yourself in some amazing fantasy that’s okay. Gently return your attention to your breathing. You may have to do this a thousand times, and that’s fine. That is why it is called practice. If a strong emotion comes on try not to push it away or cling onto it. Gently return your attention to your breath again, and again. This is the point to it. There’s nowhere to go. There’s nothing that needs doing. This moment has a right to exist, so let it. You’ll have thoughts; they will come and they will go—kind of like cars on the interstate. Whenever one catches your attention you don’t chase after it do you?! The same goes for the thoughts that pop up. Let them go. Notice that the thought came and notice that it passed. How did it feel? Was there a particular sensation that arose with it? Did your breathing quicken? Did you feel your heart speed up? Notice these things but do not dwell on them. Be mindful. Just because you noticed any one of these things does not mean that you have to do something about it. You’re alive! Just breathe, and just be!

+If it is your first time meditating you won’t want to overdo it. If you’ve never jogged before you wouldn’t want to jump right into a marathon. I find if my first experience with something is painful or unpleasant I might be less inclined to continue to do it. I started meditating for five or ten minutes before bed. Eventually you will be able to work your way up to longer periods of time.

There are many different ways to meditate, and it might be a matter of trial and error. I like to begin by closing my eyes, and I visualize myself holding two heavy bags. The one in my left hand has all of my past in it. All those people I have met. The memories of the good times, and times not so pleasant. This bag holds my successes and my failures. I imagine how heavy the bag is, and I visualize myself setting it down on the floor beside me. In my right I feel the weight of the bag that holds my dreams, my aspirations, and my plans later in the day. I feel the weight of my schedule, my itinerary. I visualize myself setting that bag down as well, and I don’t pick either bag up again until the end of my meditation. Visualizations can help your focus, but you’ll have to find what works for you. The more you learn about the practice of meditation the more your own personal practice will evolve. If you can keep an open mind and be willing to put learn and practice mindful living it will enrich your life, and make it fuller than you can imagine

There are many good books on the subject. I enjoyed Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “The Miracle of Mindfulness.” It’s a great introduction to the practice. Any decent public library will have a section on Eastern philosophy, and there are some amazing articles on the subject. It is an amazing part of my life, and I recommend it to everyone.