Category Archives: dharma thoughts

A lazy post about freedom

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Writing prompt: Define “freedom”

Boy oh boy, this prompt is certainly fodder for a political screed, isn’t it? But, I haven’t the energy for that, nor is freedom defined for me by any particular political or economic philosophy.  In fact, to me, freedom has nothing to do with any external conditions whatsoever.

Unfortunately, like I said, I’m a tad tired and can’t really formulate my thoughts in a way that does justice to what freedom means to me.  But, I did find this quote from Ajahn Brahm, a wise and entertaining  Buddhist monk, that touches upon what I wanted to say, and probably says it much better than I could:

Our modern Western culture only recognises…freedom of desires. It then worships such a freedom by enshrining it at the forefront of national constituitions and bills of human rights. One can say that the underlying creed of most Western democracies is to protect their people’s freedom to realise their desires, as far as this is possible. It is remarkable that in such countries people do not feel very free. The second kind of freedom, freedom from desires, is celebrated only in some religious communities. It celebrates contentment, peace that is free from desires.Ajahn Brahm (Opening the Door of Your Heart)

Endless comparisons

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One of the insights I realized while at last month’s meditation retreat (they don’t call it Insight Meditation for nothin’), was that I spend a lot of mental time comparing and judging.   It’s a strong tendency for me.  For others, they may spend their time reformulating the past, or strategizing their future.  But for me, my mind falls into a well-established groove of constantly checking on how I measure up with others, or how others aren’t measuring up to my standards.

I guess that’s really the difference between comparing and judging: when I compare, there are two distinct subjects – myself and others, with the myself part of that equation being quite strong and explicit.  Whereas in judging, the I is more implicit.  The I sits in judgment of others. I assume that my I is correct and is the supreme arbiter of all that is good and right in this world.   So, for example, at my retreat, since a big part of my identity is the idea that I’m sincere spiritual practitioner (I know, I know, I’m missing the point) I found myself comparing myself to my co-retreatants in terms of their ability to sit still, stay awake during the sitting and the level of knowledge displayed during the Q&A sessions.  And while this mind could have focused itself on those whose performance and knowledge were superior to mine, my ego prefered to focus on those people to whom I felt superior.   And then there were those with whom I couldn’t compete at all, in particular, the young, nubile yoga chicks in their stretchy tight pants and impossibly firm buttocks. My I (or my butt) was not even in the competition, yet I felt completely free to judge them as being shallow or there for the wrong reasons or having an eating disorder.  My mind was not kind to the yoga chicks.

Of course, at their core, both of these minds, the comparing and judging minds, come from the same place.  From a Buddhist perspective, one would say that source is the self-grasping mind that sees the I as quite real, and therefore develops all sorts of machinations to prop up and make this I feel good (self-cherishing).   But, from a less intellectual  and more gut level perspective, you can say these minds arise from insecurity, a fear or belief that I’m simply not enough.

But, it’s one thing to recognize this, it’s quite another to reduce the volume or silence this constant chatter in my head.  Lately, though, I’m trying to challenge those voices.  For me, the comparing mind can be quite insidious and keeps me locked in what is safe and known, because it wants to be in situations where it can feel superior.  So, I’ve started taking a writing workshop, Writing from Real Life – Personal Essay Workshop.  The very idea of sharing my work and taking criticism from real flesh and blood people who are in the same room as I am is absolutely terrifying. But, as my teacher, Alison Luterman said, when we get to a certain age, we have to start doing stuff that scares us.  So, in taking this class, I’ll be challenging my comparing mind.  Or at the very least, having some amusing conversations with it.  Perhaps even challenging it to a debate.  And hopefully, one day, having realized that I am indeed enough, telling it to shut the hell up.

I vow

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She’s at it again. Sarah Palin is opening her big yap and begging for attention. And even though probably well over 50% of the population can’t stand the woman, we all fall for it. Within minutes Sarah Palin was the top trending topic on Twitter. Everyone is speculating on the true reasons for her resigning. To me, it’s obvious that she’s clearing her calendar to make a hard run for president in 2012.

As I’ve written before, I can’t stand the woman. And while I could try and justify why I hate her so, it still is hatred.  And I don’t want to hate.  Being consumed with hatred and anger does not feel good.  Being consumed with hatred and anger serves no purpose.   As someone much wiser than I said, having hatred towards someone is like drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die.  Hatred is futile.

While training the mind in wisdom and compassion, it is always good to challenge oneself – to not avoid difficult situations or people simply because they disturb your peace of mind.  However, sometimes you simply have to turn away and keep quiet.   For the most part, I do make an effort to keep my Buddhist precepts – no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no intoxicants and no harmful speech.   Of all those, the last one is the hardest to keep.  And when it comes to the now former governor of Alaska, it is darn near impossible.  So, to that effect, I make this vow:

I, LazyBuddhist, vow to avoid any and all coverage of Sarah Palin.  I shall refrain from participating in discussions about her, and in particular giving into my urge to rant about her.  My hatred of her only diminishes me.  The energy that would be expended in Palin bashing can be much better channeled into something positive and worthwhile.

Signed,

LazyBuddhist


Excerpts from my retreat journal

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We were warned at the end of our retreat to not try and come to any conclusions about it until about a week or two after the retreat ended.  Fair enough.  There is a sense that things are still being processed in my head, in my heart.  However, after fussing about on this blog about all my fear and trepidation (or as my friend Annie called it, “living in the wreckage of the future”) about my impending week-long silent meditation retreat at Spirit Rock I figured I should post something to let you know I survived.

At first I was going to write out the entire daily schedule – all eight sitting meditation and five walking meditation sessions – but then I realized that you may get the impression that I am not truly a lazy Buddhist, and would insist I change my moniker. But, be assured, my laziness is still quite intact.  While others were hauling their asses to the cushion at 6:30 in the morning, my lazy ass was still in bed.  My day started at 8:45 am which, in my mind, was an entirely reasonable time.

So, here are some daily notes from the journal I was keeping during my retreat.  Enjoy.

Sunday evening:

  • All my worst fears seemed to be coming true.  After parking my car and putting my luggage in a truck, I am instructed to hike the 1/2 mile uphill to check in.  Why can they give my luggage a ride and I have to walk?  I arrive sweaty, cranky and reaching for my asthma inhaler
  • My relief knows no bounds when I discover that I have a single room.  Also relieved to see that the shared bathrooms in no way resemble that of the high school locker room of my nightmares
  • As we (the 70 or so retreatants) left our first session in silence, a beautiful full moon was rising over the San Geronimo valley.  Many of us stopped for a minute or so and just took it in, and then moved on.

Monday:

  • I HATE walking meditation!! I’m incapable of slowing my walking down to a crawl without toppling over.  Instead of moving slowly and serenely, I pace impatiently and mutter how stupid this practice is.
  • People who annoy me (thus far):  the old dude who sits behind me and breaths loudly; the angry-looking Asian guy who has way too many cushions, yet still can’t sit still; cushion hoarders in general – I just needed a couple of the small knee cushions for my back, yet they are all gone because some people have four or more of them; yoga chicks.
  • I think the teacher and I have a different definition of the word “feast”.  Tofu, kale and green salad does not a feast make.
  • Slept much of the day.  Missed all of the afternoon sessions.  Entirely expected.

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Not all here, but not quite there

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For anyone who has been paying attention to my “tweets” in the top of the right column, may have noticed I’ve been interviewing for a new job.  While I was not exactly actively looking for a new job, I’ve been bored  in my current position for quite a while now, and I’ve been less than happy with the lack of rewarding work that is coming my way. I was putting out my feelers, and looking at job postings and just generally staying open to any possibilities that may come my way.

It all started about a month ago when one of my colleagues, Bea, called me to tell me she was leaving her job.  I always really liked Bea.  She had such a sunny disposition, that the sun should be ashamed of being such a slacker.  After wishing her well I asked who was going to replace her.  The job hadn’t even been posted yet.  “So, how much does it pay?” I blurted out.  “Serious?”  “Serious.”  “Oh my god we so need to talk.”

We had a peer group meeting later that week where Bea and I spent more time outside the meeting room talking about the job and trying to set up an immediate interview with her boss.  By the time I left that meeting, my first informal interview was set up for the next day.

The meeting went really well.  I was excited.  My potential new boss (PNB) was excited.  Why shouldn’t she be? I would be managing the department that depends heavily on the web applications that I helped design, and about which I am considered the company expert.  My user community never really has used my applications to their full potential.  Now would be the chance to show the other sites how it should be done.

When the job was finally officially posted, my PNB called me at home to tell me to apply right away as it was not going to be up there for long.  She knew what she wanted, and didn’t need to sort through a whole bunch of other applicants.  We set up an appointment for my official interview.

As expected, it went well.  I came armed with solid ideas that could be implemented the day I set foot in the door and could save her department thousands of dollars.  She wanted me.  She wanted me bad.  If she had her way, we’d already be negotiating salary.

But, I work for a very large organization.  There are processes and procedures.  And lots of other people who have to get involved, particularly for a management position.  So, I wait.  I think next week I get to have one of those oh so charming panel type of interviews with a cross section of other managers I would be interacting with.  Time to break out the serious interview wear.

In the meantime, I’m trying to stay present in my current gig and act like I still care.  But I kinda don’t.  The other day I spent most of the day fantasizing about throwing myself a going away party, and wondering how all my current colleagues would hit it off with my real life friends.  I was amused at the prospects.  Oh right. I still have a job to do, and the new job is hardly guaranteed.  Right.

I guess this is a good practice.  Stay present.  Don’t get attached to something that doesn’t even exist yet, and don’t develop aversion for what is in front of you.  I just have to keep reminding myself of that.  Again. And again . . . and again.

Feeeeelings, nothing more

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A week or so back in the discussion of my post Severed Ties, some of the usual suspects and I were having a discussion about what is the role, if any, for feelings in our Buddhist practice.  It’s an interesting topic because I think there is a lot of misunderstanding that happens when it comes to how deal with our feelings when our ultimate goal is to go, go, completely go, completely and perfectly go beyond them.

One of the things I’ve noticed since I’ve left the New Kadampa Tradition is that I’m once again being OK with simply experiencing what I’m experiencing in terms of feelings, and not trying to transform them into something virtuous, or ignore them by telling myself they are just merely delusions arising from my self-grasping, self-cherishing mind. 

They’re tricky little buggers, those feelings.  On one hand, like the other four aggregates (aka  skandhas), feeling is empty of inherent existence.  Its nature is impermanent, insubstantial, temporary.  I mean, honestly, where are these feelings that feel so damn real?  Can you point to them?  What ever happened to that intense feelings you had for that cute boy or girl from junior high?  How is it that this person you loved so completely this morning, is now the object of your fury tonight?

OK, great, they’re empty.  So, I can just ignore them, right?  Sure, you can try that and see how far you get.  Pour yourself a drink, or pop yourself another Valium.  Enjoy your stress-related heart attack.  Or say hello to Mr. Depression.  So, from a Buddhist perspective, what in the hell do we do? Read the rest of this entry

Severed ties

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Even though I have not attended any classes or been affiliated with any New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) center for almost a year now, I find that the NKT is still something I end up talking about quite a bit whether on this blog or with my friends. There were many reasons that I left, none of which had to do with the quality of people I met there. Many, if not most of my good friends are people I met in the NKT. Some are, like myself, completely out of the organization, and others are still in but most definitely questioning their involvement, particularly in light of the recent protests against the Dalai Lama.

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