Monday, January 24, 2011

Right Effort with Open Hands

Since my illness over the holidays, I haven't been able to resume my more normal, recent sleep schedule and slipped back into my late nights and late mornings.  Part of this is because, without a job or school, I haven't had all that much a reason to get up early leading to insomnia.

With little to do and my frustrations in organizing my internship for school, this has snowballed into a mild depression.

There's nothing novel about depression for me, it's just been a while.  What's odd about this time around is I now have the tools of my practice as a lens to view it through.  In a way this makes it easier since I am aware of what's causing me to feel this way and what needs to happen for it to go away. On the other hand, I'm aware of what's causing it and what needs to happen for it to go away and the ridiculous nature of my inability to make it go away is rather frustrating.

A big part of it is, as I stated above, sleeping in.  In Being Upright, Reb Anderson Roshi relates Suzuki Roshi's answer as to what constitutes Right Effort: getting up as soon as the alarm goes off.  Now, it's just too easy to hit the snooze button and get that extra few minutes of sleep that usually turns into a few hours.  With nothing all that pressing to do, at the moment any sort of effort seems necessary.  So I fall into my old habit of making excuses.

Not getting up is causing my inability to go to sleep when I need to and staying up is making getting up at a decent time harder.  So the cycle continues with my old excuses getting in my way.  All it would take is a couple days and I could probably fix it.  So simple, but it's a hump I just can't get myself over.  The end of last week I made progress in rising early enough to cook my girlfriend breakfast to go.

I don't think that this on its own would be that much of an issue, but part of what set this off is the fact that the internship I've been chasing after the past month hasn't come together and a lot of it has been a waiting game that I just had to ride out.  As the time is running out, I'm getting myself together and exploring other options, but this will cause big problems in my life if I don't get it set up.

So Right Effort slips in again.  In true form, it's one step in the Eightfold Path that, if pursued, would help end my suffering.

In doing my best to accept this series of situations with open hands, I see that I had been getting lazy in how easygoing life had been for a while.  I knew that things were bound to get hard again sooner or later.  I was enjoying life at the top of the Wheel of Samsara, but knowing it was bound to go back down and actually riding it down are two completely different things.

I understand the concepts of purification by fire, burning off delusion or making for a stronger character.  This definitely helps me accept the situation intellectually, but in the moment there is still clinging and aversion.  Until I'm able to just relax and do what needs to be done and let go what needs to go, the best I can do is just keep trying knowing it won't happen if I don't put forth the effort.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What Is It About Ignorance in Others That Bugs Us?

Listening to someone speak of their troubles relating to a coworker the other night, specifically with the coworker's intractable ignorant bigotry, got me wondering what it is that prevents us from just accepting these "flaws" in others.

First of all we have to realize that there is a reason they feel the way they do and why it's different than how we feel.  The events of their lives have resulted in circumstances that have led them to believe what they do.  From their perspective we're the ones with flawed views.  Accepting this, is it really fair to say they're "wrong"?  All that we try to cultivate in ourselves as Buddhists says no.  After all, we're full of ignorance ourselves.

I think it's that we see another's opinion and we see difference, a difference that we don't like.  We see it as separate from ourselves and it's just the fact that something is apart from ourselves that we find fundamentally upsetting; the content of that difference doesn't matter.  When our efforts to make our opinions theirs fails, we get frustrated.

But it's just one person, what's the big deal?  Surely other people see how ignorant their views are, right?  Well, those views came from somewhere and usually it's from another person.  It's this contagious nature of hurtful ideas that lies at the root of our need to correct the problem and we try so urgently to correct the problem at its source.  We don't want that which is different to spread, further isolating ourselves from the universe around us.

What we have to remember is that people who hold strong opinions hold them strongly, they're not open to new ideas.  We end up hitting an immovable object with our preaching/educating, furthering the antagonistic nature of the relationship.

It's not that they're a lost cause, but it's in those around both of you that you stand the greatest chance of making an impact.  But preaching is often met with resistance, even if those that hear are likely to agree with the ideals being spoken of.  Words are not only easy to ignore, they're also easy to fake and there are plenty of examples of people preaching but not practicing.

So forget the preaching, we can only change ourselves and be a good example.  The message of Buddhism is not to spread Buddhism, but to realize our own true potential.

By doing our best to do this, by being accepting of others, taking responsibility for our own actions, and living in the moment, others may see us as positive role models.

What this all really boils down to is accepting the choices of others, knowing that we can only control ourselves.  We can't force anyone to change their minds, but by being good people they may take our examples.  Without uttering a singe word to try to convince them, we lead by example.  In this way we are able to fulfill our vow to save all beings.

This doesn't only apply to Buddhists, but to not only anyone practicing any faith based on love, but also those who hold no faith at all. 

When you try to force something on someone, or even just convince them of something, you give them something to resist.  Keep this in mind.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Last of the Old Candles, Snuffed Out

I've written about the traumatic experience of moving away from St. Louis before, but what I haven't touched on is the slow death of the sense of home I get on visits back.

At first it started as a disconnection from friends and familiar places that were no longer visited since we spent most of our time 4o minutes away at my grandparents' house or near there at my aunt's. Over the years, the city itself changed; new development here, a new highway there, an old familiar business closed.

It didn't even really have all that much to do with establishing new roots somewhere else because those old places existed as memories in who I am. But I still felt it slowly slipping away.

I know that it's the people that matter, but places provide context and can be just as important.

That being said, before this last trip to St. Louis for the holidays, I learned that my mom's parents would be moving out of their home of many many years. It's the only home my dad has known them to live in. I spent a lot of my childhood there growing up. It was one of the first places I drove to unsupervised when I got my driver's license without needing directions.

Needless to say, this weighed heavily on my mind before, during and after this trip. It would be the last time I would be walking through that familiar door that sticks, leaving my shoes at the bottom of the stairs with my coat and heading up into the house. It would be the last time I'd smell that familiar smell, so many last times with no real closure.

Everyone else lives in homes that I remember them moving into, places I remember as being a new experience. This was the last of Old Places that existed in my memories before they were mine and it would never be mine in the same way again.

I remember feeling this way when we moved out of our first house at the age of twelve. I was too young to remember living anywhere else. With the house dark and empty, being there for the last time was sad but I remember that there was nothing I could do about it. Each move was easier and my parents no longer live in our San Antonio home. I'm not sure if I've gotten better with coping or if my roots don't dig in as far.

I know loss is part of life and I'll get over it, but that doesn't make it any less painful in the moment. For now I just have to be happy that all of my family is healthy and that I have no reason to fear any other loss for quite a while.

Sorry for the unintended hiatus. I'd intended to write a post before my travels comparing zazen to travel but after putting it off this hit me. Without time to write while in St. Louis I lost out on the opportunity. My health turned while in Dallas and prevented my intended return, so another week later I've found time and have returned.