Category: Buddhism


Swimming in Glue


I recently stopped taking one of my drugs that my shrink has actually been trying to get me off of for some time now.  I’m not now entirely sure why I was so resistant, in hindsight.  When I first started taking it, I think it was doing me some good.  But after a while, it had the effect of laying a thick layer of cobweb over everything in my life, inside and out.  I didn’t notice it at the time because there were other forces in my life that were essentially doing the same thing.  So it was kind of a double whammy, mentally.

I don’t remember exactly when I started taking this particular drug, but I’m willing to guess it was around four years ago, because that’s when all of my online activity that amounted to anything more than a Facebook post came to a screeching halt.  I just didn’t have anything to say anymore.  I was mute.  I thought it was just a result of the bipolar disorder or the OCD or PTSD or anything else that is wrong with my brain.  And I do think those things have a muting effect on me.  But not to this extent.  What had been an annoyance had turned into a serious problem.

I couldn’t meditate anymore because I couldn’t focus or concentrate, both of which you actually need to “empty your mind”.  I didn’t write anymore or go anywhere because I didn’t have anything to say.  All I could do was parrot back whatever was on my Facebook feed, I’m sure to the annoyance of my friends.  I know I got unfollowed by at least a few people because all I was doing was echoing the background noise of the social network without really adding anything to it.  I didn’t do art anymore because I had absolutely zero desire or passion to create anything (still working on that one: I’m hopeful it will come back).

So I spent four years reading Facebook, reading the news, reading Wikipedia, or watching a tv show or movie.  After about a year, I stopped getting dressed.  I just stayed in my robe all day.  I didn’t see the point of getting dressed if I wasn’t going anywhere.  If I was going to be numb, I was going to be comfortably so.  I grew to accept my fate, that I would just live out my days on social media and watching tv and movies until I either keeled over at home or had to be wheeled into a nursing home.

Then I ran out of that drug, and I didn’t feel particularly bothered to refill it for a couple of weeks.  Around that same time, I began to realize I didn’t feel DEAD inside.  I was enjoying my shows more, actually engaging with them rather than just using them as a way to fill the time until I could go to sleep again.  I was also less likely to doze off while watching said shows and movies.  I got it refilled, but I decided not to take it unless I was having what I call a “hamster wheel” day, which is when thoughts get trapped and just go around and around like hamsters on a wheel.  It doesn’t happen very often and it’s not like anything bad happens when it does, but it’s an unpleasant state of mind, the brakes upon which can be applied with judicious use of the right drugs.

I guess about a week ago, I became more interested in Facebook again.  I hadn’t really been on in quite some time: I had been watching tv shows and movies almost non-stop from the time I woke up until I fell asleep for months on end.  It was just suddenly much more interesting to me than it had been in a long time.  I started posting again.  Not just reposting stuff from other people and groups, but making longer posts of my own about my own life, not someone else’s.  I felt like interacting again, though not quite enough to get out for parties and social gatherings.  I’ll get there, though.  I am still a hermit at heart, after all.

I really don’t know what happened.  It’s like a switch flipped in my head.  I feel like writing again, which means I actually have something to say, which means my brain is working again after having been in standby mode for the last four years, or longer: I’ve been taking this class of drug since 2011.  I restarted my blog and renamed it and made a Twitter account to go with it and a Facebook group.  Buddhism is interesting to me again.  I had some “a-ha!” moments while reading, of all things, the blog of a Christian pastor over the New Year holiday.  A bunch of things clicked and I suddenly no longer felt the need to be seething in anger at the election of DT (I will not call him “President”, nor will I say his full name: he’s just “DT”).  Not that anger is inherently bad or anything.  It’s an excellent motivator.  So I’m going to stay at least offended by the presence of this narcissistic child in the house recently occupied by someone who is everything DT is not.  But I refuse to allow myself to be filled with hate.  It’s unproductive.  In fact, it’s counterproductive.  But that’s another post.

I’m glad my bipolar disorder and other issues aren’t so severe anymore, such that I don’t need such intense medication anymore.  Now that I have this stuff out of my system, I can get back to a mindfulness and meditative practice, both of which were two of many things that just came to a screeching halt in the last few years, which was a pity because of all of the lifestyle changes I had been trying to make, those were the most likely to help me.  I’m not condemning these medications.  They’re life-saving for a lot of people.  And when I was first given them, I was led to believe I needed them, and maybe I did.  But I don’t anymore, and unless something drastic changes with my mental health, I will never take them again.  I still have other meds I have to take, so it’s not like I’m ignorant of my mental health.  I’m just a lot more questioning of what is asked of me by my healthcare professionals.  They may be general experts in their fields, but I am the ONLY expert on this particular body and mind.  I know a lot more about them now and I’ll be sure to take that knowledge with me whenever I have to deal with healthcare workers in the future.


I learned a valuable lesson about suffering from, of all things, a neighborhood cat.  She lives down the block from us and is an outdoor kitty because she beats up the indoor kitties.  Otherwise she is well taken care of: food, shots, water, etc.  However, she didn’t have a shelter, and a huge cold snap was coming.  I asked my son if she had a warm place to stay and he said no.

So I sent my husband to the store for a plastic bin and some reflective insulation.  The kids grabbed some scissors and packing tape and set about making a nice little house for Dobby, the cat.  An hour later, she had a nice little shelter.  My son and nephew took it to Dobby’s house and she hopped right in.  I felt relief knowing that the sweet, friendly cat would have a place out of the wind and snow to spend the night.

I’ve thought about that simple act of kindness a lot for the last few days.  Sure, it was my idea, but it was my husband and the kids that really did all of the work.  I know I should give myself at least a small pat on the back for noticing the suffering of another living creature and doing something about it, but part of me feels like having any actual pride defeats the intent.  Why should I feel pride about doing something that I felt HAD to be done?  Not out of fear, as so much charity is done, but out of love for this small, furry creature.  Her suffering became my suffering.  Neither I nor my kids could stand the thought of her being in distress.

Suddenly the things that I have learned about Buddhism and suffering made sense.  The Four Noble Truths tell us that life is “suffering”, for lack of a better translation.  “Dissatisfaction” might be a better word.  Our suffering is caused by attachment to other things, other people, to our desires (though I’m not sure if that really applies to a cat: I’ve noticed many of Mother Nature’s creatures are not susceptible to attachment the same way that we are).  In this case, my suffering was caused by my empathy and compassion for another living thing, and I could only alleviate my own suffering by alleviating hers.  Of course, I’m still “attached” to the cat, who wouldn’t be?  Our attachments sometimes prevent us from being blind to their needs.

Then I thought about the broader implications of suffering, and the state of the world we are in now.  Since DT was elected “President” in January of 2017, and even before then, since the election in 2016, I’ve been seething in anger and shock and disbelief.  “This is not my country,” I thought to myself.  We have been in a collective state of suffering ever since Barack Obama left office.  But I was blinded to it by my anger towards DT and people like him.  “How dare they piss on the Constitution and subjugate those they deem inferior, usually in the name of God!”  My Facebook feed was, alternately, either silent for months or filled with post after post preaching to the choir about what a horrible person DT and his friends are and how they are the end of all that is good and just in America.  I think more than a few people unfollowed me, not because they necessarily disagreed with me, but because it’s no fun having the equivalent of a shouting bullhorn on your news feed, even if you agree with what they’re saying.

And I had every right to be angry, and still do.  “Can’t you see the suffering you’re causing the rest of us?”, I ask myself repeatedly.  “Why don’t you get it?”

Then Dobby came along, and I realized, they’re suffering too.  People don’t act that way unless they’re suffering.  Everything we are observing in the world right now is the direct result of suffering.  Yes, some are suffering more than others, but we’re all in the same suffering boat.  DT, he’s suffering, and is in denial of it, and the rest of us are paying the price.  Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and the rest of their Republican cronies: they’re suffering, too.  If you grew up with the hateful, vengeful, killer “God” that their brand of Christianity has brainwashed them into believing too, you’d also be suffering.  As a pagan/Wiccan, I’ve seen many a brother and sister struggle out from underneath the cloak of shame and guilt that the Western “God” has laid over them, a cloak that was laid on them by people who themselves were suffering in some form.

Most Westerners don’t know how to “be” with their suffering.  We do everything we can to avoid it and cover it up because it doesn’t feel good.  We may even deny that we’re suffering in order to keep up the facade that everything is a-ok.  But suffering begets suffering, and our unresolved suffering leads to suffering in those around us.  Pretty soon we’re all miserable and blaming each other for why we’re miserable.

I’ve been filled with hatred towards DT and everyone like him in the government and everyone who voted for him.  Yet I see now that it’s not helping.  I am not only contributing to my own suffering, but to those I oppose as well.  And it’s only by acknowledging the suffering of those we oppose will we ever hope to understand them well enough to begin to assuage it.

So here I am, saying, “I see your suffering.”
I see your pain.  I see that it makes you do bad things out of fear and anger and hatred, because that’s what you’ve been taught.  I understand, and I forgive you, at last.  I thought that might never come, because I don’t think you quite realize yet what a horrible thing you’ve done.  I pray we can prevent too much damage from occurring and that which is damaged is easily fixed.

But in this case, your suffering makes you dangerous and toxic because you are either unaware of it or have grown so used to it, like an old leather coat, that you no longer notice it or even find it comfortable.  It is all you know.  Siddartha Gautama, the man who would become the Buddha, was a member of his society’s warrior class.  And in the same way, those of us who live the dharma are also warriors.  And we are here to defend that which we hold dear while at the same time guiding those who live in darkness back into the light.  We may be suffering, but we are strong, and there are more of us than there are of you.

But we are here for you when you’re tired of your suffering.


Hello Gentle Readers.  I haven’t posted since July of last year.  I don’t think I’ve had much to say, really.  Even my private journal over at LiveJournal hasn’t seen much action for the last few months.  Life was kind of boring.  I took the kid to school, went to work Tuesdays through Thursdays and on Saturdays, tried to go to karate when I wasn’t sick of being at the dojo (more on that later), and basically wasted the rest of the time on the computer or playing Skyrim.  Domestic concerns were pretty far down on my list of priorities.  I felt like a total slacker, and sometimes a loser, but I still have a thin veil of depression that lays on everything, so it’s hard for me to get motivated.  That could probably be largely remedied by my remembering to  take my damn antidepressants in the morning.  *sigh*

Overall, though, I feel better mentally than I have in a while.  I still have my down periods and angry spells, but I don’t think it’s happening as often.  And if I am perceiving a difference, then I know everyone else probably is.  Because I don’t notice change in myself unless it’s fairly significant, as evidenced by how often my family has to tell me not to be so hard on myself because I’m too busy focusing on how well I’m not doing and ignoring how well I am doing.  I’ve apparently not been very successful at removing the Self Ass-Kicking Machine I seem to have permanently strapped to my back.  Or at taking off the Shit-Colored Glasses I also find myself wearing more often than not.  I wear those less and less often, though.  When I put them on, though, hoo boy.

So what have I been doing since last July?  Well let’s see here.

  • fretting over my mothering skills when Zoe was much younger: I had bad post-partum depression for 3 years after she was born, and I spent a great deal of time being sad and angry.  I also hadn’t been diagnosed as bipolar yet, and it was raging out of control in retrospect.  My life would have been considerably easier, and my family’s more pleasant, if I had stopped breastfeeding to stop the hormone flood I was subjecting myself to (I’m a freak: oxytocin doesn’t make me feel good like everyone else on the planet, it just upsets my hormone balance and makes me completely unbalanced) and sought treatment for what was a serious problem.  Actually, I did, but I was seeing a GP who was wholly unprepared to be treating someone with serious mental illness, so the treatment I did get wasn’t effective and essentially stole my memory for over a year.  I was in no shape to take proper care of myself, let alone anyone else.  So of course my parenting suffered.  I’m struggling to make peace with all of that and  the fact that those times are gone and I can never get back the time that I should have been enjoying mothering my infant and toddler daughter.
  • increasingly not enjoying my job: I have to preface that by saying how much I’ve enjoyed working at my dojo and helping to get it organized and somewhat modernized.  Still, it was an office job, one that I ultimately had for 4 years, and I was tired of clerical work.  So in January, I put in my notice.  I stayed through the end of March so that I could help organize a big training weekend that had been planned to celebrate the dojo’s 25th anniversary.  That was about 3 weeks ago.  I’ve applied for one job that I didn’t get, unfortunately (it was at a local meditation center), but haven’t done any other looking yet.  I’m enjoying the time off and not getting up in the morning with that yucky feeling you have when you have to do something you don’t want to.  Now I get to weigh all of my options, including going back to school potentially.  I’d certainly make much better money with a degree, which I only need about 30 more credit hours to finish.  It’s just paying for the tuition that’s problematic.  I already have a significant student loan debt, so I’m not anxious to add to it.  I don’t know if we would qualify for financial aid anyway.  So that’s where I’m at career-wise.
  • switching therapists: I’m on my fifth therapist since December of 2012.  I go to a sliding scale clinic whose staff rotates out frequently since they’re graduate students also looking for permanent jobs.  My first two therapists got new jobs within a month of starting with them.  The third therapist was a really nice guy, but he had some whacked out theories and opinions about mental illness (he believes there’s no such thing as mental “illness” except for maybe schizophrenia: uh, yeah dude, whatever), and he was a guy, which meant he set off all my baggage about men leftover from childhood.  His therapeutic technique annoyed me and I didn’t feel safe enough to open up to him.  So I switched again.  The new lady made me feel really uncomfortable for some reason.  So I switched again.  The new lady is okay.  I still feel really guarded, though, and I don’t know if that’s something about her or something about me.  I do know that I’m really freaking tired of being in therapy.  The whole “how does that make you feel” thing really grates on  my nerves.  I also have an attitude of  “talking doesn’t cook the rice” (a Chinese proverb) that probably doesn’t serve me very well considering talking is what you’re supposed to do in therapy.  Half the time I just want to stop going: I could use that money for other things (as it is, I spend $300-400 a month on my mental health).  And if I don’t feel like talking, maybe I should stop.  Something to think about.
  • got our daughter into a really great charter school: she was so bored at her old school, so it was with great delight that I took a phone call from the charter school in July saying there was a spot open for her.  She loved it for several months.  Then she went back to hating school, despite her grades being significantly improved by the new learning environment.  Her social concerns are very important to her, though: if there are no friends around, she’s going to be unhappy and her grades are going to suffer, and her best friend there will actually be going to the middle school that’s walking distance from our house.  So we’ll be switching schools again for the next school year.  I hope it works out, because failing that, we’ll have to resort to private schools, and that’s freaking expensive.
  • repeated family drama with my brother: I’ll spare you the details, but he pulled a stunt in August that almost necessitated my going to Seattle to be with him.  I didn’t go, fortunately for my budget, but it highlighted what a negative presence he is in my life.  I really don’t need that kind of crap anymore.  I’ve done my time tending to the insane.  I have my own life to worry about.
  • something of a spiritual crisis regarding my Buddhist leanings: Buddhism is not a comforting religion.  It’s all about acceptance and compassion, and not having expectations, because that’s clinging, and clinging leads to suffering.  But as I said in my LJ, “I’m just having a really hard time wrapping my head around how cessation of desire doesn’t equate to futility.”  I’m trapped in a philosophical loop of sorts.  I know that “all beings desire happiness”, one of the basic tenets of Buddhism.  I also know that leading a life filled with expectations typically leads to disappointment, so how does that mesh with desiring happiness?  Should I stop desiring to be happy and just be surprised when it happens?  That seems like a terrible way to live.  Buddhism is also maddeningly simplistic and minimalist, as well.  Regarding worry, Buddhism says it’s ridiculous, because you can’t do anything about the future or the past, just right now.  So fix what you can right now and forget about the rest.  How am I supposed to plan for the future with that kind of attitude?  I don’t have anyone to talk to about these things, so I feel really stuck and frustrated with my spiritual life right now.
  • start and stop exercise habit: I had a good thing going for a few months there, and then I lost the momentum.  I did get myself to karate class quite a bit more frequently starting in August because I was trying to get enough classes to get a promotion.  Good thing I did, too, because in November we had to stop driving the car because it needed a critical repair so it became really difficult to get to class since my husband didn’t get home until 6 or 6:30.  But the daily momentum to exercise?  Gone.  There are deep depressions in the carpet where my hand weights have been sitting for the last several months.  Now that I’m not working, I have awesome opportunities all day long to go to yoga class or to one of the classes at my gym, mostly weightlifting.  Not to mention the things I can do at home: dumbbells, bodyweight exercises, and walking.  I also have a bicycle.   There’s really no excuse other than laziness and apathy for me not to be exercising.  Which I still really need to do in order to get my slightly elevated cholesterol level down.  So that’s a major goal right now.  I did discover that if I use an asthma inhaler before I exercise, it’s a LOT easier, so that’s helped some.  Need to see a doctor about that.  Speaking of doctors…
  • getting health insurance because of the ACA: my daughter and I have been without insurance since 2006.  I’ve lived in fear of what would happen if she got really sick or injured.  It would be devastating financially.  I don’t have to worry about that anymore: we are all insured now thanks to the Affordable Care Act.  Before that, it was simply too expensive to insure everyone.  It would have cost more to add the two of us to my husband’s policy than it is to get insurance for all three of us.  So that’s made me really happy.  I have several things I want to see doctors for: my breathing problem (probably asthma), my heart issues (never had a proper followup to my hospital visit last year), my hormones (the bane of my existence), my skin (I have a few moles I’d like to be looked at), and getting basic wellness taken care of.  A trip to the chiropractor would be nice.  I’m looking forward to getting all of my health issues taken care of.
  • expensive things: like major car repairs, and spending $1500 at the vet to get surgery for my dumbass cat who ate 2′ of ribbon one day.  At least they let me spread out the cost over a few paychecks.  Otherwise I shudder to think of what might have happened.  That’s my daughter’s cat: she would be devastated if something happened to him.  Now we make sure nothing ribbony or stringy is left out so he won’t eat it, because he’s clearly too stupid not to.  Not long after the incident with the cat, a couple of my teeth started acting up.  I had to have them pulled, which would have been a serious financial problem if I hadn’t been approved for a line of credit at a local dental chain.  So I spent a couple of weeks in pain after having first one tooth out and then another, since it couldn’t be repaired.  Which made me miss work, which pissed off my boss.  Our financial situation just sucked for a few months, and in the midst of it I had to worry about…
  • a corporate takeover at my husband’s job: we just didn’t know what was going to happen for weeks, and it was so incredibly stressful.  To make a long story short, eventually everything got ironed out after a few negotiations (the hiring terms of the new company were very undesirable, so he managed to get a contract instead of being a permanent employee, thereby avoiding quite a bit of unpleasantness), and now he’s making more money and gets to work at home.  A winning situation all around.
  • got my green belt promotion: more than two years after my last promotion, I finally promoted again to green belt.  I’m technically a senior student now.  I haven’t been to class much since then because working at the dojo meant I really didn’t want to spend more time there (plus it was weird being both an employee and a student: I was never sure which hat to wear), but now that I’ve quit, I need to get back to class.  Especially since I have to pay tuition again!

*whew*  That’s a lot.  And I thought my life was boring!  It just hasn’t been exciting in the way I’d like it to be.  Things are fairly settled at the moment, though.  I do need to find a new job because we do miss the income (though working for a non-profit meant my paycheck was never huge), but I want to find something I’ll enjoy.  Either that or I need to completely rework the budget so I can save enough to go back to school.  Which is what I’d really like to do.  I have several possibilities that I could major in, since the last 30 or so hours that I need are all major concentration classes as opposed to core classes.  I’m all done with those.  I’m kicking around the idea of either a psychology or a social work degree.  I think the latter might be more personally satisfying, though not as well-paying probably.  I could also get a science degree in either microbiology, an old love of mine, or atmospheric science, aka meteorology, an even older love.  That’s a lot of math, though, which is not my strong suit.  I just want something that will both make me happy and give me a relatively decent income.  If I don’t start working a real job that makes real money soon, I’ll never have anything in my Social Security account for when I’m older.  Getting old freaks me out.

So my current goals are re-establishing an exercise habit, getting the house and yard in order, which are in a woeful state right now, and either finding new satisfying work, or going back to school.  And that’s life in my world.

Buddha’s Bumpy Noggin


My first real exposure to Buddha was at Bookpeople, the bookstore I worked at in Austin, back in 1995.  Sure, I had seen pictures of the Buddha before, but I hadn’t seen a statue of Buddha or held a Buddha or anything like that until I had that job.  I was interested by the images and statues in which his head was covered in small bumps.  I wondered what was up with that.  Well, now I know.

The bumps are the Snail Martyrs.  The gist is that Buddha sat down under a tree to meditate one day.  It grew very hot and the snails passing by noticed that Buddha’s head was going to scorch, so they crawled upon his head to cool his scalp with their slimy trails.  I know, how kind!  :/  While I could not find the link despite a lengthy search, I know that there is a source saying that there are 108 snails upon Buddha’s head, the shells of which he kept upon his head following their deaths in honor of their sacrifice.  108 is a sacred number in Buddhism and other faiths in the area.

There are, of course, many variations on how Buddha got the spiral knobs upon his head, but the most common one is that of the Snail Martyrs.

Here’s a much different take on the matter:

http://nandakumarr.blogspot.com/2006/12/hair-or-shells-buddhas-coiffure.html

The Four Noble Truths


The fundamental philosophy of Buddhism is The Four Noble Truths:

Life means suffering.
The origin of suffering is attachment.
The cessation of suffering is attainable.
There is a path to the cessation of suffering via the Eightfold Path.

What’s important to my essay here isn’t the Eightfold Path, but the notion of attachment.  I’ve become keenly aware of the concept in the last couple of weeks in the wake of the death of the cat.  I know there are probably people out there who are like, “Jesus Christ, it’s a cat. Get over it.”  I suppose those people have never had a deep and meaningful relationship with a pet.  And I admit that society’s “get over it” voice is trying to creep into my head, and I keep pushing it right back out.  That cat came into the world two feet away from me and left the world in my lap.  I think I’m entitled to some sadness.

And I’m perfectly aware that that sadness is the result of attachment.  If I were not attached to the cat, I would not be sad that he is gone.  I’m also perfectly aware that even the most devout Buddhist monk w0uld likely be at least a little diminished in demeanor if someone or something they were used to were suddenly gone.  Perfect detachment is for the Bodhisattva, not us mere mortals.  Nevertheless, to contemplate our attachment to things is a worthy endeavour.

Just exactly why was I attached to that cat so much?  I’ve never loved a cat in my entire life like I loved that cat, with the possible exception of my cat Sam who moved to Texas with me from Michigan.  Actually, I had two Sams growing up, and I adored them both.  Still, I had never had a cat as long as I had Yin-Yang, and I had certainly never had a cat since birth.  There was something special about being privileged enough to be a a part of his and his siblings’ birth, since his mother wouldn’t leave my side.  Watching him slowly open his eyes after a couple of weeks was just wonderful.

I learned a lot about cats that I didn’t know before by being a part of that process and by raising the kittens.  It made me feel like I was truly a part of their lives in a way that I had never felt with other cats.  Sure, with the others, we were a part of each others’ lives, but there’s an intimacy that goes along with birth and upraising that adds a completely different element to a relationship with a pet.

Then I had to pick who I was going to keep out of the five kittens.  Oh dear.  That was so hard.  In the end, I kept the biggest and the smallest.  When MamaCat was pregnant, I wished that she would have a big boy cat that I could cuddle with, and that’s exactly what I got.  I felt like he was the answer to a prayer.  His existence became inextricably intertwined with my own.

And that’s why it was so painful when he was gone.  It was like rending fabric apart.  We were truly attached.  And there really was great suffering when that attachment was separated.

I have no problem with the first two Noble Truths.  Life is suffering, and suffering is caused by attachment. Got it.  The next two Noble Truths, I struggle with greatly.  I can accept that there is a path that can ease suffering by easing attachment and that the Eightfold Path is the way to easing that suffering and attachment, but I have extreme difficulty understanding how it is that I can have meaningful relationships with people (and animals) without being attached to them.  If I’m not attached to them, then where is the meaning?  How can I incorporate the last two Noble Truths and still live a fulfilling life?

This is where my greatest philosophical crisis occurs with Buddhism, and I imagine I am not the only Buddhist who feels this way (in fact, if I knew more Buddhists, I would probably discover that this is the main stumbling block for all Buddhists).  Envisioning myself interacting with the world without attachment feels so distant, though I know that’s not what it’s supposed to feel like.  I know that the lack of attachment is directly related to the goal of Buddhism and meditation to “be here now”.  To truly appreciate each moment, each thing, each person for what it is right there and then without consideration for the past or future, for it is those temporal considerations that cause attachment.  If we have no notion of the future, then there’s no reason to be attached to anything.  And “be here now” is supposed to be a greater experience than anything we run across in daily life, so I shouldn’t feel that a lack of attachment should diminish my experience of life.

Still, my brain has a lot of trouble with the concept of banishing attachment.  It wants to stay attached to things for some reason.  I’m sure there’s a Buddhist concept and term for that desire and a way to deal with it, and I’m sure I’ll run across it at some point.  For now, though, I’ll have to deal on my own with my philosophical crisis regarding attachment.

And for reference, the Eightfold Path:

Right Understanding
Right Thought
Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration

Stuck Again


When we last left our intrepid spiritual traveler, her altars had just reassembled themselves. Since then, I’ve just been letting them occupy their space and sink their energy tendrils into the house. I’ve also continued to work on my spiritual scrapbook like a madwoman. I don’t know what it is about that particular project that I find so appealing, but I really like it. My first scrapbook is over 75% full already: about 60 pages. I have another designated exclusively for a set of Buddhist and Hindu greeting cards I bought at Half Price Books a few years ago but have never used. I’ve sliced them in half for easy gluing and saved the backs for their descriptions.

There’s still a table full of altar-y stuff in the yoga room. It’s everything that hasn’t yet found a home elsewhere in the house. I’m leaving it there so my husband can pick through it and find things for his own altar space. I also wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it all. I can identify a few things that I don’t want any more, but most of it I like and want to keep. Most of it will go into a big plastic bin except for a few things that just really want to be out.

As usual, I’ve gotten stuck on another bit of the Spiritual Nomad instructions. Since the first week, I’m supposed to have been doing breathing exercises/meditations for a few minutes each day in front of my altar spaces, whether empty or full. I haven’t done any yet. I think it’s because the word “meditation” or the phrase “breathing exercise” instills anxiety in me as I remember past attempts to do these things and how frustrating it was. I’m bipolar. It’s a daily effort to keep the inner dialogue quiet enough so that I can function in the rest of my life. Sitting down to do nothing but listen to my breath is akin to putting a megaphone from that dialogue’s mouth to the rest of my mind: it’s deafening.

So I’m trying to abandon the whole “listen to my breath” thing since that clearly doesn’t work for me. I’m going for a quiet conversation, instead, since shutting everyone up isn’t really an option. Not for now, anyway (I can see how it could be possible after a very long time of increasingly quiet mental conversations, though). Seeing the exercise in that way lessens the meditative anxiety, but not completely. There’s still that whole sitting still thing. I’m currently a bit of a large girl: sitting still for a long time isn’t very comfortable for me. I guess I could always sit in a chair instead of on the floor, or arrange myself differently on the floor. Laying down is always nice.

These are all excuses flung up by some even farther corner of my mind that really does NOT want me to do anything even remotely resembling meditation. It gets really angry when I try to come up with ways to get around these excuses, essentially poisoning my meditation practice with a lot of inwardly directed hostility. After a few sessions of that, I give up. Seriously, who the fuck wants to sit down with themselves and end up feeling like they’ve just had a horrible fight with someone? Which in essence, you did?

Little wonder, then, that I don’t think too highly of meditation. Monkey mind, my ass. More like an 800-pound gorilla running amok in my head. Plus my authority-driven mind is yammering at me that I’ve ruined the whole thing by skipping parts or doing them out of order. “You idiot, you’ve reassembled the altars before meditating in front of them for exactly seven days while standing on one foot and bleeding out a chicken! You’ve got the mixture all WRONG! The fabric of life itself is torn asunder!”

*sighs at self*

If I get nothing else out of Spiritual Nomad, it’s to lighten the fuck up and be more accepting of my particular bizarre flavor of Otherness Acknowledgement, which doesn’t like words and in general regards them to be flimsy human constructs that always fall short of truly describing their subject, as though they were mere shadows projected upon a wall, a la Plato. Which is an odd perspective to have as a writer. As such, it is the rare mantra that doesn’t feel completely forced (Sheila Chandra‘s “Om Namaha Shiva” is just such a mantra) and it’s difficult for me to come up with words to go along with a spiritual activity that don’t sound completely silly to me.

I know I’m just trying too hard. All of the non-verbal exercises have been extraordinarily helpful: I should give the others more of a chance instead of subverting them before I even try. All I have to do is sit down and light a candle and some incense, for heaven’s sake. Those are things I *like* doing! I should stop trying to ruin them with a lot of overanalysis. Then maybe it wouldn’t make part of me so angry to try to meditate or pray.

Warrior


I used to think that to become free you had to practice like a samurai warrior, but now I understand that you have to practice like a devoted mother of a newborn child. It takes the same energy but has a completely different quality. It’s compassion and presence rather than having to defeat the enemy in battle.

Jack Kornfield, “The Question

I’m having one of those moments when I feel I’m so close to understanding something, but putting a finger on it is like grabbing smoke.

Clearing


Yesterday I wrote about getting stuck on this one aspect of Spiritual Nomad: stripping down one’s altar. Seeing as how I have at least five, that was a confusing thing to figure out which one I should pick, or if I should strip ALL of them. I went with the latter choice. I cleaned up the yoga room so there would be space to put everything (wahahaha! as I would discover), and then one by one went to each altar, removed each deity, and lovingly cleaned it with a cloth dampened with a bit of wood polish and then a dry, soft toothbrush to get into all of the little nooks and crannies that are always on statues.

Before I did that, though, I took a picture of each and every altar and all of the surfaces that have nice things that *could* be used on an altar. There were more than ten places in the house! I had no idea there were so many. I’ve just gotten used to them: I’m surrounded by deities no matter where I go in the house. I didn’t know how many until I put them all in one place. Holy crap. There are multiples of each deity with the exception of Hekate, who really, really needs her own statue (I want this one: http://www.goddessgift.net/hecate-miller-RP-HEC.html), seeing as how she’s the patron goddess of our house. We also do not have a statue of Hestia or Hathor, who are goddesses of hearth and home, one from Greece and one from Egypt, respectively.

Who we do have is this: Lakshmi, Ganesha, Quan Yin, Ho-Tei, Kali, Shiva, the Green Man, Bast, Dragon and Turtle Dragon, Lucky Cat, Catrin y Catrina, and La Virgen de Guadalupe. Wow! With everyone standing side by side, I couldn’t help but notice that the figure of Quan Yin is almost identical to the figure of La Virgen de Guadelupe. I’m willing to bet that happens a lot between the deities of the world. Take Buddha and Jesus. Both left a mundane life to pursue higher spiritual goals. Both preached peace and love as the path to wisdom and freedom. I imagine it goes on and on. I don’t know enough about the actual people, Jesus and Siddhartha, to be able to do any more comparison.

I also gathered together all of the candles, wax and oil, and cleaned them off as well. I have a lot of really pretty stuff after all these years. I’ve accumulated these things in waves. I’ll acquire a bunch of things, then get rid of some. Then I’ll get another bunch, and I’ll refine the collection again. So on and so forth. I’m really happy with what I have. Putting everything all together, though, I see a few things that I realize don’t jibe with everything else in the house that I really love. Some of the items I touched yesterday positively radiated with energy, particularly as I gently cleaned each one off with the soft toothbrush, which seemed to be scrubbing away not only years of dust and dirt, but also muddled chi.

The chi of our house is generally pretty good, as evidenced by how many people come here and say, “I love your house, it’s so peaceful.” But even good chi can get confused with itself and wind up in a tangled mess, like a pretty necklace that wasn’t stored carefully. So I felt that I was removing the cobwebs, so to speak, and in doing so revealed each statue anew. I held each one and carefully considered it as I cleaned it, especially their faces. I remembered where I had gotten each one, or if someone had given it to me, who it was and what they meant to me. Most of them had good memories associated, though a few had unhappy memories attached to them. Not because of anything that happened regarding that actual object, but because the relationship with whomever had given me that object had dissolved in the ensuing years.

Regardless, each received the same careful attention. When they were all lined up on the table, I surveyed the entire collection as a whole. I have never put all of my statues in one place like that before. The energy was so interesting, but not disharmonious whatsoever. It was easy to tell which things didn’t belong any longer, though. Those things are no less sacred: they just don’t match up with the energy of everything else. So I will try to gift those things properly so that they have a home where they will be properly loved.

Today I tackle everything else on the altars. The deities took the most time since there are more of them than anything else. But there still remain the incense holders and burners along with any other significant objects that live on the altars, like my triquetra medallion for Hekate or my skull mala beads from India. A cool thing from yesterday was rediscovering my ankle bells! They were around Lakshmi’s neck. She was happy to have them off, though. They had gotten very dirty with dust over the years, and as I took them off and cleaned them I could feel her energy build and even out, like an engine reaching its sweet spot. She is nearly as important a goddess around here as Hekate is. She deserved special treatment. 🙂

As an aside, I can’t help but notice that every time I finish a 750 Words entry, it takes me to an analysis page where it tells me my typing speed, how long it took to write, and other mundane statistics. But it also tells me what sorts of things I was writing about and how I felt, along with telling me if I was focused on myself, others as a whole, or another person specifically. I notice that as I write about working through Spiritual Nomad, the observations of my posts have been much more positive and extroverted than usual. Instead of being a mix of all kinds of good and bad things (often more negative than positive), they’re definitively upbeat. I think I should take note of that considering this is the first time I have truly focused on my spirituality in a very long time.


The spectre of anger has hung over my family for at least five generations.  Reading our genealogical history is like walking through a museum of dysfunction.  Alcoholism, drug abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, etc.  So much abuse that the word ‘abuse’ becomes non-sensical when I say or think it.  I think often about the nature of anger and how and why it manifests.

Whilst perusing Facebook today, I ran across a link to this short video by Mingyur Rinpoche entitled “What Meditation Really Is”, which you can watch here.

In five minutes, he was able to slice through all of the conflicting notions I have had regarding meditation, notions that have kept me from establishing a meditation practice.  YouTube is always helpful in guiding its viewers to similar videos, so I clicked on the one entitled “Transforming Anger Into Loving-Kindness”, yet another Buddhist concept that I struggle mightily with.  Again, in five minutes, he was able to clarify how anger relates to the rest of our emotions in an amazingly clear way.  Trying to fight with anger using compassion is futile, because the compassion comes through the anger.  Dig beneath the surface of anger deeply enough, and you will find compassion.  Anger is often the result of stymied compassion.  Seeing how anger and compassion are interrelated helped me see the true nature of my own anger and where it comes from.

In the midst of that clarity, I remembered something that my grandmother said to me during one of my all-too-few visits to her before she died.  I was asking her about her family and about some of the things my mother had told me regarding their own abusive relationship.  And she said, “I don’t think I was  so much angry as I was afraid.”  Like a bell ringing in a temple to awaken and clear the mind, all of the aspects of dysfunction in my family and the generations before us became so much clearer.  Today, as I still struggle with anger, I strive to remember what Gram said.  Anger I have trouble with, but fear I can handle.  Fear is greatly quelled by logic and rationality, two things I pride myself of having a good grasp upon.  Whenever I am angry, I try to ask myself if I’m angry, or if I’m afraid.  Nine times out of ten, I’m afraid of something, usually the future and the unknown.  Once I identify my fear, I can find reasons for it to back off.

I feel I am much closer to achieving my goal of establishing a good meditation practice now that these things have been clarified for me.  I feel like I have been looking through a dirty window that has just been cleaned, and now the light can get in and I can see things for what they really are.  Now I won’t have to waste my meditation time worrying that I’m not doing it right, an attitude that has killed nearly every attempt at meditation I have made.  Now I don’t need to fear or fight with my anger.  What I seek is inside my anger and fear, and if I make friends with them and direct their energies more positively, I will find my compassion and my loving-kindness.  My metta.  In that way I feel I will be much more successful in my goal of sharing my bodhicitta, my awakened mind, with others.  I have always felt that I have something very important to do while I walk this Earth.  Perhaps I am a little bit closer to figuring out what that might be.

Monkey Mind


I’ve been spending time at the local Shambhala Meditation Center recently.  Shambhala is loosely defined as a path of peaceful warriorship, something that most Westerners have an extremely difficult time wrapping their heads around.  I know I do.  The whole point is to be strong on the path towards peaceful calm, which is what enables us to help others, and that’s what Buddhism is really all about.  Easing the suffering of others as well as ourselves.

At the heart of pretty much any Buddhist practice is sitting meditation.  You would think such a thing would be relatively easy, but oh my God it’s not.  It is so much more than just sitting quietly on a pillow and emptying your mind.  It’s the last part that I’m finding extremely difficult.  It’s almost like my brain is working against me, and it makes my goal of a calm mind so hard.  Apparently some schools of Buddhism call this “monkey mind“.  One’s brain doesn’t want to be calm for whatever stupid reason(s) and begins to leap about like a monkey.

I hate this.  I hate it so much.  It is SO difficult for me to sit there and not leap up and leave the room in frustration.  To give up.  So many things run through my brain.  Disagreements with family, even very old ones.  Old hurts with people who are long dead, or who choose not to talk to me anymore and won’t say why.  Confusion about current relationships, which seem to be in a constant state of flux for me right now because I am changing so much.  Humans don’t like change, and I feel I am the passive target of others’ anger occasionally because I have committed the transgression of changing.  It makes me feel lonely because I cannot enjoy those relationships as I once did.  It makes me confused because I don’t understand why this seems to be necessary.  Perhaps most importantly, all of these things make me feel afraid because I do not know what the future holds.

I know this fear would dissipate if I could stop caring about the future, which is part of the point of meditation.  To “be here now” and not have one foot in the past and one in the future.  But I have spent almost my entire adult life living in precisely that way, and part of me fears I am incapable of not living that way.  On the flip side of that coin, I fear the state of mind that I know comes with not being present.  I have missed so much of my life because I was not really present in the moment.  Sometimes that mindset was all but forced upon me, which means that I also have to add a healthy dash of forgiveness to the cauldron of feelings that I am stirring these days.  Not just for others, but also for myself.

That is also something that is extraordinarily difficult for me.  I can tell myself intellectually all day long that something was or is not my fault, but I never believe myself.  I don’t know why, either.  I don’t understand why there seems to be this part of me that insists upon constantly and misplacedly flogging myself.  Who taught me this lesson?  Was it me?  Someone else?  Who showed me that I was not worthy of the care and love that I am now ridiculously trying to give to everyone else other than the one person who needs it most?

Meditation is indeed showing me things.  Just not in the way that I thought it would.  I will just have to continue being patient with my monkey mind which currently seems like a field filled with spring-loaded demons that have been unleashed by the simple act of sitting down and being quiet.  The happiest and calmest people I know have strong sitting practices and also endured monkey mind, and I will simply have to trust that continuing my practice will eventually yield the same happiness and calm for me.  I suppose that’s why they call it practice.

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