Archive for the ‘Meditations’ Category

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Get woke

January 31, 2017

Last night as I was sitting, a sentence passed in front of me, seemingly out of nowhere:

“If you’ve let yourself sleep for that long, of course you’re afraid to wake up.”

It struck me as pretty right on, both in the general sense of challenging one’s lifelong beliefs as well as the more specific case of samadhi.

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Regret

July 27, 2013

Live life without regrets.

Don’t do something you’ll regret later.

Don’t dwell on what you regret about life.

All of these are common attitudes toward regret, that shame we feel at something we did (or didn’t do) at some point in the past. We’ve all got regret and I find myself traveling with it pretty closely most days. I regret having failed at writing that book I traveled for, researched, and started writing. I regret not focusing more intently on my music production ten years ago because if I had kept with it, I think I could have gained some level of notice and success. I regret getting complacent careerwise and as a result feeling stuck, unable to do what I’d really like to do. I regret at letting fear and anxiety get the best of me and prevent me from trying new things.

I thought about it a bit recently and I’m not entirely convinced there’s anything terribly wrong with regret. I think people consider regret a way to beat oneself up, to be self-critical and negative about choices we’ve made. But here’s the thing: regret is just another thought. It can be acknowledged without being assigned a negative (or positive) value. I found that when I started to look at my regret not as something I should try and avoid, but rather something to analyze and learn from, something interesting emerged. I found that most of my regrets were based on decisions I’d made that reflected what I thought someone else would advise me to do and not what I really felt good doing.

For instance, I regret not finishing that book because the subject matter I was writing about was something that was truly important to me. Instead, I let my fear of not writing the absolute perfect book mentally sabotage me.

My regret about not making music is a regret in making the decision to do things I thought I should do (freelance in order to bring more money in, clean house even if no one was coming over the next day, making a big dinner rather than settling one night for a quick microwave dinner).

I regret being complacent about my career because of fear of failure, going broke, and losing everything. Good old fatalistic thinking at work.

Regret is what happens when we make a decision based on anxiety or fear rather than what the current moment actually calls for.

Thinking back even further, I recall a number of times where I was kind of a dick to someone. Those times have stuck with me for years and years, even if they were just a simple choosing of one person over another in high school. I deeply regret acting out of the fear of not fitting in or picking the “wrong” friends even if it was only one or two times where that particular anxiety took control of me.

When realized properly, the regret we feel about past decisions can help shape our current and future decisions. Note that this doesn’t mean being ruled by our regret or making a decision only because we worry we’ll regret it later. Rather, let’s realize our past patterns, the types of actions or decisions we’ve regretted, and figure out why we don’t change those patterns now.

I’d love to hear about your past regret, the fear you acted on that caused it, and whether you’ve been able to change your behavior as a result.

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Things won’t always be this good (or bad).

July 30, 2012

The most important thing I’ve learned recently in my (severely lacking) practice is this:

If things are going well, that will eventually not be the case.

I realize that sounds extremely pessimistic, but it’s just the flip side of “don’t worry, things will get better.” The point being, of course, that that current moment is fleeting and things are constantly shifting and changing. “Good” days will have to end, but that’s OK, because the “bad” ones will, too. There’s something oddly comforting about accepting that things will be worse at some point, possibly very soon. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s more comforting than knowing that things are going to get better during a rough patch.

Thoughts?

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Anxiety: the second rhythm of the heart

July 26, 2011

I really liked this description of anxiety:

To understand the predicament of anxiety, we need only sit down quietly, draw our attention inward, and watch our thoughts as they tumble by. Our fears and concerns need not consume vast proportions, but beneath the melody of constantly changing thoughts, punctuating them like the thumping of the bass in a jazz quintet is the persistent throb of worry and care, the second rhythm of the heart.

– Bhikku Bodhi
(via the “Anxiety” podcast episode from Against the Stream by Matthew Brensilver (mp3))

Anxiety, the worry over a future that will likely never come to be, fills in every empty space in our mind. It elbows silence out of the way and slowly chews away at us, causing that darn discontentment/suffering/desire.

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Turning clear and transparent

November 4, 2010

From Daily Zen, something from one of my favorite poets:

Like the little stream
Making its way
Through the mossy crevices
I, too, quietly
Turn clear and transparent.

– Ryokan Taigu (1758-1831)

As we work our way through life’s trials, carefully taking note of its twists and turns, our minds quiet and the nature of things becomes more clear.

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Grief

August 11, 2010

June was a strange month.

It was partially strange because my wife and I spent almost a full month apart (I spent a week in Vegas and she spent three weeks overseas with family right after I got back) for the first time since we spent summers in college at our respective homes. But it was also strange and difficult because our dog unexpectedly died while I was in Vegas.

She’d been sick for a while and had been really worn down from the medications she was on as part of her treatment, but we thought she was on the upswing. We were doing physical therapy with her, reducing her dosages, etc., but one day in June, that was it. She was gone. It crushed all of us to lose a member of the family like that.

Since this blog is where I (occasionally) write about zen/Buddhist-y stuff, I thought I’d take a few minutes to write about death from that perspective. This is the first major loss that I’ve dealt with since I started my practice a couple of years ago. And I really didn’t know what to expect.

Shortly after getting the news from my wife over the phone, I got back to my hotel room and didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I knew I couldn’t go out and be in public. I really needed to be alone. I decided I was going to try and sit, feeling whatever came and letting it be. I lasted less than three minutes propped up on a couple of pillows on the floor. I just couldn’t take it.

For the rest of the day, I made a conscious decision to just stay in and be with my grief. There were moments that I felt momentarily OK, but for the most part, there were waves of sadness hitting throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening. I didn’t fight them, try to think my way through them, or suppress them. Would I have had I not been practicing zen for the last few years? Maybe, maybe not.

Where the real difference came was in the days and weeks that followed. The Old Me would have spent a lot of time groaning, “Why? Why did this happen?” Instead, after the initial bout of that and the anger that came with it, I found myself feeling melancholy and contemplative. The waves of sadness would hit, but they’d be short-lived and manageable. It’s not that I was mourning less or that I was somehow feeling less pain, but that I was more equipped to deal with it moment-by-moment. It’s a hard phenomenon to explain, but it was there. I didn’t try to comfort myself with thoughts of “she’s in a better place now” or anything like that… if that comforts you, no problem, but I think I’m at the point where I don’t need those thoughts to help me through my grief.

From the point of view of attachment, I made it a point to not hold too tightly to the sadness but also not to grasp for relief from the pain. It really does make everything much more manageable and real to take it a moment at a time, without judgment. And there is a lot of judgment that happens with the death of a loved one. There’s the inevitable guilt that you should have done something differently or that you should have treated them better before it was too late. There’s the anger at the mistakes others made that contributed to the end result. There’s more guilt that comes with the feeling of relief. That last one’s kind of a doozy, actually. When our dog was going through her treatment, we had to take her outside 8-12 times a day. It was exhausting, but it was what we did for her because she needed it. So, sure, there was a relief at not having to constantly worry about her anymore — I was doing a lot of worrying — but the guilt hits for feeling that relief. It’s OK, though. It’s OK to feel relief because you know you’d gladly do it for weeks or months or years more to get to spend more time with them. It’s like a realization that hit me a few months ago: you can be happy and still feel worry and concern. You do have to give yourself a break and let yourself feel happiness/relief.

That last paragraph was a mess. But hopefully it makes some sort of sense.

There were a few things that really came in handy during June. I thought I’d share them here on the off-chance they might be useful to someone else going through the same thing:

  • Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. I’d never read anything of Pema Chodron’s before — I had this impression that because she practiced in a Tibetan lineage that her writings would be dealing with mysticism, reincarnation, etc. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. When Things Fall Apart is one of the most important books I’ve ever read and is absolutely essential for anyone looking for ways to work through difficult times and learn from them. As an example of something from this book that helped me out more than I would have imagined: tonglen. The basic idea: breathe in the pain of everyone that’s suffering the way you are and then breathe out compassion and healing for everyone. I know, I know… total touchy-feely stuff. But what’s key for me is that moment of breathing in. It’s so easy when you’re caught up in grief to feel like you’re the only one who’s ever felt this pain. That moment of breathing in helps act as a reminder that we’re all connected, we all suffer, and often we’re suffering for the same reasons. We’re not alone.
  • Gil Fronsdal’s dharma talk on grief (mp3). Absolutely wonderful. Gil discussed a quote he remembered from a teacher along the lines of, “The first person you meet after finishing your grieving is the recipient of a great compassion.” The idea being that grief, when you take the time to really feel it and examine it, can lead to increased compassion for others in your day-to-day life (not just when you see someone else suffering).
  • Roshi Joan Halifax’s dharma talk on grief and Buddhism. Roshi shows an amazing tenderness and debunks myths about the grieving process (there are no “stages” – we waver back and forth and move in between) while talking to a group of caregivers that deal every day with death.
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The Worry/Hope Coin

June 3, 2010

I was thinking today about how hope and worry are two sides of the same coin, and how getting caught up in either is grasping and not being focused in the present moment. Worry is putting a negative value on the future, on something that hasn’t happened yet. You’re imagining and predicting the future will be a certain way and trying to prepare yourself for it. You cause yourself suffering when you’re spending this energy thinking negatively about what’s to come.

On the flip side, hope is a positive spin on that same future that hasn’t happened yet. If that future doesn’t happen the way you expect it to, you suffer.

But does that mean that you shouldn’t hope or find comfort in small things that provide hope, particularly during a period of sadness or despair? Or is it enough to be aware of how the hope is affecting you? Noticing that, “Hey, I got a little bit of hope in my life and it’s making me feel good right now. But I can’t cling too tightly to that hope, because it’s really just a vision of the future that may or may not happen rather than what’s here right now.”

Gil Fronsdal said something recently in a dharma talk about thinking… I’m paraphrasing but it was something like, “I spent a lot of time worrying about the future and thinking about what was going to happen and 90% of the time I was wrong. I realized, wow, Gil, you’re terrible at predicting the future.”

I think getting caught up in either the worry about the future or the hope for the future can cause problems and distract from the present moment. But maybe avoiding them isn’t the solution, but just being aware that they’re there, examining them and how they affect us, and not grasping so tightly to either.