Tuesday, March 3, 2015

This, Too, Shall Pass

You guys can't imagine how many times I begin a post and don't finish it. Because it takes time. Energy. Thought. The confidence that you have something to say worth reading.  I don't really have any of those things these days, not on a predictable basis. Bad ups and downs - and when the ups are bad you have your truly undesirable bipolar disorder, the kind that makes headlines if you are famous.

But one can say Buddhist things about all this. Here's one: what helps me a lot is to remember ~
This too shall pass.
Daniel Terragno told me that once, in regard to a very pleasing state of mind I had encountered on a retreat.  He was sure right.

In all seriousness, when things are bad, we need to remember, oh, it's just life. And gosh, the Buddha was right about suffering. And it will pass. I honestly believe that's the best suicide counseling I could give. That and, tomorrow is another day. And oh, spring comes and the grass grows by itself. (Basho)

You're probably wondering why I have been able to post this sketchy thing. Well, by restraining myself from making a fancy sign that would say This Too Shall Pass. By staying up past my bedtime.  By not discussing whether the commas in the title are definitively better than the lack of commas in the saying in the text, and linking to the great article I just read in the New Yorker by a comma queen (copyreader). By not fact-checking the Basho quote. Like that. Being bipolar, you have to learn restraint of the many many creative ideas that won't get the humidifier cleaned....Anyway, I just saw this cartoon and wanted to share it.  A great one. Let us smile at ourselves.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What is Zen practice?

 I don't hold with embarrassing people or dogs (you can't embarrass a cat) so I have modified this quote from a blog, and present it without attribution:

"For me, Zen practice includes not just zazen (sitting meditation) but all of the other aspects of Buddhist practice such as chanting, prostrations, sutra study, and the like."

It's not that I disagree with the above forms of practice; I just don't think all that describes the fullness of Zen. That's because I take Zen as a form of Buddhism, a religion with an ethical code, not a personal practice.

This reminds me of something I overheard once after a sit.  The guy who said this was a regular in the sangha I practiced in then.  Talking to another Zenner, who had just spent a week at Zen Mountain in New York state, he said "Don't you just wish you could go there for three months and really practice?"   I thought, He doesn't get what practice really is.  The real practice is waking up to your life. To fully live your own life compassionately is the whole thing.

This guy was married with kids, and owned a business. Like many entrepreneurs, he was charismatic and had the I Can Do That mentality that sometimes leads people to take on more than any reasonable human can do. I'd heard him talk about the impossibility of finding 20 minutes to meditate in the morning.  And it can be hard. The very act of persisting until you make that time, that is enlightening. Confronting the conditioning that says you have to be striving and useful every minute. Realizing that you don't have to hold the universe together every minute of the day. This endeavor can help us see ourselves more compassionately.

There are guidelines for life as practice in the Noble Eightfold Path, which is more than a few tips. That path, put forth by the Buddha, includes our behavior in this world of dew. It tells us how to avoid harming ourselves and others every moment.  Right speech alone can be the work of a lifetime, as it includes right listening and also, at times, keeping your thoughts to yourself.  Which I did that day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Things I Want to Buy and the Three-Day Rule

A recent review of my personal finances has led me to once again list things I want instead of buying them with one-click on Amazon.

I don't need one-click shopping to get in trouble. I did this for a while some 15 or 20 years ago when I thought I needed a cool-down period before shopping.  It is a simple habit. When I want to buy something (other than groceries and other necessities) I write it down (on the memo on my smart phone), with the date, and refrain from buying it for three days. I'm not "postponing" a purchase. I'm giving an impulse a waiting period to see if I really want the thing in three days or have thought better of it.

I'm sure I picked this idea up from a helpful book.  Not the book shown to the right. It's here because it was a sudden keen desire for this book that made me suspect I need to slow down and finish the last book I bought.

I learned about this book in one of John Tarrant's generous pieces on koans. This one was, "If you turn things around you are like the Buddha," which Tarrant notes is found in the above collection.   I think you do it like this:

You have a thought ~
I waste too much money on impulse items.

You can turn that around and think~
I don't waste money enough.
or, in my case,
I don't waste enough time.

Actually, I personally do.  I waste a whole day every Sunday.  And I waste money enough, I believe. Yesterday my new UP24 arrived. This is a bracelet (like a FitBit) that coordinates with my phone and logs my steps, graphs my sleep, and vibrates every 45 minutes to remind me to get up and stretch. And logs my food, if I want it to.  It seemed like a silly luxury, but 24 hours with it has me feeling like it's the greatest thing I ever did. I think it will help me get back in shape and be honest with myself about what I eat.
from HenriettaAndMorty on Etsy
The above pillow, on the other hand, is pretty nonfuctional.  I added it to the wait list yesterday.  Buddha with a sense of humor. Really, I love it, and if I had to choose I'd probably get more joy from it than another book of koans.  I do like koan work; over the years it has nourished my general ability to feel joy.  Here's a personal koan I have often carried with me when I shop for clothes~

Does this make you want to do a little dance of happiness?

Actually, it does.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

I'll Have the Rhinoceros, Please.

Today I took the trouble to comment on an interesting article in the NYT titled Against Invulnerability.  I do this partly to get a female voice into these things.  There are so many intelligent men interested in debating online, and too few women.  Here's what I said, feeling that I was speaking to the author:
As I understand the Zen I practice, I want to enter each moment vividly, fully, and without being shaken about by the desires and preferences of my conditioned self. In meditation practice, I practice letting all that flow through me without taking action. This does entail complete vulnerability to the feelings that arise, and can't be done without compassion. . . You might have some interest in the ancient text, "Trust in Mind" in this regard. A learned book about it recently came out.
The book by Mu Soeng is of the same title, and would probably not interest anyone who isn't of a somewhat scholarly bent.  The ancient poem itself is bad enough, I mean lo-o-ong.  But it is important enough to be chanted in sesshins, especially its first line, for it portrays exhaustively the Zen Way.  Here's one version of that line ~
The Great Way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose.
The Way being human life.  When it's called The Great Way, I think it means living as a Buddhist.  Just accept whatever presents to you, whether it's a delicately carved rhinoceros fan or the great hairy beast itself parked in your kitchen.

Sounds easy, doesn't it?  Just eat whatever is put in front of you, right?  Everything, all the time?
just accept the distant mother, the dependent father, the mean sister, the lazy husband, the noisy neighbors, the gift that is. not. my. colors. Yes, that's the idea.  In addition, as the Dalai Lama admonishes, Try to be nice.  Actually, that's the hardest part sometimes.
A rhinoceros iguana, here photographed with insight by Dennis Daubney.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Understanding Your Old Person

cartoon by Jan Tomaschoff
For a long time, it seems, I've thought I would write a number of posts explaining being old to those who are not.  I'd think of specific things, like how it feels to stand in line at the checkout, slowly identifying the correct credit card and pulling it out with arthritic fingers, carefully putting it through the unfamiliar device only to have it fail, how it feels when a young person grabs it and puts it through so we can all get on with life.  Or I'd watch an elderly woman in the ophthalmologist's waiting room with the daughter who drove her there. The woman is scared of it all, quite reasonably, of the eye drops, the exam, and the probable findings, and tries to chat with her daughter, who would rather read a magazine.  Or I'd think about how it becomes a challenge to take a shower once you've had a couple of bad falls.  And how difficult it is to make big decisions anymore, like getting the bathroom renovated.  I thought each of these was a subject in itself.  I could write a book, I thought.

But this morning I was somehow inspired by rereading John Tarrant's workup on the koan "Bring me the rhinoceros," to see it from a different angle.  I saw that the problem is not that the Old Person in your life has changed; the problem is your re-action.  You don't want him to change.  You want to have A Dad all your life, of course you do; so you refuse to accept the evidence of the strokes.  You say, He could do it if he wanted to - find his keys, eat the food you left in the frig.  You don't want to be alone in this world, without a Dad or Mom to make things right.  We can call this not accepting reality.  Reality is one of those Zen things.

Sometimes our problem with The Old Person is talked about as being at the top of the pyramid now, but it doesn't feel like that at all. The stone at the top of a pyramid is supported by all the other stones. It is a solid position.  Having your Mom lose her Momness is the very opposite; it leaves you without support.  And it seems to come all of a sudden, though the tender decay of aging is slow as rust or lichen.

You are not really helped by the articles online about Being a Caregiver, which encourage you to be more selfish, to consider your needs.  There is merit to the idea of caregiver respite; you may be swinging automatically from tree to tree, doing what you think you ought to do, fleeing from the reality of the breakdown.  If so, odds are that your old person might enjoy a respite from excessive caregiving.  He may not want his very own cellphone; maybe the thought freaks him out.  You may think he needs to get with it.  Maybe you need to get with it, too.

Get with the great hairy beast of change, aging and loss.  The rhinoceros that reality is, barging into our party, upsetting the pitcher of sangria and tearing the hammock from its mooring.  The old person is not a problem, but a person.  Your denial of the reality of her decreasing competence, your insistent desire for security - that's the problem.  Mixed in there might even be your beliefs that you have more important things to do than sit in a hospital room waiting for your old person's doctor to show up, your conviction that you can get things straight.

Things are not straight.  There are no straight lines in nature, and few in your old person's veins anymore. Reality is not a laboratory, more like an amusement park or Las Vegas.  The best way to deal with it is to enter the stream.

The answer is not exactly an answer, or not the one you're looking for.  It is to approach each moment  with the intention to be fully aware of that Old Person, whether it is you or someone else, and of your own mess of reactions.  This growing old is not a curse.  In fact, it is the best way things can go:  the parents get old and die, then the children get old and die.  You might as well vow to open your heart to all of it.