Tag Archives: Buddhism

Ghosts


I’ve been working hard on my book lately.  It’s mostly written (except for the last ten years of my life), which means I’m editing.  Editing means reading my book over, and over, and over again, because editing happens in layers, I’m discovering.  You go through the book once to catch one kind of mistake, then you go through it again to catch another kind of mistake.  So on and so forth.

I’m sure that with some other kinds of books, this merely gets tedious and boring after a while.  With mine, it’s really stressful sometimes, on an emotional level.  I’m writing about things in my life that made me very sad, or angry, or frightened.  Having to read them over and over again is taxing, to say the very least.  Some things that I’ve been able to distance myself from over the years are much closer to the surface, now that I’m exposed to them so much more often.  I’m feeling things I haven’t felt in a long time, all over again.  Unpleasant things.

These feelings bubble over into my everyday life.  I’m crankier than normal, I feel, and need less stimulation.  Conversely, I’m appreciating parts of my current life more.  The difference between this life and that life are even more stark.  I’m aware of how my daughter’s life differs from my own as I was growing up.  My biggest worries with her are that she’s too materialistic and needs some direction, which seem pretty normal for a kid under ten.  I don’t worry about her needing years of therapy, or being saddled with severe personality complexes that hamper her personal relationships and ability to function in the world.  Like me.  I do worry about her developing bipolar illness, which seems to run in the family, but at least we know it might be coming, and forewarned is forearmed.

I have many hopes and fears attached to this project.  Like any writer, I have that tiny nugget of hope that this will be successful enough to garner a spot on the featured shelves of popular bookstores.  Perhaps even a coveted spot in the New York Times bestseller lists (hey, a girl can dream, right?).  I know the reality will probably be more subdued, though, that my readership will probably extend to my circle of friends and not much farther, if at all.  I may even have to self-publish through Amazon or some other venue, if a publisher doesn’t decide to pick up my manuscript.

I admit, I’ll be very disappointed if I can’t even get a publisher to consider printing my book.  I really do think it has that much merit.  Someone recently asked me why I was writing my memoir.  I didn’t have an immediate answer for them.  I think I started writing it just to get it all out of my head.  I had this jumble of bad memories, interspersed with the occasional good one, and I wanted to put it all down, in order, in part to see if it really was all that bad.  To see if, perhaps, I was ignoring the good.  I wasn’t.  It really was that bad.  It was an extremely valuable exercise to validate my memories and did a great deal for my confidence.

Then I wanted to share it, though I couldn’t say exactly why.  Part of it was attention, I won’t lie.  I think all humans want attention for the things they’ve accomplished.  Most people accomplish things like degrees, or mastery of a craft or art, perhaps.  I accomplished the feat of surviving my childhood, something that took far longer than any college degree.  And yes, dammit, I want acknowledgement for that, because it was fucking hard.  In acknowledging the hard, I found another reason for writing and sharing my story, which is best illustrated by sharing the last paragraph of my book’s introduction:

 

There is a Sanskrit word, bodhicitta, that means “enlightenment”, or “awakening”.  It is the primary goal of one called bodhisattva: someone who wants to achieve Buddhahood as quickly as possible, so they may benefit other living beings through compassion and wisdom.  That is my wish with this book, for others to benefit as I make my own journey to enlightenment, as well as healing.  If even one reader can stumble across their own bit of illumination that makes something make sense enough to propel them forward, then we will all be one step closer to peace.

 

While I feel pompous comparing myself to a bodhisattva, that’s how I feel.  So, yes, this book is for me, but it’s also for everyone else who needs inspiration to move forward with their life if they’re feeling like they’re stuck in the path that was carved for them.  It’s possible to get out of the rut, and to carve a new one.  It’s hard, harder than staying where you are, but it can be done, and it’s far more rewarding than staying where you are.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more ‘be’ verbs to turn into action verbs.

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

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.

Naked


I’ve been doing this groovy “make your own spiritual path” thing put together by Dianne Sylvan called Spiritual Nomad. I’m way behind, still on week one (everyone else is on week three). It took me a really long time to do the first exercise. I probably over thought it, or at least tried to be too inclusive, although my life really has been peppered by a long string of fairly significant incidents, which I put in a meandering time line with my various spiritual paths over the years marked on the path. It’s very busy.

Now I’m stuck on the second exercise: strip my altar bare. Well, I have five altars and at least three more spaces in the house that contain items nice enough to be considered altar fare (not to mention stuff in the garage that rotates in and out of ‘service’, so to speak, depending on my spiritual whim). I can’t decide which one is most important that I should strip down, or if I should strip ALL of them and put all of the doodads in one place to be reconsidered for placement, which has the most appeal but would take a lot of time and energy.

I’m probably over thinking again. If I were to pick one to bare, it would be the big one in the yoga room (bit of a misnomer now that it’s too cramped to do yoga in), which is essentially a very old vanity with a big mirror and a couple of drawers. It currently keeps my favorite Buddha, an 8-armed statue of Kali, a Tibetan bowl tuned to the 2nd chakra, things that hold incense, an incense burner, and a variety of candle holders and oil lamps, because I like fire. Other Hindu holy images are stuck to the mirror along with a yoga chant. Other altars are similarly themed: patron deity/entity, plus fire and air and any other pertinent items. I should keep water and earth too: it would make me pay more attention to my altars. As it is, they probably get cleaned and tended once or twice a year. I’m not terribly devout. 🙂

Stripping all of them would certainly be in keeping with the flensing I’ve been doing around the house the last few weeks, though. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff and reorganized most of the rest. This would be a good opportunity to make the yoga room a more sacred space instead of a place to hold books and sewing stuff, and talk and read. Not that those are bad things by any stretch. They’re just not what the room was originally intended for. I might have room to do a sun salutation in there and other linear poses, but nothing that requires side-to-side space. Though now that I think about it, that still leaves room for a whole lot of yoga poses. Besides, there’s nowhere else in the house to put the sewing machines. I still need to get rid of the 1953 White sewing machine with the outer belt drive. Not exactly safe by modern standards, but I’m sure some sewing machine nut would want it.

See? This is why some projects just never get done. The curse of Jupiter in Sagittarius: just how expansive CAN I make a project?

I think I’ve sold myself on “strip them all”. It won’t take as long as I think it will, I’m betting. It’s a good opportunity to survey all of my Important Things.

Anger-Fear-Compassion


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.