Attachers and Attachments

Letting go of attachments is changing how we experience being human. We tend to form identities around our attachments. I have this, I don’t have that. I like this, I don’t like that. I am this way, I am not that way. This is good, that is bad. Although it is perfectly human to do this, a lot of our attachments lead to suffering. It is human to suffer.

However, when we recognize how our attachments are kind of arbitrary and it is possible to be ourselves with completely different thoughts and ideas, we can explore what it is that attaches and how those attachments influence the quality of our lives. As children we attach to ideas of Santa Clause. As we grow, we get different ideas about how presents get under Christmas trees. Letting go of attachments allows us to grow and to experience life from different perspectives.

In Zen our practice is to cut through our delusions and experience the world as it is. The biggest delusion is our sense of self. It is perfectly human to have such a delusion and our attachments reinforce it. The aim of practice is not to let go of attachments, but to get beyond ourselves. Seeing how we attach to things gives us insights into how we think about what we are. What attaches to what? It is not so much about the attachments as about the attachers.

On the way to seeing the world without a seer, thinking about how and what we attach to, beliefs, ideas, habits, feelings, people, and things and how those attachments create and ease suffering, we learn new ways of seeing and being. When we hold firm to each of our attachments, they get ripped from us one by one as the world does its thing and we suffer from each loss. Being able to let go is a valuable skill when we are human and so sticky and clingy.


Zen Dating

The Zen approach to dating is to cut through all the games, to be your authentic self and to be present and compassionate toward whoever is with you.

The biggest game in dating is wanting something from another person and pretending we don’t. We want all kinds of things from other people when we date them. We want love, acceptance, appreciation, understanding, confirmation, sex, commitment, money, security, healing, and on and on. We bring every want and need in our lives into our relationships. In a dating situation it is a brand new relationship and so we play the game of pretending that we are complete, have lots to offer and need nothing. Playing that game is already taking something from the other person as we rely on them to support the fantasies we project about ourselves.

To approach a date from a zen perspective you go into your date as an enlightened person. You can’t just put your enlightenment on for a date like a sweater or scarf. That would be playing a game. You have to use that as your approach to life. You must approach life as a process of personal growth, learning to be who you are, where you are in all circumstances. Going out on a date, is a special opportunity to catch yourself at your normal habits, pretending to be things, and wanting things from other people.

Dating is a time of heightened judging and self-consciousness. When you find yourself being present and connecting with another person you judge positively, imagining a long life of happiness together, or getting what you want from them. When you are not connecting, you imagine you are wasting your time, that the person will not give you anything that you need or want. You sense that they may want something from you that you can’t give.

Whether you are connecting or not connecting changes moment to moment and instead of connecting, you wonder if you are connecting or not. If you think the other person is great, you may start to worry that you are not enough. If you find them annoying, you’re not too worried about how good you are, and you may even find yourself being mean. As you wander away from the present moment, indulge your judgments, and forget your compassion you lose your enlightenment. You find yourself involved in a transaction rather than an interpersonal connection. You are swallowed up by your own game. Zen is remembering to come back to the present and be who you are where you are.

When a date is over, you continue working on yourself, your presence, your compassion and your enlightenment. When you notice yourself playing a game, recognize the game and respond compassionately. When you are deciding what to do, ask yourself, am I playing a game or am I engaged in real life? Ask yourself if you are being authentic or manipulative. If you are bashing yourself, be compassionate with yourself. If you are acting toward another person be compassionate with them.

As dating progresses and you become more intimate, more authentic, with another person, walls crumble, or stand firm. Illusions pop. Pretenses are exposed. You grow and change. You may get married, you may go separate ways. You continue to work on being present, compassionate and enlightened. That is a zen approach to dating.


Shared Reality

Sharing is one of the first and hardest things we learn in life. The problem we have with sharing is the same problem we have with existence. We each experience life as an individual self. That self that is us has wants and needs, some rational, some irrational. If we have a favorite security blanket, we feel comfortable when holding that blanket. If somebody else has our blanket we get all out of sorts. Even if the person with our blanket is our mother, our brother, or our twin, if we aren’t the ones with the blanket, there is no security for us. That sense of security that the special blanket brings is our individual reality.

As we grow older, our sense of self becomes more developed. We learn the nuances of sharing. We learn to share differently within our various social groups. We share freely with some people and not so much with others. We share our blankets, food, money, germs, emotions, ideas, history, cultures and a planet with each other. How two or more of us experience the world together is our shared reality.

Sharing reality is not like sharing a blanket. It’s more like sharing the planet. We have to share the planet with everybody on it. We have no choice. In many cases we do our best not to share our planet. We draw borders, we build walls, we fight wars to kill the people we don’t want to sharing our planet. That is all part of our shared reality, where we each have a self, a self-interest, and sharing is really hard.

On a personal level, we have widespread agreement on our shared reality. We all know we shouldn’t kill each other and to stop at red lights. Even within our cultural conventions our individual realities are vastly different from our shared reality. A shared reality between only two people contains all of each of their experiences and their rational and irrational beliefs, hopes, and fears. It contains a sense of cooperation and a sense of competition. When a third person enters the picture the shared reality adds another unfathomable dimension. Together, we each observe our shared reality through the veil of our individual realities.

That veil is made up of all of our rational and irrational ideas interwoven with each other. Some of our rational ideas are wrong and some of our irrational ideas are right. This tapestry of fact and fiction that forms our veils, our sense of self, is effectively a blindfold. With each of us blindfolded, we need each other to help us navigate this shared reality. As we guide each other, knowing that we don’t know and behaving with compassion anyway, we can learn to stop red lights and not kill each other. We can even lean to share our blankets, our planet and our reality. As we share, how we share, we shape our individual and shared realities.



The Laws of Attraction

The law of attraction is that when you wish for something you get it. That is true for everything that we have, and less true for what what we don’t have or have and don’t want. The law of attraction works very well at a Starbucks. If we have money, we can wish for any hot beverage we can imagine and something like it will materialize.

With love, we follow our own attraction. When we notice we are attracted to somebody, then we love them a little. Our soul may not resonate with theirs, but our heartbeats are each between 60 and 120 beats per minute, our body temperatures are each around 98 degrees Fahrenheit, and we each occupy a proximal space at the same time. On top of that, we feel a sense of attraction to them.

We can approach those we are attracted to with awareness of our attraction and curiosity about who this other person is.  If they feel a similar attraction and look into our eyes, our heartbeats will speed up, our bodies will raise their temperatures, emit pheromones, and produce oxytocin, the love neurotransmitter, like they did when our mothers held each of us as babies.

People naturally love each other, but there is a lot involved in developing trust and understanding with another person. Attraction compels us to interact and make the effort to get to know each other.

The more we get to know another person, the more of ourselves we expose. Sometimes there are parts of us we are afraid to expose. Sometimes people judge and don’t like what they see. Sometimes we judge and don’t like what we see. These things keep coming up as we explore layers of intimacy. Ultimately, we each have to face ourselves as we engage with other people.

There are few better ways of getting to know ourselves than looking from another’s point of view. It helps if that other point of view is generous, amorous, and compassionate.  It helps if we are that way too as we learn to know ourselves and make the effort to know and love others.


Abuse of Power

People in power have been abusive forever. That is the nature of power. Some people are consciously and aggressively abusive, others are completely ignorant and oblivious to how and who they abuse. In Canada, child abuse was “discovered” in the late 1800’s and Humane Societies were formed to protect children and pets. Child abuse existed since the first child was born. Early humanoids snapped at their children like dogs. Through the course of evolution, babies adapted to resemble their fathers to help prevent those fathers from eating them. 100,000 years later, the keen observers of human nature in Upper Canada, recognized that the way some people treated children was wrong and harmful. The Canadians were not the first in history of the world to notice child abuse, but they discovered it early in their history.

The people who formed those Humane Societies were generally white and wealthy women. Although women were systematically oppressed in the social structures of the time, they wielded great power over the poor, downtrodden and non-white among them. The humane societies and religious leaders of the time, doing the good work celebrated in their social circles, decimated the Native populations, forcibly removing children from their families and placing them in residential schools where they were routinely physically and sexually abused. Canada has recently apologized to the Aboriginal people there for those atrocities.

In recent months, in the powerful United States or America, brave women have shared their experiences, facing shame and escalated abuse to help the world discover that they have been being abused by powerful men for a long time. NFL football players, powerful men in their arenas,  are kneeling during the American national anthem to help us discover that African Americans have been facing abuse for a long time too. We are all powerful people in this world. Where we face greater powers we are abused. Where we face lesser powers, we abuse. With awareness of the power structures around us and an understanding that where there is power there will be abuse, we can employ compassionate action to try not to abuse people and to find support for ourselves and others when we discover the powerfully destructive presence of abuse.


3 Easy Ways To Become Mindful

Here are thee easy ways to incorporate mindfulness into your life:

1. Pause several times a day to notice your breath.

Noticing your breath makes you present. Whenever you pause to notice your breath, breathe deeper than you had been. If you tend to carry around residual stress, your unconscious breathing will be faster and more shallow. When you notice your breath and breathe more slowly, you let out a bit of stress right where you are instead of waiting for life to become less stressful.

In those moments where you notice your breath, you also notice other things. You notice your thoughts. You notice how you feel. You notice your body posture. You notice if you are standing or sitting. You notice if you are plugged in or unplugged. As you notice these things and continue to breathe slowly, respond to whatever you notice with kindness. Being present, noticing things and responding with kindness is the essence of mindfulness. It is very easy to incorporate into your day. In fact, it is much harder not to practice it.

2. Unplug yourself.

Turn off your phone, stay off the computer, don’t watch television and be present where you are. You can do that for 5 minutes or 5 hours and as you notice what you notice in that time, respond to those thoughts and feelings with kindness.

3. Start a mediation habit.

Meditation is sitting and focusing your attention on your breath. You can do that for 10 minutes 2 or 3 times a day. You can do it in the middle of the night. A solid practice would be 20 minutes twice a day. Sit once in the morning and once in the afternoon or evening. Dedicating yourself to a sitting habit is the difficult part. Sitting and doing nothing is as easy as it gets. If it’s not easy, its needed.

Mindfulness, when practiced in small doses, spills over into your day. Practicing meditation is doing all three of these at once. If you develop a mediation practice you will find many moments throughout the day where you are unplugged, aware of your breathing, present, and responding with kindness to the world where you are.


Love your no-self

I am me, you are you and we are both part of something else. We live in a world that is built around each of us being individuals. We have names, birth certificates, belongings, opinions, all of which contribute to our sense of self. Self makes complete sense to us. No-self makes no sense. However, the idea of anatta, the underlying truth of no-self, compels us to wonder if it is true or not.

I don’t know how my computer works, how it manages to send information through the air so that it makes sense to your computer, but other people understand that very well. They understand truths about electrical engineering that are complete mysteries to me.

No-self is something you can learn, like electrical engineering. You learn to see the world from a different perspective. No separate self is much easier to grasp. We can’t exist without our parents, without food, water, or sunlight. All of these things are conditions of our existence. We are intertwined with everything. There is nothing about us that is completely us and not also part of something else.

When you don’t think about it, you have a solid, concrete sense of self. When you think about it a lot, that idea breaks up. There is also an experience of no-self where you may get a sense that you are not breathing, but that something is breathing you, or that there are just thoughts and nobody thinking them. These are some ways people have talked about the no-self experience. If you have such an experience the idea of no-self then makes intuitive sense.

Loving yourself is like a stepping stone to no-self. As long as you believe in a self and experience a self you should treat yourself lovingly. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Don’t create situations for yourself to suffer. Do things to help yourself feel better.  Even if you experience a strong sense of no-self you still have to inhabit yourself and interact with the world, which is built around a sense of self.  At an even more basic level, you can’t not eat because you think you don’t have a self.

Understanding no-self is understanding interrelatedness. The reality that we are all in this together. Loving yourself is recognizing that you suffer and would rather not and then finding life affirming, sustainable ways to suffer less. That opens the gates to loving others, noticing that others suffer and finding ways to help them suffer less. That creates opportunities to experience no-self. Loving yourself is a way to explore no-self.

Much of our suffering comes from our ideas about how things are. The idea of self is one of those big ideas that leads to a lot of suffering. The idea that you should love yourself is one of those ideas that can reduce suffering. So, as long as you experience a self, try to love that self. When you experience no-self there is only love.


How to Live a Better Life

To live a better life, start with the life you have. Right now, that is the best possible life you can have. That life includes a certain amount of suffering, which makes it seem like it could be better. How you habitually respond to suffering influences the quality of your life. If you run away from suffering you develop avoidance habits. As you acknowledge and approach suffering, you develop compassionate habits.

Compassion is an awareness and an action. It is noticing suffering, looking to the causes of suffering, thinking of cures for suffering, and doing what you can to bring about those solutions. Sometimes you can do a lot, sometimes less. Learning what needs to be done and what you can do is part of the skill of compassion.

You can practice compassion for yourself. You are the best place to start because you directly experience your own suffering and you have some good ideas about where it comes from and what might help.  As you learn to recognize how you suffer, you will also notice how other people suffer. When you see others suffer, practice compassion for them.

The more you practice compassion the better you get at it and the better your life gets.

The way to engage your compassionate mind is to breathe consciously. Deep breathing is your go to tool for a better life. Our bodies understand that. That’s why they knock us out every night so we can breathe in peace.


Counting Blessings

Simple ways to generate good feelings are to practice generosity and gratitude. Counting blessings is an age old practice of being grateful. Counting breaths is an age old practice of meditation. One method of mediation is to rest your attention on your breath and count as you breath in and out. You can set a timer and count your breaths from one to ten over and over again or you can meditate for about 15 minutes by counting 100 breaths. If you want to be extra Buddhist about it you can count 108 breaths.

Whether you mediate or not, you can practice gratitude by thinking of ten things that you are grateful for. That is counting blessings. Taking time to acknowledge the good things in your life helps you feel good.  It contradicts pervasive thinking about problems and scarcity and reinforces the idea that life is good. When we believe life is good, each breath is a blessing.

We don’t have to feel good to believe life is good, but it makes it easier. That life is good is something we often take on faith. Believing it helps us endure periods of suffering. It gives us hope in humanity. It gives us a sense of purpose as we work to create justice and end oppression so that everybody can have an opportunity to experience life’s goodness.

Being alive is our opportunity to experience our connection to the natural world. With each breath we take we support our lives, we support our moods, we support our beliefs. Each breath we take is a blessing, but mostly we take our breathing for granted. Any time we need to remember that life is good we can check in with our breath. If we are breathing, that is good. If we take a minute to consciously breathe 10 times we will relax. If we take only 5 breaths in that minute, we will feel even more relaxed.

When we regularly practice counting our blessings or our breaths we create opportunities to appreciate life’s goodness. Sometimes we have to take it on faith that life is good. Sometimes we feel it.


Things Are Looking Up

Imagining that things are getting better, that we are slowly, steadily progressing toward a more peaceful world can be inspiring. Looking to the barbaric practices of the past such as burning people at the stake, or state supported slavery, then comparing those practices to positive developments of the present, such as increased ability for global, instant communication, which facilitates awareness and resistance to terrorism and oppression creates a strong sense of progress.

Of course the opposite is also true. If we look at the modern day machinery of war, and compare it to the brutal, but small scale, hand to hand combat of the past, it may seem that things are getting worse. Whether you think things are getting better or worse, if we are progressing toward peace or self-destruction, depends a lot on where and how you look.

How you feel also influences where you look. Where you look influences how you feel. If you feel lousy, you will imagine a lousy future and find evidence to support that. If you feel good, you look at all the good in the world and find evidence to support that feeling. It also works the other way around where a good feeling is rendered lousy by learning bad news and a lousy mood is obliterated with happy news.

Without knowing the future or our future we don’t know if things are getting better or worse. If we pay attention to the present moment, we can see if we feel bad or good. We can see if we are thinking of ourselves or others. The problems of war and oppression fundamentally hinge on shared beliefs about self and other. If we are looking down, at our phones, computers, the road, we are more prone to think of ourselves. If we look up at the sky, the moon, the ceiling, a work of art, the birds, Juliette on the balcony, we may forget ourselves for the moment and engage with the world. Looking up opens your mind. It makes you receptive to the world. Whatever you may be thinking, looking up changes you awareness. Try it. Look up at the ceiling or the sky. Take in the world.

This Is Your Brain on Zen