Monthly Archives: October 2014

Being Confused

We live in a world where everything contains it’s opposite. How can we not be confused? We interpret reality through three pounds of meat in our skulls. How can we expect things to be otherwise? With confusion as our basic experience, it makes sense to fall into self doubt and depression. When we suffer like that, instead of naturally enjoying the splendors of the world, people and we think that we are confused. Of course we’re confused.

There is freedom in confusion. Recognizing our basic confusion gives us the freedom to look again at our situation with a fresh perspective. When we are suffering, we can look into our suffering and see what element of our confusion has contributed to our conclusion that things are so bad. We might see that things that we imagine are impossible are actually possible for us. We may see that things we think are likely, are actually impossible. When we embrace our confusion we can feel free to ask what, and why, and how, just like we did when we were small children and everybody expected us to be confused. As children we were more interested in what and why and how than we were in pretending that we weren’t confused.

Suffering brings a bit of certainty. This is how things are and so it hurts. The confusion in that certainty is the door to transformation. What is that hurt? How are things? It’s hard to know.

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Just Do It Right

In Buddhism, the eightfold path to end suffering involves eight elements of being that we must keep in our awareness. Those elements are right view, right thought, right concentration, right intention, right effort, right speech, right action, and right livelihood. Of course, if you do everything right, all the time, you won’t suffer.

Right, as opposed to wrong, is not the right meaning here. Here, right means without hinderance, direct, complete, as it is. The term right is translated from the Sanskrit word samyak. So, as we look at the eightfold path in English, with the word right, we already have some hinderance. Buddha didn’t speak in Sanskrit either, so there is some more hinderance. In speaking whatever language he spoke, Buddha was translating his experience into words, so there is even more hinderance there. Further hinderance comes as we try to apply the words to our experience. Trying to figure out how to follow this eightfold path and thereby ending our suffering is more important than getting the words exactly right.

We don’t even need to get the numbers right. If we get any of these right, it helps us. For example, if we have the right view, or an unobstructed view of the essential nature of life, then the rest of the path will fall into place. Our view is generally obstructed by our viewing apparatus, our self. When we can see around our self, to our Self, we have the right view. That view includes the self which is viewing, the act of viewing and the object that is viewed. That right view will likely be accompanied by a thought. It doesn’t matter what that thought is, if it is happening, it is the only thought we have and it will fill our experience. With right concentration, we can experience the thought as it is. Concentration takes effort. To Taoists the right effort is effortless, that is, without hinderance. If we make the right effort, in the moment, and our right intention is to convey that experience, then we can use right speech to accomplish that. Our words will be accompanied by an action, which will be right for the moment if our view, thought, concentration, effort, intention and speech are all rooted in our present experience. Finally, there is right livelihood. That is spending your life working on getting it all right.

The eightfold path is the Buddha’s prescription to end suffering. His enlightenment was experiencing the world directly, without hinderance. He wanted to teach everybody else how to get around their habitual way of thinking, acting, concentrating, living, speaking, viewing, trying and intending, which were continually getting in the way of recognizing things as they are. So he encouraged everybody to just do it all right.

The eightfold path is a large net with tiny mesh. We are constantly viewing, thinking, intending, trying, saying, doing, concentrating, and living, so some aspect of the path is always a part of our immediate experience. In any moment we can experience our life directly. In that moment it is not right or wrong. It is as it is. Right?

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Redefine Yourself

Before you redefine yourself you need to look into how you have come by your current definition. It could be that you have never actually defined yourself at all. You may just let others define you. You may let some internet quiz or personality test define you. You may define yourself with a particular style or a certain emotional response to the world. You could define yourself with a list of likes and dislikes. You might define yourself by who you hang out with or who your family is. You might define yourself with objective measurements like height, weight, age and gender. You could add subjective judgements to those such as tall, short, fat, thin, young, old, pretty, or ugly. Some of these definitions you chose consciously, and some unconsciously. There’s a lot that goes into who you are. To redefine yourself, start with throwing all of that out.

Once you throw out every idea about who and what you are, you can start fresh and build a definition of what you are that works for you. It helps if you keep an open mind. Before you start trying on your old unconscious definitions, ask yourself, “What am I?” The world will start throwing you answers ranging between everything and nothing. It is up to you to figure out what is you and what is not you.

Redefining yourself is a life long practice, so don’t worry if you go through a few definitions as you come to one that suits you. You want to be sure to try on some crazy hats. Imagine you are things that you know you are not. Imagine that you are the wind, the moon or the ocean. Imagine you are your worst enemy. Imagine that you are a bowl of soup.

The english language is set up to make you redefine yourself with each changing mood. I am sad. I am happy. I am depressed. I am confused. Because you are constantly defining and redefining yourself by nature of your speech and thought patterns, it is helpful to be an active, conscious participant in the process. Whenever being who and what you are starts to feel heavy or unbearable, just throw it all out and redefine yourself by asking, “What am I?”

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Practice Makes Perfect

Living our life as a spiritual practice can help us recognize our basic perfection. As we struggle through ups and downs of life, we might imagine that we are something less than perfect.  That’s perfect. Being perfect leaves no room for improvement, but it leaves plenty of room for change. A spiritual practice is the practice of being perfect, while learning to live with constant change.

A perfect practice is one that encompasses all of life. There is not a time to be spiritual and a time to be practical. It is all spiritual and it is all practical. Life is practice. We are not practicing to get better, we are practicing being perfectly alive and perfectly us. Sometimes we are perfectly ignorant, sometimes we are perfectly enlightened. We may be perfectly sad, mad, happy, confused, or assured. It is all part of our practice. We may be perfect jerks, then perfectly sorry and perfectly forgiving. As long as we practice being perfectly aware of our experiences we can learn to appreciate just how perfect we are or how we are actually perfect.

If we don’t have a particular spiritual practice, or an active practice, that does not affect our basic perfection. You can hardly improve on an oak tree. A dog chases squirrels and its tail with equal enthusiasm. When we see our lives as a practice, we can forgive ourselves, we can forgive others, others can forgive us. We can continue to change gracefully with awareness and acceptance. If, one day, we catch a glimpse of our basic perfection, we can joyfully return to our practice.

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Simple, Not Easy

When we are going through difficult times and dealing with complex issues, we need to simplify things. To simplify things, take them as they come, as they are. Anything that life gives us we can handle. We can’t handle our whole life all at once. That is way too complex. We can only do the simplest thing at any moment. When the hardest thing in the world is dealing with our mind, the simplest thing to do is to deal with our mind.

When we feel something, that feeling is accompanied by thoughts, The thoughts feed the feeling and the feeling feeds the thoughts. There is no limit to where the thoughts can go. They can go far into the past and off into the future. In the past, all of the circumstances that brought us to this moment are innumerable and impossible to fathom. The future is completely unknown and also impossible to fathom. What we are doing right now is simple. If we think about how hard what we have to do is, we complicate it. If we have to deal with sadness, we don’t try to make happiness, we don’t even need to make the sadness go away. We simply look at it and look at the thoughts that accompany it.

Judging our thoughts and our feelings and trying to produce a more desirable feeling adds complication. Giving our feelings attention is simple. It’s not easy to allow our thoughts to swirl around our emotions without trying to interfere or get away from them.   With patient awareness we will be able to see through the thoughts and the feelings. No need to complicate things further. They and we will simply move on.

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Super Power

When I was young, a friend asked me,

If you could have any super power, what would you want?

I said that I would want the power to make everybody love me.

I thought that would make my life wonderful.

Now, I think I would rather have the ability to love everybody.

That’s more like a regular power, so I work on that.

My life is wonderful.

But if I could have a super power,

I would transform everybody’s suffering into peace.

Then everybody would love everybody anyway.

It would also be fun to be able to fly.

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A Spiritual Path

Everybody is on some kind of spiritual trip. Some people are into energy and vibrations, others are into electricity and waves. We all came into this world with very little understanding of what is going on and we each spend our lives trying to make some sense of it all. We  certainly experience something between our birth and death. If we have a spirit that is our life force, then our spiritual path is our life. Our spiritual path may begin before we are born and extend beyond our death, in which case the path is significantly longer. If life is just some kind of nonspiritual byproduct of matter and energy interacting over time, then our spiritual path is dealing with our emotional spirits, the ups and downs of our feelings. Our spiritual path may involve a God who is either inside us our outside of us calling all the shots with divine purpose or allowing things to unfold in divine magnificence. Our spiritual path could involve evil spirits trying to inflict pain and suffering on the world. It could involve a sense of justice which takes revenge on the bad and rewards the good. Our spiritual path may be the walk from our bed to the toilet to relieve ourselves in the middle of the night. In trying to make sense of the world, humanity has come up with a lot of ideas about what a spiritual path entails.

In trying to make sense of the world we create a lot of confusion. We are exposed to all of these ideas and many more, which we incorporate into our world view as we traverse our spiritual paths. We look at a spiritual path as a road from damnation to salvation. It can take us from obscurity to fame, from ignorance to enlightenment, from suffering to satisfaction, from asleep to awake, or from Toledo to Tibet and back again. Any path takes us from where we have been to where we are going.

It is a very short path that takes us from where we are to where we are. We all want to get somewhere, so the idea of being right where we are can cause great distress. We can comfort ourselves by looking back and seeing how far we’ve come to get here. We can also further distress ourselves by imagining other paths that would have brought us somewhere better. However, no matter where we are on our spiritual or material paths we are only ever right where we are. Right here. Reading SMACK.

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Why Suffer?

Most of us suffer because we can’t help it. Things happen, they hurt and we suffer, then other things happen, we feel better and we stop suffering. Then it happens all over again. Everybody has a different reaction to suffering, but nobody likes it. As we cycle through suffering and not suffering we create strategies and build habits to keep suffering at bay. When these strategies don’t work, or our habit’s backfire, we are forced to suffer. That’s natural. We suffer because our strategies and habits aren’t working for us. If we want to stop suffering, we need a new plan. We need to believe that it is possible to stop suffering. We need to believe that we, ourselves, can stop suffering. Then we can turn the world on it’s head.

Because we don’t like suffering we do what we can to avoid it. We divide up the world into things we like and things we don’t like and we try to stick to the like side. That is normal because its fun to have fun and it hurts to hurt. In the course of our lives we find that we have to cross over onto the don’t-like side every day, often several times a day. Depending on our relation to suffering, crossing onto the don’t-like side can be anywhere from mildly annoying to excruciatingly painful. Just crossing the line that we created, consciously and unconsciously, adds to our suffering. Some of us are so unfortunate as to have placed our whole selves on the don’t-like side, then suffering becomes constant. When suffering becomes constant we have no choice but to address it. That is ultimately why we suffer, to get us to the point where we consciously crate a plan and build habits to transform our suffering.

To transform suffering, we look into the nature of suffering and the nature of ourselves. We look into our beliefs, our thoughts, our feelings, our actions and our interactions. Each time we notice that we are suffering, we see what we are doing and ask why? Why are we suffering now? Questioning our suffering sets us apart from it, and we see that we can handle it. Knowing that we can handle it transforms it. If we are suffering and the reason why is clear, then questioning may not help. In that case we use compassion. If we see that we are suffering, we can evoke compassion for ourselves by recognizing that we are suffering despite all of our best efforts not to suffer. We recognize that we deserve not to suffer. This too sets us apart from our suffering and transforms it into something manageable.

When we consistently look for our suffering and find new and creative ways to transform it, we will see our lives transform. Our own suffering will no longer be the suffering it was. We will still have likes and dislikes and pain and pleasure, but not so much suffering. When we can all do this, the world will be on its head.

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Everybody Suffers

There is surprising comfort in the notion that everybody suffers. When you are enduring your own brand of suffering, remembering that everybody else is suffering along with you, in their own particular ways, can bring some perspective to your suffering.

If you are suffering a lot, it can be helpful to know that most people also suffer a lot. A good way to identify other people who suffer is to look around you and if you see anybody, or think of any person you know, or have heard of, chances are very good that they suffer, possibly a lot. You are not alone in those feelings.

Although it is comforting to know that you are not the only one who suffers, when you have a handle on your own suffering, you realize how sad it is that so many people are suffering so much. When you feel that sadness for somebody else’s suffering, that is compassion. Even though that compassion feels like sadness, you may notice that it eases your suffering.

Your particular kind of suffering is especially difficult because you feel it directly. It has all of the complex circumstances of your life. Because it is your suffering, you are uniquely qualified to find the remedy. When you have learned how to transcend your suffering, you can use your experience of suffering and the compassion you develop to help everybody else. Please.

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Self Doubt

When we are suffering, we worry that we are not smart enough, strong enough, pretty enough, capable enough, tall enough, sane enough, or good enough. We suffer from self doubt. The cure for self doubt is not being sure of yourself. Surely you are enough of all of those things. The cure for self doubt is Self doubt. Look into the question of what it is that is you.

The reason that we are full of self doubt is that we are absolutely certain that we are ourselves. We have a name, age, height, weight, family. We know exactly what we are. If we don’t like what we are, then we judge ourselves, we doubt ourselves, without actually doubting our Self. If we actually begin to doubt our Self, we can’t worry about our characteristics so much, we have a more fundamental concern.

Imagining that you are really your mind, your body, your DNA, your thoughts, consciousness or the universe, creates alternatives to what you naturally assume is you. Real doubt about what you are does not let you leap from answer to answer. In doubt, you can only inhabit the question. When Self doubt arises, suffering may not stop, but it changes. Doubt can be really uncomfortable. That discomfort is all the certainty of what you are falling apart. What you really are remains, just as it is, whatever it is, no doubt.

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