Friday, July 23, 2010

Impermanence

"Impermanence!" This is how Lama Tsulku Tsori Rinpoche awakes in the morning, not with coffee! I imagine his mind instantly sharpens at the thought that another day  is here, full of surprises.

I find his observation to be incredibly pertinent to my life right now. The most obvious reason is that my doctor has said I should give up coffee.Yes, I need to replace it with something, but impermanence ... how can I say ... it just doesn't have that same aroma, the first delicious swallow. I don't have any idea how impermanence tastes at all. I guess it would taste different every day, right?

The second reason for his statement's relevance to me is that impermanence is very noticeable in my life right now. You know how sometimes the changes that life is full of seem to not happen for a while? Or not quickly enough? Or not the way you were imagining? Sometimes, life seems too sluggish and you long for something to happen. Anything, almost.

But then you look at your children, and they look almost grown up. It's almost embarrassing to see them naked getting into or out of the shower, although you gave birth to them and wiped their bottoms when they were little.

Then you also realize that now IS the time for major life changes, much as you (I) may hate change. I, personally, have this standing policy: If change must happen, it should be something that I have  created. It should never be a surprise! And never, never, should it be a change where I have to let go of a loved one.

Yeah, that's not working out for me so well right now.

As a mom, I have a number of possible reactions to seeing my kids need me less and less. One, is deep, wrenching, anguish and hot tears that swell my face, for a while. I may do this in the dark when "going to sleep" ahead of the rest of my family.

I tried that one a couple of times, and now, a few weeks later, I have to say it was quite refreshing. Not at the time, though.

If you feel something deeply, don't push it away. Feel it, express it, and move on!

Going to the chiropractor ... hope to be back before a pleasant night out with some ladies from church. Yes, I have a life besides my children and family. Working on it, anyhow.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Meeting a lama!

I met Lama Tsulku Tsori Rinpoche yesterday. What a great blessing! I feel such an infusion of positive energy, and this is just the time I needed it. There are some difficult, painful things happening in my life and within my church (which happens to be Christian) right now, and he gave me such a boost. I felt as peaceful as I have ever felt in my life. Perfect peace! This will be so important to remember when my mind gets stirred up about something, and my emotions, which happens every day!

I really felt a great letdown when I was leaving. The first impulse was to think, well, back to my regular life with all its problems. Nothing has changed. Or has it? Yes, I feel a profound effect from my encounter with this sacred person.

I remember feeling that way when I would go to Catholic church Mass with my best friend, Pam, and her family, when I was in high school. I loved the connection with this deep beauty and divinity in church, and the way people would come together for worship. There, all things were possible. But I would return home, to my family's broken relationships and disconnections from one another, and it would all seem even sadder. I couldn't keep that loving spirit going, I was not strong enough.

Well, I in myself am still not strong enough to keep the love going. However, I can tap into the amazing power of two beautiful communities now. One, being the Father-Son-Holy Spirit community of faith; the other, the Sangha (beloved community) of the Buddha (also called the triple jewels -- don't ask me to explain, because I don't know what it refers to, but it sounds beautiful).

Lama Tsulku Rinpoche was less than pleased, it seemed, that I identify myself as a Christian. Or, at least, he was quite clear that he did not want me to consider taking refuge vows while identifying myself as a Christian. He said this would be too confusing to the human mind, to have two such different traditions. That is all good because it's too soon for me to decide about refuge vows. Even though, I must say, I do take refuge in the Buddha, in the Dharma, and in the Sangha, already! That is a perfect word for what the practice brings to me. However, I really need to study it more diligently before I could truly claim it as my own.

Of course, I must credit great wisdom to the lama's statement that I must choose one way or the other. However, I had the immediate impulse to argue with him! Imagine, me arguing with a great lama, what a travesty that would be. Besides, one I had just met. I clamped my mouth shut, with difficulty, and let my mind just absorb that the information I had just heard was not what my mind had anticipated, nor desired.

Upon reflection -- I am aware that as ignorant as I am of Buddhism, it might be that this great lama, who I honor for being at a much higher spiritual level than I -- that he similarly has a level of ignorance of Christianity, which is clearly not his path. He showed a stern side when he said, Buddhists do not go knocking on any doors, trying to convert anyone. (Unlike Christians.)

Yes, that is true, and the evangelistic aspect of my faith bothers me, as well. It seems a perversion of the unconditional love that Jesus preached. How can you unconditionally love if you believe that someone requires conversion to just the same views as you, or else they are in error and you are correct? They automatically fall in standing below you then. And look at all the awful things the Christian churches have done, and continue to do, in the world! It is shameful and embarrassing. Yes, they also do good works. Well, thank God for that, eh? It hardly seems to make up for all the terrible evils that have been perpetrated through the centuries in the name of the Church.

It seems that Buddhism is a more selective society, although many people are born into it. People in the west must choose it, and it is not a broad cross-section of humanity here the way Christian churches tend to be.

You can see my heart is still divided over my two great loves, Christianity and Buddhism. But I am feeling a path taking shape that gives me great peace. I do not need to feel a conflict with the two, because I do not believe there is a true conflict. I believe the two paths converge. It is a beautiful mystery, I know. It is like comparing human beings, comparing Christianity and Buddhism. We all are unique and have our beautiful traditions. We also have human failings and warts that tend to creep into our religious practice, no matter how hard we try to keep them out. But we humans are part of one family, as diverse as it is. Our religions share a foundation in this human family, so I believe they have far more in common than some would wish to believe.

I continue to choose the path of unity, while honoring our diverse human natures and our separate expressions of religious practice. May all beings find happiness! God bless Lama Tsulku Tsori Rinpoche and keep him in good health, able to continue his great works spreading peace and hope throughout the world.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The addicted mind

I recently read a post by a fellow blogger who was struggling to stop smoking. I don't know how it is going because he vowed to quit forever quite recently. I give kudos to anyone who is trying to change a bad habit. What did Mark Twain say about this? You stop a bad habit by dragging it down the stairs, one step at a time, not tossing it out forever.

I am trying to quit drinking coffee for the umpteenth time because it's not good for my reflux. Intellectually, I know this. Emotionally, I don't know if I can live without coffee! It's one of the small, intense joys of my life. I have a FB friend who spent about a month posting status reports relating to coffee --- the aroma, the gotta-have-it quality, all kinds of creative plays on coffee and caffeine. She & I have a lot in common!

The mind is quite persistent about continuing a bad habit. There is an obvious explanation: those things we do frequently become hardwired into the brain. A neural shortcut develops over time. This also may explain chronic pain. Even if the original physical complaint no longer exists, the body may still feel phantom pain that is quite real in the way it is experienced. This can be an explanation for chronic back pain or headaches or other pains that do not respond to treatment.

The mind is quite devious at getting what it wants, when it comes to perpetuating a bad habit. It will coax, taunt, and throw a tantrum. It will start negotiating to undermine your resolution. If you want to quit something "forever," the mind will whisper -- forever -- that's a really, really long time. And it's so drastic. Do you really need to do something that drastic?

Then it starts the rationalizing. The little lies. Which are different from big lies, only in that they haven't grown up yet.

Will it ruin you to have just one more (whatever it is) or make it an occasional treat? What would be wrong with that? Why would you want to deprive yourself completely of something that has been such an ingrained part of your life, not to mention something that's given you pleasure and joy, things that aren't exactly abundant in this world? You can control it. You can have one exception, enjoy it, then go back to abstinence.

And then there are the triggers, the times when you normally would be indulging. For me, it's early in the morning and about 3 pm. At work, these are the times when I smell the coffee brewing and get a strong urge to enjoy some. Strong, nearly overwhelming. And really, what harm is there in just 2 cups of coffee a day? Two measly cups. That's all my mind asks. Over and over, during times when I feel strong, and at times when I am caving in and impulsive.

My doctor asked what size cups of coffee I drank -- she said she felt it was important to distinguish. 8 ounces? Or a Bill Miller tea bucket size? Details, my mind whispers. She's being so picky.

It just takes one impulsive slip to fall off that wagon of abstinence. It seems like falling off is so much easier than climbing back on the durn thing. And you barely feel the pain of failing. The pain, in many cases, is deferred -- maybe later, when you come down with cancer or other health problem; maybe never. Don't you like to gamble? It makes life more exciting.

The pleasure? That's NOW, baby. Get it while you can. Quick! Don't think about it. Don't over-analyze.

So people say that quitting smoking is the hardest, hardest thing to do. I'm just glad I never started.What a lucky break that was with parents who both smoked. But I've got to tell all those people who think that quitting smoking is the toughest -- I'll give them a run for their money with me and coffee.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The body, and the spirit

I've been listening to "Speaking of Faith," one of my lovely free podcasts, about the relationship of people to the earth and the way it has been misinterpreted by Christians, and it resonates with my beliefs. One thing it points out is that modern Christians seem to have this disembodied idea of spirituality: that it has nothing to do with the body. Eating and drinking and sexual conduct (not so much that) have become disconnected from spirituality, and that is incorrect. The way you do everything in your body and through your body, and its impact on all of creation, including your neighbor ... it's all spiritual. Everything is either sacred or has been desecrated, says a poet on this podcast. Nothing exists that was not originally a blessed creation of God, if you believe in God.

What we eat, how we eat, how we view food, where we get our drink and how aware we are of the profound blessing of clean water and plentiful food; how connected we are to the growing of food and the sources of clean water; all are spiritual practices. But people have become so very vulgar in the way they eat and drink. It's the same story with sex. "Be fruitful and multiply" was what God commanded all of creation! It wasn't a suggestion. Yet it's hard to imagine that one of the most sacred practices is sexual consummation. And I certainly think that sex for its own sake (in a loving, committed relationship) is meant to be a glorious, joyful, and reverent expression of one of life's greatest pleasures.Does that seem wicked to you? Doesn't seem like it mixes with spiritual practice, but it does. Quite intimately.

To continue with this post, which was way too short by my usual standards ... the main symptom of our modern dis-ease is how disconnected we have become from our bodies. It reminds me of the futuristic animated movie where people can no longer use their bodies at all, after generations of disuse -- they are huge, formless blobs, unable to even walk, and machines do everything from transporting people to feeding them. (The movie didn't go into the mechanics of reproduction, and I'm glad.) It's a grotesque exaggeration of what is really happening.

Do we even recognize our body's signals -- physical tiredness or exhaustion, fullness, hunger, thirst, sexual desire? It seems like they are so easily ignored or perverted. Tired? Grab another energy drink! Thirsty? Drink a soda or some other beverage that doesn't resemble water and does not quench a true thirst.

Hungry? Are you sure?

When was the last time you were really famished? When is the longest any of us has ever had to go without a meal? There is something to that spiritual discipline of fasting (I keep saying, without practicing it).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A new pastor, and my task

"Salvation is our being shown our real selves, made in the image of God from the very beginning." -- from a recent sermon by our new United Methodist Pastor, Michael M. He seems to have deep spiritual waters -- an "old soul" though a young person.

Here's my little to-do, note to self for the day: I need to be less grumpy in life, and more grateful! I was grumpy at work today. Why? Because there was a lot of work. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Fewer and fewer, in fact. Being in a bad mood doesn't improve this situation one bit. I need to find a meaningful way to express my frustration, or simply let it go.

I actually did not feel like posting here this week. That's why you didn't hear from me. It was sort of strange, not feeling the tug to write here.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A visit from the Poison Pen

Recently, She of the Poison Pen, my anti-muse who hides in the dark crevices of my psyche, has come alive and quite active, thrashing around, obscuring what I thought I knew, and binding me into a narrow, blind, lightless crawlspace. I wanted to come here to cry out about everything she said ... lucky for you, I didn't have time, and did not give her voice.

At least I can understand why this dark turn came and I found myself in a pit, for a while. A letdown from returning from a particularly meaningful vacation; having to say goodbye to my sister after all too short a time together, as always; not enough exercise to sweat out the demons this week.

But mainly, I see that I am in the midst of a wrenching, long goodbye to the children I raised these past 16 years, as I watch them transforming every day in their journey to adulthood. It's something too deep to explain, but it's like a part of my body is being torn away. They are no longer an organic part of me. More and more, they are a new creation; they have developed parts of their personality, their selves, that are strange to me. I shouldn't be needing them to be a part of me so desperately, anymore, but it still hurts so deeply to have to give them up.

A large part of the transition was my oldest turning 16 and getting his driver's license. Overnight, I was no longer needed as a chauffeur. Wonderful! Yet, it's one more way my kids don't need me anymore.

This is the dance of raising children. You start by clasping them so close, rocking together, not knowing whose heartbeat is whose. If they hurt, it passes seamlessly from them to you, and you hurt. But even from the earliest time, children are asserting their own distinct personality and learning the skills they need to dance off into the distance, away from you.

If you are successful as a parent, your goal is to let them go -- to become more independent, to learn their own painful life lessons -- and you must also let them go emotionally and realize that they were never "yours" to begin with. They were placed in your care, for a while, and the whole purpose has been for them to become well-adjusted, independent people.

Other people tell me how much they enjoy my children, sometimes, which is a joy to hear. And yet, with a pang, I think to myself how much I miss them. Even when they are here, they can be very distant; but then they dance back close to me or Dwaine, on their own terms. Not for a smothering embrace. Now, as teenagers, for a laugh, a story, sharing a memory, making a new one, or for a word of encouragement or advice or reassurance. Just one word, that's all they want, heaven forbid any long lectures.

The hidden gift in this transformation is the gift of my own life, returned to me! But it's hard to recognize that just now. Give me some time here, because at this moment, my body and soul are aching over something that seems lost.

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