You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Buddhism’ category.

20180429_122629

While on vacation recently with my friend Barby, we talked a lot about Face Book. For Barby, it’s an important part of her life, a way of keeping in touch with friends from afar.

I, however, have been a late arrival to the social media party. As recently as a year ago, I would say, “I’m on my computer all day long in my business. The LAST thing I feel like doing when I get home is to sit at the computer.”

Duh! Only recently did it dawn on me that most people weren’t scrolling though their news feeds while sitting at a desk – they were doing it on their phones, anywhere and everywhere! Which, as everyone knows, is more comfortable and fun. It doesn’t feel like an extension of work at all.

So during the past year, my phone has slowly evolved from a practical tool to a dispenser of tasty tidbits for my mind, to be enjoyed whenever there was a pause in my schedule. This shift has been accelerated by the political mayhem of the past year. No matter where I was, I felt the need to check my phone to see what was NEW. And oh boy! There was a lot of NEW every day!

But even though I was checking the news constantly and dabbling with Instagram, I hadn’t yet embraced Face Book. Now I’m glad that I never got hooked. With all the bad press that Face Book has been getting recently, many people are trying to leave Face Book, or at least take a break. And they are finding it very, very hard.

This from Globe correspondent Michael Andor Brodeur:

Search “quitting social media” and you’ll find pages and pages of brave souls chronicling their journeys into darkness as though they were wandering naked into the Amazon or lowering themselves into a well….My own breaks from social media have been characterized by long conscious bouts of distraction, frustration, impatience, and that most contemporary of insecurities, FOMA – fear of missing out.

As a meditator, I’m well aware of my own small addictions – cravings for sugar, distraction, entertainment, and confirmation of my own world views. They are endless, and can do real harm. I’m not smug…I’m as susceptible to little hits of dopamine as anyone, and there countless highly-paid individuals out there whose job is to ensure we stay addicted. Now I’m scared to go anywhere near FaceBook.

But it’s not easy to resist. (Even as I write this, I feel my iPhone beckoning to me.)

IMG_2299

IMG_2257

 

???????????????????????????????????????

Today is day five of being sick. I’m coming out the other end, though I know the effects (bronchitis, cold sores) will linger for weeks. Still, I’m grateful for the opportunity it’s imposed upon me to “put it all down” for a few days. Illness, in its acute phase, is one of the few things strong enough to silence my incessant To Do mind. During the sickest days, illness insists I just be a body, even a suffering one, napping and breathing and occasionally getting up for a piece of toast.

One morning, I had just stepped out of the shower when a wave of dizziness and nausea came over me, demanding that I go lie down RIGHT NOW!  Wait!! Let me towel off first!  But my body would have none of that, so I staggered across the hall and put my dripping chilly body under the covers till the feeling passed.

Now, as I begin to feel better and clearer of head, it’s easy to think I have the energy to tackle some small projects. I mean, what is unexpected at-home time for? But the supply of energy is very limited, and I quickly hit the wall.

I have to admit that there’s something I love about this process. Maybe it’s because my day to day life is so out of balance. I mean, what does it say when I look forward to surgical anesthesia because it seems like one of the rare times I really rest?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I also want to thank my immune system for the fine job it’s been doing. I know it’s never a given that the battle will go my way. The virus, which probably arrived as a small raiding party that landed in my nose, proliferated quickly and swept through my body like Hitler’s forces sweeping across Europe and North Africa. (The rapidity and breadth of that sweep was one of the horribly dazzling take-aways from my visit to the World War II Museum in New Orleans.) Soon the battle was being waged on many fronts, hence the headaches, chest spasms, woozy stomach, low grade fever, and general feeling of having weights attached to my limbs.

Clearly now, the tide has turned, stability is being restored, and we’re mostly dealing with a cleanup operation. If I were a general, I would send the troops home on leave with a ration of whisky.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Between naps, I’ve been reading I Contain Multitudes, which is about the microbes within us. I should mention that the author, Ed Yong, takes issue with applying military metaphors to the immune system. What’s happening is far more subtle and complex. He says the immune system is more like a team of rangers carefully managing a national park, only the control flows in both directions as the immune system manages the microbes and the microbes manage the immune system.

There’s so much in this book! Read it if you want to know who/what you are.

irma090517

It’s a glorious September weekend here on Cape Cod, which feels a little incongruous when disaster is raining down in so many places – hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, fires gone wild.

Perhaps nature is telling us something. Something like, You do not control me. Or maybe, You cannot ignore me.

How often we ignore the natural world, treating it as a scenic backdrop to our human-centric busyness. Or treating it as simply a resource from which to extract whatever we need to sustain our standard of living. Our 24-hour lighting and climate-controlled buildings supports this confidence that nature is under our control. Things like sharks and earthquakes and hurricane only show up in the movies. Except in times like this.

I’m not saying that nature is a pissed-off Mother who is trying to teach us a lesson. (That’s just another view that puts us in the center of the universe.) If anything, natural disasters show us that we are not the end all and be all. Our deep ancestors knew their place in the scheme of things. Right now we could use a little of their wisdom, their humility.

10-suffolk-dinner-001

So my January staycation to date: so far, it’s felt like a month of Saturdays. Not Saturday in the sense of Wheee! A day off to relax and have fun! — I’ve actually been quite busy doing stuff for the business and around the house. I’m talking about the way Saturdays feel different from Sundays. On Saturdays, with the buffer of Sunday ahead, I usually enjoy a relaxed sense of time. On Sundays, there’s a subtle tension – a fear of running out of time to do all the things I want to do before the work week begins again.

More than anything, my January staycation has been a vacation from that time stress. I know that after this day there will be another day off, and then another one, and another.

Recently, I was looking over some of my past blog posts, and was appalled to see how much I write about Too Much To Do And Not Enough Time. OMG! I thought.  I sound like such a whiner! I must vow to never write about that topic again!

But after some reflection, I changed my mind. First, because I want to talk authentically from my life, and time-stress is a big part of my day-to-day experience. (I actually prefer the term time-hunger, which is kind of like air-hunger, the panicky feeling that arises when we can’t get enough air. I like it because it shifts attention to the bodily response I have when I think, not enough time.)

Plus, this stress is experienced by many if not most people in our modern world – you could call it a societal disease. As such, it’s worth investigating more deeply.

As my month off winds down, I’m sure I’ll be feeling more of that anxious Sunday feeling. So forgive me if I continue to go on about this topic. I don’t want to just complain, but to understand.

???????????????????????????????????????

In a parallel universe, I’ve just arrived in Delhi, and am spending the night at an airport hotel before flying to Rishikesh for a week in an ashram on the Ganges. My India trip was cancelled a few weeks ago, but the calendar on my phone hasn’t gotten the memo, and is continually updating me about what’s happening and where I’m heading next (Jaipur, Pushkar, Bundi). I could probably find a way to disable these messages, but I like knowing what alt-me is doing. I hope she’s having a good time, or at least isn’t scared.

It would also be good if alt-me were feeling well rested and ready for the intensity of India. But how could she be, having experienced the same grueling October/November/December as I have? The anxiety and woe of the election, the unexpected deaths and illnesses of friends, the fatigue and moderate insomnia? Also, the crazy busyness at work…we both would have worked non-stop right through Christmas Eve, closing the shop just in time to dash to the mall for a last-minute Christmas gift, and then home roast a tenderloin and take it to a party. Flying out four days later would have been nuts.

So most of the time I feel that the cancellation of the trip has been a blessing, because India requires a level of stamina that I’m not feeling at the moment. For Plan B, I’ve booked a tiny cottage in Provincetown for three nights, where I plan to nap, write, read, meditate, and reflect on life. And then I plan to take a substantial amount of time off in January – a staycation to sort things out that need sorting. I will do my best to appreciate each moment of ordinary life, and not go chasing after bright shiny objects.

But India still twinkles at me. Maybe next year??

dreamstime_s_58312669

I’ve been coughing violently for almost two weeks. This has meant cancelling a slew of engagements, some of which were fairly important.

I’ve only recently come to recognized how much people appreciate my not bringing my germs into their airspace. They see it as considerate when I bow out of their dinner party, cancel the meeting, and skip yoga class.

Call me dense, but this comes as a surprise. I guess I thought I was being heroic when I popped some OTC drugs and soldiered on in spite of a minor bug. I was being a trooper, keeping the wheels of commerce turning! Heaven knows, I didn’t want to disappoint people, miss out on anything, or upend plans that had taken a lot of work to arrange.

These are not just my values, they are cultural values. The worker who stays home because of a minor illness is often viewed as a malingerer. A day or two for a cold – maybe! Any longer than that, and you’d better be in the hospital. “Don’t worry,” my boss used to croak when she returned to work wheezing and coughing, “I’m not contagious!”

It’s an example of our tendency to override the body in the interest of getting things done.

A line from the latest newsletter from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship: In a busy capitalist world, sometimes rebellion looks like rest.  Or to adapt it to my circumstances, Sometimes rebellion looks like staying home when you’re sick.

dreamstime_m_59334899

For several years, I’ve been selecting a Word of the Year – a word chosen to serve as a touchstone, a reminder of my aspirations. In 2015, my word was embodied.

This year, it’s listen.

Sounds are one of the primary ways we receive the world. When there’s movement in our surroundings, waves are generated that touch us intimately, setting up vibrations in tiny, delicate structures that are passed to the brain and unfurl into vivid, colored stories about what’s out there and what we need to do about it. It’s pretty amazing.

Of course, hearing is not the same as listening, which implies a degree of intention and attention. To listen well requires a quieting of the mind, a stilling of the mental chatter that distracts us from the messages the world is sending. For this reason, sounds are often used as an anchor, a  focusing point in meditation.

This deep listening isn’t limited only to sounds. We can direct the intention and attention of listening to subtle communications from our bodies and our hearts. We can listen when a friend speaks, and receive the tightness, the sadness, the joy that underlies their words.

At the retreat in Burma this January, a group of pink-robed Burmese nuns came every evening to offer metta (lovingkindness) chanting. As the days passed, I learned how to make tiny adjustments in the heart that allowed me to receive this offering (I called it tuning into Radio Metta). I discovered how, with practice and remembering, that delicate tuning and receiving was possible at any time.

So listen! The spring peepers are peeping. Can your heart hear what they’re saying?

One reason I like to write is that my mind is a busy little metaphor machine. Comparisons come bubbling up all the time, and a really apt one tickles me and I want to share it – especially when it comes to Buddhist topics that can only be approached through metaphor.

Hence, The self is like the Red Sox, and I am a self-driving car. (More about these some other time.)

Here’s one that’s been lurking at the edge of my mind lately, begging to be put it into words: The Internet is a metaphor for annata (the non-self nature of existence).

The thought arose recently when I was working with our young website designers on Summer House Soap’s new site.

I studied graphic design way back in…well, never mind when it was, but let me tell you that when we wanted to position an image or some type on a layout, we had to glue it in place with rubber cement.

Even after I migrated to digital graphic design, (I was mostly designing for print) I could position things where I wanted them and they would stay there. Fonts, line spacing, etc. were under my control. And when everything was to my liking, I’d convert the file to a PDF, essentially creating a fixed solid object.

Not so with designing for the internet! It’s frustrating to see how different a design can look on different devices, depending on what browser is used, whether it’s mobile or laptop, and so on. What I had to get used to is how the design gets assembled anew in each setting. It’s a living aggregate of pieces, coming together in the moment according to conditions.

Isn’t that a nifty metaphor for the non-self (non-solid) nature of existence?

The young seem to take this fluidity in stride because they grew up in a digital world. I wonder if that makes them more able to intuit the dharma.

Dune 5

I’m spending a week barefoot in a sand dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore. I’m here alone in my little shack, though there’s another inhabited shack nearby. It’s been several days since I’ve talked to anyone except a couple of short conversations with John on my cellphone. The quiet and space are a balm to my psyche, which has worn thin from too much of everything this summer.

The dunes of the outer Cape are an amazing landscape. They have a grandeur and yet such a feeling of  intimacy. I feel like I’ve found my “happy place.” During the daytime I take long walks on the beach. In the evening, I climb to the top of a nearby dune for a 360 degree view the sun setting to the west, the sea to the north, the moon rising in the east, and the endless undulation of the dunes in every direction.

The week is shaping up to be sort of a retreat/vacation hybrid.  I’ve been practicing in the morning and evening (bowing, chanting, sitting, walking) but giving the afternoon over to reading, napping, trying to write, and exploring my new camera.

Every night I listen to a dharma talk. Last night it was Pascal Auclair. A word I liked was specificity. This breeze, this wave, this bow, with its cracking of cartilage, pinpoints of sand underfoot, and flavor of surf sound and smell.  Specificity…a useful little talisman to carry through the day.

(One thought worth recording: God is in the details. Details like sweeping sand off the floor, feeling the breeze, hearing crickets, watching sandpipers skittering along the waterline. All very specific.)

Details

SailOff_withcr_forweb

The past couple of weeks, I’ve felt like a giant to-do list walking around on two legs, full of jazzy anxiety and tension. Each day is a battle to slay as many items on the list as I can in the time available.

Nights are worse, because there are no distractions. No matter how tired I am, I am capable of lying in bed for hours, my mind cycling through undone tasks. That paperwork I should have filed! That order that’s scribbled on a napkin…where did I put it? I seem to be always on the edge of losing complete control of my life– and the to-do list is the only thing that stands between me and catastrophe.

But of course that’s not true. And in a couple of days, I’m daringly thumbing my nose at the to-do list. I’m going to a meditation retreat where I will immerse myself in non-doing, instead of doing. And hopefully reconnect with a sense of myself as a limited human being who is only capable of so much.

Sounds good!

(Of course, much of the reason I’ve had so much to do is because I’m trying to get away. There’s definitely some irony there.)

picture by Jill Ross, JustJillToday.com

%d bloggers like this: