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Avalokiteshvara

Statue of Avalokiteshvara at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC

 

We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara. We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. You know how to listen in order to understand. We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and open-heartedness. We will sit and listen without any prejudice. We will sit and listen without judging or reacting. We will sit and listen in order to understand. We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what is being left unsaid. We know that just by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person.

– Chanting from the Heart, Parallax Press, 2006, p. 30

As mentioned in my last post, I plan on sharing my journal entries and the answers to the three questions I put together for use in our newly formed Bodhisattva Reflection Group. Today marks the end of week one in our five week practice. It never ceases to amaze and delight me how powerful it can be to put even just a small amount of intention into something in particular – whether it’s practice related or otherwise. Simply reading this Bodhisattva verse each day over the last week was enough to spur a number of insights and understandings.

It’s like when you go from never hearing about, say, visiting Yellowstone National Park and then when you start setting your sights on wanting to venture there, you suddenly find yourself encountering mentions of it all over the place. I find most things are like that, and working with the Bodhisattvas is no different.

Now, I didn’t journal every day. I journaled when I felt called to. Here’s what resulted:

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On Being Happily Married

 

As a self-declared happily married woman in a monogamous relationship, I feel as though I’m rather akin to a unicorn sometimes: fictitious, and overly dramatized with glitter and sparkle (metaphorically speaking, that is) to the point of making it impossible not to deem it ridiculously absurd. I’m not at all like a unicorn, however, when it comes to my coolness factor. Unicorns are everywhere nowadays in the merch realm, whereas happily married people don’t really market well. We’re just not hip and fashionable in the same way.

But, as happy people in general are in short supply, and you can’t throw a dead cat without hitting a cynic, I awoke this morning called by my pen to write some thoughts out on a topic that feels both radical and terribly un-interesting to the mainstream at the same time. Unlike the mythical unicorn, I’m here to tell you that I exist.

And I exist not in a trite, pie-in-the-sky sort of way but in a this-is-for-real sort of way. I love my husband. I’ve loved my husband long enough that I can’t clearly recall a time when our lives were not intertwined. We’ve been together over half of my life. Born in the same year, I was 19 and he was 20 when we met; 20 and 21 when we married. And in a week from now, we’ll celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary.

I’d like to convey two things that I’ve found to be important in our love journey thus far. And by important, I mean crucial to our surthrival. (Notice I just coined a new word there: surthrival, which combines the words ‘survival’ and ‘thrive’.)

One: We’re genuinely kind to each other. And two: We’re both diligent in our own commitment to ongoing personal growth work.

#1 applies especially to me, as I used to be the queen of being passive aggressive. I spent the first few years of our marriage being routinely unkind to my husband. It took me a long while to see the reality of how I could be a real bitch. And I’ll tell you, it wasn’t easy coming to terms with this part of myself. No one wants to admit they’re a jerk. And without some kind of reflective practice to help us learn the skills to see ourselves clearly, few of us will break free of this cycle of meanness too, by the way. Collectively, we’ve learned all sorts of creative, sure-fire ways to armor ourselves up with excuses, reasonings, and justifications for our crappy behavior and treatment of others, especially our closest person. Looking deeper it becomes clear: we treat others how we treat our own selves internally. So there’s that.

What’s important to mention about #2 is that it takes two to tango. And by tango I mean form a life together. My husband and I have gone through some rough times – and our last rough time, about 8 years ago, was such that we wondered for the first time ever whether or not we’d make it. During such times, we’ve learned that there is no such thing as a difficulty being only one person’s responsibility to tend to. It’s never just one of us causing harm or hardship, no matter what’s going on. It takes both of us to co-create the environment and landscape we find ourselves amid. In order for us to take good care of one another as part of a couple in a life-partnership, we see clearly that we must learn and practice to take good care of our own self as individuals. If either one of us weren’t committed to ongoing and continual personal growth work, our marriage wouldn’t be successful. Knowing how to stay on our own side of the fence and take responsibility and ownership for how we’re showing up and engaging in the relationship is critical to our well-being as husband and wife.

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Posted by on March 2, 2019 in Growth Work

 

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On Authenticity

It’s worth starting out by saying that this post may be a little rough around the edges. You see, with my husband away on a 3-month retreat at Deer Park Monastery, I am missing my counterpart to talk through such Dharmic ponderings with. Sooo, I’m fixing on using this post as a stand-in :)

This morning, as part of a practice I call Mindful Morning Saturdays, I watched a portion of a Dharma talk by Sister Lang Nghiem, given recently at Plum Village centered around the 8th, 9th, and 10th Mindfulness Trainings. In it, she spoke about authenticity. She said: according to the Buddha, every moment, we are already our true self.

“Every moment, we are manifesting the totality of our self; the totality of our seeds; the sum of our habit energies. So there is no authentic self you need to be true to. Every moment, you are already your true self. This is a very important teaching to understand.” – Sister Lang Nghiem

My first reaction that popped up in the wake of her talking about how there isn’t really such a thing as authenticity, was: Oh, I super don’t agree with that. And as I talk regularly to myself, I even said it aloud. Of course there’s a difference between someone who is being authentic and someone who isn’t, I thought. You can always tell when someone is being real with you and when they’re not.

As she continued, I understood a little more about the teaching she was offering and it made a bit more sense. However, I was left wondering if perhaps there are two ways of addressing such a dynamic question as to whether authenticity exists: from the ultimate dimension perspective and from the historical dimension perspective.

Here’s what I’m thinking. From the lens of the ultimate dimension: yes, we are always manifesting who we are; we are authentic to who we are based on the fact that we are alive and a collection of causes, conditions, our ancestors, and our experiences. From the lens of the historical dimension: there are clearly more authentic people operating around us than others; those who have the ability to integrate their internal landscape with their external actions and speech and have them in alignment with each other.

In my google search for “authenticity images” I came across this:

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Just Do It/Just Don’t

In my last post, I mentioned having recently gone on a short excursion to Portland with a friend of mine, to visit a mutual friend of ours. For three days and three nights, the three of us did pretty much everything together. It was really lovely.

During our first full day together, we stumbled upon a saying that wound up becoming our trip’s guiding mantra: Just do it…just don’t. It was spurred by a car sporting a Nike Just Do It bumper sticker. We were getting ready to enter a tunnel on our way to visit the coast, when a car hopped in front of us rather abruptly (ya know, the way cars often do) (oh, and we’ve all been that car too – just sayin), with their Just Do It sticker beaming proudly in close view. The dialog in our car then went something like this:

Geese, what is that guy doing?!

He’s “just doing it”, I guess.

(Pause)

Well, I think it should’ve been more like: “just don’t.”

We then proceeded to carry this interplay of Just Do It/Just Don’t into an array of occasions throughout the rest of our trip together. Some times it was jokingly and sometimes it had real meaning, while still in the spirit of lightness and fun. Turns out, there are a plethora of opportunities in which to bust these guiding life statements out.

There’s great wisdom in knowing when – and how – to invoke the dharma of Just Do It/Just Don’t. When we learn how to call on them in a suitable fashion that is appropriate to our own individual situation, with Right Attitude and Right Intention, we can actualize the fruits of the practice of Right Action.

There are times to Just Do It and there are times to Just Don’t. And there are no one-size-fits-all answers as to when to apply which one to which string of moments. This is why we must ongoingly cultivate a strong relationship with our own person. If we’re not able to tune into our own mental, emotional, and spiritual landscapes, we will have no clue as to when to use each part of the mantra, as only we our self can know which instance calls for which part.

If we’re not well-connected with our own person, we also run the risk of going the Just Do It route when really we would’ve been much better off having gone the Just Don’t route, or vice versa. There are plenty of times when we would do well to push ourselves a little bit outside of our comfort zone, too. In general, I think more of us have the tendency to say Just Don’t than Just Do It.

So, feel free to use our trip motto, if you like. And if you do, please let me know how it goes :)

 

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I Think We’ve Got It Backwards

Okay. So, what I’m about to post here has taken me almost a year to flesh out and wrap my brain around. Here goes.

In our Buddhist practice tradition, we have this teaching: This is because that is. Short-handing it, it means: Everything happens for a reason, based on a myriad of causes and conditions. On a similar note, I see as though we have two large components of life backwards, and one leads to the other.

The first thing we commonly have backwards:

A) We often see and regard ourselves as being separate/independent/unique in times when we would do well to strengthen our ability to look with the eyes of interbeing and get in touch with our similarities, shared humanity, and true sense of connection.

and

B) We often see and regard ourselves as being the same in times when we would do well to cultivate a deeper understanding of our individuality.

___________

And because of this first thing we commonly have backwards, it leads to this second thing we commonly have backwards:

C) We try to lone-wolf it in times when we would do well to lean on our loved ones for care, support, and nourishment.

and

D) We rely on others in times when we would do well to cultivate and/or strengthen our sovereignty.

__________

So, D is because of B and C is because of A. This is because that is.

I realize this might be confusing, like I said: it’s taken me a year to flesh this out. Here are some practical examples that will hopefully help a bit (with corresponding letters that match with the points above):

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Right &…Regular? (part 2 of 2)

Image credit: I copied this from a talk I watched on Youtube by Sister Dieu Nghiem; she included this chart on a whiteboard. 

In continuance of the thread I started in part 1 of this post topic, I wanted to share a little bit more about right and regular.

Sister Dieu Nghiem mapped out this chart (image above) in a talk she gave back in October at Plum Village. Simply put, this chart represents the equation of what it means to have and develop right diligence. Right diligence involves: not watering the unwholesome seeds that lie in our consciousness, stopping to water the unwholesome seeds once they rise up and become a mental formation (or active state of mind), watering the wholesome seeds that lie in our consciousness, and continuing to water the wholesome seeds once they rise up and become a mental formation.

So, what then is regular diligence? Let’s say that someone has been meditating for a long time – we’ll say 5 years. And for those 5 years, they’ve been sitting every single day in the morning for 20-minutes. This equates to this person having sat a total of 36,500 minutes in meditation. However, despite the fact that they’ve been diligent in sitting every day for 20-minutes, they don’t really feel as though they’ve benefited very much at all from their practice (and neither do their loved ones, by the way). They are still just as restless, agitated, stressed out, overwhelmed at work, and short-tempered with their partner as they were when they were driven to starting a daily habit of meditation in the first place, 5 years ago. Yes, this person has been diligent in sitting but we couldn’t – and shouldn’t – consider this to be right diligence because it hasn’t increased this person’s ability to transform and heal.

As a recap from part 1: I recently watched a talk by Sister Dieu Nghiem on Youtube and she described wholesome habit energies as leading us in the direction of transformation and healing and unwholesome habit energies as that which leads us in the direction of suffering. And I think this explanation applies here, with the word wholesome equating to the word right. So we could say that right stands in accordance with a thought/word/action that propels us in the direction of transformation and healing.

In the Discourse on Youth and Happiness, it states:

Beings produce wrong perceptions concerning objects of desire. That is why they are caught in desire. Because they do not know what desire really is.

For our purposes here, I would translate this as there being an important difference between regular desire and right desire. In consulting with my old pal dictionary.com, desire is defined as such: to wish or long for; crave; want. In our current and modern time, I would define regular desire as incorporating the energetic components of craving, grasping, and attachment and right desire as incorporating such things as being realistically driven by determined will and being governed and propelled into action by a sovereign foundation rooted in solidity and ease. I regard right desire as enfolding the premise of what this meme offers, which I recently shared in a post a few days ago and is serving as my newly held encouraging anthem:

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Moral Landscape

A few weeks ago, my husband Mike and I were talking about morality and ethical codes of conduct. He described himself as being morally ambiguous and described me as being puritanical – but when I scrunched up my face in disapproval, he adjusted his word choice from puritanical to wholesome, which I was much more on board with.

He spoke about how his lines of morality differ than mine, which he felt was largely due to the fact that he’s a recovering addict and can traverse slippery slopes rather adeptly. He has the ability to rationalize to himself a wealth of tricky thoughts, which then lead to unwholesome, harmful actions. And while we all potentially have this capacity, I am not personally a frequent flyer – or even much of a visitor at all – of the slippery slope. I have and uphold very clear lines of distinction between what I feel is moral and what isn’t. My moral landscape is steadfast and relatively unwavering. This isn’t to say I don’t make mistakes of course, but more to say that my ethical compass is always close at hand and keeps me pointed in the direction of thinking, speaking, and acting in such a way that generates authenticity, skillfulness, and mutual benefit for myself and others.

Since we had this conversation, I’ve been mulling over the topic of ethics and values and moral codes of conduct. Both on an individual level and on a wider collective level. Mostly, I’ve been investigating this topic by asking myself questions, such as: What does it mean to have a high moral standard? What collective values does our western society promote (DOES it actively promote values?)? Is there/can there be a universal set of ethics which will ensure a healthy, happy, well-contented life? Is there such a thing as right and wrong when it comes to ethics and values?

Most people would readily agree that killing a human being just for the “fun” of it is wrong. But what about animals? There are folks out there who are just fine with killing animals for sport. Most people would probably say that lying isn’t cool, however most people do it. There are a sea of rationalizations that people use for telling white lies, bending the truth, hiding and deceiving others, or even telling outright untruths. Most of us would probably agree that adultery isn’t kosher, but many folks skirt lines of improper attention seeking and sexual behavior. The list goes on and on.

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