I’ve been thinking about the notions of praise and blame lately. Mainly about how common it is to fall prey to them and how empty they are of value and meaning. The other day, when I was on an airplane coming home, one of things I wrote down in my journal was:
As long as we’re looking for something outside of our own inner landscape to complete, validate, or otherwise be the maker of our sorrow and/or happiness, we will continue to suffer. And suffer we will – for the rest of our days.
What praise and blame have in common is that they help perpetuate the illusion that other people’s actions and words are what determine our quality of life. We are often dependent on others to both build up and maintain our self-worth and value and take the fall for any amount of discomfort or discontent we experience. We are continually putting our state of mental and emotional well-being in the hands of those around us.
I’ve been thinking about what this, my next blog post, would be about for the last few days but have had a hard time landing on just one idea to write about, as a few different practice-related topics have been bubbling around for me, as of late. So, I thought I’d just include a list of the topics along with a brief synopsis of each one, in an effort to get my creative juices flowing a bit. Please note: these scatterings of thought may not make a whole lot of sense just yet.
- There is a great importance to develop our relationship with solitude, stillness, and silence if we have a desire to get in touch with ourselves on a deeper level – which is not possible in the fray of everyday life. We need to cultivate a connection to the art of being in and of the world – not getting solely fixated on our doing nature, becoming distracted and dispersed.
- How do we best support loved ones going through difficult times? While it’s true that deep listening and loving speech go a long ways to help reduce the suffering of others, sometimes additional action is necessary. How do we best hold both of these truths: 1. We cannot support those who are not ready to receive it, despite how good our intentions are or how “right” we may be in our assessment of how their actions/behavior should change in order to benefit their situation. 2. Sometimes a loving intervention or decisive action may be in order, as oftentimes those who are struggling profoundly are unable/unequipped to ask for help. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
- What tools do I feel, as a budding Dharma teacher, are most supportive for people to focus on in regards to getting started (and remaining) on the path of mindfulness, in the context of Thay’s tradition?
- Is the fact that my friendships and priorities are changing simply a natural unfolding, or is there something I’m missing that I should be actively working on to address or otherwise adjust?
- What is the balance between being self-possessed and strong-willed and not overshadowing/offending others? How much responsibility do I take on in regards to the feelings/thoughts/views of others – especially when I judge that others are often threatened by my strengths and what I have to offer and/or are highly sensitive people which tend to take things very personally and are overly dramatic in nature?
- When, if ever, is it appropriate to attempt to correct someone’s falsely held notions about something?
And the inner musings continue…
Ah, life. What a splendid manifestation it is!
It’s been 2 or 3 years now since I gave up what I call “dessert sugar.” Funny, how I’m not sure how long it’s been. Funny how it doesn’t even really matter. When looking back, individual years acquire a different sort of time stamp in our memory, which dramatically lessens the significance one experienced while actively living it.
I’ve been a life-long sugar addict. One for whom chocolate and cookies stir a deep adoration no other food product comes close to matching. Those were my DOC’s (drugs of choice): chocolate and cookies. On the addiction scale I’d say I was somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, edging my way over the line into the “Danger, Will Robinson” zone.
I came up with the “dessert sugar” phrasing in an effort to find a quick way to explain myself in response to the inevitable quizzical look that would follow after turning down a sugar filled offering. Apparently, people often find it curious when someone doesn’t partake in sweets, which is similar to what used to happen when I would decline libations before I fashioned a largely sober friend base. It would be easier for people to understand if I were, say, a diabetic trying to watch my carb intake, or an alcoholic on the wagon, but as someone who chooses to voluntarily avoid both substances, I become the equivalent of a talking unicorn found serendipitously in the woods on a long hike.
“Dessert sugars” mean just that. They refer to the eats one would commonly consider a dessert product: cookies, cake, brownies, ice cream, pie, and anything having to do with chocolate. If I weren’t limited to explaining myself in the time frame of someone’s minuscule attention span, I would further add that I’ve given up both dessert sugars and junk-food sugars. Junk-food sugars being: candy, breakfast pastries, funnel cake, sugary cereals, and anything else one tends to eat large quantities of and is socially allowed to have at any hour of the day. For a reason I have yet to pin down, I feel it necessary to report to anyone who’ll listen about how I’m not foregoing ALL types of sugar, just the sort that might trigger my particular proclivities. I continue to eat fruit and granola bars most every day. I even drink juice, un-caffeinated sodas, and sweet tea every so often. I guess I just don’t want people to get the wrong idea and wind up stewing in a falsely held judgement about how I’m a hypocritical wind-bag, when next they spot me sipping on a smoothie.
I can think of 3 people right off the bat who would be filled with childlike glee if I were to suddenly and spontaneously become a phone person. And by phone person I mean: someone who picks it up when it rings, routinely calls back those who leave messages, and has a general fondness for the invention of being able to talk to people through the magic of wires, all of which do not apply to me.
What people don’t understand is that it’s not personal. It’s not like when the phone rings I run over to see who’s calling, just so I can flip them off and sneer at them by name. “Ha ha, grandma! I’m not picking up the phone because you’re stupid and I hate talking to you! Take that!” When the phone rings in our house it’s sort of like when you pass by that one inappropriate homeless guy who shouts obscenities on the street corner. We take notice, but just enough to avoid a personal interaction.
For the simple fact that it would be the end of me, I don’t have a cell phone. If I were to carry around an apparatus through which I could exchange text messages and check my email, I would never look up from it to engage anyone eye-to-eye ever again. I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t have enough self-restraining ability to be fully present with whoever I was with or whatever I was doing, when my phone was beeping or dinging or otherwise jovially indicating that a new message had come in. As someone who’s both at home a lot actively on their laptop, and an avid emailer, my need for a cell phone is next to nil. When people find out that I don’t have a cell phone, they often comment on how awesome that is, as though it’s a noble choice they wish they could make themselves. It’s not. It’s really just a matter of self-preservation. Well, that and the fact that I have no want or need, nor find myself important enough, to be contacted when I’m out doing other things away from my house.
I do, however, have a land line. One of those old fashion clunky cordless deals with an answering machine attached – ya know, the thing I never answer. Aside from the 3 people who would be overjoyed if I were to ever pick it up when they called, the only other people who generally try to contact me are those that caused me to be repelled by its ringing in the first place. Namely, creditors. Those who call incessantly in attempts at retrieving money from me that I don’t have. Not that I’m giving them a hard time – I mean, they’re just doing their job. It’s not like they’re making up the fact that I owe them money. I do owe them money. So why shouldn’t they be calling? (I have a lot of unpaid medical bills from a plethora of different chronic health issues.) However, it’s also not like I’m withholding money from them out of some vain, spoiled rich girl conditioning where sticking it to the medical establishment feels like some sort of great victory. If I had the money, I’d give it to them, and I do, on occasion.