Am I broken?

One thing that bothered be a little when I was in religious circles, and bothers more now, is the idea that we are born sinners.  The Bible (at least the way it was taught in my circles) says that we are born into sin and there is nothing you can do about that.  It was passed down from Adam and Eve.  So, we need Jesus to save us from our sin nature and the consequences that come with that nature.  We are broken and need Jesus to fix us.

When I started learning about Buddhism and other eastern traditions, I noticed that much of the teaching is just the opposite.  For the most part, the things that I have read teach that humans are born with an innate goodness.  Many times, that goodness gets covered up with various types of abuse, neglect, mental illness, etc.  But deep within us remains that innate goodness.

I’m reading a book by Brother Phap Hai called “Nothing To It”.  It’s very good! There is a section of the book that I have read several times now.  And will probably read, and meditate on, many more times.  He is talking about how we tend to look outside ourselves for happiness, peace, and joy.  We look to things or people or food or alcohol or money or fun…  And these things can be, and often are enjoyable in the moment.  But it’s really just a temporary fix.  He talks about how we think that we need one more condition, just one more thing.  If we hold this attitude, however subtly, we practice life not by deeply trusting in our own innate goodness and the innate goodness of others, but rather we see ourselves as “broken”, as needing to be “fixed”.  He mentions a teaching from the Plum Village chanting book that reads, “Our mind is always searching outside of itself and never feels fulfilled”.  It’s always running after the next thing.  He says that this is where the Buddha’s teaching is really radical, because the Buddha basically tells us, “You do not need even one more thing; you are already what you want to become.”

Wow.  What a difference that last statement makes.  I already am what I want to become.  So now, instead of seeking for something that I think is not there or that I don’t have, it becomes more about uncovering and discovering who I already am.  That’s pretty cool!  I do want to mention that by saying, “you are not broken”, that does not ignore the effects of hurts and abuse and the other kinds of negative things that people have experienced in life.  And, it also doesn’t mean that seeking outside help from a friend, doctor, counselor, medication, etc, is wrong.  All those things now become tools to help uncover and discover who you really are.  It’s a subtle shift in the way we think and look at things, but I think it can make a huge difference.  It takes me from thinking that I’m broken and I need this and that to fixe me; to thinking that I’m already who I want to be, but I might need help to see that more clearly.

I’m going to be meditating on this for a while and see what kind of changes happen in my life.  “You do not need even one more thing; you are already what you want to become.”  The thing that first comes to mind for me is alcohol.  I’m not judging anyone for drinking alcohol.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with drinking for lots of folks, but for me, it’s become a problem.  I’ve managed to decrease my consumption quite a bit from where I was not long ago.  But I am still struggling with stopping completely.  I understand that my body and mind crave the alcohol because of the chemical effects that come along with drinking.  But there is also a part of my mind that says, “Alcohol will make it better!”  Whatever “it” is.  I wonder what would happen if I said to myself, “No, it won’t make it better.  I do not need even one more thing; I am already who and what I want to become”?  I’m pretty sure that the cravings will not instantly stop.  But from that different perspective, I think it will help.   I’ve also sought outside help, and will continue to do so.  But now it’s not about fixing the broken me, it’s about finding people to help me uncover and discover who I already am.

It would be interesting to have several folks think on this throughout their day as well and see what kind of changes take place, if any.  Maybe give it a shot for a while and let me know what happens.  I’ll do the same.  🙂

Weekend musings…

For the M-F folks, it’s finally the weekend!  If you work weekends, I hope you enjoyed whatever days off that you do get.

I have lots of different ideas swimming around in my head about many different topics.  I’ve written and re-written a post about doing all the things I’m reading about.  Walking the talk, so to speak.  It’s still a work in progress.  Part of the swimming going on in my head is because I read several books at a time.  LOL  Yeah.  In fact, I’ve started reading “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” for about the 6th time.  I really enjoy that book!  It stirs me.  I’m not sure exactly how it stirs me or what to do with that, if anything?  If you will bear with me, I’ll share a small section that I read today that made me go, yep!

Socrates (the teacher) talking to Dan (the student) – “You fear death and crave survival.  You want Forever, you desire Eternity.  In your deluded belief that you are this ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’, you find the escape clause in your contract with mortality.  Perhaps as ‘mind’ you can wing free of the body when it dies, hmm?…  Consciousness is not in the body;  the body is in Consciousness.  And you are that Consciousness – not the phantom mind that troubles you so.  You are the body, but you are everything else, too. Only the mind resists change.  When you relax mindless into the body, you are happy and content and free, sensing no separation.  Immortality is already yours, but not in the way you imagine or hope for.  You have been immortal since before you were born and will be long after the body dissolves.  The body is Consciousness; never born; never dies; only changes.  The mind – your ego, personal beliefs, history, and identity – is all that ends at death.  And who needs it?”

I think I agree with that…  At least today I do.  🙂

Have a good weekend.

Agnostic Taoism?

I’m not sure what it is about human nature (or maybe just my nature) to wants to label things?  In the “about” section of a site like this, or any site where you are asked to tell about yourself, what do you say?  People say things like; I’m a dad, I’m a husband, I’m this and that.  So, labels.  Well, with my shifting beliefs, it’s difficult to put a label on myself.  I get that, and yet, it seems that an underlying urge is still there to find an appropriate label to put on my “spiritual beliefs”.

I had an interesting conversation with my brother in law lately about this.  I asked him if he had any kind of a belief system anymore.  He said no, he did not, nor did he want one.  I like that!  I think it’s easier to flow and shift through life and the various stages and changes that way.  That’s just my opinion, of course.  It doesn’t mean that it’s absolutely true.  In a recent search for a possible label for myself, I came across a website or blog (I don’t remember exactly where I found it) that talked about agnostic Taoism.  Then he went on to write a short explanation that I will post here:

Agnostic Taoism:

When asked about my religion, I say “Well, it’s not really a religion, but I consider myself an Agnostic Taoist.” Which, of course, makes the socially religious pause and do the RCA dog head tilt. When I stop giggling inside, I typically follow up with “That means I have no idea about the afterlife or our souls or even the nature of God, but I find the world has paths and flow to it and you can surf those waves and follow those paths if you simply stop resisting so much.  There are behaviors that increase suffering and there are behaviors that decrease suffering. There are thoughts and beliefs and ways of being that can ease our personal and the world’s way through the day.  I try and do those thoughts and behaviors. It makes it easier on everyone.”
Which, of course, gets me the question “Do you believe in God?”  Which, of course, makes me sigh and know they did not hear a word I just said.

I like that.  So maybe I’m an agnostic Taoist, with some Buddhist tendencies?  LOL  This might, and probably will, change over time.  And that’s ok.  I don’t think there is just one right way for everyone.  How great would it be if we could share what’s working for us at this moment with others (assuming they are interested in hearing about it) without trying to convince them that they should be doing it our way?  I enjoy asking people about their beliefs and how those beliefs help them get through life.  It’s fun to see people get excited about sharing with someone who is interested in what they think and believe.  I encourage you to try it, if the situation presents itself.  I think you will have fun, too.

Practice, practice, practice.

For a couple years, I spent Friday nights meditating with Buddhist practitioners at a local monastery.  There was also teaching that went on during the sessions.  When the head monk would teach, throughout his talk he would say, “practice, practice, practice”.  Whether he was talking about being mindful or compassionate or forgiving… practice, practice, practice.  And you know what?  He was right!  If you want to train the body to do certain things, and to keep doing those things at a high level of proficiency, you have to practice.  The mind is the same way.  Buddhism is about training the mind to think differently, to think in ways that reduce suffering in our lives.  What do I mean by that?  Well, like being grateful for what I have instead of complaining about what I don’t have.  Or being “here”, but my mind is “there”.  Or wants to be there.  Or taking things personally.  All these things cause a certain amount of suffering in my life that is unnecessary.  After a while, that suffering adds up and can turn into depression or anger or resentment, etc.

I’ve been a martial artist for most of my life.  I’m not getting any younger, so there are many things that I can’t do now that I could do in my 20’s.  But, when I’m training on a regular basis, my mind is more alert, my reflexes are noticeably quicker, my body is more relaxed, and my overall attitude is better.  It doesn’t take many days of not training for things to start to slip.  I’ve found that it’s the same with my mind.  If I’m not practicing mindfulness and gratitude and compassion, etc, I start to slip.  There are signs of slipping.  Oh yes!  There are signs.  LOL  Crankiness, complaining, sighing, negative attitudes, and such.  I’m not saying that you won’t have challenges if you are practicing training your mind on a daily basis.  I’m not saying you won’t have cranky moments and sad moments and such.  But it should keep you from days of suffering at a time.  Yesterday was a day where it all came together and crashed.  Looking back, yesterday’s crash had been coming for a few days.  I handled a difficult morning fairly well, considering how the day started.  But by the end of the day, I was miserable.  I was dreading waking up today and facing what I thought I would be facing.  I’m still not in a great place, but I’m better.  Another thing I notice when I’m not practicing is that it takes me longer to get out of these funks.  Sometimes it takes several days.  And that’s no fun.

I do want to add that I don’t think there is anything wrong with any particular emotion.  If I’m feeling sad or anxious or some other feeling that is not preferable, I normally just let myself feel it.  I stay with that feeling, paying attention to it and allowing it to be.  But that in itself is a practice in a type of mindfulness.  And normally, the feeling passes without me actively trying to change it or get rid of it.  If it doesn’t pass, that’s fine, too.  But then I’m normally mindful about whatever else is going on and I find that the feelings and emotions always change.  The last few days have been different than that.  I’m finding that I’ve been swept away by the emotions and feelings and imaginings of my mind.  None of which have been positive!  And I’m reacting to the emotions that have swept me away.  And those reactions have not helped me at all.

So, what do I do at this point?  For me, I’ll start with the most basic thing.  Paying attention to my breath.  Even if just for a few inhales and exhales.  I’ll first notice that I’m breathing.  Then notice what it feels like on the inhale, and what it feels like on the exhale.  Just typing and doing this has already helped me feel more calm and peaceful.  After a while, I’ll practice something else.  I’m not sure what that will be yet, but from a point of more calmness, I’ll know what I need to focus on next.

Whatever it is that you do to keep yourself in a good place, I encourage you to practice, practice, practice.  🙂

 

What happens next?

One of the big questions that comes up within my shifting beliefs is, “what happens when we die?”  In the Christian tradition, if you believe that Jesus is the son of God, that he died for your sins, and was raised to life again, you get to go to heaven.  Some Christian traditions believe that Jesus “saved” everyone, so all with go to heaven whether they believe in Jesus or not.  In this view of heaven, you basically are who you are on earth, just perfect.  Whatever perfect means?  I have lots of questions and issues about this view, now.  But maybe I’ll get into all those later.

There are some traditions where you are reincarnated.  Some where you start out in a lower version of heaven and are moved up over time through various methods.  And I know there are a myriad of beliefs about the afterlife similar to these, and some quite different.  And who is to say that any of them is wrong?  We don’t know.  I’ve yet to get a letter from a friend or loved one who has died.  In fact, I haven’t gotten any communication at all from folks that have died.  So again, I’m not saying that any belief is wrong.  We just won’t know for sure until we get there ourselves.

There are many that believe we simply cease to exist.  It’s like going to sleep.  We don’t know when we are sleeping, nor do we fret about being asleep.  This view used to freak me out because I didn’t want to not exist anymore!  Now, not so much.  If this is the way it is, we won’t know that we are not existing.  I now see the desire to keep existing as “myself” is more from the ego than anything.

Another view is that everything is an expression of “God”.  Whatever God means to you.  So all that can be seen and not seen is God, and it is me.  So when my heart stops beating and my brain stops sending signals, my experience will change, but I’ll still be an expression of God, just a different kind of expression.  This is similar to some things that Alan Watts talks about.  I had a previous post, Watts Quotes, that goes into more detail.  But here is a short excerpt that I like; “Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.”  Taoism has a similar view.  I’m fairly new to the study of Taoism, but I’m enjoying what I’m learning so far.  These excerpts are taken from a website called Personal Tao:
Death illustrated from the Chuang-Tzu:
“Since life and death are each other’s companions, why worry about them? All beings are one.”
From a friend of the writer of Personal Tao:
“The Tao is simply logical. There’s no mysticism or need for invisible sky gods or some weird belief that you’re important enough to be reincarnated – you simply return to the Tao when you die. And you’re already there anyway, so what’s the big deal?”

I like that.  You are already there anyway, so what’s the big deal?  And like the title of my blog suggests, my beliefs subtly shift between some of these from time to time.  I don’t believe that death is something that should be feared.  I think that whatever it looks like after this phase of our existence, we won’t be disappointed.

 

Ps – if you want to read more of what I found on the Personal Tao website, here is the link:
http://personaltao.com/teachings/taoism/the-afterlife/

Don’t read that book!

Back in my church/religion days, I remember being told certain things that I now believe were fear based.  But first, let me say again, I am not bashing church or religion.  I believe I was where I was supposed to be at that time, and it was good.  Now back to what I was saying.  We were encouraged to primarily read the Bible.  Any books outside of that were alright, as long as it was within our particular flavor of Christianity.  And even then, there were authors who were deemed okay to read, and those who we were warned about.  We were told that reading books outside of our group that didn’t line up with what we believed would somehow confuse us and contaminate our faith.  That really sounds weird to me now.  If I only read books re-stating what I already believe… well, that just seems a bit silly.  But I realize now that it was totally fear based.  As were many other things that I was told, and told others, over the years.  What were people afraid of?  Again, we were told that reading outside of our little circle would open the door to us being deceived and confused.   Then I might decide that I believe something different than what I had been taught.  Gasp!  The funny thing is, where I am now is largely due to a serious and in depth study of the Bible.  I had started to question why I believed what I believed, so I dug into some things for myself.  I started asking questions and talking to people who had similar questions.  Then I started reading material that I would have been told not to read.  And you know what?  The people who had warned me against reading outside of our group were right!  My beliefs were contaminated and have changed drastically.  And I love it!  I feel like I’m in a very good place mentally and “spiritually”.  And I have a lot less fear in my life than I used to have.  And that is a good thing!

So maybe get a little crazy and do some reading outside of your normal sphere.  You might find yourself looking at the world a little differently.  There are many good things we can glean from others and their beliefs.  I don’t agree with everything that is taught in Buddhism, but I have benefited greatly from many Buddhist ideas and practices.  Having our beliefs challenged and shaken can be very uncomfortable.  Even downright scary!  But after the ideas and beliefs settle after the shaking, you might find that you like what you see.  Or, maybe not.  LOL  And that’s okay.  You know the best way to get someone to read something?  Tell them, “whatever you do, don’t read that book!”  Maybe that will be my next post?  A list of books that you should never read.  🙂

Perspective

I’ve  been thinking  a lot about my last post.  I listed a couple quotes from Alan Watts.  This part in particular; ” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.” The way I’ve been thinking about this is that I (people) am as much a part of nature as the bird outside my window or the tree that the bird is sitting in.  That’s very different than I have thought in the past.  I have always considered “nature” to be outside of me.  “I’m going to go spend time in nature, walking a trail in the woods.”  That kind of thing.

So, over the last several days, I’ve been trying to think of myself as part of nature, an expression of the whole realm of nature.  I can tell there has been a subtle shift in my perspective.  I don’t know yet how to put it in words, but it’s there.  As I think about this more, it will be interesting to see how my perspective changes.

 

Watts quotes

Just an excerpt from some Alan Watts material I’m reading.

“We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms. Most of us have the sensation that “I myself” is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body — a center which “confronts” an “external” world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. “I came into this world.” “You must face reality.” “The conquest of nature.”

This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.”

Whoa.  That is all.  🙂

 

Impermanence

We all know that nothing lasts forever.  But it’s funny how when something is enjoyable, we want it to last and last.  But it seems so fleeting.  And when something is not enjoyable, we want it to change now.  But it seems to last so long.  Impermanence is a teaching in Buddhism that I think we can really benefit from.  This is from Wikipedia regarding impermanence:
Impermanence is one of the essential doctrines and a part of three marks of existence in Buddhism. The doctrine asserts that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is “transient, evanescent, inconstant”.  All temporal things, whether material or mental, are compounded objects in a continuous change of condition, subject to decline and destruction.

That definition might sound a little gloomy, but it’s basically saying that the only constant in this life, is change.  This can be a positive or negative thing, depending on our outlook.  We can be like Eeyore and mope around saying, “enjoy it while it lasts…”  But that’s not very fun.  I’ve been that way before.  Trust me.  It’s not fun.  Or, we can realize that yes, the good times don’t last forever, but neither do the tough times.  I have found that the mindfulness practice (being where I am, on purpose) has helped in both extremes, and in the middle.  For those of us who are fortunate enough to have our basic needs met and live in relatively good health, most of life is kind of in the middle.  The extreme ups and downs are not the norm.  With the practice of mindfulness, the “mundane” becomes a little more interesting.  As I’m walking down the hall at work, being aware that I’m walking down the hall at work seems to add a little more life to it.  I don’t know exactly how or why it works that way, but I just know it does.  And as I practice this with life in the middle (the mundane times), it becomes a little easier to endure the extreme downs, and the extreme ups are that much more enjoyable.

Today, a friend of mine helped me to step back and see an experience that I had today as it really was.  Mindfulness will help with this, too.  I woke up this morning with intense feelings of depression and dread.  I haven’t felt like that in a long time.  In the middle of something like that, it seems like it lasts forever!  But in reality, it was probably 5 minutes of really intense feelings, and probably not more than 20 minutes all together.  By me realizing that, it kind of takes some of the power out of it the next time it comes around.  Now, I’m not a morning person, and it hit me right away, so I was kind of taken off guard.  My first thoughts were something like, “what the hell is going on?!?!?” I started fighting the feelings, which only made them stronger.  As I woke up a little, I realized what I was doing and so I just let myself feel the uncomfortable feelings for a minute.  Then I got curious about them.  Is there a physical sensation in my body?  Yes, my chest and back feel tight.  And so forth.  There is something about this kind of mindfulness that sort of dissipates those really intense moments.  By the time I got myself together for work and out the door, I was fine.

What about the flip side?  Let’s say that I’m having a really enjoyable time doing something that I love to do.  In the middle of me being mindful and really enjoying this experience, I start thinking, “I wish I could be this happy all the time!  But I know that this is only temporary.  Wow.  That kind of sucks.”  That sounds like an extreme example, but for those who work M-F, think about the weekends.  Friday is like, hell yeah!  Saturday is a full day of fun.  But on Sunday, many, many people start to dread Monday.  I know, I was one of them.  I wasn’t able to enjoy Sunday, even though I was doing enjoyable things, because I was already dreading Monday.  I wasn’t where I was, on purpose, enjoying resting or friends or family.  But now, most of the time, I can enjoy Sunday because I’m mindful of being in the present moment.  One thing that helps me with this is focusing on where I am instead of not trying to think about tomorrow. Does that make sense?  It’s a subtle shift, but it makes a lot of difference.

Life isn’t always fun, but it doesn’t always suck, either.  I think that if we can comes to terms with the fact that change happens (sounds like go with the flow!), the ride through life can be a little more enjoyable.

 

PS – I wanted to throw this in as a thought I had after posting.  I’m not making light of anyone suffering from depression or trying to break free of an addiction or anything like that.  I know that it’s not as easy as, just be in the moment and all will be fine.  I wish!  These are tough things to be dealing with.  If you haven’t been practicing things like mindfulness, it will probably take a little time before you start to see noticeable results.  But from my experience, I do believe it’s worth the time and effort and practice.  The Buddhist monk that I got to know a few years ago would always end his talks with, “practice, practice, practice”.

 

 

A little brain fried

Somewhere along the way, I got in this habit of reading multiple books at once.  When I say, at once, I mean that I’ll start a new one before finishing the current one.  Right now, I’m reading “Nothing Personal” by Nirmala, “The Wisdom of Insecurity” by Alan Watts, I’ve read about one chapter of “After Zen”, and I’m working on getting through the second Harry Potter book.  This would explain my current brain fried-ness.  LOL

It’s mainly the Alan Watts book that is frying my brain.  There have been a couple books along my journey that have challenged me to think differently.  But, after the initial “whoa” wore off, I realized that there was usually a commonality between that book and others that I have read.  Alan watts, for me, is a whole other level of “whoa”.  I enjoy reading a blog called Church of the Churchless by Brian Hines.  He had mentioned Watts several times and had recommended a couple of his books to me.  I enjoy reading his material and listening to some of his recorded lectures on Youtube.  He has a great accent!  But if you asked me to explain the book that I’m reading, I don’t think I could do it.  I’ll be reading that one again.  But maybe not right away.

I’ve noticed some interesting changes in myself in my search for a spirituality that makes sense to me.  I almost said, in my search for truth.  But truth is a funny thing. I’m not sure what ultimate truth is?  I used to think I did, but not so much now.  So that leaves me with relative truth.  Things that I no longer see as true doesn’t mean that those things are not true for other people, just like they were true for me at one point.  So I try to be careful about judging others beliefs.  Anyway, back to things that I’ve noticed.  One thing is that I don’t feel like I have to be right.  I don’t know to what degree I felt I had to be right, but I know it was there.  That, and I’m not afraid of being wrong.  I am sure that both were based in fear.  As I type this, the terms right and wrong don’t seem… right.  I’m not sure why, they just don’t.  Another change, like I said in my first post, is that I’m getting more comfortable with not having concrete beliefs.

So, here I am, brain fried, and I think that is OK.  It’s probably good for us to have our minds blown on a fairly regular basis.  🙂