I have an interest in the historical Buddha, even though in a way it's irrelevant to the higher spiritual reach. There's even the suggestion that the Buddha didn't leave his family, that might be mythical. Check the new talk out here.
My head feels like I've just come out of warp speed when I'm on retreats. Recently my mind/head has begun to feel that increased clarity and space before retreats, as a kind of anticipation. It's really quite amazing that somehow my mind begins to ramp up to a retreat. I'm beginning to get that feeling about the upcoming solitary.
Lots of new details for this retreat. I have to cook for myself instead of the communal cooking, or Dino's wonderful cooking. I determine the program and schedule. I've focused on what books to read. As always, I'm tempted to try to "catch up" on my reading without the kids around. Thank you to Vajramati for talking through some of my preparations.
I really look forward to this experience, but I'm feeling a little guilt and sadness about leaving the family for so long. I'm glad I took another week off to be with them to make up for it.
I'm going on my first week long solitary retreat. I'm scared. I've never done this before. Hitherto, I've always been on led retreats. Also, I hate leaving my wife and children, that is hard too. I'm also excited and really hope to recharge my spiritual battery.
I haven't really fully memorized it yet, I am afraid to admit in public, but this will certainly put a wrench in my efforts. Jeeze, if the translation of the Heart Sutra can't stay the same, what can we count on in life? Just kidding.
He writes of his partner, "What do you think about having a child so late? “I would still have had him even though it is hard and would in some ways preferred to have had him at 24. I can see the sense of having a child when young, but I was very idealistic and riven. It would have logically been better to have gone for the family thing then and be freer now in my 40’s. However, the advantage of having a child late is that although I may not have the same energy and am probably tied up until I’m 60, I do have a lot more self-knowledge, spiritual practice, friendship, patience, and am happier in myself. I have a lot more to give my son by having him late. I see definite pros and cons.”"
I have wondered about having children when I was 37. I almost lament not having the energy of an 20 year old, like my parents, who had me while in college. But they struggled accepting the responsibility. I too struggle with that. My age helps in so many ways. I also lament that hey will be in college (hopefully) when I'm in my late 50's, if I live that long (I'm not morbid, I just can't assume anything, since life is so precious). The trade off in energy is gained by wisdom and self knowledge.
Wonderful stuff this essay. I have so many thoughts and feelings about it. My posts begin with this one.
He writes about his partner, who says, "She added that it has also been a steep learning curve: “I have had forty years to do exactly what I want when I want, to be utterly self-regarding. I have realized how much more I could have used that freedom now that I don’t have it.”"
This is another point about the narrowing of possibilities. I sometimes don't feel the urgency and opportunity my single friends have. They don't know it. How do you know? Have it taken away from you. It's like your health, you don't appreciate it till it's gone. Or most of us don't, it's hard to cultivate gratitude for something you take for granted, though of course not impossible.
While the Buddha left his family, he also had a family. Perhaps that is where I want to follow the Buddha's model.
Now maybe all the life of the Buddha story is parable and myth. I don't know. It's been suggested that we know nothing about the actual historical Buddha. I'm inclined to lean towards the idea that his story in the pali cannon is not pure fiction. So anyway, we must take that into account.
He writes, "Her first point is that it is too general a question as motherhood is not a constant thing, but rather it changes all the time as the demands change. She then went onto say that, “I have never known such love for another human being as I have experienced for Thomas. It’s as if it has opened a whole other aspect of my humanity. I know what it is to love another so much that I’d lay down my life without any hesitation.” However, it has been very demanding: “I have never worked so hard, never engaged with anything that is so totally demanding and constantly full-time…a 24 hour job…. I didn’t realise it would be that hard. But then I think he is quite an active baby as well.”"
Here are two themes, learning about love through parenting and the challenges and difficulty of parenting. As the metta sutra says, "just as a mother loves her only child," you get a feeling of parental love. How do you know that feeling of parental love without having children? I wouldn't say it was impossible.
In creating a new society, you have to take into account children, otherwise it's a sterile revolution.
Karmabandhu writes, "How do you go forth while living the family life? Prasannavira was adamant here, stating that, “Times have changed [since the Buddha]. There is great individualism, which is maybe what we really have to go forth from. In some ways family can do that. Maybe Bhante [Sangharakshita] is missing a trick here.” He then talked about his Sufi shiatsu teacher, a man who has been practising in that tradition for 30 years, who advocates excelling in all areas. On reflection, Prasannavira thinks that his previous position was to some degree one of naïve idealism and is happy to stand on the ground he now occupies."
I think this is a problem too--how do you "go forth" in the family. I think there is a lot that could be said here. Maybe "going forth" is also a "going into" of experience in a way that shakes things up. Some people may find it easier to go into themselves by changing circumstances. You can move to India, but you are still yourself. The same problems and dynamics of your own psychology will follow you. Not that you might have transformative experiences there. My point is that the phrase "going forth" may disguise some of the features of it. I think it's more a "going into".
I remember a Padmavajra talk where he reports that Bante said, and I'm paraphrasing from memory, "maybe you should have a family to help grow up," So I don't think Bante is not blind to this, the transforming potential in parenting.
Karmabandhu write about a friend, "Anyhow, having decided to marry and start a family, Prasannavira says that he realised that his ideas of the spiritual life had to change. Speaking to me, he was clear that, “you can practise as effectively with a baby as without one”. He said that the first thing for him was to keep up some sort of meditation practice along with Tai Chi. It has also become much more apparent that “spiritual life is the whole of life”. “In a way it is more intense. It is a potent situation if I can engage with it.” He described how his options have narrowed and that some preferences and ideas, such as travelling, have had to be shelved."
I comment on the "narrowing of options" in my essay. That was the things that helped me to realize how important the sangha, dharma and meditation is for me. I don't know if I would have known that. Perhaps I'm romanticizing the situation. But I do feel it has clarified something for me.
Here is one quote from his essay, "Obviously, we can and indeed have to practise in any situation, but it would be obtuse to argue that it is going to be as easy to meditate with two children crawling around watching telly tubbies on the TV as it is with a couple of friends who are also meditating. Conditions can either help or hinder us. If they didn’t, what would be the point of ever going on retreat? We might just as well go down the pub."
My response to the above quote is that I had children before the dharma sank in enough for me to understand that. But I also don't see it as so black and white, that I absolutely love my boys, and don't really want to change things, even if I do feel this renunciant pull. I've always wanted life to be more easy. And I've chosen a harder path, perhaps. I suppose I have patience that when my children grow up, and if I'm lucky to still be alive, then I will have my opportunity. My life has a kind of momentum, and I really must honor the choices I have made.
My niece overheard me say once, in a moment of desperation, "The boys have ruined my life." She was horrified by the notion and talked to her mom about it. I have to admit that I have felt that way at times. Adjusting to parenting is very hard. Nobody can imagine how much energy and time it will take, before hand. And I have two children. But that's a moment of desperation. What about all the other moments? I have great moments of love, tenderness, pride, excitement to see little being grow and develop. I have wildly optimistic comments the other way as well.
There is one stark fact about children. No matter how many feelings you have one way or the other, once they are born, they are the parents responsibility, and you harm them by putting that responsibility on others. Others can support, but I feel it's best to have the biological mother and father as the leaders in parenting of their children. My fathers left, and I felt the loss. Am I OK now? Yes. I survived it. But I feel it is the defining mark of my life that I come from divorced parents. My stepfather is wonderful. My stepmother is wonderful too, for that matter. And I can't just smoosh my parents back together. But it's best to intentionally have children and then take care of them. That's self evident. We were trying for 8 years before we had children, so we were overjoyed. Nevermind that in that time I found Buddhism and my sensibilities began to turn in another direction. Life has a kind of momentum, and out of respect for myself, I want to stand by my choices, even if now I value free time and quiet in a new way because of the dharma. Out of respect for my children, I want to wholly embrace my choice. They do not deserve my ambivalence when things get rough for me. It's the first ethical principle, to try and do no harm and violence to others.
They deserve a wholly committed father, and that is what I'm committed to.
A stolen moment, Diana is up and I'm going to take a blog break, from organizing, cleaning and parenting.
In college I used to argue about the truth existing, independent, discoverable. Now I see it as an aspect of a perspective, not outside a perspective, and I'm pragmatic about what the best perspective is. Experience is more relevant to me.
Regarding coffee and meditation, I don't presume to know what others should do. I know what my case is: I've been drinking coffee since I was 18, when I went to college, and I was able to stay awake and study, pay attention in class. So it seemed.
Now I'm 40 years old, and I think coffee causes me anxiety, tension, wangs up my autonomic system, and makes it harder for me to relax. Twenty two years of addiction. Any gains in wakefulness are lost in warding off the feelings of tiredness, are lost in the negative side effects. You can’t get something for nothing. As a therapist I know the importance of tolerating your emotions, and yet I don't tolerate mine. I use a drug to take away a feeling, and I've blinded myself to it out of addiction.
I'm using a harm reduction model to move towards recovery. Last year I tried the abstinence approach. I set the goal of quitting for 14 days and I got through 8. I wasn't waking up and meditating. And if you've read my recent essay on Wildmind, you know meditation is the last thing I want to give up. I would not have known that without children. Anywho, so I went back on coffee, and decided I couldn't quit.
Now I know about the harm reduction model that works more in the grays instead of black and white and appreciates how hard addiction really is. I'm not comparing coffee addiction to some shipwreck addiction that ruins life. As we know the addiction that can fly under the radar of functionality are acceptable in our society. But it is similar enough to give me insight into others.
So I've tried to cut down, use less, and really just notice when the craving hits me. What are the complext rush of feelings and self states that provoke me to reach for the coffee? Aside from waking up quickly, I don’t really need coffee. And I don’t need much to do that.
I actually do feel more alive not using coffee as much. It's been an easier struggle through harm reduction and I am making progress, I didn't quit quitting. I average half a cup a day, and that is some good progress. More promising is that I feel like I'm recovering my true self, I feel more me, and that's a real test for me about whether something is working.
So for me, getting off coffee is a help towards meditation. In meditation I don't move or consciously distract myself. I have to feel my emotions, and they wash over me, move on, when I don't cling to them. It's therapeutic to meditate, is very complimentary to psychotherapy. It’s all about waking up.