Saturday, January 11, 2014

Recent thoughts

I was once on a training where the presenter asked, "what stories are working on you?"

I've been thinking a lot about the following quote of David McMahan from Tricycle. He's talking about thinking our practice is like the practice of ancients, that practice is timeless, and then comparing an ancient monk and a modern person:

"He has left his family behind; he is celibate; he doesn't eat after noon; he studies texts that give him a skeptical view of the phenomenal world and its value. Is his practice really exactly the same, as that of a contemporary secular mindfulness practitioner who is meditating to excel at work or to be more compassionate to her children?"

I think I use meditation to be more mindful, work better, be more kind to my children. This comment stung me a bit.

I read an essay where a woman didn't react to her husband saying he didn't love her, that she just didn't take it personally, and realized it was his problem, and let him work it through. She saw the problem as inside him, not her, and she did that because she saw happiness as coming from inside, not externally. Now I don't know if that's a really good insight, or whether that is Buddhism, but who cares. What struck me was that she was not blow around by the worldly winds, she wasn't reactive.

The idea that happiness comes from the inside, and not outside, is quite intriguing. That's a similar point to the idea in the first quote that the ancient monk avoided sensual pleasures. It was more ascetic than most people's modern experience, where we feel entitled to compensatory indulgences after a hard day of work. Maybe we would see ancient monks as masochistic today. I think that is what is transcendent in spirituality, not the repudiation of the world, but not getting reactive about the external word. Is enlightenment just a really awesome equilibrium, lack of reactivity?

The point is to not react so strongly to negative things, or positive things, to seek the middle way. You could use the middle way to justify anything, but I think it was the idea that you don't seek pleasure, and you don't court pain, you use other criteria, like the impact on others, and the impact on your spiritual life. Wings and a football game might be quite fun, but will that advance your spiritual life? Listening to the wise counsel of your elders who have progressed on the path is an important aspect of the path.

The work/recreation split is something that trips me up. I feel overwhelmed, don't have much fortitude capital these days, just keeping it together. I've struggled with maintaining my positivity. I need to do more metta, work on the basics. What amazes me so much about the Buddha is that he was not distracted, he kept his focus on finding out about enlightenment, and he didn't even know what he would find.

So after I read that last paragraph, I decided to just imagine I was on retreat. It worked for a little while and shifted things a little bit. There's no easy solutions though.


Bill said...

I sympathize with the author's point, and with your being stung. I think a lot of us--I'm not putting you in this group--imagine ourselves to be more "advanced" in our practice than we are, at least until we get called on it, by circumstances or some other person. Then we protest that we really are just beginners, aren't we all?

I stress, I'm not putting you in that group.

Now, here's the interesting thing in that quote. I have to imagine that McMahan thought himself being equitable by using masculine and feminine pronouns. Yet he assumes a male monk, when from the Buddha's time we've had bhikshus and bhikshunis. It's the woman in his telling who has the shallow practice. Pretty typical, and disappointing.

Stephen Bell said...

Thank you for your comment. You have an interesting blog too.

I don't think you're putting me into that group.

I'd have to read one of his books to see if he wrote in a sexist way, and I highly doubt that he's survived this far as an academic with sexist language.

I do agree that sexist language is something to watch out for and I appreciate comments on my blog.