Sunday, November 30, 2014

Infernos and Asymptotes: On Abandoning Hope of Fruition


When I first read the next slogan, I laughed and then groaned and then laughed again.
Abandon any hope of fruition.
Really, this is the one sentence version of my biggest hurdle with Buddhism. Letting go of that hope of perfection, that ridiculous hope, isn't impossible but it is incredibly difficult for a recovering Type A like me.

Not that I needed further explanation, but I still went through the motions of research.'s alternate translation, "Give up any hope for results," confirmed what I already knew. However, their explanatory paragraph did add bit more about the "why":
"Hope for results takes you out of the present. Do what needs to be done now because it needs to be done now, not for the result it might bring."
Living in the here & now is the goal, after all, so anything that takes me out of the present is a problem. I get that.

Next step was Tricycle Magazine's take on this slogan, written by the inimitable Judy Lief. The entire piece kind of hurt to read, but one passage that really stood out was this:
"So much education and so much of the conventional thinking about how to motivate people is based on that model of hope and fear. We learn to expect some kind of reward or confirmation any time we succeed and to expect some form of punishment when we do not.  But according to this slogan, it is better to abandon that whole approach. In that way, when we act, there are no hidden agendas or ulterior motives."
Wow, a bit too close to home for comfort, but it's exactly when I'm out of my comfort zone that I tend to learn the most.

My first thought after I'd finished all my reading was of that oft quoted line from Dante's Inferno. I think that's why I groaned and laughed. Diligence and results are are the point of a Protestant work ethic aren't they? I may have been raised Jewish and I may have become a Buddhist, but I was raised in this country and it's impossible to get away from that mentality.
But then I remembered my favorite mathematical concept, "Asymptote." I bring it up here because the concept was first introduced to me in some book or article about positive psychology and its applications. Beyond its strict application in math, for me an asymptote is about two lines that get closer and closer but never touch. I like to think I take that approach to Buddhism: of getting closer and closer to the ideal but giving up any hope of being an actual living bodhisattva.

Lief's advice for how to act on this teaching is particularly daunting to me, but all the more important for that:
"How is it possible to maintain your focus, to 'keep your eyes on the prize,' without getting fixated on results? As you go about your activities, pay attention to the difference between having a goal and being taken over by your hopes, fears, and speculations."
 So that's what I'll be doing this week. Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Removing Hurdles: On Working with the Greatest Defilements First

I have to admit that this new slogan gave me a pause at first.
Work with the greatest defilements first.
I read it three times and got a sinking feeling in my stomach. My immediate assumption was that it meant "tackle your biggest problems first." And I was worried that I wouldn't be able to live up to it. But I took a deep breath, steeling myself for the anticipated work, and turned to my research.

First, as always, I turned to Their translation, "Work on your strongest reactions first," also gave me pause... but for a very different reason. This sounded a lot more attainable. And the explanatory text put it into much better context for me:
"The strongest reactions generate the biggest imbalances in your being. You can't even see the subtle ones until the strong ones have been dismantled." 
Then I turned to Tricycle. (A quick aside: I may not always find help at UnfetteredMinds, but I really like the balance I get from visiting both sites.) Judy Lief's commentary made me feel a little less comfortable, but even more sure of the work I need to do. This passage in particular made me realize the need I have to keep this work, this study of lojong, in my life:
"At a deeper level, this slogan challenges us to analyze what really sets us back. We need to do so persistently enough to expose our core obstacles, to try to get to the root of what holds us down. It challenges to dig deeply enough to uncover our greatest defilements. And having done so, we need to stick with that defilement and keep working on it until we are free of it."
So it all had me thinking about how certain things - tasks, emotions, situations - are always major obstacles for me. I've tackled so much in the recent past, having learned how to make habits and break habits. Even still, I need to keep working, to keep vigilant and aware. Take my initial reaction to this slogan, or instance: I immediately jumped to the worst possible conclusion and assumed it would be a lot of hard work. But, after doing all my research, I remembered that bunny gif up there. I thought about how, once the hurdle was out of the way, things got so easy. I want to be that bunny.

And Lief's advice for putting this slogan into practice is definitely going to stay with me. She says, "What patterns of thought or habit do you have that block your development of wisdom and insight? What is your most consistent and frequent roadblock? Take some time to reflect on this and on how you might begin to work with it."

So that's what I'll be doing. Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Just Keep Writing: On Not Pondering Others


I feel like I'm getting a bit of a reprieve with the newest tenet. You see, I completely blanked on what I was supposed to be doing last week. But not to worry! This week's is a slightly different perspective on the same idea:
Don't ponder others.
And because I tend towards the same kind of humor that amused me when I was twelve years old, my first thought was, "Ponder? I hardly even know her." Cue the rimshot.

Once I got beyond the dumb joke (that nonetheless made me chuckle), I moved onto my typical research., as is true more often than not, really didn't help much. Their alternate translation, "Don't dwell on others' problems," added a little bit to what I already knew. But their explanatory piece actually confused me:
"Don't pick up what isn't yours."
Then I, of course, turned to Tricycle, and was immediately rewarded with "This slogan is very similar to the last, in that it points to how easy, entertaining, and totally distracting it can be to muse about what is wrong with everybody else." Lief's piece goes on to talk about how people are prone to calling attention to the faults of others and playing up our own strengths. She also discusses how we shouldn't compare our paths with others'. We shouldn't feel bad if we're behind, or triumphant if we're ahead of the people in our lives. We should look at our own progress as a thing of itself.

That last got me thinking about the thing I'm writing as part of National Novel Writing Month (usually abbreviated NaNoWriMo). If you're unaware, participating in NaNoWriMo means you have pledged to write 50,000 new words of fiction within the thirty days of November. That works out to about 1,667 per day. As of this moment, my word total is 20,234. I should have 26,666 by the end of the day, and I know that's not going to happen. But somehow I've managed not to feel too bad about being behind. I've also managed not to feel too gloaty about others who are even more behind than I am. I work on it every day - some days I only write a few hundred words, other days I've topped 2k. Even though NaNoWriMo is a race, it's a race against myself and a deadline. Really, the point is that I keep writing, and that I have fun. That's exactly what I'm doing.

I'm going to try to extend that feeling of non-judgement to other spheres of my life this week by following Judy Lief's parting advice in her piece about this teaching:
"As you go about your day, with the people you encounter, pay attention to what comes up in your mind. Pay particular attention to the qualities of comparison mind and faultfinding mind. What is the difference between simply seeing a flaw and dwelling on it or using it to prop yourself up?"
So that's what I'll be doing. Until next time, namaste and all that. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Missing Petals: On Not Talking About Injured Limbs


The tenet I'm tackling today is kind of a continuation of last week's in that it's about how we make mental room for and how we accommodate other people in our lives. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me share the wording and all my research before I continue.
Don't talk about injured limbs.
If you're confused by this tenet, I'm not surprised. Is it any wonder that I need multiple commentaries to even approach the meaning of these slogans? The cultural differences between Chekawa Yeshe Dorje, the original author of these tenets, and me are oceanic to say the least.

In this case, was a huge help with their translation of this tenet: "Don't talk about others' shortcomings." Their explanatory passage didn't add much, but it did cement the meaning for me:
"Such talk doesn't help them and it doesn't help you."
Okay, so I get it. Gossip is bad. We shouldn't focus on the problems of others, as opposed to their strengths. That's all well and good, but the Unfettered Minds page felt like finger waggling instead of like help. What I mean to say is that this was enough to understand the cryptic original text, but I've no idea what to do with this tenet.

If you've read this blog before, I'm sure you know where I went next. Yup, that's right. I turned to the Tricycle Magazine column about this slogan by Judy Lief. I sighed a huge sigh of relief after I finished reading it. A few passages stood out to me as relevant to my experience with talking "about injured limbs."
"It may seem a kindergarten level of advice to be told not to poke fun of people. Of course, most of us don’t outright do that. But at a subtler level, we are both fascinated and repulsed by other people’s deformities and weak points. This leads us to dwell on those defects, and in turn, our focus on their defects turns the people themselves into kinds of defect-appendages. So although we may not be talking behind their backs or poking fun at them, we are still distancing ourselves from them. We are engaging in a technique of subtle rejection."
I thought about it for a while, but then I realized something. It's not that we have to love and accept and rejoice in every single person we meet. That would be exhausting and leave us drained. However, we shouldn't be distancing ourselves from injured or weak people just because of their injuries, because of their weaknesses.

I don't think I'll have a hard time applying this to my life because the very first thing I thought of when I finished reading was flowers. Flowers that are missing a couple of petals are still flowers and still beautiful. This goes for people, too. Heck, sometimes a flaw can be the thing that makes us beautiful. I can handle physical differences just fine. But if I'm going to be completely honest, I have to admit that people's behavior/mental injuries can prompt me to distance myself.

I'm already well aware of how we tend to be the judge and jury for other's behavioral flaws ("she's always so cranky lately!"), but the lawyers when it comes to our own mistakes ("Oh, I'm feeling cranky a lot lately, but my cat's been sick and keeping me up nights and I'm not getting enough sleep."). I also know from the last tenet that I need to give as much credence to the needs of others as we do to our own needs. All of this means I need to be mindful and intentional, but I'm feeling confident.

I'll be applying Lief's advice: "Think of a person you are embarrassed to be around, whose flaws are obvious. See if you can expand your attention, so that you can see past that person’s defects, and past your reactions and ideas about those defects, to the person themselves."

So that's what I'll be doing. Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Please Just Be Normal Sauce: On Changing and Remaining Natural

I have to admit that the first thing that came to mind when I read this slogan was my hair:
Change your attitude, but remain natural.
I thought about how I cover the gray but stay within natural color ranges. Strange but honest and immediate associations are part of my process when it comes to studying each lojong, so I wanted to share - especially since I know there is a small but definite group of people who always read this blog who also know how fussy I am about my hair.

After I had a good laugh about my vanity, I brought myself back to thoughts of my inner life. I thought about how I do sometimes make a big deal to friends and acquaintances about my study of Buddhism. Sometimes it's to share the joy, and peace, and tools I've acquired, but sometimes it's a bit show-off-y. I hung my head in shame for a second when this clicked.

Moving on, though, I turned to the translation: "Change your intention but behave naturally." And the brief explanation offered:
"Don't make a public display of your efforts in mind training. Behave naturally with others."
Oof. Even though I know I'm not supposed to judge my progress even as I keep reaching to improve, the brief commentary from that website supported my original reaction - self-recrimination.

So it was with a mix of trepidation and hope that I moved onto the Judy Lief piece on Tricycle's website. I should know better than to worry about what Lief will have to say, since she has such a wonderful way of making these Eastern philosophies jibe with my Western way of thinking. One bit in particular stood out as helpful:
"This slogan targets one attitude in particular: the attitude that you yourself are more important than others. The attitude that you come first and others come second. It is rather embarrassing, but crude as it may sound, most of us carry this attitude or assumption with us all the time. It is definitely our default position, and deeply ingrained."
So it's not about Buddhism in general; it's about how I relate to the world. And some how, in the middle of thinking and writing about it, my mind clicked over to a particular scene from 30 Rock. The episode is one in which Liz Lemon, the main protagonist of the series, is trying to get approved for adoption. The case worker is coming to Liz's office and Liz asks the people who work for her to "Please, just be normalsauce for one day." She is asking them to keep her needs in mind as they move through their day. And that is what this slogan is asking: for me to keep other's needs in mind even as I go through my day. Not to place their needs above mine, but to avoid placing mine above theirs. It is telling me to weigh the needs and roles equally and to not see myself as the center of the universe. 

Being an educator and being a boss has taught me that I'm just one voice and one need among many, but I need to be more intentional. Lief's advice for putting this into practice is exactly what I'm going to do: "When you notice your attitude turning inward, fixating on yourself, give it a gentle nudge and turn it outward to include other beings. Don’t punish yourself for your selfishness or give yourself a gold star for your altruism. Simply apply the slogan and move on."

Until next time, namaste and all that.