Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Downside of Schadenfreude: On Not Profiting from Sorrow


New slogan is a bit of a doozy:
Don’t seek others’ pain as the limbs of your own happiness.
The language is a bit obfuscating, but not terribly so. Still, I turned to the page about this tenet and found a much more intelligible version: "Don't look to profit from sorrow." The explanation added depth to my preliminary understanding as well:
"All Buddhist practice, and mind training in particular, is about ending suffering. Anticipation of gain from others' suffering, or even complacency about it, breaches the intention of this practice."
After reading that I had a moment of guilt, especially after all the videos of cat fails that I've watched. I can even admit to the occasional juicy moment of schadenfreude. However, since I'm not one to shy away from growth and challenge, I moved onto the Tricycle page about this tenet.

One paragraph in particular stood out as a reason for me to work on this but not to beat myself up too much about it:
"This slogan is about exploitation. It is about taking advantage of others in order to maintain our wealth and privilege. It could also be applied to our attitude to our mother earth. It is about the habit of take take take, with no gratitude, and with blindness as to the consequences."
That idea of "with no gratitude" resonated, still resonates, so strongly. Gratitude is a huge thing for me. I'm grateful to people who hurt me because it gives me the opportunity to grow. I'm grateful to people who help me for the same reason. I'm especially grateful for cat fail videos that make me laugh. Heck, I'm even grateful to the animals and plants who give their lives so I can eat, to the farmers who grow my food, to the drivers who transport it, to the cooks and grocery clerks and so on. I think it is impossible to live and never benefit from someone else's pain even distantly. It *is* possible to feel grateful for the people who help you be who you are.

It's about mindfulness. Lief's advice for this tenet, "Whether you think of yourself as privileged or as underprivileged, contemplate the effect of buying into the paradigm that increasing your happiness depends on decreasing the happiness of others," doesn't feel as applicable to my life this week. Instead, I'm going to try to pay attention to all the people who do benefit my life in whatever way and express my gratitude for them.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Accepting Enlightenment, No Matter How Tough: On Not Making Gods Into Demons

Have to say, I'm quite happy with myself for sticking to the original schedule of publishing weekly. Not sure it will last, but I'm enjoying it while it does.

Regardless, let's turn to the next tenet:
Don't make gods into demons.
The translation isn't too different: "Don't turn a god into a demon." But the explanatory passage gave me pause.
"Mind training becomes a source of reactive emotions when you take pride in what you accomplish with the practice."
The thing is, I am happy about the progress I've made. If I'm truthful, I am sometimes proud. With that dismaying realization, I turned to Judy Lief's piece on this teaching. One particular passage stood out to me:
"At first meditation and compassion practices seem so beautiful and gentle. We feel enriched and nurtured. But as we continue, we begin to encounter a more threatening and provocative side to mind training practice. It makes us feel unmasked and exposed, embarrassed by our own mindlessness and the puny nature of our compassion for others.
As the practice begins to bite or to be more challenging, when it is no longer simply an add-on to our regular way of going about things, but a call for personal transformation, we feel threatened." 
I've had moments like that lately, where I feel my pursuit and study of Buddhism has changed me in ways that I never anticipated. When I first found and started to study, it made so much sense to me - things I'd read prior to Pema Chodron had me ready. But I've recently found a transition between Buddhism fitting into my preexisting understanding of the way things are and how I see it now... I feel like my ideas from before have kind of melted in the face of lojong.

So I'm not particularly worried about this becoming a problem in the immediate future. Seeing each new day as an opportunity to deepen my practice and letting go of old patterns, even when the new day brings "negative" things to me, is part of my practice. And yet, I need to be vigilant. Or, as Lief admonishes, "How can you identify with the dharma without making it into just another credential?"

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

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Examining Motivations: On Not Acting with a Twist

Sometimes translation is everything when it comes to my initial impression of a new-to-me slogan, and this week is a perfect example. The cards I've been using have this for the thirty-sixth tenet:
Don't act with a twist.
My confusion was immediate. At first I thought about twist ties, and then I thought about this twist:

After I had a little laugh at my imagination, I turned to and found an immediately intelligible translation: "Don't make practice a sham." Don't be a Buddhist for show, in other words. As usually happens when my understanding starts to dawn, I felt a little guilty and like I've been doing it wrong. That feeling intensified when I read the short explanatory passage:
"Your practice is a sham when you use it to gain higher status, greater abilities, or other benefits. Practice is about being present. It is not about your getting something for your efforts."
Then there was a whole different kind of twist: one in my stomach. My gut twisted a bit because I wrote a post about my Buddhism for my other blog this past week. My initial impulse to write that piece came from an acquaintance of mine questioning and insulting my practice as a Buddhist. But if I'm honest, I do like the attention Letters to a Young Librarian gets and there was a drop of trying to get "something for [my] efforts" in the mix as I wrote.

I let myself feel the guilt for a moment, but not too long. I took a deep breath and turned, as I usually do, to Judy Lief's piece on this slogan on the Tricycle site, and that helped me a bit. Well, to be honest, what Lief wrote made my stomach twist a bit more at first. This passage especially had me feeling self-recrimination:
"We keep track of our acts of kindness and our moments of awareness as demonstrations of how we ourselves are progressing. Instead of genuinely opening our heart, we go through the motions. Then we look around to make sure that our benevolence is properly noticed and admired. In reality, under the guise of helping, we are just using people. They are props for our self-development project."
But that's not what writing a post about Buddhism for my library/librarian blog was about. I'm not a Buddhist for anybody but me. I know in my heart that I'm not doing this to be noticed or admired. I don't want to take my perspective for granted, though, so I will still follow Lief's advice and examine my motives as I progress through the next week and beyond.

Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Just Keep Swimming: On Not Trying To Be The Fastest

Last week's work was hard. There are some things going on in my life that made that slogan particularly pertinent, but I think I'm stronger for the attempt.

This week will likely be just as necessary and difficult:
Don't try to be the fastest.
I got a small quiver in my stomach just from reading the card: I definitely recognized myself there. Remembering how I needed both the resources I normally consult, I went first to Unfettered Mind and found they'd translated this slogan as: "Don't be competitive." Their short explanation resonated even more than when I first read the slogan:
"Open to the sense of deficiency, of not being enough, that pushes you to be needlessly competitive."
Did I say "resonated"? I meant "punched me in the gut." Because really, that sense of deficiency is a specter I struggle with regularly. Not just the feeling, but the difficulty of owning it publicly. Like right now - I have to struggle to admit to struggling sometimes.

I turned turned to Judy Lief's response to this slogan with a bit of trepidation, but I needn't have worried. While it's true there has been a time or two when I was left feeling more confused by what Lief had to say, but that's been rare. And when I found the following passage, I realized I've been working towards embodying this tenet even longer than I've been actively studying Buddhism:
Slogan practice is about cultivating both awareness and compassion, both in formal practice and in daily life. Ideally this is one complete package. You don’t try to get somewhere, but you just keep going.
And that made me think of a movie line I've been quoting a lot lately as I navigate my struggles:

The movie itself... I enjoyed Finding Nemo but it's not so much the story as the idea embodied in that gif above that is important. And that advice above, with a touch of mindfulness, is the same kind of thing I found in Lief's advice for how to work with this teaching:
"Notice how the quality of speediness affects your practice and your daily life. Do you feel superior or special because you are faster than others and have passed them by? On the contrary, do you feel of inadequate that others are passing you by and leaving you in the dust?"
So that's what I'll be doing. Until next time, namaste and all that.