Monday, July 6, 2009

Bummers and Buddhism

Hello ladies, I hope you guys had a great weekend. Keep a smile on your face and your week will be good and go fast till Friday!

Today, I decided to feature an article of an awesome young lady. Her name is Jenna and she’s a twenty something from North Carolina. She runs the blog Sharing Time Station where one of her articles in particular really caught my attention. It is entitled “Bummers and Buddhism”: an original title for a great article that will probably resonate with most of you. I apologize for the length of the post but I absolutely wanted to add some comments after!

"I haven't posted in the past couple of days because I'm in a little bit of a rough spot and it's making it difficult to write. I know that one of my favorite things about reading other people's blogs, the really good blogs, is the author's ability to express even their pain and hardship in a way that makes it accessible to everyone, and provides a cathartic experience for both the author and the reader. Unfortunately, whenever I try to write about tough subjects, or share my darker emotions, I don't feel like I'm able to find that rewarding balance between expressing my feelings in an artful way, and just whining like a tween who got lost on her way to myspace. On top of which, this particular situation I'm in is a transitional sort of situation, where I just sit around in limbo, waiting to find out whether things are going to go the way I expected them to, or if my life is going to change in a pretty big way. I have trouble throwing my angst up all over the Internet when it could turn out that everything is fine, and then I'll have to just kind of blush and say, "Oh, uhh... never mind!" On the other hand, it's hard for me to think about much else, so you can see my dilemma: write posts that are boring and depressing and possibly pointless, or write nothing at all.

However, in dealing with all this, I've had some thoughts that might be useful to other people, so I thought I might share those here. One of the aspects of life I have the most difficulty with is the fact that I can't control it. I can't control other people, I can't control whether my car breaks down, I can't even control how many of these nectarines will go bad before I get a chance to eat them. Whenever I'm faced with really important things that are out of my control, I have a tendency to panic. My mind goes into overdrive, trying to come up with some way, any way, that I can make sure things turn out the way I want them to. Usually this starts out simply, and then devolves into a series of increasingly desperate and unhelpful plans of action. I might think, Oh no, what if my parents die young? How can I prevent this? Ok, I'll just calmly suggest to them that they ought to stop smoking and take better care of themselves.... but what if they ignore me? Alright then, I'll just come over and steal all their cigarettes and throw them away.... but they'll probably just buy more. Fine, I'll just have to quit my job and move in with them, so that I can monitor them 24 hours a day. And if that doesn't work, I'll threaten to cut myself if they don't stop smoking.

This process, as you might have guessed, requires a lot of mental energy and is entirely unhelpful. Sometimes, I put an end to it all by just saying to myself, "EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL." But that's lying to myself, really, because there's no way I could have everything under my control, at all times, and the fact that I have to convince myself of that in order to sleep easy is problematic.

I don't think that I'm alone in feeling this way sometimes. But the fact that I am not the Supreme Decider of How Things Will Be, although unfortunate, is something that will never change, so getting worked up about it is like starting a letter-writing campaign to make it so that the Amazon River now flows through my backyard, rather than through 9 countries in South America.

From a Buddhist perspective (based on my very limited reading)*, unhappiness and suffering is caused by attachment to things: other people and places, our hopes and dreams, our own bodies. Attachment would be fine if we could ensure that the things we're attached to always do what we want, but obviously we can't do that. So we get our happiness inextricably wrapped up in things that are inconstant, things that we cannot guarantee will always behave the way we like, or turn out the way we hope. Things we can't control. And so we're repeatedly frustrated, hurt, and disappointed by these things we hold so dear. Buddhist practice incorporates a variety of ways to avoid this; simply avoiding attachment to things is the obvious option. But the thing I've been thinking about lately is equanimity.

*Full disclosure: I'm about to talk about things I learned from a book all about touchy-feely hippie nonsense that was recommended to me by my Mental Health Professional, so if you want to write me off as a new age nut job and go have yourself a chocolate milkshake instead I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND.

The idea I have of equanimity is one I got from Sharon Salzberg's book, which I think I've mentioned before. Based on her description, equanimity is an understanding that you cannot control anything outside of yourself, and an acceptance of all the things that happen that are outside of your control. So, you love people, you treat them with generosity and kindness, you hope for good things, you do your best to ensure that good things happen, but always with an awareness of the fact that you're not in control, and bad shit is going to occur from time to time. Or at least, that's my understanding based on my limited reading on the subject.

This way of looking at things is something I've been trying to focus on over the past couple of weeks, while I wait patiently (ok, not always so patiently) to find out whether my immediate future will be what I imagined it to be (not that it makes any sense for me to try to imagine the future in the first place) or if it will be something very different. In an effort to keep myself calm and sane, I have to keep reminding myself that there's no use in spending every hour of every day trying to come up with some way to make things turn out the way I want, because I've done what I can, and the rest is out of my control. In the book I was just talking about, the author suggests a meditation meant to cultivate equanimity. It involves focusing on a few key ideas, which I've paraphrased here:

May I accept things as they are.
May I be undisturbed by the coming and going of people, places, and things in my life.
Although I wish for the happiness of others, may I remember that I cannot make their decisions for them.
Although I haven't really been doing much focused meditating lately, I've found that just repeating those phrases can help keep me calm and my mind clear. I can stop struggling to 'make things ok,' and just stay grounded in the knowledge that all that scrambling for control is wasted effort. All I can really do is wait to see what happens, and accept whatever comes my way."

Thank you Jenna for allowing me to put your article here and you know what? I think this fear you feel in front of your computer when you want to write an article that will depict the state of mind you’re in in an artful yet understandable way is something I’m often experiencing too. Don’t ask yourself too many question, just go with the flow. Ladies in their twenties tend to over think and want to know everything about anything and where it will lead them but in the end, it’s not that important. It’s not what truly matters. Enjoy what you’re currently feeling, express it as you can and it will be perfect. For a week, try not to think about the future and what you want/are expected to do in the next months/ year. It means you can only achieve little things for the next day, not further. When you’re confronted to any situation where you feel you’re over analyzing or projecting yourself too far in the future, try to find a way to stop you. Jenna you say you panic in those situation, maybe a good way for you to stop doing that would be to focus on something in particular, something that requires attention. The best thing I know for that is sports like go for a run or do some yoga (it always works for me!). Meditation could be cool but it requires a lot of energy at first to push away all your thoughts. Here is another advice I have for you: Read a Chris Prentiss book! According to him, everything that happens to us is a message from the universe and happens for our greatest benefit. It may be difficult to realize in some situations but accepting this idea can change your whole life!

You talk also in your post about the concept of “equanimity” from the author Sharon Salzberg. Basically you can resume this idea in saying you should never expect someone else/ somebody else to fulfil yourself. It’s a lesson that the universe reminded me a few weeks ago. For the occasion, I’m going to copy on What The Ladies Say the article I wrote about that in my personal blog.


Sass Pizzazz said...

Thank you for your thoughts and advice, Valérie! I think you're right that it helps a lot to force yourself to focus on things in the here and now. It makes everything seem much simpler, and it's easier to get things done when you're not distracted by a million other worries. I'm still working on that, but I'll let you know how it goes! - Jenna

Fran said...

Reading this note, I thought of an article I read a few days ago. An article with many pictures of sand sculptures, all those sculptures works of surreal art, but they are so real. People said it was such a shame that they did not last long, that they would be washed away by waves and by flood.

But, does anything last forever? Ultimate eternity would be a disaster to the world.

"Act well at the moment, and you have performed a good action to all eternity."

Cherish the moment, the "here", and right now.


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