Intro to Buddhism

There’s an underlying dissatisfaction that we experience in life. Typically, we blame this dissatisfaction on a particular circumstance that we believe is fixable sometime in the future.

For example: “I’m currently unsatisfied with life because I’m ten-pounds overweight.” In this scenario, everything that goes wrong can be blamed on being ten-pounds overweight. This small problem serves as a scapegoat for the underlying dissatisfaction with life: “Oh boy, when I eventually lose the weight, EVERYTHING is going to be awesome!”

But what happens when the ten-pounds IS lost? Uh-oh, the dissatisfaction doesn’t disappear. Now a new scapegoat must be found. And it’s best to find a problem that’s fixable in the future (but not too soon!). If the problem doesn’t have an obvious solution, then frustration will set in. And if you can’t find a small problem, you’ll likely accept a larger more daunting one.

OR, you can stop using scapegoats altogether, and tackle the broader dissatisfaction that’s been underlying life this whole time. It’s doable, but not by attaining something on the outside. It’s brought about by cultivating an inner satisfaction, a sense of satiety no matter what you’re served. And that journey begins and ends now, literally.

Long-story-short: Through mindfulness, quiet all intrusive thoughts and develop a perspective that allows you to trust and appreciate life.

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Bike Accessories

This is a story about bike accessories, well not really, but kinda. I’ve been riding my bike around town for a while now. Usually on the weekends in the early morning right after sunrise. By this point, I’ve kinda gone everywhere you can go.

During my initial rides, the seat got a little uncomfortable, so I wanted to get a padded-cover for it. I also wanted some handlebar-mounted side-mirrors so I could see any cars coming up behind me. I wanted a phone-holder so I could check the map without having to reach for my phone all the time. And I wanted a bell, just in-case I had to warn pedestrians of my approach.

For the most part I enjoyed biking around — and any feelings of dissatisfaction I felt, I attributed to my lack of accessories. Ouch, my bottom hurts from sitting on a hard seat. Ugh, I have to keep looking back for cars, what a pain. Oh man, I have to keep whipping-out my phone to check the map.

Eventually I ordered the accessories I wanted. I installed them and went for a ride. I appreciated having them (well not the bell, it was a bit loud and I try to stay clear of pedestrians anyway). Yet, even with all those accessories installed, I still noticed an underlying dissatisfaction. But this time, I couldn’t blame it on my lack of gear.

Did this mean dissatisfaction was inherent to the activity itself? Or did it mean that dissatisfaction is inherent to ME? Uh-oh! Instead of removing every last bit of dissatisfaction, filling the accessories-hole actually paved the way to a deeper dissatisfaction, one with no obvious fix. Yikes!

Then today, I was lamenting that I lacked spending-money for some other things I wanted. But it’d be a solid assumption that more money wouldn’t result in more satisfaction. A source of dissatisfaction would simply pop-up somewhere else. Imagine if I attained everything I wanted, I’d have no scapegoats left, I’d probably be left with existential-angst as my source of dissatisfaction.

This is the problem many successful folks have to face when all their earthly dreams come true, yet they’re still feeling unfilled (with no obvious way to fill the hole). The moral of the story seems to be this: make sure you have a scapegoat to blame for your dissatisfaction. I’m kidding of course (although it seems to work in the short-term).

Yet that’s the way it goes, right? I’m unhappy because I lack money. I’m unhappy because “other people” are ruining everything. I’m unhappy because my life isn’t perfect. But I’ll guarantee you this: if the so-called source of your dissatisfaction gets fixed tomorrow, your dissatisfaction WILL remain.

You can’t fix an internal problem by external means. Long-story-short, satisfaction must come from within or it doesn’t come at all. And because it’s within you, this is a personal journey — it’s all yours and you already have everything you need. All you have to do is decide to walk it (sorry no bikes allowed).

Path of Presence

I just finished reading The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle. I liked it. It definitely aligned with my current perspective of existence. The primary difference though, was his insistence on the need to get to now. In other words, if you’re not striving to become present within each moment of the day, then you’re doing enlightenment wrong — and I think he has a point.

One of my longtime goals has been to reach “enlightenment”. Growing up, I was attracted to the martial-arts and Asian-mysticism — I wanted those sweet kick-ass powers you get when you become a Kung-Fu Master. But even after I stopped wanting chi-powered fireballs to shoot from my hands, I still held on to the goal of enlightenment. And instead of kung-fu, I saw meditation and ancient spiritual texts as the gateway.

But intermittent meditation and the occasional reading do not enlightenment make. You need a practice. You need a path to walk. Currently, I blip in and out of deep spiritual understanding and spend most of my time lost in life. I’ve been waiting for enlightenment to kick-in. But through the goal of presence, there’s genuine practice, an actual path to take.

And so presence is going to be my practice for the time being. I’ve been trying it out since I started reading the book and I like the results so far. I was also highlighting a lot while reading, so I’ll be going back over the book for the purpose of taking notes and studying the material a bit more — plus it reminds me to remain present.

Path Not Taken

I’ve been told there are two lives you can select from. One is self-directed by the mind and its many thoughts. The other is an elaborately crafted grand-narrative directed by life itself.

The first one is typically chosen by those afraid of what life has to offer. And perhaps they’re a bit boring in their tastes and don’t want to participate in an awe-inspiring adventure. The problem with this route though, is the mind isn’t the best storyteller and comes up with weak storylines and lame tangents. The mind also tends to rely on cheap-tricks like jump-scares and cliches. And of course the story won’t contain any amazement since the mind is both author and audience — it knows what’s going to happen after all.

The second one takes consent and trust, a leap of faith. Do you dare let life take you on a roller-coaster ride? Where will it take you? Which characters will come and go? Who will you be? What will you have to do to play-out your role? When is the next thrilling drop? Oh boy, it’s making me sweat just thinking about it. Obviously you can tell which life I chose.

But if you do select the self-directed path, life is more than willing to fill in any blanks or even take-over at any point. If you simply surrender your control, life will continue from there, crafting a tale to delight and amuse. And of course you can retake the reins and go back to a stinted and somewhat suffocating story of your own — if that’s what you really want.

Existential Alarm-clock

Imagine you’re walking outside and you remain within your thoughts the entire time. You literally notice nothing around you. Life happened and you missed it. Essentially, you were lost within yourself.

And if you remain in that state of self-centeredness, life will attempt to free you from the condition. Why? Because existence is meant to be experienced. Duh. You would even set the alarm yourself — and perhaps at some point you did.

But you don’t wake-up from an unconscious state very easily. It might even take a violent shake, to get you awake. And if you simply go back to sleep, a rousing stir might be in order — again and again until finally you’re attentive.

Then what? Well then you get to work, following the selfless role you find within. When you’re alert, you’ll hear it. And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll follow it without complaint.

This is a fulfilling role of course, an adventure you’re sure to enjoy — a privilege that would never waste itself on someone too oblivious to appreciate it. Duh. And therefore never ask for whom the alarm rings, it rings for thee.

Interpretive Dance

Is the act of eating strawberries a violent and exploitative endeavor in which one organism crushes and consumes the life-energy of another? In other words, the way in which we interpret life matters. And if people genuinely disagree on whether certain things are right or wrong, then the solidity of our reality is far from set.

And if our interpretation of reality is indeed malleable, why would we ever shape it in a way that causes distress? In other words, if I find strawberries delicious, why would I ever interpret the act of eating them as sadistic? By plucking it from the bush and consuming it, I’m clearly ending the fruitful-existence of the strawberry — but why would I want to see that as cruel?

Instead, I choose to see it as a celebration of life. The strawberry and my body are part of a choreographed dance in which we coordinate to make the cycle-of-life happen. It’s a beautiful thing. There’s nothing grotesque or brutish about it. And deep down I see the entire scene as flickering pixels anyway, there was nothing truly lost and nothing truly gained (except for the entertainment value of the experience).

Yet, there’s things I do interpret negatively, resulting in an associated experience of distress. For instance, I hate cheesecake — f*ck that stuff, I’m sorry but it’s gross. Look, now I’m all upset, and it’s stupid-cheesecake’s fault! I told you that crap was no good. But the question is, why would I do that to myself? Why bother to interpret something as bad when it changes NOTHING but my mood (from good to bad)?

Stupid right? And the solution is obvious. If I want to remain in a good mood, I should simply accept life as it is and assign a pleasant interpretation to EVERYTHING i.e. The Pollyanna Approach to Life. If that’s the obvious solution, and I’m NOT implementing it, what does that tell you? It implies that I enjoy the feeling of outrage. Oops.

Ladies and gentleman of the jury, the evidence is quite clear on this matter, the defendant is a sicko that gets-off on the anger and disgust and condemnation he feels towards life’s innocent artifacts. He conjures up the most malevolent fantasies imaginable just to feel indignation surge through his body — this is the very definition of a deranged individual.

Does negativity then qualify as an addiction? Something done for the rush yet results in distress and can’t easily be stopped? Perhaps it’s time to quit the stuff? It’s time to put down the pessimism, lay off the fear, and back away from the constant criticism. Wait, just one more scare! Come on! How about a little disparagement at least? No, no, I can’t!

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask for lenience. An addiction by definition is something not easily controlled. For whatever reason I became addicted to negativity — and I’ve carried that burden throughout life. I’ve paid the price for harboring such pessimism, locked in a prison of my own making. I was blind, but now I see. I can henceforth dedicate my life to a new and better perspective. And with that improved outlook I can help others who have a similar predilection for the gloom and doom.

Life Level

What if there’s another level to life that you’re missing out on? And the way in which one enters said level, is through a cultivated perspective?

Consider this: You’re watching a man use his bare hands to violently rip apart the appendages of a defenseless life-form, what he tears off he inserts into his salivating mouth. Red liquid pours down his chin as his teeth cut and gnash. After swallowing, the man smiles in delight. He performs this act over and over, seemingly enjoying the brutality of it all.

Later on, you learn that the man was in a field of ripened strawberries. He was eating the freshly picked berries and loving every bite. He then invites you to join him and you experience the delight of munching strawberries right off the bush. All of a sudden, what seemed like a horrible travesty turned into a wonderful time for you and the man.

But what if you never accepted the benevolence of consuming strawberries? What if you insisted on the brutality of the situation? What if you remained sickened by what you saw: the violence and the sadistic delight of the man? Why couldn’t he leave those plump and juicy fruits alone? They had a right to exist, and he had no right to destroy them.

That’s life on two different levels. One is a harsh and brutal level in which creatures are fueled by violence and injustice. The other level is one in which fun-seeking beings frolic amidst fields, delighting in fruits offered forth from the Earth and nourished by the sun. And the free-will with which you’re equipped, allows you to choose the level you experience.