Tag Archives: Buddhism

September (FALL/AUTUMN) is Here, and I Couldn’t Be More Excited

Pushups for Veterans

I was challenged by friend Shon Byrum, the Mayor of Winchester, Indiana, to a Facebook challenge. I don’t typically partake in Facebook challenges, because I fail to see how they do any good, since they focus on some effort that neither raises money for, nor provides a solution to, whatever problem the challenge is supposedly addressing. This challenge, though, raises awareness about a problem that I think is particularly important.

Why is it that so many of our honorable veterans come home, only to end their lives shortly thereafter?

For the particular challenge Shon invited me to do, the acceptor of the challenge is required to do 22 pushups for 22 days in honor, or memory, of the approximately 22 veterans per day who commit suicide because of PTSD or another mental illness. I’ve done two days worth of pushups, and I’ve challenged two other people to the same challenge, which is a part of it. They are then requires to pass the challenge on, so awareness is spread via the viral nature of social media.

Starting tomorrow, I’m raising the bar on this challenge for myself. I’m putting 50¢ in a fund toward a veteran’s charity that helps with mental health care services for members of the military who are returning from war. By the end of the challenge, if my math is right, which it may not be, I’ll be donating a total of $220 to help our veterans who’ve been damaged by the effects of war. I haven’t yet decided which charity I will chose, but I’m doing research. I’m leaning toward The Soldier’s Project; my only hesitation is that their help is only available in limited parts of the country.

Starting tomorrow, I’m also going to include a different link to a different charity each day in my post. I’d love it my friends and family would also make small donations to those charities in honor of this challenge. Then, I think, I’d feel like I’m doing more than just raising awareness of a problem, but I’d also be helping to provide a solution to the problem as well.

Goals

Running: I’m doing it, and I’m enjoying it more, so I guess that’s progress. I’ve also started swimming again. Merideth and I started with a four day a week pact, but four days is a bit daunting along with running, too, so I am shooting for three days a week from here until the end of October.

Compassion: I’m struggling right now to articulate my spiritual beliefs. On the one hand, I do so love the Jesus, but on the other hand, the things I love about Jesus feel more Buddhist to me than anything, so I am reading a lot about people who have a similar struggle that I do. And there are many of us.

I’ve slipped bit on the vegan front, and I even ate a bit of meat when I was in Texas for training for work. I regretted it immediately. I wanted to breathe the life back into the cow, but I couldn’t, so I just cried instead. Into my hotel pillow. How sad.

Looking back, I’ve lumped a bunch of things into this category of compassion and the one that doesn’t seem to fit is meditation. But it does. I mentioned the other day that meditation has helped me more in my adult life than prayer has, that isn’t really true, I suppose, except that meditation is helping me become friends with myself in a new way. By focusing on my very existence—my breath—  I’m able to recognize my absolute physical impermanence, and through prayer while running, I’m able to contemplate how to use my newfound settledness, inner-peace, or contentment to love in a new way. (I’m sorry if this seems a bit scattered or not really well articulated, but I’m trying to find a way to describe some feelings that are utterly foreign to me.)

To focus my meditation, I’ve been using a mala that I made from a bunch of beads I’ve had since college, but today I ordered a new mala made of jade. Because I use beads when I pray, I find to be especially helpful—but in very different ways—to use beads when I meditate. Meditating each day for nearly a month now has helped me to empathize with people more easily, to pause and give space in conversation, to not have to talk as much, to be able to listen more, and to be able to have unbridled compassion and love.

It’s really beautiful.

Social Media and Creativity: I came back onto Facebook, because I missed some of my friends. I’m learning to balance it and my other activities, so that I am not consumed with comparison (Facebook envy), anger, and an irrational need for feedback and approval. I haven’t done any art, and I’ve done little writing. I have done quite a bit of listening to Podcasts, which are feeding my imagination and making me think differently about the world in which we live. And I’m still reading quite a bit, so I’ll call this successful for now.

Finances: I’m paying things down. Slowly but surely. Not as fast as I wanted, but it’s happening.

Pay It Forward: I’ll be in Canada during the classes for the sexual assault advocacy, and now that I really think about it, there are probably other volunteer opportunities that will suit me better, ones that won’t cause me personal distress. I’m open to suggestions of things people might see me doing, so if you think of anything, I’d be happy to hear about it.

Fall and Autumny Things

Most people know that fall is my favorite season of the four. The air is crisp, the trees are filled with color, and everything looks and feels like it might just curl up and take a nap. Fall is filled with apple cider, hot chocolate, bonfires, and pumpkins; all of which make me extremely happy. I get to have impromptu coffee and writing time with fine people like Ico, and the drive to work doesn’t feel so bad with bright red and yellow trees guiding the way. Essentially, everything is more amazing in the fall.

The two most exciting things for me this fall are that my friends Julie and Alan are coming to visit this weekend and we’re going to an apple orchard/pumpkin farm, and then a couple of weeks later, I get to vacation in Canada with my beautiful wife and my amazing little brother. What’s most awesome about our vacation is that we’ll also get to spend time with Merideth, Josh, and T-Bean in New York.

The end. 

Basically, my life feels like it is on an upswing. I’m working hard to help this be a new way of life for me,

  • one in which I have a balance between setting goals and achieving them, or not.
  • one in which I have personal health, and a healthy way of interacting with other.
  • one in which I am serious, and also feel free.
  • one in which I respect those around me, but I also respect myself.

Peace. Grace.

New Beginning(s): “This is the first day of the rest of your life . . . “

I feel like I am constantly starting over. Personally, starting over feels good to me, and I wake up nearly every day with the bridge of one of my favorite songs stuck in my head: “This is the first day of the rest of your life.” Sometimes, though, I think this might get draining for my friends. I think they sit around thinking, What is she going to try to do this time, and how long will it last? You know, I think the same thing. But instead of feeling like a flake or feeling defeated by my inability to “stick to it,” I feel invigorated by it. This may be wishful thinking, but I think starting new again and again and looking at every day as the first day of the rest of my life is actually a very healthy place for me to be in. I never get stuck in a rut, unless it is a rut of starting over. This constant change of focus, however, might mean that I never really finish what I start, which is a signal or indicator of failure in American culture that places so much emphasis on the completion of tasks, even at the face of incredible boredom or monotony. I, however, vow that each day is the first day of the rest of my life, and I retain the right to change my mind and to act out those changes in my little corner of the world.

How will this work out, you ask, in the facets of my life I hold most dear? Well, Friend, here’s today’s new and improved me (with a smattering of the old me for good measure, and a touch of the same old topics being knocked around again).

Anyone who’s read this blog before knows that one of my largest areas of struggle is spirituality. I reason with my analytical self and contemplate inside my mystic self, I wrestle with the (many understandings of) the Judeo-Christian God and, lately, I’ve been conversing with Buddhism. I’m also looking for ways intentionally fit in some meditation and prayer throughout my day. Providentially, I happened upon the Daily Examen, which is an Ignatian practice. I think this short simple prayer exercise will complement the other meditation I have started, “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment,” which I read about in Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh. Thay, as his students call him, seems to be onto something that resonates inside of me when he compares mindfulness and meditation to the presence of the Holy Spirit and prayer. Never does he claim that they are one and the same, but he carefully describes the ways in which they can exist side-by-side to bring a further understanding of ourselves in line with a further understanding of the world and its spiritual realm. His writing is so beautiful and his spirit so kind and peaceful, it makes me want to visit Plum Village. I’m thinking about going there next summer if I can find the funding. I need a bit of renewed-ness in my life. Summer seems pretty far away, but I know it will be here before I know it.

Looking toward summer probably isn’t what a teacher should be doing while she sits at her desk spending time on personal writing before beginning to plan two first, six-week units for classes, but it’s what I am doing, and it’s necessary and good work, and looking toward summer is natural for me. However, the school year is here and brings with it many, many changes to our school. Most important to me is the change that enabled me to move to the high school. I am very sad to leave my middle school students and some of my middle school colleagues, but I am excited to embark on a new journey, “This is the first day . . ..” This year I am teaching two sections of British literature, which is new for me. I never imagined I’d teach British literature. I never thought I’d want to, but it’s part of the bargain of moving up to high school. I’m finding that I really enjoy planning for the class and thinking about something new and different to me. I’m also enjoying three sections of American literature, which is, of course, why I made the decision to move to high school. I love American literature. I love everything about it, and now I can restructure the course into thematic units and teach it in a more holistic, well-rounded way, giving more voice to those groups which are currently under-represented. At Burris, we’ve always taught it chronologically by literary movements, which is entirely the easiest way to teach it when two teachers are sharing the classes. However, it’s my own gig now, and I plan to switch things up for next year. This year, because I only have two preps and because we’ve been released from many of our committee requirements, I feel like I can squeeze in a few things that I thought might get squeezed out of my life.

One of the things I’m putting back into my life is my dissertation. This, I think, might be the thing that makes me seem the most flakey. To most, it likely seems that I don’t know what I am doing and I’m flighty and not very serious about this piece of my education, but I am. Very. Serious. I want to finish my PhD, but I don’t want my ideas, my paper, my writing to suck. I don’t want to be subpar, and that’s where I was headed. I’ve taken an entire summer off, rested, and refocused, and I am ready now to a superstar! (That was a little too much, eh?) At any rate, I have a plan this time, and it might actually work. I plan to get up and get to school by 5:30 every morning, giving myself two hours to work on my dissertation every day before school starts. My mind is the freshest at this time of day, and theoretical concepts make the most sense before I’ve intermingled with my students. I’m not a morning person in the way of being with people that early, but I can surely write and read before the chaos of the day clutters my brain. I have two hours of prep time to get things ready for classes throughout the day, and our lesson plans are due on Monday by 4PM anyway. I am really excited about this prospect, and now I can’t, simply can’t, fall on my face, or I will look like a real tool.

I’m also going to start taking piano lessons every other Friday, and, as of now, I’m a little nervous about that bit of exploration and learning!

What does this do for my swimming and running, my athletic endeavors, you might wonder. I’m canceling the rest of the races I had planned for this year, in favor of being a bit more low-key and doing some 5Ks as they come up. I’ve decided to put a hold on my morning swims. It’s going to be two school years of sacrifice, and then I can swim again. I doubt I’ll forget in that time. As far as biking goes, the season is almost over for it, and I don’t plan to bike on my trainer until spring. Until it is over, though, I plan to go on long rides on Saturday with Bec, and I ride my bike to school every day anyway. In order to sort of rein in my extra energy and balance my moods, I plan to combine the prayer and mediation I mentioned above with an evening run to wind down from and reconsider my day. It’s my goal, Monday through Thursday, to walk over to the lookout by Minnetrista and do the smiling and mindful meditation, then run two miles. When I return to the overlook, I will then complete the daily examen and walk home. There is no reason that I can’t have an hour to myself to be contemplative before going home to cook.

I plan to continue to cook delicious—I’d even say gourmet (sometimes)—paleo meals. We feel better and look better in just the nine months we’ve been eating grain-free. I hope to keep it that way. Also, my brother and I want to eventually open a paleo gastro pub with our own home-brewed hard ciders. We’re going to start brewing the ciders this fall, I think, and we’re hoping to make some pear cider next fall. One thing we both love is trying new foods and drinks, so I think it’s a bonus that we found paleo eating when did!

Cheers! (Raising a hard cider): here’s to starting over. Here’s to rethinking. Here’s to new beginnings. Here’s to exploration, and growth. Here’s to future hopes, past failures and success, and present moments to savor. Here’s to “the first day of the rest of your life. Even in the darkness you can still see the light.”

“Come alive, come truly alive!”

I’ve just started reading Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh. The introduction is written by Elaine Pagels, whose book about “Revelation” is also on my to read list. In the introduction of Living, she discusses some of the gnostic gospels and their similarities to Buddhist thought. Most striking for me are the words of “The Teaching of Silvanus”

Knock upon yourself as upon a door, and walk upon yourself as on a straight road. For if you walk on that path, you cannot go astray; and when you knock on that door, what you open for yourself shall open.

Pagels argues that the gnostic gospels point not simply to faith, but also to a “path of solitary searching”  for understanding (xxv). For obvious reasons, many early church leaders condemned the gnostic gospels and the alternate salvific paths they taught, but these same books advocate similar theological teachings, such as compassion. Pagels writes that in the “Gospel of Thomas” Jesus says, “Love your brother as the apple of your eye.” Isn’t that the same thing as recognizing the spark of the divine in everyone or loving your neighbor as yourself?

In the first chapter “Be Still and Know,” Nhat Hanh advocates a similar idea to Paul’s in the biblical text. Paul writes in Acts: “‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’We also learn throughout the Christian scriptures that every good thing comes from God. Take the first chapter of James for example: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” St. Thomas Aquinas, in his ginormous text Summa Theologica, even extrapolates the idea that all good is of God. Nhat Hanh agrees with this long line of Christian theological thought, but spins it little when he writes about his own encounters with Jesus: “We have to allow what is good, beautiful, and meaningful in the other’s tradition transform us” (9). Nhat Hanh and early Christian writers of all threads, I think, want us to realize this singular spirit of love, beauty, and grace.

I like the last section of this first chapter quite a bit. Nhat Hanh advocates that we should look deeply, which means that “the distinction between observer and observed disappears” (11). Do you suppose this is what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing”? Are we to look into Jesus so intently that we become indistinguishable from him? Is that how we can learn to change the world?

Peace.

Lent Day 6: Joy and Confession

I am sure you are thinking, What a strange juxtaposition for a title! Joy and confession? How do those two go together? I am not entirely sure theydogo together completely, but I can tell you that I am beginning to experience pure joy again. I find myself laughing with reckless abandon more, and I find myself getting incredibly grumpy and sad less. And it hasn’t simply been the past six days while praying three times a day, following the liturgical hours; this joy has been slowly growing—like the bright green moss on the hillside by the river—since the new year started. I posted the other day, maybe yesterday, how I feel like I am finally taking control over my moods, rather than them controlling me, but just today, I felt complete joy. I actually threw my head back and laughed my big belly laugh. And I wasn’t embarrassed by it. Which, in turn, gave me more joy. I am no longer the shadow person I have been.

Part of my joy comes from observing Lent and knowing that in a few short weeks, we’ll be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. But another good portion of my joy comes from suggestions picked up from Pema Chodron’s The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Lovingkindness. InWisdom, Chodron advocates making friends with those parts of us that cause us anger, aggression, or aversion, because those attributes that irritate us about others are the same that irritate us about ourselves. Through the act of making friends with those attributes, and no longer trying to rid ourselves of those attributes, we learn to give kindness to others. Our desire to rid ourselves of those qualities results in an aggression toward those qualities when we see them in others. We become unkind to both others and ourselves. Because Chodron teaches how to be kind, I feel like I can begin to honestly look at myself and decipher what it is that I don’t like about myself, recognize that those features are simply part of who I am, make peace with that, and eventually stop trying to remove those attributes from myself and from others, thereby gaining a kindness and a sense of peace in regards to myself and others.

(Side note: My next spiritual read is Thich Nhat Hahn’s Living Buddha, Living Christ.)

How can Inotexperience joy when I have made friends with my whole self, with all of my attributes?

This is where confession comes in. First, I must closely self-examine to figure out what those attributes are that I don’t like about myself. Once I decipher that, I must confess those qualities to myself, to others, to God even. Through this confession, I name my weaknesses or those things which cause me pain. I claim them out loud. I call them what they are. Then I make friends with them, not “comfortable, hey let’s go have some pizza and beers friends,” but I acknowledge that those qualities are a part of who I am, and I sit with them. Get to know them. Make friends, like “sitting on opposite ends of the couch, but I am not trying to kick you out” friends. My weaknesses and I learn to coexist after I confess them. And through our coexistence they eventually cease to be a cause for anger or malice or injury. They just are.

I confess that there are a whole bucket of attributes of my personality of my life that irritate me, that I need to make friends with. And I hope that once I make friends with those facets, they will just sit at the other end of that couch and be quiet. That’s my biggest flaw: I don’t know when to be quiet. Maybe I need to take a silent retreat. Every day. One of the things I appreciate about this Buddhist idea of embracing our own flaws is that I don’t end up with a bucket of shame at what I’ve confessed about myself. I end up, instead, with a changed heart. Too many times, Christians miss this bit and would rather shame someone than encourage their wholeness. That, in and of itself, is a shame.

This whole discussion brings me around to what prompted these thoughts. Part of the evening prayer, which I have been praying for six days without recognizing this part, says, “You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O Giver of Life, your glory fills the whole world.” I think this part jumped out at me tonight, because for the first time in a long time, my heart feels light and joyful. I’m going to cling to that joy.

Peace.