Tag Archives: Buddhism

You is kind. You is smart. You is sometimes a jackass.

“If you don’t start out too big for your britches, how are you gonna fill ’em when you grow up?”
– Stephen King

There are times, many, in fact, that I wonder if Cole doesn’t have a tad more ego than the average dirty-pants’d six-year old. Maybe ego is the wrong word. Maybe it’s not. I’d like not to admit that he’s either overly self-centered or bursting with an unrealistic (bloated) view of self. But he does think pretty well of himself. He’s happy to be Cole. So happy that, upon playing a “What Are You Thankful For?” game with the family, Cole wrote one word: Me.

From a Buddhist perspective, ego is a center of self, but it’s the false center, the one derived from others. True center is the one you’re born with — that’s the self. A kid is born without consciousness of self, and once born, the child because aware of the Other. The child is aware of his mother, how she holds him, smiles at him, and tells him, “You are precious to me.” And through that love and care, he feels good and important and valuable.

And then, through that interaction with the Other, he becomes increasingly aware of thatthingwecallself. He goes to school and learns that he’s not the center of the universe. Sometimes he fails. People don’t like him. Someone rolls her eyes. Another tells him that he’s not cool. Problem is, though, that’s not real awareness. It’s reflected. It’s born of a million different interactions with Other. It’s a complex, growing, tangled thing that’s shaped by how the world reacts to us. Ego changes. The reflected center grows and shifts and mutates until it’s a great hulking thing that we believe is … us.

(It’s not.)

Now is it possible that I’ve bolstered inflated Cole’s view of self? You bet it is. I lavish praise on the kid. I may have, on occasion, given him a line from The Help: You is kind. You is smart. You is important.

 

I’ve gotten better, though. I have. I didn’t realize that I might be doing him a disservice with the over-the-top ERMERGERD YOU’RE SO GREAT until sometime last year. And now, I’m careful to praise him for hard work, rather than intelligence; for kind action, rather than sweetness; for a job well done, rather than innate ability. And I’m honest. When he asks, “Am I the best bike rider you’ve ever seen?” I give it to him gently, but I give it to him true.

He’s working out his identity. I’m working on ensuring that identity is solid and realistic about his strengths and weaknesses. Again with the balance.

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Face the Promised Land

A friend of mine from boarding school wrote this great blog post (you can read it here). She talks of the Easter service she went to, during which folks from the congregation walked to the front of the church with posters they’d made. On one side of the poster they had written a word describing who they once were or how they once lived, and on the other side was a word that conveyed who they are now or how they live now. One struck me as what I’d probably write. On the front of the poster, “Self-centered.” On the other side, “Compassionate.”

It doesn’t take a miraculous event to switch gears. I know. When I began my recovery, I remained self-centered. My sobriety was all I cared about, because I was afraid. I was scared that I would lose my child. I was scared that I would lose my job. I was scared that I would lose control. I was scared that I was going to die. Mostly I was terrified that this show I’d managed to put on over the past three years was going to shatter and everyone would know – they would know that I was an alcoholic and an addict and a selfish, shitty person. A bad mom. A liar. 

Well now they know, because I’ve told them. 

Somewhere along the way, maybe when I decided to get really honest with myself, my concern morphed into being less worried with the me, and more cognizant of the “other-than me.”

Clark Strand, a one-time Buddhist monk and a Christian, explains that the great war waged is not and has never been one between Good and Evil. Rather, the battle is one between self and Other Self. Is that Other Self what you call God? Sure, maybe. What you call it doesn’t much matter.

For a long time, for most of my life, what I called “God” was.. myself. I’d cry out to the universe and hear nothing. Do you do this? We make God in our image, not the reverse. I still can’t image God. I can’t begin to conceive of it. I wrestle with it still, but I’m a lot more comfortable in that uncertainty and with the back and forth. Belief and doubt, sometimes in the course of an hour. 

I don’t know. There are no answers here, never have been. But when I can get beyond my self, That Thing I Call God gets into the cracks. Only when my heart and my mind were broken, when every idea I had about God was shattered–that’s when God appeared. 

Here, have a goat. 

Image

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The First Noble Truth

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and even longer since I’ve written about Buddhism. But as I sit here annoyed (and really, am I ever anything other than annoyed?) at Eleanor pawing at my typing hands, I realize that a little Buddhist wisdom would be appropriate.

Get OFF my keyboard, Frito.

The first of the four noble truths is that life means suffering. Our human bodies make physical pain an unavoidable part of living. Our human minds make psychological suffering an unavoidable part of living. Just as we feel such negative sensation, we are also thankfully subject to what we view as the opposite of suffering – happiness, contentment, pleasure.

I was in Winston-Salem yesterday for my niece’s two-year-old birthday. Before we embarked for the party, I sat at the kitchen table with my mother as she let the hair color soak into her scalp.

“I think some people are just incapable of lasting happiness,” she says.

I agree, but I’ll take it a step further. I don’t think most anyone is capable of lasting happiness. I know what she means though, the constant waiting  for something better or something easier or something more fulfilling. It’s not going to happen. And yet, Buddha didn’t ever attempt to explain suffering as a by-product of a divine plan.

The Sanskrit term for this is dukkha, and it covers the gamut of suffering – from mild unease to extreme anguish. While the term is often translated to English as “suffering,” its actual meaning is closer to “disquietude.” When we feel this, any discomfort, our first instinct is to immediately find cessation. And when we do that, we’re trying to separate the self  from what we’re experiencing. In doing this, we’re also separating ourselves from the mystery of being, the very nature of existence. The first noble truth, then, implores us to acknowledge that suffering is the central issue of the experience of being.

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More…On Being Nice

cows

Cows. Entirely unrelated.

My college boyfriend was from upstate New York and he was both baffled and annoyed by the southern tendency to talk to everyone. About anything. All the time. He couldn’t understand why the grocery store cashier asked him how he was dong — and appeared genuinely interested. While he found it odd, even irritating, I’d say it’s one of the best things about living here. People do care. People are interested. And people are polite.

Today I dropped into the gas station across the street from my office. It’s in a questionable part of town and it’s frequented by, well, not the types of people that live, uh, here. It’s quaint, owned by an Indian husband and wife. They got the good stuff — Little Debbie snacks, Fritos, soda, Boone’s Farm. I go for cigarettes and a Diet Coke. There’s a young African American chick behind the bulletproof (Maybe? Or maybe its just glass. I don’t know. Whatever.) glass and I ask her for a pack of Marlboro Light Menthols. She gives them to me through the slot in the window and tells me she likes my car. I laugh, and say that yeah, I like it too, but I don’t like the payments and it’s going back in April.

A conversation began. I was in a hurry to get home, but I stayed and we chatted.

She had gotten her son a Cadillac four wheeler for Christmas last year. Turns out he’s also three. We talk about having only children, their feelings of entitlement, our responsibility to not give in to everything they want. I tell her that until the Kaiser poops in the toilet, he’s getting no new toys. She laughs. She tells me about decorating her son’s room for his birthday, covering the walls with colorful car wallpaper. We laugh.

And maybe it is odd. To have a ten-minute conversation through glass with a complete stranger. But I left feeling better, and I hope she came away from our conversation feeling good-ish too.

It’s the tiny, perhaps inconsequential, every-day interactions that make life meaningful. The little moments between the big events that help shape who we are, what we’re becoming. So yeah. Listen. Be open. Yada.

Peace, Love, and Gas Stations.

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Filed under Buddhism, Raising Kids

What Does God Do? (I haven’t the foggiest idea.)

Whether it’s to you, at you, about you – preschool chat is fascinating. Over the past few weeks, the Kaiser has been saying some weird shit. Asking hard questions. Telling me what’s what.

  • “Mommy, you have no idea.” – I liked this one so much, I used it as a FB status. He wasn’t referring to a specific incident of mommy stupidity, but rather a general observation. Zing.
  • “You think Santa likes juice?” – He hits me with this on the car ride home today. I responded in the affirmative. He giggled maniacally the rest of the way home. “Huhhuhhee. Santa likes juice. Hehuhhhee.”
  • “Good Gracious. [Pause] Is that a bad word?” – I say this often. And variants, “good grief,” “good gosh,” etc., etc. Often. I’m trying to lay off the cursing. I am. Not because I think these are horrific words, but because I don’t want to have to explain to friends and my mother that the kid was kicked out of preschool for telling another child to kindly shut the fuck up.

Today, though, he asked me the big one. The biggest one. OK, other than the questions about babies and vaginas and stuff – this is huge. We were getting ready to take a bath. He sits on my lap. I take of his shoes. He leans back against me. And then. And then….

“What does God do?”

“Uhhhh.”

“But what does God do?”

“Uhhh. Well, God might do lotsa things. What do you think God does?”

“He has strong hands.” The Kaiser holds his hands out.

“Mmm. What else does God do?” I stand him up and take off his pants.

He shrugs. “I don’t know. Is God nice?”

“Yeah.” I pull his shirt over his head. “I think God’s probably nice. People think different things about God, Coley. I don’t really know.”

Conversation over. He wants to get in the bath. He forgets about metaphysics. For now.

heeey

If your religion doesn't make you feel good to be alive, what the hell is the point of it? -TR

But honestly? I dunno, Kaiser. I don’t know anything about God. I don’t think I believe in anything your preschool teacher calls God. And a lot of people think I might be doing you a lot of harm by not, like, raising you in a church. Sorry, pal. You got a confused Buddhist for a mother. But I won’t lie to you. And if you ever find out what God does, lemme know. I’ll listen.

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Meditating on Meditating

“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.” – Alan Watts

Meditate on how cute I am.

Meditate on how cute I am.

Meditation pisses me off. For about a year, I’ve been thinking about maaaybe meditating. Six months ago, I bought a book on Insight Meditation. I read it. Reread it. It’s one of my favorite Buddhist readings, aside from Buddhism and the 12 Steps which is so utterly worn it’s barely readable.

Sunday, I had the day to myself so did a little shopping. I picked up yet another meditation book. “This time,” I thought, “this time I’m going to read a chapter. Meditate. Read another chapter. Meditate again.”

Riiiiight.

The book, aptly named, Meditation: Now or Never makes all the right points. All the points I already get, but chose to ignore. At this point, I’ve only read the first chapter (“True Blood” was on, y’all) but I tried it again last night, the simple meditative act of being completely, undivided in the activity of my moment. I was doing laundry.

Awareness isn’t easy. My thoughts, my inane thoughts flutter through my mind, one after the other at lightning speed. I gently bring my mind back to the present. I breathe. And it’s gone again, fluttering from one unimportant thing to an even more unimportant thing. I bring it back again. Ten more times before I’ve folded a load of clothes, I realize I’m entirely unfocused. And how much more of my life is like that? How much time spent in planning, worrying, considering, remembering – when the only reality is right now?

Coming Soon: Zen & Children

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