on a personal note

My study/practice of Buddhism these past 4 months has coincided with a period when my work schedule has been pretty relaxed.  So I’ve had lots of time to read books and meditate.  Not everyone has time to read 10 or so books on one subject, and read some of them multiple times, in the span of four months, and to meditate an hour or more per day.  Oh, and I also watched about 14 hours of Chogyam Trungpa lectures.

Someone else might get into Buddhist meditation, but for them, maybe they’ll read a few books in a year and meditate 10 minutes per day.  Maybe their life contains interruptions of the sort that make us put a book down halfway through and maybe not get back to it for weeks or months thereafter.

So I’ve been fortunate to do it somewhat immersively.  I wish everyone could do the same, everyone who wants to.

there’s no actor outside of the action

all day I didn’t think I could write a cover letter.  The thing I needed to do. By around 10 a.m. I had given up on the day.  I knew I couldn’t do it.  Not today.  I traversed the time in various ways, mostly benign.  Then at around 3:00, I decided to do what I sometimes do, which is to fake it.  Just write a couple of terrible sentences.  Probably 4 minutes or so after I sat down at my desk and started writing the letter, I was no longer faking it.  I became intent on writing the letter and finished writing it maybe 45-60 minutes later.

include

I shouldn’t be surprised or perturbed by daily or weekly shifts in how I experience meditation practice.  In recent days, something has been off.  That’s fine.  Traverse it.  Include it.  Everything gets included.

Continue.

Some shifts in experience are shifts in expectation.  Make less progress.  Be the current practice.  It can’t be just a means.

aspiration

Fear has to be let go of. Prediction has to be let go of. If I want to serve someone, I can’t be afraid of failing them. A success/failure mindset blocks service.

Prediction is acquiescence. The attitude of prediction is that the future has already happened, and we’re just trying to discern it from a distance.

Less predicting, more being. Being is determining.

We’re afraid we aren’t good and aren’t deserving. We’re afraid we care too much to help. Or that we have the wrong mix of caring and uncaring.

When you meditate, you’re volunteering to have a more workable, flexible mind.  This is always helpful to others.  You build the habit of valuing life, as it would make no sense at all to meditate if you didn’t. And so you use the rumble strip of cognitive dissonance to your advantage. Because if you meditate for a half an hour, and then a couple hours later you go to mismanage yourself somehow, to do something not really in your interests, it clashes. You have a moment of dissonance that stops you (at least often it does).

You also practice aspiration and non-fear. You strengthen your aspiration muscle. Meditation is always aspirational. You’re aspiring the entire time. Even if you feel like maybe it’s not your best meditation ever, even if it’s sloppy, every second you are on your butt meditating you are aspiring.

The posture and attitude is one of non-fear, and so you can’t help but practice non-fear as you meditate. To some extent meditation is a matter of acting like someone who isn’t afraid, who opens and is present and needs no escape. It can be a relief, in some cases, to meditate, and so it might feel like escape, but it’s not. It’s recourse to something reliable, but isn’t avoidant at all. It’s the discovery that non-avoidance is possible and vast and is a better experience than avoidance is.

When we act a certain way, we become/are that way.

have energy

When you don’t have energy, check your ego. We suffer and tire when our egos flare up.

Or just traverse the time when you don’t have energy. Let it happen to some extent. Depressed? Let that happen. Maybe do something good for yourself in the meantime, if you can. Do a load of laundry as a gift to your future non-depressed self. Wash the dishes in the sink, then clean the sink.

non-self

I’m getting started on a Dzigar Kongtrul book, It’s Up To You, that arrived here yesterday from Shambhala. I am glad to see it starts with a discussion of non-self.

Non-self is maybe my favorite understanding I’ve picked up from Buddhism. The Buddhist view of non-self, or selflessness, is something that appears to me like salvation. It’s very dangerous to be born, to be a person, to be any self. But what if there is no self here. Then there is still danger, but the danger seems diminished, and more manageable somehow. When we contact non-self, we realize that the imaginary self is much of the burden we’ve been carrying.

Our habitual way of thinking about consciousness persuades us that we have a self. I find it takes a bit of work to see how consciousness is not a self, that there is no self that’s conscious. But I have found it possible to contact this, and useful.

The “movie” of consciousness does not imply or require a self, but we sure are in the habit of thinking it does. We habitually project a self in or behind or underneath the consciousness we experience. We form this habit at so young an age that we have trouble seeing that it’s merely a habit, and has nothing much to support it.

Consciousness is part of the brain experiencing another part of the brain.  It’s barely more remarkable a phenomenon than our brain responding to a “physical sensation.” There is not much more sophistication in the brain registering the brain registering a paper cut, as compared with the brain registering a paper cut. One is not drastically more difficult to conceive of than the other, I don’t think.

I’ll type out a bit of this first section of It’s Up to You:

Holding to an ordinary notion of self, or ego, is the source of all our pain and confusion. The irony is that when we look for this “self” that we’re cherishing and protecting, we can’t even find it. The self is shifty and ungraspable. When we say “I’m old,” we’re referring to our body as self. When we say “my body,” the self becomes the owner of the body. When we say “I’m tired,” the self is equated with physical or emotional feelings. The self is our perceptions when we say “I see,” and our thoughts when we say “I think.” When we we can’t find a self within or outside of these parts, we may then conclude that the self is that which is aware of all of these things — the knower or mind.

But when we look for the mind, we can’t find any shape, or color, or form. This mind that we identify as the self, which we could call ego-mind, controls everything we do. Yet it can’t actually be found — which is somewhat spooky, as if a ghost were managing our home. The house seems to be empty, but all the housework has been done. The bed has been made, our shoes have been polished, the tea has been poured, and the breakfast has been cooked.

— — —

“Experience has itself.” — Chogyam Trungpa, responding to a student who asked what it is that has the experience if there is no self.

stage

“What usually happens with people, with the early stage of spiritual development, when they feel they need some feedbacks that [they] are doing right, so immediately what usually one does is you go out and preach, so that you get some feedback … which is … the origin of spiritual materialism. In the case of Milarepa, he was so great and so direct that he didn’t look for such thing like that at all. He just worked on himself.”
— Chogyam Trungpa in a talk on “The Three Marks of Existence,” at 38:00. This was part of the first seminar taught by Trungpa during the first summer session at Naropa Institute, in 1974.

summary

Buddhism is a science that developed a following. We could say it’s a science that requires regular practice, but that’s true of so many sciences that it might be redundant to mention regular practice.

Usually a scientist intends to be a static observer rather than one who is necessarily changed by observation. There’s no way to do science of the mind without being changed, though. Being changed is how you gather findings. You are the instrument and the subject. There’s no other way.

When the Buddha was sitting under the tree, he was doing science. This seems clear to me. This is not a matter of claiming Buddhism for science or removing Buddhism from the spirituality section of the bookstore. But it seems essential to understand that a Buddhist is not doing anything very much like what a theist does. A Buddhist is not contacting the beyond. A Buddhist does very immediate science, simply looking and seeing what she can, and seeing if there is a kind of predictability to how the mind works, seeing how much can be understood, and establishing terminology where needed, concepts even, though the ultimate goal is to get a better view of how all our existing concepts, all our conceptual baggage, work presently, and getting some freedom from concepts by seeing how they function amongst our other mental skandhas (“heaps”).

In science, practitioners can share findings, and the findings are broadly applicable. One scientist’s findings are very useful to another scientist. Buddhism is no exception. There is a surprising degree of universality one discovers, a sense in which people are more similar to one another than one had realized, and you can understand other minds by understanding your own.

If someone says something is a religion, then it is. It would be silly, and a very strange impulse, to want to argue that something isn’t a religion if someone says it is. And so Buddhism is a religion to anyone who says it is.

from

I have been trying to restrain myself from opinion. At times in reading all these books, opinion wells up and begins to turn to prose in my head. It has quite a force, as prose formation often does. And when it happens, I have the thought that I might write down some of the prose. But I hope to keep remembering I am new at all this thought & history and it’s better to wait a fairly long while, an increasingly long while perhaps.

The scriptures arrived yesterday. A selection edited by Edward Conze in 1959. Up to now I hadn’t read anything written before the 1970s. From the introduction: “The bulk of the selections in this book was written down between A.D. 100 and 400, in other words about 600 to 900 years after the Buddha’s demise. For the first five hundred years the Scriptures were orally transmitted.”

regard

Chogyam says over and over that what we’re really afraid of is that we might not exist. So I try to consider it. I see how I might be afraid of that, but don’t see why it would have to be the chief fear. There is a sense of being afraid for the world and with respect to matters that are difficult to regard as dream, or whose consequences aren’t much lessened by our regarding them as dream. He wouldn’t have said we can’t be afraid for the world, I don’t think. Would he have said we can’t be as afraid for the world as we are of our non-existence, I wonder.

naming

Sometimes we call fatigue depression. And sometimes we call egotism depression. There is depression that isn’t fatigue, and isn’t egotism, but a lot of depression is fatigue and/or egotism.

formation

How to write/publish without doing ego formation. Or maybe I just accept that this is ego formation, and I should just be aware of that. Or aware that it always might be ego formation.

territory

“we take everything into the territory of ego” is a phrase in a book I’m reading. The ego is a big prize in a way. In the sense that if you can see it, and… I don’t know. What is is that we want to do with or about it. What’s the verb. See through, maybe. It’s not diffuse, or gain control over. Though there is a sense in which if we see though it, we gain control over it, and that’s why we want to see through it. So there is still this sense that we want to do something with it aside from seeing through it. We do want some power over it, or to reduce its power. We want to see it, in any case. Big prize in the sense that if you can see through it, you’ve seen through quite a lot. If you see it, you’ve seen through it.

I’ve encountered some pretty good definitions of ego recently. It’s “just a lot of habits,” Pema Chodron says.

People say “big ego.” I think this means that a person thinks they are separate from other people, and are better or have done better than other people. It has to do with story. No one could have whatever a “big ego” is without having a story in their head in which they figure centrally or at least prominently. Story is forgetfulness, a use of memory to deepen forgetfulness. Meaning is distraction. A person tends to see itself as making a story. A person might identify with the story. In any case, it’s hard to get at where the person benefits from this whole dynamic, but it must have to do with security and forgetting. I suppose. Associate the accrual of material advantages with your resume, with your identity and story, and naturally you want to enlarge and preserve the story. If it all works out for a while and the person accrues enough stuff & status to maintain a certain buzz at least, then we call that a big ego. Also it involves signal in many cases, a sense that the things one is doing carry a signal that reaches other people. Fame, influence, conspicuous consumption, etc. Which is one reason any kind of writing can take things “into the territory of ego.” Writing frequently succumbs to story, signal, separateness, meaning, security, style, just about everything that’s ego-like.

morning

a lot of meditation teachers say morning is the best time to do it. I don’t think so. It’s less needed in the morning. There’s less stuff of distraction to address or swim in or whatever the verb. Any time of day is good.

books

I’m having this experience of not being special and not being mysterious or complicated. It’s because these authors understand me so well. It’s nice to have a break from feeling special and mysterious. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so understood. They don’t seem very surprised to understand me.

— 0 0 0 —

the daily journaling practice that began in April/May still continues. This is the longest I’ve ever been able to stick with it. Sometimes the entry is just a word or two. Even just writing the day’s date would count as an entry. I take my notebook out walking. No backpack, just carrying the notebook with a pen in it. And I have the thought that I’m carrying the thing that I would least like stolen by a mugger, and yet there’s no chance anyone would take it, barring some unusual mental illness.

I ordered some more books recently. One arrived yesterday, Smile at Fear, by C Trungpa. I’m halfway through it.

I had decided that Buddhism is a science, not a religion. I wrote prose about it. Prose is so dangerous. It’s like taking what we believe and setting it on fire, and once it’s on fire we’re stuck believing it. And it almost always starts not being true anymore as soon as we start writing it. It’s the most embarrassing thing, trying to fix something in place with words. So I decided Buddhism was a science and I wrote out ten reasons why people think it’s a religion. Then later in the day I decided that even though it’s a science, it’s a religion because of the urgency around it.

I keep thinking “make less progress.” Make the tiniest amount of progress anyone ever made. I have some sense of why I’ve made “make less progress” a slogan, but I haven’t thought too much about it.

state

I’m not sure I have the option of not being a Buddhist. There is some sense in which I’m stuck being one, and was one well before I began studying Buddhism. I’ve been thinking that the vows make one an actual Buddhist. If there needs to be a divider between a Buddhist and say, one who is studying Buddhism and practicing meditation.

I try to think of depression as getting experience with being a depressed Buddhist. I would like to feel less of a sense of defeat around anger, less “here it goes again, I guess I’ll always be angry even though I read books about meditation.” And instead something like … I don’t know yet.

true

sometimes in reading I give things a kind of half credit. I think it’s true in spirit but maybe too cute in the manner of explanation. Maybe the writer saw the truth of what they were saying to such a degree that they relaxed and got a bit fast & loose in the telling of it. Sometimes writers almost seem to try to do this. There is a sense of faith that an imprecise formulation might better demonstrate the truth it hovers around than if we drove at that truth more directly. A kind of poetic imprecision seems almost necessary, to avoid ruining the truth by explaining it too closely. I’m thinking of this because there is a passage at the beginning of the Cosmic Joke section of The Myth of Freedom that had seemed to take this approach, but I don’t think it does. The part about one proving zero, and two proving one, etc. It’s precise, actually. It’s not poetic.

It seems clear I want something to be true. I want something to be lasting, if not permanent. And so I have to be a little suspicious of myself.

— 0 0 0 —

I like the Chogyam Trungpa.  A good writer.

It looks like I was having some mud on June 8, partly due to more books.  The additional books no longer cause mud.

I have had some ordinary times.  Post beginner’s enthusiasm.  There is the useful sense in Buddhism that you can use everything.  You can use the most boring shadow of a disappointment.

I have been able to consistently journal, maybe for the first time ever.  I make an entry every day.  It’s easy.  So far today’s entry says “June 21”.

I had my first boring, ordinary depression, my first depression really, since I started meditation.  The depression started Sunday and ended earlier today [Friday], I think.  It was indistinguishable from fatigue.  I knew Saturday that it was going to start Sunday.  I was moderately productive and high-functioning during the depression.

fray

My Buddhism has been somewhat muddy and frayed at times in recent days, though quite operative.  Reasons for any mud:

  • I got four more Buddhism books.  The four arrived in the same day.  So I went from having one book to having five books, from a total of three different authors.  And thus, more personalities, varied affect, rhythm, etc, among the different authors, more to assimilate or not assimilate, and thus inevitably some run-off and sense of complication.
  • I stopped being a patient after a period of a couple months where I was more like a patient, seeing my therapist every week instead of the usual once every two weeks, and seeing psychiatrist more often.  But now I’m  back to once every two weeks in therapy and not seeing my psychiatrist until August.  So I’ve lost my patient status.  I’m again just a person.
  • I have talked to more people about Buddhism, so there’s a sense of complication from that.
  • I’ve learned more about the biographies of some of these teachers, including the the controversies, failings, addictions, etc.
  • I used a timer for meditation for the first time, and used a timer a few times since then.  This has the perhaps undesirable effect of making one think in terms of getting through the meditation.  I had more thoughts of what I would do after meditation.

Yesterday in meditation I was short of breath and too warm.  The air seemed a little too humid to breathe, though it wasn’t actually very humid.  I wasn’t otherwise uncomfortable.  Today I had the same shortness of breath and also the excessive warmth, but neither as pronounced as yesterday.  After meditating today I had anxiety in my forearms, though nowhere else.

Back to un-timed for a few days.

so far

I’m about 21 days into study of Buddhism / meditation. It was around the middle of May when I started.

Effects:

  • Within the first 48 hrs, much less anger. Essentially no longer afflicted with anger.  Internet/information/media addiction gone.
  • Within the first few days, much less anxiety. Fear of free time mostly gone.
  • Days/weeks later, fear diminishing more generally. Fear is different than anxiety.
  • Days/weeks later, no more waking up in a panic (heart racing). Better mornings.
  • My home is clean.
  • I stay with my notebooks — I have a consistent practice of journaling.  Whereas in the past, this would fall away.
  • In general, more freedom from habit. More seeing the habit/neuroses.
  • More prone to surprising myself.
  • When anger appears, it is distinct from the surrounding experience — not a blur within a blur.
  • I look forward to relapse — I hope for relapse. Because it’s a chance for testing the durability of the practices.
  • There is value in simply having a new interest, apart from anything else.

Perhaps also:

  • Better ability to listen at readings.

I’m appropriately suspicious of any progress that’s rapid.  I see in my notebook there is recent instability, at least.  As recently as 5-7 days ago, there were thoughts about moving far away, leaving the country.  Not panicked thoughts, though.  More like checking to see what it’s like to think about leaving the country now that I don’t need to leave.


Postscript, Aug 11: “Essentially no longer afflicted with anger.” This is definitely not true. Still have anger. Still have fear. And depression at times. Anxiety is definitely less intense than it was pre-Buddhism. And there is some improvement in my ability to work with anger to keep it from harming me too much. I’ve had various sorts of “relapse” multiple times now, so I no longer look forward to it very much. Fear of free time has further diminished, and freedom from habit increased.

DIY

Anything is a Buddhist text if I say it is.  Phantom Paddle Boat by Mole Suit Choir is a Buddhist text.


Be seen in public writing in a notebook with a pen.  Look for people using pens and pencils.

Challenging category

“It’s possible I’ve never been more well than I am today. It’s worth seeing how that can’t be ruled out.”

Why are people so bothered by two spaces after a period. What’s the big deal.

How

Return to “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The universe at least has a role. It’s the only thing that doesn’t.

“Be curious.” Inquire.

Getting better at staying with my notebooks.