Have very low standards for meditation.
I’m realizing that many times I have caught myself thinking/feeling something like, “But I want to be a Buddhist in a better world. I don’t want to be a Buddhist in some crappy, worsening, dead-end world.” To think of things this way is of course perfectly contrary to Buddhism. (There might be some good news in this.)
And with regard to that of course, we must remember we always have the option to see what is actually happening, what we are actually doing. There are many things that are obvious, and that we know, quite easily, but we don’t always avail ourselves of that knowing. We don’t ask ourselves, what is honest here? What am I now knowing? What do I see if I let myself know what I know? What if I avail myself of all my knowing, all my understandings?
“So the most difficult thing is always to keep your beginner’s mind. There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen. Even though you read much Zen literature, you must read each sentence with a fresh mind. You should not say, ‘I know what Zen is,’ or ‘I have attained enlightenment.’ This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner. Be very very careful about this point. If you start to practice zazen, you will begin to appreciate your beginner’s mind. It is the secret of Zen practice.”
— Shunryu Suzuki, in the prologue to Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.
My meditation practice & reading have been much less consistent the past couple of months, following about 6 months starting last May when the practice was consistent (daily).
However, interestingly, I don’t really feel like I’ve lost touch with it at all. It’s not really fading. And I still meditate sometimes and suspect I will get back to doing it daily. It still seems very legitimate and necessary to me.
I might have expected a lapse like this would bring on more of a sense that maybe it was all a phase after all, and maybe it’s not necessary, but that is not the case.
Today something happened that in the past would have caused me a lot of stress, but it is not hitting me in the usual way, and I suspect this is because of meditation practice. My mindset and mood have, at least at times, some freedom from circumstances, some freedom of movement regardless of circumstances, more so than I can recall in the past.
In any universe, experience would inevitably develop. I’m not sure it’s a good thing. If the earth disappeared, suddenly ending all experience that happens here, would that be bad. It often seems like experience is mostly pain. If experience is mostly pain, should it be rejected, or can we imagine wanting to have experience even if it’s more than half pain. The saddest thing we can think of is for the world to be half destroyed. But if we knew it would all be destroyed, an asteroid scenario, would that be sad at all. It could be, from the vantage point of individuals who are mostly enjoying experience, but from a slightly wider perspective it doesn’t seem sad at all. It’s a relief to think of all life on earth suddenly and completely ending, or at least it could be if we thought that were a near term prospect. I don’t know if this observation helps us tolerate a half-destroyed world.
A journal is a good place to give oneself credit, and I haven’t been doing it enough lately. “I meditated.” I need to write it down. “I got groceries.” Words are for giving ourselves credit.
Chodron’s newest book, “Welcoming the Unwelcome,” is not quite working for me yet. It was just published this past month. I’m not sure it acknowledges how difficult things have become. Some of the steps it suggests for dealing with the current state of the world seem like things I’ve already done, and that aren’t sufficient. I’m only about a third of the way through the book.
I realized I was starting to view impatience as a defect in meditation. During meditation when I would start to experience impatience, I would think the meditation was of low quality and I would get a little discouraged. I might even have a thought like, “Look how impatient I am — I guess I should just stop meditating.” But the opposite is true. In meditation we are seeking out impatience. We should hope for impatience. Once impatience happens, there is something to work with. That’s when the meditation gets a bit more real.
So now when I meditate I will hope for some experience of impatience or boredom. Some experience that seems to want to nudge me away from meditation. When the nudge happens, the way to deal with it is not exactly like resistance, I don’t think. It’s more like not respecting it. “This boredom or impatience wants to nudge me away from meditation. So I’ll just relax a bit more. I’ll just stay here anyway.” It’s a matter of letting the impatience go (or stay), rather than fighting it off.
“When we question ego-mind directly, it is exposed for what it is: the absence of everything we believe it to be. We can actually see through this seemingly sold ego-mind, or self. But what are we left with then? We are left with an open, intelligent awareness, unfettered by a self to cherish and protect. This is the primordial wisdom of all beings. Relaxing into this discovery is true meditation — and true meditation brings ultimate realization and freedom from suffering.” — Dzigar Kongtrul, It’s Up to You
This is an instance of a Buddhist teacher telling us meditation can help us.
Later in the same book (in the “Not Hooking the World” chapter), he writes, “To free ourselves from the root of attachment, we must free ourselves of attachment to a self. And our greatest fear — greater than the fear of any deadly epidemic — is the fear of losing our sense of self. But no matter how devastating it feels to let go of attachment — including attachment to a self — this is what the Dharma is all about.”
But in the first chapter he says, “I remember my first experience of selflessness. I felt a strong sense of freedom and a deep appreciation of how fundamentally perfect things could be if I didn’t let my self-importance get in the way and complicate everything. I felt relieved to bring to light all my useless efforts to maintain a self.”
Sometimes they emphasize the advantages of contacting selflessness, and sometimes they emphasize the frightful quality. How can the same person claim his first experience of selflessness made him feel free, relieved, even “fundamentally perfect,” while elsewhere saying selflessness is what we most fear? The most frightening thing, but the first experience is sublime? It’s because both are true at different times. It could be a little like jumping out of an airplane (something I haven’t done.)
When I’m bothered that my writing can’t feel authentic for longer than a few minutes, something that’s bothered me countless times, it’s obviously because I expect writing to be able to express an enduring self. I’m stuck with this idea that an essayist is a self. And what is a self but an enduring self. A non-enduring self isn’t a self at all.
Of course there is some holding together of experience. It is organized and held together somewhat by habits, story, etc. Ego is that bundle and we don’t entirely do away with it, and maybe if we were selfless we would still have a social self, like an animoji we take around. Or floats at a parade. Floats are very interesting selves, actually. They often have people on them, some of whom are costumed non-celebrities and some of whom are ostensibly non-costumed celebrities and “dignitaries.” Floats float along. A float is nothing if not persistent. And yet all floats die, I presume. I don’t know how or when, or if there are any traditions around it, but floats get dismantled, thrown away, maybe incinerated in some cases or just buried beneath refuse.
It’s Saturday. Monday and Tuesday I was depressed enough, and in such a way, that I didn’t want to meditate and I did not. For the first time since early May, two straight days without meditation. It seemed like a week. My depression was very bleak but not painful. And then on Wednesday I surprised myself by meditating, and it was good. I was still depressed but no longer wanted to harm the universe by ignoring meditation. But for two whole days, Monday and Tuesday and much of Sunday, I was not practicing. I didn’t want to read books or meditate. It was over. The whole thing was a sham. All these teachers and teachings seemed not good enough. Buddhism/meditation seemed like a nice try, but not adequate.
So I was surprised when I got back to it so easily on Wednesday. And then Thursday I had to cut myself off. I wanted to meditate a fourth time and sometimes you have to cut yourself off. Save it for the next day. Part of this is physical. It might not be ideal to sit much more than usual all of a sudden.
It reminds me of hiking. In hiking, especially by myself, there is a point after 35 minutes or so when it suddenly becomes effortless. Then it seems I could hike uphill for many miles quite easily without rest. In meditation there is sometimes a similar experience after maybe 15 minutes or so, though it is not quite as predictable as the hiking lift-off.
There’s a sense that the hike starts after about 35-40 minutes, and the meditation starts after 10-20 minutes. Tho this shouldn’t be assumed. Anyways it also starts immediately. Just like hiking starts immediately. And there is something good immediately at the beginning of the hike, even though I’m not floating yet.
Suzuki says to meditate like a patient frog. Trungpa says you’re a piece of sand. In meditation I often think to be a piece of sand.
“In five or at most ten minutes, your mind will be completely serene and calm. At that time your breathing will become quite slow, while your pulse will become a little faster.” — Shunryu Suzuki, writing in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, in the Mind Waves chapter. Before I read this, I had observed that my heart rate rises a little during meditation and I thought I might be doing something wrong. I’m not sure why he says “at most” ten minutes.
it’s so weird to have this prose that’s like a self. Because I know there’s no self. So it’s very fake. It’s just writing. Everyone knows all writing is some writing projected onto a page or screen and isn’t actually a self. It’s strange hearing the voice of it, that’s what seems like a self. It’s creepy. It’s the voice and its consistency in my head, and how it’s just slightly displaced from my actual voice, which doesn’t exist. It’s a fake of something that doesn’t exist. It doesn’t go with anything. It keeps trying to close itself and be a thing with a back part, the end.
Seems important to circle back to the imperfect, unclean elements of the practice and life generally. To avoid idealizing anything. I take pills. So if I say anxiety is a tactic, that’s not absolute truth, but just an idea to try on. There is something to it.
Last night I took a klonupin. I don’t have to take those often, maybe once per month. I also take some daily psych meds. But I do feel more independent from the meds, in recent months, despite still using them. I have cut my dose in half for one of my daily meds. And I generally feel like if I got in a situation where I didn’t have my pills, I could get through it.
There are meditation slumps at times, etc. Oh, and I had a terrible news-addiction relapse recently, addiction to internet and my portable electronic devices. So there are still pitfalls and haggard times, despite all this meditation and reading of books.
It’s clumsy to speak of “slumps” and “off” and “good.” Buddhist meditation teachers discourage this kind of grading and just tell you that all meditation is meditation. Either you’re sitting and trying or you aren’t. And that’s true too. Everything gets included. But realistically, there are times when one has a feeling like “this is working, I’m in some kind of groove, I’m calm.” And there are other times where one is agitated and bored and it almost feels like you’re practicing being a bad meditator if you continue. If it really gets so bad and sloppy that I feel like I’m just practicing bad habits, then I might just shake that off one more time and try again, one last time. But then if it’s still not right I might just get up and stop sitting for a few minutes. Otherwise it could get to be almost adversarial, like “Goddamnit I’m going to keep sitting here until I’ve beat this.”
For me, often the best time to sit down and meditate is when some anxiety appears. Sometimes just a few seconds after it starts, when there’s still a vivid sense of how the feeling is different than the calm that preceded it. Then I can easily look right at the feeling. And so I meditate in place, or proceed to my preferred meditation station, almost hoping the anxiety won’t diminish before I get there.
“I think some of you who practice zazen [sitting meditation] here may believe in some other religion, but I do not mind. Our practice has nothing to do with some particular religious belief. And for you, there is no need to hesitate to practice our way, because it has nothing to do with Christianity or Shintoism or Hinduism. Our practice is for everyone.” — Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.
Suzuki is not being nice here. Don’t think he’s just being welcoming or magnanimous or ecumenical. He’s stating fact, or what he considers to be fact. He’s pointing out that meditation and Buddhist concerns are not on the same plane as theistic concerns. There is no collision. Buddhism is very secular, in a way. Very much “of or relating to the worldly or temporal.”
Trungpa seems to have some concern about theism, some barely stated concern, or not even stated, but just the way he might respond to a question. He might say something along the lines of “This is a difficult matter,” and leave it at that. Or make a joke out of it that’s not quite a joke. A student might ask some long, sensitively stated question about theism and then he’ll say something like, “Theism is wrong.” And then everyone in the room bursts out laughing.
In English-language books about Buddhism, there are often Tibetan and/or Sanskrit words sprinkled through, in cases when a word doesn’t have a very good English translation. This is a very fortunate occurrence. It means that as you learn the word, you are actually picking up a new understanding that isn’t contained in English.
When you come to a foreign word in a Buddhist book and you don’t understand it, skip it. Just keep reading. I mean, you might want to do some research on the word sometime. But don’t think you can’t keep reading without a complete understanding of the word. In many cases, to get a full understanding, you’re going to need to see how multiple authors use the word anyway. You aren’t necessarily going to get it from just one author.
Or don’t just skip it. Take a second to stare at it and maybe quickly see if you can get a sense of what it might mean from context. But don’t try too hard. You have to move on without a complete understanding.
Some of the English words you see used by Buddhist teachers are imperfect translations of words in other languages. So keep a loose grip on the English words while you read them. The word “compassion” is often used by Buddhist authors, but this is an imperfect translation. In Western countries, “compassion” is laden with notions of virtue and emotional connection. Like, be compassionate, or you’re an unfeeling jerk. But in Buddhist texts, the concepts most often translated as compassion really mean something more like oneness, and the concept is somewhat more intellectual, more rational, than our usual understanding of compassion. Compassion means that you are able to see that there is no real dividing line between your person and what surrounds it, and no selves. Self is imaginary or less than imaginary. Almost more like an empty syllable than anything we even bother imagining.
Panic is not just a symptom or malady but is also a tactic. We use panic as a ground. Panic in many cases is the experience of trying to use panic as a ground, something to hold onto. It’s the state of trying to secure a ground that is itself the state of trying to secure a ground. The reason for the bad feeling is that this isn’t a very effective tactic. It just doesn’t work very well as a tactic for securing ground, so it feels crappy. We call that crappy feeling anxiety or panic, and we think of it as something we want to get rid of, rather than as something we’re using, or trying to use.
If that explanation doesn’t suit, there is also the advice commonly given by Buddhist teachers, which is to stop trying to make your anxiety go away and just look at it. Investigate the actual experience of anxiety, what does it feel like and where in the body does it happen. Drop the story line around the cause of the anxiety, what you believe to be the cause. Instead of “this anxiety is because I got in an car accident and I don’t know if I’m at fault and then I read an article about climate refugees,” go with “never mind how this happened, what does the anxiety feel like.” Sit and look at it.
Looking at your anxiety tricks you momentarily into not trying to get rid of it. In the moment that you’re trying to look at it, it would make no sense to try to make it go away. You can’t do both. If a fly landed on your arm and you wanted to get a good look at it, you wouldn’t start by swatting it away with your opposite hand.
Often, as soon as you stop trying to get rid of anxiety, as soon as you take a real interest in what it actually looks like, it dissipates. As soon as you have a real attitude of curiosity about the bad feeling, it’s gone, or transformed into something more docile. This can actually be disappointing! If the anxiety does dissipate, that itself might give you insight into its insubstantial nature. The structure of cause and effect may then seem not as solid as we thought. This insight disrupts our typical understanding of anxiety as a mental illness. We may have far less ownership of the affliction than we thought. It’s not like a bug we carry around that might flare up at any moment. It’s not quite ours to keep.
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.
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.
Some shifts in experience are shifts in expectation. Make less progress. Be the current practice. It can’t be just a means.
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. It builds the habit of valuing life, as it would make no sense at all to meditate if you didn’t value life. 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.
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.
“A buddha is made only of non-buddha elements, just as I am made only of non-me elements.”
“There’s no actor outside of the action.”
This seems right. https://www.lionsroar.com/the-doors-of-liberation-may-2014/
Now I have a little better understanding of what they mean by emptiness (shunyata).
“Everything else is present in the flower; the only thing the flower is empty of is itself.”
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.
“Expectation is aggression.” – Chogyam Trungpa
“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.
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 goal is to get a better view of how all our existing conceptual baggage operates, 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
curiosity and need seem like the two main conditions for Buddhist practice. I am not sure which is a more important factor for me. For me the two are not far apart.
teachers/authors spend half the time telling us buddhism/meditation can help us a bit, and half the time telling us it can’t. This seems about right.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
The notebooks are the journal. This website isn’t a journal. It’s a visibility.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m about 21 days into study of Buddhism / meditation. It was around the middle of May when I started.
- 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.
- 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.
‘patience is revolutionary’ — pema chodron
shenpa at 38:53.
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.
“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.
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.
If “abandon any hope for fruition” is fruition.