Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

This weekend I went to a party that was basically a room full of Buddhists…and me.

Does that sound like the set-up for a joke?

Anyway, I really enjoyed hanging out with these people because they were all kind and authentic and heartfelt, and also there was a lot less small talk than usual at a party where I don’t know anyone, and as we’ve already kind of touched upon, small talk tends to bore the crap out of me, especially in large doses. (And as an aside, I haven’t gotten to ask anyone yet about the coolest thing they’ve ever done, but I am SO looking forward to it.)

Photo Credit: ~C4Chaos via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ~C4Chaos via Compfight cc

I also had to speak in front of the group, in impromptu fashion, and I mentioned in passing that I had found my own way to work towards wholeheartedness. Afterwards, more than one person was very interested in hearing about my “practice,” and I found myself struggling to put it into words. I didn’t have a convenient sticker like “Buddhism” to slap onto myself and how I move through life.

And yet, it didn’t seem like an odd question, because I do have a practice. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time probably know a lot about it because I tend to write a lot about it, but it doesn’t have a specific label. It is a combination of many different parts, some of which would be very familiar to a Buddhist: mindfulness, introspection, and compassion, as well as a focus on priorities and strategies and investigations into how the world works and how I work.

But what I found myself saying more than once was this: I am an artist. That is my practice.

I am an artist. That is my community.

Music has always been my foundation and solace. It reminds me how joy feels. And writing, well, writing changes me. There was that moment when I realized I couldn’t separate myself from my writing. I was in my writing, whether it was in these essays or in my fiction, and therefore I wanted to strive to be the person I wished to see in my work.

And art is a practice. It’s all about practice, whether you’re repeating vocal exercises or the difficult end passage of that aria, or whether you’re memorizing music, or whether you’re writing two essays a week and a thousand words a day. Art is trying new things and challenging yourself, pushing yourself to your limits and then coming back tomorrow and finding your new limit and pushing yourself again. Art is in the way you see the world, and it becomes entangled in the way you interact with the world.

For me, there came the point where I saw my entire life as one long continuous work of art. It’s a fun way to live.

In thinking about all this, I also realized how important community is to any practice. Because yes, writing changed and continues to change me, but I don’t know that I would have had the courage to let it without the writing community by my side, helping me and educating me and supporting me and cheering me on. It is hard enough to transform without doing it in isolation. It is easier to challenge yourself when you are surrounded by people who understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Aside from a renewed sense of gratitude for my own community, I left the Buddhist party with the following awareness: that there are so many ways to travel in the same direction and so many ways to reach the same, or a similar, destination. There are so many ways to have and cultivate a practice. There are so many ways to embrace change. There are so many ways to strive and grow and learn.

There is no one right way.

The Buddhists and I, we’re really not all that different. In that room, we each of us had a practice, parts of which were different and parts of which were the same.

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I’ve been thinking about non-attachment.

When we discussed Buddhism in high school, I thought non-attachment sounded very sterile, like it encouraged people to not care about anything. This was a misunderstanding on my part, of course. Any religion that talks so much about compassion and loving-kindness isn’t about the not caring. It’s more complicated than that, and it has to do with our relationship with desire.

We are not always going to get everything we want. When we do get one thing we want, then we want something else. Sometimes we get caught in a trap of thinking, if only I had blah blah blah (where blah blah blah can be a certain type of career, a certain type of relationship, a certain level of health, a certain amount of money, etc. etc.), then everything would be perfect. My life would be complete.

But that generally isn’t so. We get a certain amount of money, and then maybe our health goes down the tubes. We get a certain type of career only to realize we really want to go up another tier or do something else altogether. Our health improves, and then maybe a close friend gets sick, or she moves away and then we miss her and busy ourselves thinking, if only I had more friends. We desperately wish for something in the future, but we can’t be sure of the outcome.

And sometimes we simply don’t get what we want at all. We can’t quit that irritating day job. Our family won’t stop making demands on us that we can’t meet. We have a chronic health condition. We get laid off, we don’t get into the program that would have made all the difference, we can’t afford this workshop or that trip or those material goods.

Right this second my back hurts and I want it to stop hurting. Sometime soon I’ll stop typing and do a few stretches and exercises, and it will probably feel a little better. But that won’t last. Over time I can strengthen my back so it feels more better more of the time. But really I want the pain to stop now, and permanently, with no effort. I’m not going to get what I want. These little moments of not getting what we want happen all the time.

Photo by David Boyle

Which is where non-attachment comes in. I think of it as the acceptance of thwarted desire. It’s the awareness that this is our reality, that we want and yet we’re not going to get everything we want. And that it’s okay that this is true. We will want something, and then that wanting will eventually pass. It might take a long time to do so, or it might not. Everything changes, and changes, and changes again. And the more we can be aware of this movement, and even embrace it, the less suffering we will experience.

At least, this is what I’ve been thinking about. Sitting with the feeling of desire, which keeps coming up. Watching it, and the emotions it often comes with, and remembering this is just one moment. I think it helps to be aware of what’s going on and allow ourselves to pay attention to that experience. But if you want a whole list of great suggestions of how to practice and think about non-attachment, read what Lori Deschene has to say about it.

What do you think?

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