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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Boddhisatva or What? S. Covey's Habit #2, Continued

The ham was delicious. And huge. It weighed several pounds more than I was led to believe it would when I ordered it, and for a germaphobe vegetarian-at-heart like myself who has a touch-and-go relationship with meat, it presented a challenge. I did purchase it from a regionally famous butcher pre-cooked, cured, smoked, and shot through with some preservative that kept it looking pink. I probably could have gnawed on it in the back of the car.

Nevertheless, I was nervous about cooking it through. Or heating it through, to be precise. We were feeding a lot of people, including children, who were sleeping over. I didn't want any vomiting. So while everyone seemed to enjoy it, I really only fully appreciated it the morning after Christmas, when I woke up, and said my first words to the husband: "That ham was delicious, because nobody got sick." Happy Boxing Day.
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Back to Effective slash Successful People's habits.
Still splashing around in Stephen Covey's Habit #2, Start with the End in Mind, I've avoided describing my funeral only to run smack into the instruction to write a mission statement for my life, so that I can direct myself towards those things that are in accord with my deepest principles.

Oy vey. Is that overwhelming or what? I decided to put off the task again.

So I took the dog for a walk, and decided to listen to a Zencast, which I hadn't done in a long time, on my brand new iPhone4S. Zencast was a talk by Jack Kornfield. Jack Kornfield was one of the first Americans to popularize Buddhism in the West starting in the 1970s. He's got a nasal voice, but he tells good stories. I like his talks, although he does repeat himself. Then again, so do I. Lo and behold, Jack started out talking about success. What it isn't: avoiding difficulties and suffering in life. As if experiencing these things is somehow shameful. Which is actually true. We do feel ashamed of our misfortunes, don't we?

And of course, he talked about meditation as a way to understand the nature of the suffering and misfortunes of life, as well as our reactions to them (avoidance), which often increase our suffering. But what he was really talking about was the purpose of meditation. First, to quiet the mind. To allow yourself to understand what's going on, in your own head, and in the world around you. To observe and understand that suffering and bad stuff happens as part of life, and so does plenty of good stuff.

Second, after understanding by observing your own mind, moving out into the world. That is, forming intentions. Am I in a funhouse or what? All these gurus keep telling me the same things. Anyway, he was speaking of intentions both micro and macro. Micro being taking a slight pause and observing your anger at your 4th grader for losing her purse with her cute panda wallet and fifty dollars, and also observing her quivering chin, before deciding how to respond. Macro being, you guessed it, understanding what's most important to you in life, your core values, your principles, so you can act in accordance to them.

Sound familiar?

And as he went along he mentioned that if you're meditating, you are on the path to enlightenment. Even if, I suppose, you're only doing it to lower your blood pressure and keep your stress at bay, you're at least on the path. And somewhere along the path, some people take the Boddhisatva vow, which is to strive for enlightenment for the purpose of helping other sentient beings become enlightened.


Which brings Jack, and me, and you, my tens of readers, right back into the stream of finding the purpose and motivating principles of our lives.  "Wherever you go, there you are," as Buckaroo Bonzai said.

Why does it seem so hard? That I listen to Zencast and read these books and take an interest in these questions of purpose and principles shows me something. A couple of things. One, I know I'm not so unique in these interests. There are lots of people like me who want to consider these deeper questions, at least on some level; but we're just as happy talking to Siri on our new iPhone4s or rushing to the outlets on December 26th with the MIL and the SIL for some major bargains.

Another thing I begin to see is that my reluctance isn't about some hangup in myself about facing my deeper values. It's about a sense I have that this is a shameful or embarrassing activity. That there's something silly or New Age or creepy clammy-handed about being interested in a greater purpose.  And if I think that, lots of other people do, too. So while we all might have this hankering for a deeper understanding, we also have this reluctance to say it out loud.

Why is it more embarrassing to say I'd like to cultivate my understanding, compassion, and wisdom so I can make choices that improve the world, starting with my nearest and dearest relations, through my good intentions, than to say that my iPhone4s makes me happy?  Which it certainly does.

Maybe you can answer that question, my tens of readers.

7 comments:

  1. Pretty soon you'll be able to address us as "my two dozen readers"—just two away!

    I think some slimy folks give enlightenment a bad name, same as has happened to religion in general. Understandable we'd want to disassociate.

    There are certain things we are more comfortable saying out loud in certain places to certain audiences.

    "I'd like to cultivate my understanding..." goes over well in a blog or at a gathering of Far Easterners. A crowd of Western journalists or people at a political convention would probably jeer. People on the subway will avoid making eye contact.

    "My iPhone4s makes me happy" will get you many Likes on Facebook and perhaps make you eligible to win something if you Tweet it. (Envious, by the way!)

    I'd like to hear more about your reluctance and where you think it's rooted. I suspect it has something to do with your having lived in D.C. Californians are so...um, loosey goosey?

    If you peek at my Facebook wall on any given day, but particularly during the holidays, all the status updates about God, wisdom, compassion, etc. are from my Filipino friends. It's part of our lexicon, it pervades our mass media, it's always something that's been there. My American friends would take offense that religion is being crammed down their throats if I were to post updates like those nonstop.

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  2. Definitely true for me that I would bristle at a lot of God talk. There is a strong cultural component to what's acceptable, and your post reminds me of how many subcultures there are in the US. That said, once I understand this about, say Filipino culture, I can put it in context. Like Yiddishisms among Jews, for example.

    This comment deserves much more response than I can give here. Maybe in future blog posts. The question of the origin of my reluctance to delve into the spiritual could certainly be expanded. I think it's as much to do with the general class of people I grew up with as with my specific family. I lived in SF for a year (loved loved loved it) and found the Californians I befriended definitely a little more open to the alternative and other in life.

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  3. The only thing I really want to know is what 4th grader carries $50.00 around in a purse anyway? I mean, even I don't carry that much money.....

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    1. well, it was all her earthly money. i didn't quite realize it was all in her purse that day....

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  4. Hi Hope,
    Just catching up on your blog, which I love! You are so able to articulate these ambiguities, which I absolutely relate to. For me, it's especially challenging, because I do think in particularly religious language, which I'm so aware can be off-putting, even in my own ears. And yet, the language of call, and prayer, and love of God and neighbor, and "righteous" living and lovingkindness and the struggle to walk humbly with God and what in the world that looks like when I apply it to my own life and the choices I make--that's language that makes sense to me. But it's very hard to talk about honestly even to myself-- I have an automatic negative reaction when I hear this language in many other contexts, and I have to work at translating what I'm actually hearing, through numerous filters. And yet, avoidance of these big questions feels like a high price with consequences because it's such a blessing to live in this world with so much beauty and so many wonderful people and creatures, and I want to live a life that responds with gratitude to what feels like a great (though hard, challenging, painful etc) privilege and gift-- living at all, and if I don't think about these big questions, then what will it be-- an "unexamined life." Thank you for engaging these topics so openly and insightfully! You help me think.
    Kate

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    1. I"m sure it's no accident that I've befriended several people with divinity degrees, as well as genuinely religious people. Probably balances out the very Murphy's Law attitude, black humor, and pessimism voiced by my stepmother. It's a relief to be around people who try to think, feel, and do their best. And while it's easy to make fun of people who aspire to be better, do better, and feel better--I certainly make fun of myself for it plenty--it's also just plain nice to know that some people really do want to improve the world.

      A lot of people, actually. A lot of people want to make the world better. Some try to do it starting with themselves, and some just focus on making things that help. It's all good.

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    2. Ha, ha, that reads funny. "as well as genuinely religious people" wasn't meant to contrast with the M.Divs, but simply to be lay religious folk....

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