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I’ve been doing a Buddhist practice now for some years. I’m not a Buddhist. I’m not “enlightened” nor do I see myself as superior to anyone else. I would never insist that other people do the practice because I do. I don’t see Buddhism as a religion nor am I “religious.” I still have my anger and anxiety but I have a little distance from it, I have the ability to say to myself, I am angry, I am afraid. There was a time that I was merely angry or afraid and had no ability to observe it happening in myself. I am also more aware of what triggers me. There is something practical about being able to observe the ways our minds make us unhappy and to develop some distance from them. I have also begun to experience states of mind that are momentarily free from constantly swirling, reactive thoughts. There are other positive side effects: calming down from fearful or angry states is more possible for me now than when I was attempting the same with alcohol or addictive, self-fleeing behaviors. I’m now aware that neurologists are studying meditation and have come up with some promising findings. Something that used to be snickered at in the medical profession now has a modicum of respect.
Illusions about Buddhist practice:
1. that you will forever rise above your suffering by some transcendental leap. 2. that Buddhism is ascetic and will lead you away from sexual or other life enjoyments. 3. that if you are a good boy/girl in this life you’ll be reincarnated as another better good boy/girl.
For me, the practice is more about being with whatever is. This is not a simple matter, especially in an addictive culture where we are being bombarded daily with all the things that would make us happy if we could only afford them.
It is also about accepting that I don’t have to understand everything. I don’t have the mathematics to understand physics, but I do have a poet’s ability to get lost in mystery and bring back hitherto not known fruit. Metaphysics ends at the imponderable. I remember hearing a scientist on NPR talk about the spiritual feel of his work. He said he felt as if he were walking out to the end of a pier that was shrouded in fog. I understood him to say, there is a certain point where you have to step off into not-knowing and trust that you will land somewhere. Or not. Perhaps you will just keep falling through wonder.
We suffer. We carry our wounds with pride rather than letting them go. We polish our resentments into self-harming knives. And a goodly amount of the suffering is our attachment to impermanent things (I think of this more now that I’m older). I sometimes wonder why I am bringing another book into the house. I have so many things. What a mess for whomever sorts my life after my death. I am moving toward a stripping down of belongings. I am at the moment slowly, daily, grievously, letting go of a woman I love.
The biggest gift for me in the last 35 years is an increasing self-compassion that allows me to reflect the love in others. I am much easier about opening up to people, of entering a “thou” space with them. If they are willing. Not an expert mind you, but things are better.
It may be that our good and not so good actions in this life are what “reincarnates” as our effects on others, what they might carry forward from us into their lives, for good or ill.
Learning how to die gracefully. Trying not to do anymore damage. Trying to forgive myself.
Poem and photograph copyright 2022 Doug Anderson