"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Buddhism

posterity and the moment. . .

IM000281_2If you have had a chance to read my recent posts about being in the here and now, you will have gathered that according to Buddhist ideas, there is only happiness within, found in a present moment. In the past few days, I’ve gathered more books from the library about happiness-Buddhism-Asian thought and am struck by how often numbers play a role in scaling the sheer wall of enlightenment (although it’s not supposed to be linear, remember?)

One book by Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” presents us with a dizzying number of things to understand and follow:

– “the twelve turnings of the wheel”

-“the noble eightfold path”

-“the three Dharma seals”

-“the three doors of liberation”

-“the three bodies of Buddha”

-“the three jewels”

-“the five aggregates”

-“”the five powers”

-“the six Paramits”

-“The seven factors of awakening”

“the twelve links of interdependent co-arising”

Honestly, I couldn’t read it after awhile.

Then I took out Deepak Chopra’s book from the library entitled “The Ultimate Happiness Prescription – 7 keys to joy and enlightenment.” At the end of each chapter, Chopra includes a reminder entitled: “To activate the (Sixth) key in everyday life, I promise myself to do the following.” This format and approach seemed like an ultra-linear approach to seeking happiness by following seven steps.

Finally, I took out what appeared to be the most readable book of all, a book of Zen koans called, “One Hand Clapping.” Laid out like colorfully illustrated Aesop’s Fables, I could glean some understanding of the oftentimes inchoate-seeming world of Asian philosophy.

So, there you go: from the myriad multiple-ness of innumerable tenets and a seven-step rather than a twelve-step (alcoholics anonymous) recipe or prescription for happiness, we land onto some koans that illustrate how to listen to one-hand clapping.

I am not making fun of Buddhism. I am just describing the observations that I’ve had trying to see the forest for the trees as I try to make my way out of the woods of so many numbered items having to do with happiness or enlightenment. It is mind-boggling.

Despite this, I have experienced something in the last few days by being ONLY present in the moment, not allowing myself to be seduced into thinking about the past NOR worrying about the future. What looked like a steep precipice of “what-ifs” turned out to be nothing at all, especially since everything having to do with the outcome was out of my hands. I could do nothing about it but to wait. And it was the quality of the waiting that had transformed into equanimity: I waited not in obsessive worry which is what I might have done before, but behaved in an accommodating and calm manner. It was transformative.

I’ve also been thinking about old age and posterity a lot. I don’t know what made me think of it but it occurred to me recently that people usually don’t get a chance to see their children in old age. It’s usually just the other way around: children get to see their parents grow old but we parents usually don’t get to see our kids in their seventies–not unless we live beyond our early nineties.

So, with the march of time, parents die usually when their children are middle-aged or approaching their sixties. Not often are parents still living when their children reach seventy and beyond. So, there’s usually not much chance to take care of our kids when they’ve gotten to be as old as we are now, the way that they take care of us now. See what I mean?

You may not think this to be a very interesting observation. But the truth of the matter is that as my daughter takes care of me by writing emails to me in the morning before she leaves for school to teach her classes, stays in touch with me when she is away on trips by sending me photos or by our mutual taking care of each other by sharing socks, down vests and jewelry that we both enjoy; I probably won’t be around when she’s reached my age. I hope that the younger generation of nieces will be as thoughtful and tender towards her as she is to me now.

In any case, how is this all related?

I’ve learned how to be in the moment, breaking old patterns of worry about the future and consciously avoiding a pointless waste of psychic energy worrying about things outside of my control. So all that reading had to do some good, right?

Second, I realized that what is most precious appears in very small things: daily emails, a shared photo or two, a pair of socks. These are moments of happiness, guys. That’s right. It’s that simple.



detachment . . .

I was thinking that maybe the Buddhists have it right. That detachment is the key to peace of mind. That doesn’t mean that you have to barricade the door to your mind by putting up imaginary chairs to keep desires and willfulness at bay. Just be with whatever is, and maybe the door will open on its own and the room of your mind will clear out eventually. They say that the practice of meditation helps. I think that awakening or the dawning of a realization might also be key in this ongoing process.

One of my pet problems is wishing that things were different. Or worse, wanting to change people’s behavior when it is who they are. I mean, you can’t just love the parts that you like. You also need to love the parts that drive you crazy. Detachment from how someone behaves, not worrying about whether they will succeed or whether their conflicts will be resolved; even watching them not succeed without withdrawing yourself is a big deal.

My life has been dedicated to problem-solving. Given that responsibility early on and making my way in the world whether it had to do with raising a family and keeping it together, or in mid-life, entering the biotech start-up industry and given (over)-responsibility to succeed for the company’s sake (“make or break”) have honed my skills and shaped my personality. Some of it worked and succeeded beyond measure. What’s left has sometimes resulted in my feeling responsible where I don’t need to, at least not at this stage in my life.

Wow. I may no longer be responsible for seeing that someone or something survives. I’ll remember that this realization occurred to me today. I can finally detach myself from the yoke of needing to save someone from failure. I don’t have to catch the vase before it crashes to the ground. One of the CEOs I worked for said that he had observed that as my greatest gift: to watch a crisis build on the project team, and to catch it before it hit the fan. No wonder I have defined myself as such an obsessive worrywart.

When I take a good look around me this morning, nothing is actually falling apart. Yes, the new pump to our geothermal system is not engaged properly as yet–but that is a mere engineering problem and it is not life threatening. I cleaned up the kitchen counter from last night’s debris so that it is orderly again while we have breakfast. It rained hard last night but we closed the windows. The air is cooler and dry today. I can go back to reading the newspaper and drinking my coffee. Now that I am detached from the idea that there is something waiting to be saved in my world today.