Friday, December 31, 2010

Living in Isolation

I think I have a problem. I've been isolating myself a lot from people or "the outside world." I'm an extrovert, but have always practiced this hibernation to a certain extent (not on purpose). I do it way more now. It zaps hours and hours from my day. Hours that I can spend bringing in more of an income, connecting with people, bettering myself, etc. I feel it's damaging me, but people in general really get on my nerves. Like I'll be in public and just get really annoyed with noises and people and everyone that looks like they are at ease with everything. It's times like those where I just want to go home and hide under my shell. I guess you can call it bouts of misanthropy and just trying to protect myself. I also just really hate where I am in life right now. Any advice for me?
WHEN ABRAHAM MASLOW STUDIED self-actualized people, he found that they all spent considerable time in solitude. It's a way to connect to yourself. It's healthy. In your situation, though, it sounds like you're using it as a tool for avoidance. I don't blame you for wanting to get away from something that's annoying you like noises and...uh, happiness (lol) but avoidance isn't the only tool for overcoming that. In fact, your mind will keep judging things and making you miserable until you stand up to it.

I'd suggest you do something radical. Go and force yourself to spend time in the company of others. Here's the twist: instead of trying to analyze what's making you so frustrated, and thinking about all the little things that are pissing you off, I want you to turn off that inner dialogue (or just ignore it). Just sit there on your bench and experience the physical sensations of discomfort and irritability without commenting or analyzing. Be patient. There's no right or wrong way to feel it.

When you experience that stuff without the use of your mind, you get used to it and you dissolve it along with all the judgment and agitation it was causing. You may not suddenly feel OUTSTANDING, but you won't feel as bothered. Then you might start to feel okay, and even a little happy. Once you get more familiar with that okay-ness (after 3 or 4 times), you can reflect on your life and figure out where you want to be and how you're going to pull it back together, radically or incrementally.

Keep going out in public for 30 minutes at a time. Sometimes you might notice you're not actually irritated, but maybe bored or apprehensive or sad or excited or happy or nothing special. Whatever it is, just focus on the physical sensations quietly. Eventually, the irritation will dissipate and you won't feel like you need to retreat. You can keep doing the feeling-without-thinking exercises at the park or adapt them for the rest of your life.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why are you vegetarian?

One reason.
Hi Edahn, 
I'm a long time reader and first time writer... I'd like to know why you're a vegetarian and if you intend to stay that way.
WELL, THE MAIN REASON I'm a vegetarian is because it serves as a moral trump card. Consider this exchange I recently didn't have with a pretend friend:

She: You lied to me! You said you weren't interested in her, then you--
Me: I didn't lie! I can't always know how I'm going to react to people I meet!
She: That doesn't mean you can go around and do whatever it is you plea--
Me: I'M A GODDAMN VEGETARIAN AND YOU'RE NOT I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT YOU BASTARD

See? It works nicely. Whatever happens, I just pull out my Veg card. V-E-G. ahem

The other much less important reasons are Buddhism, dignity, and empathy. Most Buddhists are vegetarian (with exceptions) and I practice a Zennish form of Buddhism. I also think it's important to treat animals with dignity, and many of the animals that are cooked or served in markets and restaurants are raised in absolutely deplorable conditions. Third, I like animals. Even chickens. They have families and mini-societies (hence the term "pecking order") and they feel pain. I don't wanna eat them. If I wanted to eat them, I would have put up a wall in my head to block that information out and frankly, I suck at that no thanks to my residual OCD tendencies.

I don't see myself eating meat anytime soon. I'm used to vegetarianism now and it's given me opportunities to be more aware and more compassionate. Also, the trump card.


Hey guys, if you have a question or comment or issue, send it in. I don't have anything else and I could use the distraction.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A good death


Dear Edahn, 
What is a good death?

A GOOD DEATH IS a product of a clean conscience. When you die knowing that you've lived trying to do the right thing and live honorably, you can die with dignity and peace. That kind of death is poetic and beautiful. It's the kind of death that touches people's heart.

How do you do the right thing? You don't have to worry about something like that because you already know how to do the right thing. That knowledge is like a shadow that follows you everywhere you go. Stop and listen.

Some people wait until the very last minute of their life to start listening to their conscience. It's at that point that they often realize that they've been leading someone else's life and chasing someone else's priorities. Then they realize the stuff that has always really been important to them: kindness, care, connections, intimacy, forgiveness, silence. Ask yourself "What's important to me? What moves me? What touches my core?" Questions like those might break your heart, but a broken heart is an open heart. That's the recipe for a good life and a good death.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Should I crush my husband's crush?

Obvious Joke is Obvious
Hi Edahn,
I'm normally a fairly confident woman but recent events have changed that. My husband and I are friends with a really awesome and attractive couple. I have noticed for a while that my husband has a slight crush on the female friend but it never bothered me until now. I brought it up to him over the weekend and he admitted he thinks she's beautiful and nice but that he would never cheat on me. I actually do believe him and even though I know it's normal for people to find others attractive, it just really hurt me. 
My question is should we keep hanging out with them? I don't want to alienate him from them at all because I care for them both and love their company. I'm just afraid I'm going to feel incredibly insecure around her and my husband now and it might bring up these feelings again. 
OKAY, I'VE GIVEN THIS a lot of thought, and here's my conclusion. If what's bothering you is that this girlfriend is attractive and has good qualities, then you should try and work on your insecurities before cutting them off. (A little reassurance from your husband or friends can go a long way.) If, on the other hand, what's bothering you is that your husband has developed a crush on this girlfriend, then you should cut them off for the sake of your marriage.

Whether you take my suggestions or not, you should talk to your husband and work with him. Make him really appreciate the situation you both find yourself in. Don't turn it into a battle, just have a conversation together. You could ask him how he would feel if he was in your shoes, and even give him a sample of the types of things you might say if you had a crush on the guy-friend. Try and inject a little humor and levity into it if you can.

Situations like these call for a lot of wisdom and understanding and talking it out helps. There's no obvious answer, you just have to decide together what you think is the most intelligent course of action. Picture yourselves as a team with a mutual interest in your well being. Leave me a comment if you have any leftover concerns or questions.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Economics and Philosophy

I used to be against capitalism for a while. Why? Because when I think about my ideal community I think about people cooperating and not taking more than they need in terms of property, income, resources in general. When that happens, people don't suffer as much as there's less room or tolerance for exploitation.

These days, though, I've come upon the realization that the problem isn't in capitalism, but in the way people use capitalism to justify their greed. They take and take and take, and when you try and object, people say "hey, that's capitalism." My response: "hey, well you're a fucking idiot." For one thing, you've committed the is-ought fallacy, equating what is with what ought-to-be. Just because things are fucked up doesn't mean they should remain fucked up. People doesn't realize this. What puzzles me even more is why people think capitalism is so sacred. If you even suggest capitalism might be a flawed--in theory or in practice--people freak the fuck out. WTF?

But like I said, I'm not against capitalism, just the way that it's practiced. That is, capitalism is practiced without a conscience and without any responsibility. The rich have created all these clever tools for taking advantage of the poor -- business tools, legal tools, rhetorical tools, political tools -- and they've found a way to make them work together to ensure that their property is never threatened and keeps growing. And they've made themselves anonymous with the advent of entities like corporations that allow them to exploit others from a distance.*

So, conscientious capitalism. That's what I'm pushing these days. If I could really have my way, I'd push for smaller communities where people actually know one another and where people were accountable to their community. Why? Because I think that's what really makes life pleasant and peaceful. So many people are deprived of that opportunity to interact, but it's truly fulfilling. To enact a vision like that, however, means that we dissolve corporations entirely which isn't an easy task and in truth, has to be done ethically, otherwise you just create more misery, which is exactly what you're trying to avoid.


*Yes, corporations can do good too, but they also let people make decisions without feeling accountable to the community they're fucking over.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Being = Happiness?

You think you're confused?
I'm confused. So you believe that happiness depends on simply being. Is this right?
I BELIEVE WE SHOULD clarify what we mean by happiness first. Happiness to me isn't a state of excitement and hyper-arousal, which is how most people I know conceive of it. It's not the feeling of what I call "Dominion," the sense that you've conquered and dominated something like a person, an opponent, a partner, or life itself. 

When I talk about happiness, I'm talking about a state of complete surrender and acceptance of who you are right now, who other people are, and where your life is. Over time (few minutes, few hours, few years), you feel a sense of intimacy with things. You don't struggle to prove to yourself or others that you're someone special with talents and values. You're don't panic. You aren't in a rush to get something or hold onto something like food, sex, power, friends, dominion, even the intimacy itself. And with that, you're able to just be still and relax. No where to go, nothing to do, no one to be. Your heart is quietly ripped open.

You can definitely call that "being." A lot of people call it that and you can see why. My concern with using familiar language, however, is that it conjures up all these images and associations for people. They have a image of what it looks like to "just be" and then they try to imitate it during their meditation or daily life. That's dangerous because what they're really doing is trying to escape into a state of "just being." Adios! That's not just being -- it's just running.

If you can't just be, or don't know what it means to just be, just stick with that confusion for the time being. If you're bored or you think you're lacking some spiritual element in your life, stick what that feeling. There's no trick. There's no special way to experience it. You don't have to focus on it in a special way. Just wait. The act of waiting is usually disorienting. It can be uncomfortable, confusing, and create a lot of questions. Is this right? This can't be right. This doesn't feel good. This feels weird. Meditation is something else. This won't work. I should do xyz. 

Just shut up and wait. When you subtract the need master anything or figure anything out, being is the remainder.

Friday, December 10, 2010

So? What now?

No more question, and I've lost my motivation to go seek people to entertain me so I can entertain them. I guess this is going to turn into a blog after all.

It's Friday, 1 AM and I'm in my house and I'm tired. The Wikileaks stuff has been plastered all over the news. The Anon attacks have given me a strange sense of hope mixed with anger. These days, I've almost completely lost faith in civilization, in education, in politics, and in mankind. The rich get richer while they exploit the poor. See, Wallmart. On top of that, they lie about it, they buy politicians, and they use the legal system as a tool to attack the unfortunate even though it was designed to protect the unfortunate. The media is in it too. There's so much lying and spinning and viciousness that I just can't take it. The spinning gets me the most.

The prospects of an Anonymous group of vigilantes wreaking havoc on corporate America makes me happy. Is it right? I don't think so. But it may correct a more serious wrong in the process. That's a slippery slope, I realize.

Amidst all this, I'm still contemplating my own path. So many options, and I want none of them. Almost none. I would consider being a psychologist even though I'm turned off by the maze of "ethical" rules and formality embedded in the therapeutic culture. I've helped people before. Lot's of people. They call me up or come talk to me regularly, at least once a week (and I haven't been very social these days). I'm able to help them because they trust me and feel comfortable. Being a stuff room for one hour will fuck all that up. I couldn't see the person in their natural habitat for as long as I wanted. I couldn't buy them gifts and perform social rituals with them like eating or getting yogurt (not a very impressive array, granted). And I'd be taking money for helping them which fucks things up too. I like helping people because they need it, not because I need them.

Anyway, I don't know. I found a Zen Master named Dogen who lived in the 13th century. The guy was bad ass. The more I read about his understanding of truth and peace, the more I find agreement between his experiences and my own. I've been writing about his philosophy (Soto Zen) for a while without knowing it. Find any post I've written on Rest and you'll get a sample of Soto Zen. I'll write a poem.


Happiness is letting go,
But letting go takes practice.
Try to let go and you'll fail,
Because you can't force something unforceable,
Just as you can't grab on to empty space.

Your mind always has you running somewhere "better,"
Because it thinks this is never enough:
This discomfort, this confusion, this boredom, this void.
What are you running away from?
Stop and listen without any expectations
To what's happening right now.
Does it really have to be better?
Do you really need something to be happy? Really? 
I call bullshit.
If you think your happiness depends on anything at all,
Think again.
It depends on nothing,
Not even enlightenment.

Your mind will get away with murder,
Convincing you that you're not entitled or capable
Of sitting here in this moment
And letting things be.
Leave them alone.
Is it boring? Painful? Mediocre? Empty? Disorienting?
So what?
Just wait.

That's it. Nothing more, nothing less.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Viva la Cyber Revolucion

Like it or not, the revolution has started.

Hacktivists have taken to the internet to disrupt major corporations like VISA, Mastercard, and soon Paypal. Why? To protect Wikileaks and Julian Assange and their effort to expose the US government and its corruption.

Until now, I've felt powerless and pessimistic about our future. Not anymore. There's a glimmer of hope shimmering in the distance.

Unsung heroes

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Buddhist Sudoku

Sometimes I wish there was a game I could play when I was bored that would entertain me as well as orient me. Here's my first attempt to create something like that. Enjoy.

1.      If you ask me to pay attention to my body, the first thing I notice is my
a.      Chest
b.      Legs
c.      Arms
d.      Head
e.      Phantom limb
f.        Stomach
g.      Genitals
h.      Back
2.      I would describe the above feeling as
a.      Painful
b.      Hot
c.      Tingling
d.      Tense
e.      Loose
f.        Unknown
g.      Itching/burning*
3.      When you pay attention to that area of your body, do the sensations change at all?
a.      Yes
b.      No
c.      Not that I’ve noticed
4.      Take a deep breath. Now another. Let yourself breathe 10 natural breaths, nothing special. How would you describe the 10th breath? Select all that apply.
a.      “Breathy”
b.      Flowing
c.      Tense
d.      Hot
e.      Cool
f.        Painful
g.      Pleasurable
h.      It’s hard to describe with a word.
i.         I stopped breathing at 8.
If you can’t decide, do it over.
5.      Did you notice any thoughts pop up during the previous exercise? If you can’t remember, do it again. How many thoughts did you have?
a.      0
b.      1-2
c.      3-5
d.      5-10
e.      10-25+
f.        I lost count at 85
6.      Meditation teachers often distinguish between concentration and mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to remember to do something whereas concentration is the ability to focus your attention on something like your breath or your body so it’s not scattered and weakened. If you were at work, mindfulness would be your ability to stay awake and remember to work, whereas concentration would be your ability to focus on one task at a time and do it diligently. Which of these skills are you better at right now?
a.      Mindfulness
b.      Concentration
c.      Mindful…concentration?
d.      I’m sorry, I need to reread that as I wasn’t paying attention.
7.      When you breathe, where do you notice the sensations of your breathe most?
a.      Tip of the nose
b.      Back of the throat
c.      Chest
d.      Stomach
8.      Start counting your breaths. On each out-breath count one number starting from 1. How high can you go before you lose track? When you do lose track, start over and do the exercise a second time. Did you do better or worse the second time? Stop when you reach 100.
a.      Much better
b.      Better
c.      I got to 100 each time.
d.      Worse
e.      Much worse
f.        Much, much worse




* If you selected “g” for answers 1 and 2, you should probably see a doctor.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why do guys back away when I say I love them?

Lean in close for best results.
hi,
so i've been dating a man from the coast guard for a month. things were going well. until i told him i was in love with him and would like to be his gf. then he deleted me from his facebook and gchat!
he told me we were different and i wasn't his "type". although i will beg to differ that i'm no one's "type". haha, actually when i ignore men - or act like they don't matter much - this is when they seem to think i'm their "type". and this is when they i think i'm the hottest thing since [insert creative word here] or some bs.
so, in closing i told the coast guard that i have a problem over reacting, i get delusional (especially when i haven't eaten in 3 days), and emotional. and that i was sorry for being overly expressive. i guess the plan is to hang out in a month...? after things have cooled down... or is this lame? i seem to never learn my lesson - i'm too expressive. and i keep shooting myself in the foot.
happy times.
THEY THINK YOU'RE THE hottest thing since the last girl they thought that about. :)

It's natural for people to get excited about someone new, especially when they're really eager to be in a relationship. Their feelings kinda hijack their mind and they start thinking the person is just about perfect, or at least perfect for them, and they start getting clingy and say crazy ass shit like "I love you."

Take a second to reflect on your past relationships and you'll notice is that those feelings eventually fade. It might take a week, it might take a year, but when they do you realize you've basically been hallucinating. You realize that you've been more obsessed with your hopes and projections about who the person might be than who the person actually is. Suddenly you realize that this person does have flaws and isn't as perfect as you thought. You then decide if you want to stick it out or not. As far as I'm concerned, this is when the authentic relationship really begins. Or ends. Watch this scene from High Fidelity, because it illustrates what I'm saying perfectly and because Catherine Zeta Jones gets a much deserved pwning.

What's happening with you, I think, is that you're succumbing to that hallucination and confessing your feelings prematurely. That's a red flag for most guys because most guys don't like clinginess. Clinginess is interpreted as a sign of lacking value, since someone with plenty of value would have options and wouldn't be so eager to get into a relationship with us. It's like Woody Allen said: "I'd never belong to a club that would have me as a member." What we guys are looking for is balance. We want you to get close at the same time we start to get close, not before, not after. To us that says "I'm not desperate to get into a relationship, but I'm still interested in you. U WANT?"

I wouldn't suggest that you try and force yourself out of the hallucination (psychologists prefer the term positive illusion) because I think that's just a recipe for disaster. The hallucination is emotional and it just takes a while for those emotions to fade. What I would suggest, however, is that you keep this all in mind next time you want to confess your feelings. You can realize you're in the middle of one of these emotional trips and either laugh at it or just wait it out. You don't have to stop being nice or interested or even get the least bit uncomfortable. Just continue with getting to know the person and keep your feelings in perspective. When you sense the two of you are both getting closer, you can say something sweet like "I think I'm starting to hate you less."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How I try to help people (methodology)

There are a bunch of therapeutic techniques that psychologists, gurus, teachers, and philosophers (collectively "guides") have developed over time to try and help people. Some of these are compatible, some are redundant, some are at odds with one another. This post is about the personal framework I've developed, having read and explored other styles and tested them on myself.

GOALS

The most important thing a guide needs to know is what the goal of therapy is. Some people like to say that the goal of therapy should be left up to the client. I happen to think that's a load of BS. Clients come to you because they need help and they don't always know what form that help will take, precisely because they're in crisis. Moreover, as a guide, you should already have some sense of what it means to be healthy and what direction the right "path" points in. You probably know it intuitively, but if you don't, look inward and discover what has really made you happy.

It's my belief that happiness is a product of open-heartedness, something I've been calling "Rest". Whatever your situation is, you can look at it with an open heart and embrace it as it is, however unsatisfactory or uncomfortable. The open-heartedness isn't a means to an end: it's an end in and of itself. It neutralized the friction in life caused by confusion, feeling alone, and feeling restless. 

RESOLVING ISSUES

Once the client has managed to open his or her heart up to what's going on in their life at that very moment, they can start to examine the issues in their life on their own and resolve them in ways that bring about more peace and happiness. That process is basically automatic because once a person has a dominant state of mind, it's natural for them to figure out ways to develop and further that state of mind. That doesn't just apply to feeling happy. It also applies to feeling angry or sad or miserable or diffused. It's a physiological law.

The guide can and should help the client reflect on the problems they're having in their life, their apparent causes, and their solutions without actually giving the client a directive (order). I personally think it's generally unnecessary to go into a person's childhood to figure out the causes of their behavior, which is why I tend to hesitate when it comes to psychodynamic/psychoanalytic models. In my opinion, you don't need to know the ultimate ultimate cause of a problem, just enough to determine how to treat it. In the same way, a doctor doesn't need to know the ultimate cause of an infection -- where the infection started, how it started, how the infection grew and spread -- they just need to know enough to diagnose and treat it.

In terms of this framework, issues should always be viewed as opportunities to grow and elevate the person, rather than problems that need to be discarded.

THE GUIDE'S TRAINING

A guide has to be well-versed in what it means to have an open heart, what the process looks like, how issues are resolved, and what the benefits are. In other words, the guide needs to have gone through a similar process. At a bear minimum, the guide needs to practice keeping their heart open.

METHODOLOGY

So the goal, as we've stated, is to help pry open the client's heart and help them reflect on the areas of their life that are causing them friction (including the reasons they sought help), generate solutions, and help them stick to those solutions.

There are different methodologies for helping clients open their heart. A well-trained guide can draw on their own experience to help guide their client. The optimal method is for the guide to actually BE open-hearted during the session with the client. That open-heartedness empowers the guide to embrace the client's situation and show the client how to embrace their situation naturally, without making it appear forced or insincere. 

Another method is for the guide to intuitively lead the client to open-heartedness by privately imagining what it would look like if the client was open-hearted and "still." By imagining what that looks like, the guide can slowly bring the client closer and closer to that state. That transition may not be immediate but instead work gradually.

Third, a guide can use their intellect to analyze causes and present theories and solutions. The intellect should always be involved in the course of helping another person, but in this method, it predominates. Intellect is important to draw on when the guide is feeling less open-hearted and more heady.

OVERARCHING GOALS

In addition to resolving immediate issues and teaching the client how to pry the heart open, the guide can play an instrumental role in helping the client develop a routine that keeps the heart open, especially in "stuck points." Stuck points refer to situations or people that push the client into a defensive position and close their heart. In other words, it puts them in a state of resistance and inner tension.

At this stage, the guide needs to be creative and inventive and generate ideas along with the client that help the client focus and weather through stuck points. Some ideas might include creating a schedule, creating reminders, creating accountability, joining groups, life cheat sheets, and so on. The guide should, together with the client, sift through the client's life to determine what's generating friction. They should consider, among other things, the client's social circle, routine, addictive behaviors, personal ethics, honesty, diet, posture, pace while in motion, relationships and reactive patterns, hygiene, and direction.

* * * 

That's it for now. This is obviously a work in progress and something that'll develop. I'd welcome your thoughts and contributions. Who knows. Maybe this'll catch on one day. It does bear some relationship to a lot of therapeutic styles (Rogerian and Gestalt the most, perhaps) but it's also different in technique and assumptions. Finally, a disclaimer, I'm not a licensed therapist. Yet. Dun dun DUUUUUN!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gambling helps develop discipline

I don't have the greatest discipline in life. But now and then, I have a surge of intense, unwavering discipline, and it's due to my passion for gambling. Of course, I'm not talking about gambling in casinos. I suck at that. I put all my money on black and lose within 3 tries. I guess I'm not going to grad school this year! I'm talking about making bets with people. These bets can be for anything important to you: to quit drinking, to quit smoking, to meditate, to stop eating frozen yogurt ice cream, to be nice to people, to stop robbing banks, etc. Whatever your problem is and whatever the solution to that problem is can be framed in terms of a bet.

Why are bets awesome?

First, bets are great because they're fun and bring levity to a situation that's usually tangled up in shame and seriousness. You can go through months or years of self-defeating thoughts and feelings, but when you decide to make a bet out of your predicament, it becomes interesting and exciting.

Second, bets involve personal pride and everyone loves personal pride. You can spill coffee on me, pee on me (dogs only), or hit my car and I'll probably still be smiling. I'll even offer you a Hi-C if I have a spare. But claim to have better algebra skills than I do and you better watch your f*cking back. The same applies to grammatical challenges, mind you.

See, all too often people try and develop discipline by mustering intense motivation and dedication. But let's be honest -- motivation will eventually fade. And it'll come back. But then it'll go away again. If you depend on your motivation to help you quit, you're going to eventually run into trouble. Bets are great because they replace the need for that motivation by linking the event to your personal pride.

Third, bets are meaningless. Completely. When you really get down to it, it doesn't really matter if you lose a bet, especially a gentleman/gentlewoman's bet which is my favorite kind. It's complete bullshit, but that's why it's so great. You don't have to figure out why you're giving this thing up. You don't have to engage in the endless philosophical questioning that leaves you second-guessing yourself. Maybe I can just have one. One can't hurt. Maybe just for 5 minutes. Six max. Definitely not more than 10. SHUT UP. 

A meaningless bet helps you give all that up:
You: Sorry, I can't use Facebook anymore. I made a bet.
Friend: What did you bet?
You: Nothing.
Friend: So if you win, you get nothing.
You: Right.
Friend: And if you lose, you get nothing.
You: Right.
Friend: And how long has this bet been going on for?
You: 22 years.
Friend: And you've never even wanted to go on Facebook?
You: Occasionally.
Friend: But y --
You: Can't. Bet.
Discipline. What's something you wish you had the discipline to do? Pick the first thing that comes to mind and go bet someone that you can't accomplish it. If you can't find anyone, I'll bet you. Email me personally: AskEdahn@gmail.com. Loser.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How do you know you love someone?


Infatuation that never matures.
Dear Edahn,
How do you know you love someone?
ARE WE TALKING ABOUT being IN LOVE, or just LOVING? They're different. Being in love is pretty easy to identify, but I think it's less significant. Loving people is a little harder to identify -- and achieve -- but it's much more important.

Being in love is really a product of desire and longing for a person. You need to be with them. Being apart from them fucks with your head and your emotional composure. It has a very obsessive quality. When they're not there, you feel incomplete and you hurt, physically. Loving people -- family, partners, friends -- is almost the opposite. You feel complete without them and yet they're critical in how they add value to your life . Feeling complete without them is actually a prerequisite for loving them. Knowing you'll be okay without them frees up your mind so you can be your natural, caring, spontaneous self and care for someone else in a simple, pure way.

When you love a person, you feel settled around them. You feel close to them without trying. You can be quiet around them without privately worrying that something bad is going to happen. When you're in love, being close takes much more conscious effort. People work harder to find similarities between each other and are resistant to perceived differences. That leads to moments of high intensity and closeness, but when it fades, the parties feel detached and scramble to find another way to reconnect, like conflict. Over time, you start seeing cycles of highs and lows develop, then break-ups and reconciliations, and so on. Those couples don't really feel safe around one another, so they never build natural closeness. The feeling of being in love ("infatuation") can mature into the more wholesome loving, and I'd argue that it has to for the relationship to survive.

You sound like you're trying to make a big decision in your life. When I make decisions in my romantic life, I try to avoid being guided by the more unstable infatuation and instead search for the more stable but less intense love. It's more nourishing.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Meditation Instructions for n00bs

By request, here're some simple instructions aimed at beginners. There're lots of different meditation styles. Mine happens to be most similar to the Zen tradition, but they're all aimed at the same goal, which is opening the heart.

1. Setting. Go somewhere relatively quiet, indoor or outdoor. Turn your phone off or put it on vibrate at the very least. I like to meditate in a room that isn't too cluttered and distracting. If you choose to meditate in your own room, you may want to keep your room tidy. You should do that anyway, says your mom.


This is what my legs look like when I meditate, 
except with more hair.

2. Legs. If you need to sit in a chair, that's okay, but I much prefer to sit on the floor, either on carpet or on a folded blanket. I sit a little elevated, on a cushion about 4 or 5 inches off the ground. The cushion doesn't have to be anything special. A hard, folded pillow usually works just fine. My right foot rests on my left calf, like the guy to the left, and both my knees touch the floor. The posture isn't perfectly symmetrical.

3. Posture. Sit upright and stretch your spine as if you were trying to win a "who's taller" contest with your friend. Now relax and let go of that. You should be sitting upright comfortably without straining. I put my hands on my lap. Nothing too fancy. Eyes are open and fixed on the floor in front of you.

"Zafu" cushion,
knees touch the ground
4. Listening to the breath. At this stage in my meditation practice, I've come to see why the breath is such a great place to focus. Meditation doesn't really have a goal in that sense that you're trying to produce a certain state of calmness or spiritual intensity or answer a question. It can help, but that's not the goal. In meditation, all you're doing is seeing what the breath feels like. It may sound boring, and sometimes it might be, but you'll see that it's actually somewhat interesting and a great tool to pry your heart open.

Start right now. What does your breath feel like? You don't have to answer with a word, just experience it. That's the best answer you could really give if you could somehow share your experience. Does it feel warm? Tense? Shallow? Empty? Nothing special? Good? Tender? It doesn't actually matter what it feels like. There's no right answer. You're not trying to force it to be like something. You're just seeing what it's already like.

5. Thoughts. As you start, your mind will start wandering, speculating, checking your progress, making sure you're following the instructions correctly, comparing, contrasting, remembering, making plans, commenting, etc. When you recognize this happening, you don't have to get upset. You didn't lose or mess up. That's what the mind does. It's okay. Forget about it and go back to listening to the breath. Don't be a jerk. As you continue, your thinking will start to lose some of its force. Your mind will become concentrated and settled and your heart will start to peek out. Questions?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Relationships and Buddhism: is there a conflict?

Today's pic is sponsored by Honda.
Test drive the new CR-Z today!
No, not really.
 Regarding Buddhism, getting rid of the "delusions" which are mostly referring to the "wanting" of material things, objects or people...getting rid of attachments in the sense that your mind is not cluttered and bothered by problems, ultimately achieving inner peace. 
Is it possible to achieve all this yet live in today's modern society, still cultivate relationships, even romantic ones? According to what I have learned thus far, it is not possible. For to reach the utmost inner peace, we must free ourselves of "said delusions"- which is defined as attachments to both people and things...achieve inner peace so that we can ultimately help others.
I'LL TELL YOU HOW I understand these concepts, but you should ask a pro. Attachment means your mind gets stuck on something, some goal. Attachment is triggered by desire. Desire for what? You can desire to keep things the way they are, to get more of something (pleasure, attention, spiritual progress), or to get less of something (fear, loneliness, confusion). When your desire is activated, your mind sticks to things, like those sticky hands you used to get at the arcade. Rather then just letting your experience be what it is, the mind sticks to some goal and then starts having a conversation about how to get there.

Say, for instance, you're about to go on a date. Dating triggers your desire to be accepted and be deemed worthy and have a relationship, and you start thinking about what you need to get there. I need to be on. I need to be gregarious. I need to be interesting. I need to be confident. I need to seem like I have my shit together. I need to be likable. Then you might look at your experience and say "oh shit." I'm not on. I don't feel fearless. I'm doubting myself. That can't be confidence. What is confidence? Well, I can be confident if I just believe in myself. What are my strengths? Was that how I got confident last time? Maybe I just need to remember that other people have fears too. Yeah, that's it. I feel a little better now, but I still feel uneasy. Let me think about it a --

Aaaaaand you're absolutely. fucking. insane. You're completely lost in your head and your thoughts are racing. What you're doing is trying to force your experience away from self-doubt and towards this goal of fearlessness. You've become attached to this ideal state, so much that you're denying what's already here. Rather than experience your self-doubt and confusion and just waiting, you're forcing it away. Unacceptable! GRRR. And in that process, you become alienated from your self, alienated from your feelings, alienated from your body. You becomes estranged from yourself. That's real misery. That's suffering.

The whole thing is premised on the incorrect assumption (delusion) that the goal is "out there" somewhere and that attaining it will bring you lasting satisfaction. That the possession and preservation of certain things -- money, success, pleasure, intelligence, confident, likability, relationships, marriage -- and the elimination of other competing things -- self-doubt, confusion, inferiority, "issues," physical flaws, and other things I don't have will finally give you peace. :-) But as we just said, it's precisely this striving and the demands we place on ourselves that generates our misery. Peace of mind is better thought of as a function of your willingness to experience whatever's already here without being in a rush to grow, preserve, or deny, i.e., without having some agenda driven by desire. When you start paying attention to what's already here, it's not so bad. Even boredom, confusion, self-doubt, inferiority, spiritual emptiness, and emotional exhaustion aren't so bad. Eventually you make friends with it, and your innate warmth, joy and playfulness naturally emerge. You're estranged no more.

Of course, you're going to have an agenda at first. We all do. You don't have to beat it out of yourself by repressing it -- that's just more agenda. You just experience what it's like to have an agenda and when it settles, you experience what takes its place. Hm. Interesting.

Relationships trigger a host of desires and related attachments because we think it's gonna be the thing that ultimately fulfills us. We want the recognition, the closeness, the affection and adoration, the lifestyle, the kids, the acceptance, and a chance to live out a picture in our heads of where we expected ourselves to be. And all this makes us completely fucking insane. We start thinking, thinking, thinking, reading books, doing quizzes, having super-serial talks everyday to try and stay the course and keep everything in top form. And in doing so, we become alienated from our feelings and bodies, and by extension, from our partners. Suffering. 

That isn't to say that the one should strive to become completely complacent. There are times when you should talk to your partner and make an adjustment. But it's important to stay open with what's happening and not let your thinking and attachments completely overcome you and sever your connection to yourself. The clearest and wisest decisions are made when you're in touch with what's happening anyway.

So the recipe for peace is essentially being honest with yourself. Being honest with your experience rather than denying it or distorting it or trying to preserve it (which is another way of saying you're trying to deny something else). It's being brave enough to be honest and let things be as they are, knowing somewhere that it's safe to do that. It's also being kind and forgiving yourself for not being someone "better." You don't have to deliberately make yourself brave or kind, you can just listen to how things already are, and starting with your breath is a fantastic training tool. Can you lean to 

As far as I can tell, a relationship can either facilitate that honesty (especially with a supportive spouse), or it can complicate it. If you stay honest with yourself when you're in a relationship, and when you're not in a relationship, you're good. That doesn't mean you have to announce every single thought and sensation you have to your partner. That's just annoying. You've gotta use your wisdom and intellect to decide what to do with all that content, but that's something that you'll intuitively know how to do once you cultivate your innate warmth and joy and playfulness, i.e., your true self.

So, ridding yourself of attachments isn't synonymous with getting rid of your connections to people. It's better thought of as examining the goals you've inherited and the demands you place on yourself that cause you to deny your current experience and try to force it to be something else. 

Sorry for the long post. There was a lot to cover. If you keep meditating and this stuff will all start to crystallize on its own. Then you'll start a blog, and I'll have to run you out of business, because there can only be one. :-o

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Awkward Department Store Moments

You know what I find interesting? When retail people give you the whisper-hello. I'm browsing through Macy's today. I don't normally shop there, but my mom, bless her heart, bought me a cashmere sweater. They say cashmere is warm, but you know what? I disagree; I think it's just propaganda that the cashmere industrial complex disseminates to boost sales. Besides, I already have a warm coat made from what appears to be giant, malicious BEAR.

So I'm walking through Macy's, trying to wade through their three google pairs of jeans hoping to find just one that fits comfortably and doesn't make me look like I'm wearing tights. Then a saleswoman comes by. Our eyes meet and she whispers "hi." Immediately I think why, O why are you whispering, kind saleslady? Everyone else is talking in their normal voice, the kid next to us is yelling his soul out, there's crappy Christmas music blaring through the obsolete, lo-fi speakers, and here you are whispering your harmless salutation. So naturally, I do what any insane jerk would do, I whisper back.
"Hellooo..." 
I look around suspiciously for a moment, then lean in. 
"Why are we whispering...?" I ask quietly.
"Can our regular voice be heard by . . . 'them'?"
She pauses for a second and a quizzical look appears on her face.
"By who?" she asks.
"Whom," I say confidently. "By whom."
I'm a nice guy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Self Acceptance


This one is gonna be more of a traditional blog post, since I seem to have solved all your problems.

I sat down to meditate again today and noticed how badly I was expecting something to happen. I've become used to this feeling, as I said in my prior post, it's an automatic thought I have. Immediately I remembered that I had nothing to really do and started to pay attention to what was already there, however mediocre it was. A few minutes passed by and things began to quiet down. I kept listening, and it occurred to me how eager I've been to find meaning in my life recently. A few weeks ago, I had a strong surge of meaning and determination where I knew exactly what I wanted to do with myself and my life. I wasn't sure how I was going to accomplish my goal, but I knew what the goal was: spreading beauty. I've been hesitant about sharing that with people, but what the hell. That intensity wore off and I've been looking for a means to return to it.

It occurred to me today, however, how much I've been demanding and trying to get there. What's happening in my mind is rejection; I've rejected my current experience while I look for something I consider better. And I do it over and over. And I've been doing it over and over, for years. This, I think, is what people mean by attachment to enlightenment. My mind gets stuck -- attached -- on this idea of where I want to be, and in the process, neglects where I am. The mind creates a feeling of unwelcomedness, like you're not allowed to be here just as you are, and like you need to get something else -- this meaning, this peace, this leverage over your "issues" -- in order to be able to sit with dignity. That without those things, you are essentially unworthy of relaxing; you didn't earn it. It also occurred to me how I can judge others for not possessing that self-connection and meaning in their own lives.

As I sat there, I challenged this notion and let the emptiness and the dissatisfaction and the frustration be there. Fuck it. I'm not gonna fight it anymore. I have a right to sit here just as I am. I have nothing else I have to do. Why be mean to myself? Why be mean to anyone? As I sat there feeling all the tensions in my body and the blah-feeling, I started repeating the phrase "Where ever I am..." This was interesting. I'm not gonna say it "worked" and gave me everything I wanted. That's BS. I did however get a moment to relax and feel integrated. There was no need to run anywhere.

It's interesting how we think of self-acceptance as this cathartic thing, and then try and push ourselves out of where we are into this cathartic, emotional state. That's not self-acceptance; it's self-rejection. A better practice would be to let yourself be frustrated, not in any fancy way, just in a very plan boring way. If you can open your heart up enough to allow yourself to be frustrated, you can start forgiving yourself for other shortcomings.

...

*jazzhands*

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Meditation is a Scam

Google "dog prays at temple." Real story! LOL
I haven't mastered meditation at all. In fact, I would still consider myself a meditation n00b. But I have collected a few insights and experiences along the way that might benefit a beginner.

When I sit down to meditate, the first thing I think is "how will I accomplish this task of meditation." Usually, it's automatic and I don't even realize I'm trying at first. So I'll sit, and try and do something. I'm trying to get somewhere, to this state of peace or bliss or contentment or open-heartedness.

It's a total scam.

It's a scam in the sense that you can't find things like that. Those things are not "out there" somewhere else. Ajahn Chah, a great Buddhist teacher, said trying to find peace is like trying to find a turtle with a mustache -- it doesn't exist. As I understand it, Ajahn Chah wasn't saying that there is no such thing as peace. He was saying that you can't discover peace. You make it.

Meditation is like a laboratory for experiments in peace.

When I first sit, I am not at peace. I'm in a state of conflict with myself. There are things in my experience I find unsatisfactory, and in response, I try and affect them, manipulate them, change them, and meditation is going to be my tool.

But there comes a point where I begin to realize how ridiculous that all is, and how my "meditation" is a disguise for yet another conflict with myself. Then something happens. Instead of fighting, and instead of fighting with the fighting (I'll explain in a sec), I just listen to it. I listen to the thoughts, I listen to the feelings, I listen to the sensations and tensions that surround my chest. There's no objective. I'm not trying to get rid of anything. I just realize that fighting with it is stupid. Trying to manipulate my experience and tweak it is stupid. That's what I do all day. In that moment, I start to relax. I'm at Rest.

It's not that I've gone anywhere. I haven't found peace in some secret psychological enclave. I've just admitted what I'm feeling. In that moment, I was feeling tension, discomfort, and inner turmoil. I was trying to get somewhere, and at the same time, realizing that trying to get somewhere was futile. Okay, interesting, that's where things are right now. Then I feel tension in my chest. Interesting. A thought drifts by and I get distracted. Interesting. There's no need to fight and no need to resist; there's no where special I have to get to. It's simply listening to what's here with no special agenda.