Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Fight with a Zen Master

On Saturday (yesterday) I attended my first Zen retreat. I stayed for 6 hours, which was comprised of meditation, a formal Zen meal, a walk, a small break, and a koan (or kung-an) interview with an authentic Zen Master. For those who don't know, a koan interview is a teaching tool by which a teacher prompts the Zen student with a question that can't be answered through thinking, only through intuition. Additionally, the term "Zen Master" denotes a very high ranking in the Zen world. It's akin to the president of a university, but not exactly.

I was really excited to meet the Zen Master and ask her all sorts of existential questions that have been stewing in my thoughts: How do I sustain meditative states that seem to happen when I apply no effort? Are my career choices on the right path? What's the best way to overcome self-consciousness? How deeply should I pursue Zen and incorporate it into my life? During my prior meditation, I realized how excited I had gotten and was worried that I would be disappointed.

The bell rang and I went downstairs and entered the room. There sat the teacher with immaculate posture. She asked me if I had any questions.

Me: Yes, many, I'm not even sure where to start.
Zen Master: First, relax. You're all stressed out. Stop fidgeting and sit still.
Me: Okay.
ZM: So what would you like to ask?
Me: *Thinking* I guess I'll start with meditation questions.

We talked for a few minutes and ZM gave me a few tips. Then a few more. I said I was confused because I was trying to map out what she said and saw multiple solutions. One of the big challenges I have in meditation is that I have too many instructions and techniques. Adding more variables and possibilities will just frustrate me more, so I asked for clarification. Okay, got it. Do this...great.

ZM: Anything else?

If this is my only chance to talk to an authentic Zen Master, you better believe I'm going to ask more questions. Lady, I can bombard an ALGEBRA TEACHERS with questions. I'm a curious kid.

Me: Well, actually, can I ask you another question?
ZM: [Visibly annoyed] Well, if it's a good one.

So at this point I'm thinking "well fuck you very much." I feel bad writing that--even thinking that--about a Zen Master, but I was really offended. Was my last question not "good enough?" I'm sorry, am I bothering you with my silly existential dilemmas? Isn't that kind of your niche? Isn't that why you're here? Maybe you're not here to answer questions, but couldn't you at least be nice about not answering? I know that if I was a teacher and someone like myself was asking for advice and clarity, I wouldn't rush them and presume their problems were insignificant.

At this point I didn't want to ask my question and wanted to walk away, but she had already agreed to hear it. I said "I have a question about career." She jumped in and told me to meditate on the question before I had a chance to explain myself. Again, maybe the explanation was irrelevant to her, but fuck...it just seemed really dismissive and really rushed. I asked why she had said "if it was a good one" and she said because some students ask dumb questions, but assured me that mine was a good one. Yeah, okay.

So at this point, I turned off. I wasn't smiling anymore and wasn't even trying to engage. I had that "whatever, fuck-off" attitude. (I know I sound ungrateful right now.) I went back to my meditation cushion noticed how annoyed I was. Fuck Zen, fuck this teacher, fuck this teaching. I'll do it myself.

It reminded me of the Buddha's death. As the Buddha was dying, his sidekick Ananda was sad and worried about what the future and his practice would be like without his friend and teacher. Buddha replied:

"Ananda, be a lamp unto yourself, be a refuge to yourself. Take yourself to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth as a lamp; hold fast to the Truth as a refuge. Look not for a refuge in anyone beside yourself. And those, Ananda, who either now or after I am dead shall be a lamp unto themselves, who take themselves to no external refuge, but holding fast to the Truth as their lamp, and holding fast to the Truth as their refuge, shall not look for refuge to anyone beside themselves, it is they who shall reach the highest goal." 
-- Mahaparinibbana Sutta

So I don't know. Maybe this teacher had it all figured out and pissed me off on purpose, but I don't think so. Part of me wants to forget all this and go back to the center where I've found some great friends and great people. But this whole experience has opened my eyes up to how much I've come to depend on teachers, teaching, books, and in a deeper sense, the approval of others. I don't want anything to do with it. "Zen" has become a source of serious guilt for me, whereby I feel guilty for not being awake or aware or peaceful or connected. I can see how much I've been running from the mediocrity of my life and how that has made me incredibly uneasy. Spirituality has become a weight on my shoulders and has been converted into more suffering, rather than relief. It's time to table spiritual pursuits and rely on my own ingenuity.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Happy End of the World Tomorrow

I don't believe it, but I can't help but wonder. Meh. To be honest, I thought the world was ending a long time ago. :) My problem with Harold Camping and his cult isn't that they're alarmist; it's that they're not alarmist enough. ;)

Here're some funny rapture pics (from Reddit). Click to enlarge.

Forever Gloomy and Forever Loving,
Edahn
Did you catch the typo? Ugh.


God Meme is Brilliant

I would do this, but all my neighbors are Jewish.


Always my favorite

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions about Ask Edahn

1. Who are you?
I'm detective John Kimble! 


2. Is this your fulltime job?
I wish it was, but so far, no. I do a lot of “side jobs” which I’ll let you construe in whatever perverted manner you’d like.

3. Where are the pictures from?
I get most of them by searching google for <10 seconds, but the real funny ones I make myself. I usually put a logo on those, so no logo means google gave it to me for free.

4. Are the questions all real or do you make them up?
I have not made up a single question. I’d let the entire project die before conning people with tacky made-up questions. If you read through the site, you’ll know that I’m big on honesty. Fucking hate liars.

5. What’s the weirdest question you ever received?
It wasn’t on this site, but on another site I used to post at pre-AskEdahn. The person complained of turning into any person he was around, taking on their speech, mannerisms, interests, behaviors, etc. I gave them some links to depersonalization and schizophrenia, explained what they were and why they might fit, and told them to seek professional help.


6. Are you qualified to give advice?
What makes a person qualified to give advice? If you think the only way to learn how to give advice is through formal schooling, I would say a) I’m not qualified and b) you’re an idiot. I’ve suffered, overcome, experimented, and watched attentively. Besides, I don’t really give advice. I generally just share how I overcame certain conflicts and do my guest to guide people down the same path.

7. Can I have your children?
No.

8. Really?
No, not really.

9. Are these questions really frequently asked?
Some, yes, but obviously not this one.

10. What else have you written?
I’ve done some entertainment writing but it’s still in the pipeline. I’ve outlined some books I’d like to write. I’m a blogger on Encino.Patch.com and I used to be an administrator over at answers.psychcentral.com. (I have 2200 posts there or something like that.) Google my name and you'll find a bunch of stuff scattered over the internets. I’ve done considerable technical, business, and legal writing. I’ve also authored some pretty killer Facebook updates and some very memorable text messages.

11. Why do you do this?
It’s fun and I like the attention helping people smile.

12. What’s next?
I’m going to school to become a licensed therapist. After that, I guess we’ll see.

13. How do I send you a question?
Go here.

14. Are the questions anonymous?
I omit names and locations from my posts, so yeah.

15. Why is this so unnecessarily long?
That’s what she said.

Should I have a baby?


Hi Edahn, 
Lately I've been longing for a baby. I thought it was total BS, but the biological clock thing is happening to me. I'd be a great mom and everyone else thinks so too. Problem is, the finances are not there yet and my significant other does not want children. I feel like I have a tug-of-war going on inside me. Intellectually and emotionally I know the right decision for me, but my body is doing something totally different. It seems like it's all I think about.
This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision on my SO’s part. We started out both saying we wanted children, but he was diagnosed with an illness that is not terminal but incurable and takes its toll on the body. I'm really scared of losing him and being alone. I guess the sensible choice would be to find someone who is in good health, financially stable and who wants kids, but that's not the reality. Adoption isn’t an option either. I do not want to go through life without my SO, the love of my life who brings me such happiness, but at the same time, I don't want to have regrets. 
YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE takes its toll on the body? MAKING A BABY COME OUT OF YOUR VAGINA. (I'm told.) My first question is: why doesn’t your SO want to have a kid? If he’s worried about passing on his genes, you should look into genetic testing. If he’s worried about getting old and disabled, that’s something that affects a marriage too, not just a child. Why is he okay being a disabled boyfriend, but not a disabled father? When will his disease really start affecting his ability to be a good parent? Will it at all? He won’t be the first good disabled parent out there, ya know. I’m not saying his concerns are completely unfounded, but it’s something to explore.
But let’s skip the easy part and get to the heart of the issue.  How do you choose between having this guy and (possibly) having a kid with someone healthier and more financially stable? I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I’ll you how I would resolve the question. 
There are times in a person’s life when they know exactly who they’re supposed to be and what type of life they’re meant to lead. Those moments are never forced and seem to transpire when you’re completely honest about your fears, desires, uncertainties, and your situation. Total honesty has a way of calming the insatiable need for answers that prevents us from seeing the path we’re meant to take along with all the tough decisions and commitments that accompany it. They’re not intellectual, emotional, or visceral decisions–they’re intuitive.
Right now, your heart is being pulled in two directions and your mind is trying to sort out how to make it all work nicely so no one gets hurt. It’s trying to come up with a formula to predict the right decision. I know, I’ve been there so many times, but it never works. It just generates confusion and slowly tears you apart. Your mind with its ideas and hypotheses won’t help you decide what to do, just how to do it. Even your body won’t give you a trustworthy answer. Only your heart can do that.
It’s time to get in touch with yourself. Right now, turn on some nostalgic, beautiful music. You can start with Feist. Make a plan to gather as many old journals, photos, and videos of yourself as a kid (videos are the most effective). Remind yourself who you’ve always been, all long. What kind of creature are you? What are your habits and talents? What’s important to you? What’s things are worth fighting for and protecting? What kind of moments do you want your life to contain? What kind of impact will you have on this ailing planet? On your friends? Your family? Your loved ones? What life are you supposed to have? What must you set out to do in order to feel proud of yourself? Which life-paths possess beauty and balance? This isn’t just about relationships, it’s about everything. 
You’ll get it and you'll be fine. I have no doubt so don’t worry.

How Do I Stay Happy Doing Things I Don't Want To?

Dear Edahn,
I know I have shared with you some awkward dating situations however I recognize those moments now, as only a distraction. What are we here for? I believe it is to share something beautiful with others. I just hope that I am able to properly manifest and convey this intention. I truly respect what you do and how you help others and I am very appreciative. 
Right now I am having a moment of peace, but I was wondering how to remain peaceful and still believe in yourself when someone else has control over your future. (I have to meet certain criteria to graduate and am having trouble.) God I just want to be free! Life is too beautiful to be bound by unnecessary judgements and seemingly daunting obstacles. I truly believe in progress! I just want to dive into my career.
IT SEEMS TO ME that we have different concepts of what it means to be free. On the one hand, you can think of freedom as being able to do what you want, whenever you want. That's definitely "free," but it's not a very sustainable freedom because you're bound to get sucked back into the web of obligations and responsibilities.
As much as you (or I) want, we can't really ever escape our obligations. It's a natural part of life. As a meerkat has to wake up every morning and go forage with its group, a child has to go to preschool and a CEO has to go to work. These obligations have to be met in order to survive and make progress. No amount of technology or absence of technology will help you completely avoid your daily obligations. The trick is to find the balance between resisting your responsibilities and indulging in them.
Some people deal with responsibilities by resistance. They may pretend like their obligations don’t exist or run away from them or fill up their time with so many other trivialities so they can convince yourself that there’s just no time left to do what they need to do. They have no tolerance for discomfort. On the other end of the spectrum is indulgence. These people consume themselves with what they have to do. I have to do this, then that, then – oh, and absolutely hate doing that – and then I have to get here, and – omg I’m so stressed out! OMG, shut up.
The first person is avoiding their obligations; the second person is using their obligations to avoid their life. By overloading their schedule, they never have to sit still and face the feelings of boredom or depression or anxiety or inferiority that naturally come up. Erick Berne, the genius who invented Transactional Analysis called this “time-structuring” and said it was how people distracted themselves of their existential ennui. Clever, clever.
There’s an ideal amount of attention a person should devote to their obligations. That ideal amount takes practice and experimentation and adjustment, but it’s not hard to reach. You accept that you have to do certain things to live and reach your goals and you do them. You don’t do them and complain the whole time (sometimes is fine, though) and you don’t run away from them like a coward. And you don't have to pretend like you absolutely love them either. You just do ‘em and move on. (That also happens to me my college roommate’s motto, but that’s beside the point.) That doesn’t mean you should accept every single obligation that comes your way. Be smart. If the payoff is worth the effort, then do it and do it well, even if it sucks. 
When you keep that attitude the reward isn’t just the final product. The work itself becomes a form of art and a source of pride--a reward in itself. The freedom you get is the freedom to accept the realities of life with dignity and intelligence.
To submit a question to me click here or send an email to AskEdahn@gmail.com.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Capitalism Pigs or Socialist Scum?

Got a question for me? Email me at AskEdahn@Gmail.com or go here to ask anonymously.
I wish this was mine, but sadly, I can't take
credit for it or find the original author.
If you know it, tell me and I'll gladly give credit. ^_^

Dear Edahn,


Recently I've been reading a lot about capitalism and socialism. In a way they both have their good points and bad, but I just get so confused. It seems me that everyone has a right to make a profit and do well for themselves and their families; if capitalism is an economic system in which things are produced by private corporations and generate a profit, isn't that a good thing? Don't we need this in order for our country to be stable?


I read all these articles about our president being a socialist, and how that will end up destroying our society and way of life, but think that the way of life for most American's is not so good, and if socialism means sharing the wealth and things being equal for all, then, how can that be a bad thing? You always seem to write your responses with an undiluted edge so I am interested in what you think on this topic. Maybe you can help me clear some of the confusion in my head.

LET ME START OFF by saying that (a) I have never taken an economics class in my life, but (b) I have excellent Googling skills.

To my understanding, capitalism was actually a disparaging term coined by Marx to describe a system where production and property were controlled by the capitalists, i.e., non-laborers. In socialism, on the other hand, the means of production and property were controlled by the laborers themselves. In capitalism, the effort you put in is directly rewarded whereas in socialism (at least, the way it’s currently understood) you have to share your earnings. Socialism doesn’t have classes, whereas capitalism obviously does.

I happen to think socialism is a beautiful ideal to aspire to, but I don’t think it’s practical given where we are right now. For socialism to work, people need to be responsible and have a profound sense of work ethic, honesty, and honor. Those are values that Western society pays lip service to, but for the most part doesn’t take very seriously. We say honesty is important, but we bend the truth and spin facts constantly in law, politics, relationships, and in our jobs. The word honor is barely in our vernacular. Simply put, we don’t cherish these values and we don’t get a proper moral education from our parents or teachers anymore (with notable exceptions).

That moral education is necessary to temper our greedy, lazy nature. Without it, people try to make others do their work for them while they reap the benefits (“cheat”), and when enough people cheat, the system breaks down. That’s true for both socialism and capitalism. Right now in the U.S. we’re witnessing the breakdown of capitalism: greed and a lack of moral education have led to the horrific exploitation of the working class and a severe curtailment of their right to justice and dignity. But the people in power have managed to confuse the public by associating what they practice (exploitation, greed, dishonesty) with capitalism and with freedom. The laborers continue to hold onto the system that slowly screws them over. It's WTFcrazy. We see the same patterns on global, national, municipal, and local levels.

About a year ago I started advocating what I call Conscientious Capitalism, where we still work and keep the fruits of our labors, but do so without taking advantage of people and being greedy and living beyond our means. We give when we can and are guided by our conscience. A system like that could preserve the benefits of socialism (it's humanity) while still maintaining incentive. It’s how I try to live and how I encourage others to live with my words and disapproving glare. ಠ_ಠ

Back to your question, I don’t think either system is inherently good or bad. Their merit depends on the values of their constituents: corrupt people => corrupt system; noble people => noble system. The important fight right now isn’t so much about what economic system we pick, but how we act and what kind of example we set for others.

Some Trivial Announcements

First off, AskEdahn is now on Patch.com! I'm very excited about having my blog syndicated, and Patch is owned by Arianna Huffington, which is neat. This is still my home base.

Second, I'm adding a "Followers" module on this site so you can subscribe if you have a Google account. If you don't have a Google account, go away and never talk to me again.

Third, I'm been slacking off a little here with my posts, so I'm going to post a bit more in the next few weeks.

Fourth, remember when I had that AskEdahn banner contest? Of course you don't, because no one sent me any submissions. (Assholes.) Anyway, I said that "if I only get one submission (yours) YOU WIN!" strawberries wrote:
here's my entry:
'AsK edAHn.'
[winning]
Thanks for your hard graphic design work, Ms. Berries. Since Ms. Berries sent her submission in LATE, I'm extending the submission period for 1 more week. If I get no other submissions, AsK edAHn it is.