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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.
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.



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.

Monday, November 15, 2010

My chinchilla won't chill (AKA, how do you help an addict)

Hot or Not?
Submitted via GChat.

    me:  send me a question for my blog, quick
   @gmail.com:  Lol. Im not sending you a question. I have no questions for your blog. I think you're retarded.
    me:  can you phrase that as a question?
    @gmail.com:  My chinchilla is being a pain in the ass today
    me:  yes, go on...
    @gmail.com:  Somehow, he grabbed all the printer paper off of my printer and dragged it under my bed
    me:  go on...
    @gmail.com:  Thats it.
    me:  "...how do i prevent my chinchilla from acting out?"
    @gmail.com:  ..............
Fuck your blog.

THANKS FOR WRITING IN. In order to really understand the complex mind of the chinchilla, you really have to go back to the chinchilla's biological blueprint. You see, the chinchilla has 2 genetic lineages that compete with one another. It's "cuddly wabbit" genes instruct it to be cute as often as possible while it's "ugly rat bastard" genes tell it to annoy you as much as possible, steal things, and force you to make repairs. In the chinchilla, these drives reinforce one another and create what's called the Oopsy Daisy Effect. Briefly stated, the Oopsy Daisy Effect refers to an accident that causes irritation (like a mess of papers) but that's done in such a cute manner, or by such a cute perpetrator, that you can't help but say "aww" and forgive the blunder. In Transactional Analysis, this "aww" is called a stroke.

In minor forms, the Oopsy Daisy problem is harmless. A paper here, a glue stick there, no big deal. But the Oopsy Daisy problem can, in severe cases, lead to alcoholism and other self-destructive patterns when the accidents are directed at the organism's own life. Drug addicts, procrastinators, and all other self-sabotaging individuals are essentially making messes of their own lives and figuring out ways for you to come and cuddle them. They sometimes try and seem cute ("I did it again! I can't keep a man to save my life!"). Other times, they feign helpless victims of the vicissitudes of life, desperately trying to escape addiction and tragically coming up short.

The solution is to neutralize the reinforcement and redirect. You have to stop feeling sorry for the cute, innocent thing. When they make a mess of their room (or of their life) you can't give them what they're looking for, neither pity nor cuddly affection nor disapproval. You need to remain stoic and unaffected while calmly encouraging them to be responsible about their destiny, which includes reviving hope that they can lead a satisfying, peaceful lives. At the same time, work on redirecting. Show them how to lead another lifestyle that doesn't involve screw up and reinforcement, but something that's equally satisfying and meaningful. For a person, that means a meaningful job, hobbies, and relationships. For a chinchilla, it means cardboard boxes with holes in them.

Friday, November 12, 2010

How do I find my path? (and walk it)

In response to this post, one of the minions asked:
So how do you suggest getting oriented with what is most difficult to choose the *right* path?
[Also,] how can we gain the discipline to sweep up "the trash and leaves" so that we do not end up one day "wasn't there something here a long time ago." Is there really a simplistic methodical way we can go about this and follow our heads instead of our hearts?
THE PATH IS CLEARED when you're quiet and listening. Quiet means you give up all forms of violence. Don't just think of violence as hitting someone. You can hit yourself too, and you can hit yourself with words, with judgment, with meanness, and with rejection. So, renouncing violence means giving up all that shit. Being sincere, being supportive, being honest, being understanding. You practice with others and you do it for yourself. You don't have to fake it, because it's actually just the logical, intelligent way of seeing things. Violence is irrational when you really reflect on what it is. 

Another way to describe that is by meditation. Everyone has so many ideas about what meditation is supposed to be, and what it's supposed to feel like. All it is is seeing what's here. You're not trying to see things a certain way, or muster certain emotions, or kill your thoughts. You're just being open to what's here right now -- frustration? exasperation? desire for answers? thinking? anger? confusion? You let it be there. Okay, interesting. That's the same thing as listening.

Doing all that clears up thoughts because thoughts feed on resistance. Resistance is their nature. Your thoughts are always trying to make something else happen -- an answer, a feeling, a mood, recognition, progress, or even just maintaining the status quo in the face of mounting pressures. When you slowly let go of needing things to change, when you accept them and stop pressuring yourself to make something else happen, when you give up self-directed violence (all the same thing), your mind has nothing left to do. Your acceptance overcomes its resistance. Your path slowly begins to appear.

You stay on it by studying it, by making it appear again (practicing nonviolence) and by recording the insights you get when you see it. Make some rules for yourself. THEN STICK TO IT. How do you find discipline? You don't. You just do it until it becomes easier and normal. Use every trick you can think of. Make schedules. Make note cards. Read something every day. Make a huge poster that stares at you where ever you go. Leave something in your wallet/purse/murse. (I use all of these, btw.) Whatever it takes. 

Buddha, my homeboy, said there are only two mistakes one can make in their pursuit of truth: not starting the path and not finishing it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is taking a break a good idea?

Row 2, Column 6. Justin Bieber? 
Submitted via the Facebook:
Taking a break... good or bad idea... does it create permanent damage and distance or can it mend fences. This isn't about me at all... I just thought it would of interest to the rest of your minions.
PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR partners who fit together with them like complementary lego pieces. When they ask for a break, what they're saying is "this is a partial fit and I'm not sure if there's a better lego piece out there for me." They're not ready to give you up completely, nor are they ready to give up on the nagging feeling that something's not clicking. So rather then ask for a break up, they ask for a break.

How it ends depends on lots of factors: why the legos aren't connecting right, whether those issues can be addressed during the break, whether people will actually address them, and what types of other legos the couple finds in their time off.

The thing to remember is that if you get replaced, don't take it personally. It doesn't mean your piece is broken or malformed. It just means you don't fit with this particular person. You don't want to be connected to the wrong piece anyway, because then you have something awkward and ugly instead of something aesthetically pleasing. Your match is out there. When you find each other, you'll both know it.

You may want to read this, too, and share the shit out of my website. :P

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Going back to the ex

Submitted via Facebook.
Dear Edahn,

Not sure if you've already written on this one already, but why do girls (or guys) go back to the one they swore they wouldn't hook up with or date again?

OKAY, SO THE SHALLOW answer is because they still want something from that person and are willing to take the risk of resuming some type of relationship with them. They either forget why they swore the person off, or don't feel as upset, or trick themselves into thinking it'll be different this time around. Sometimes it is actually different, but I have never seen that new dynamic develop into something truly satisfying and "healthy." In the few times where the dynamic changes, the power just shifts from one party to the other and the victim becomes the aggressor. Congratulations, you're officially an asshole.

The deeper answer to your question is because people lose their moral/personal compass. It's like this. We really do know what we want in life. It's not a possession, but more a lifestyle and impression we leave on the world. We know what it'll take for us to lead honorable, amusing, nourishing lives. It starts with an attitude, develops into a set of values, and then into specific goals. But all too often, that blueprint gets buried under the mountains of priorities, deadlines, goals, needs, overthinking, confusion, and wishes for immediate gratification. Without that blueprint, we forget how to make good decisions. We get disoriented and lazy and just choose what's easiest and what we want the most right now, without regard to how that decision will play out in the future.
Maintaining your compass takes work. It's like a pathway in a garden: if you don't sweep up the trash and leaves, you won't be able to recognize it and let it guide you. We all have to do that by keeping track of what's truly important to us. Otherwise you're doomed to walk outside one day and wonder "wasn't there something here a long time ago?"

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Monday, November 8, 2010

The Ultimate Self-Esteem Cure

There's a story in Lieh Tzu called Fortune and Worth (#63) that I want to share with you. Read it, because it'll stick with you.
One day Pei-Kung-Tzu visited his old friend Hsi-men-tzu. The two were friends who grew up in the same village, but due to different circumstances, hadn't seen each other in years. As soon as PK saw HMT, he started to wonder outloud: "We both came from the same village. We had similar families, and went to the same schools. But you turned out successful. You have a great job, a great house, a great family, lots of interesting friends, and a sweet carriage ride. People respect you and trust you. Meanwhile, I've ended up the opposite. I have nothing, no family of my own, my job sucks, my car is beat up, I like in a beat up apartment in the worst part of town, and no one respect me or cares for me. FML We both had similar jobs and you got promoted while I got demoted. We both invested in stocks, but when you made profit, I lost big. You eat great food while I eat scraps. It's just not fair. When you see me on the street, you ignore me. Is it because you think you're more worthy than I am?"
HMT was a little uncomfortable. Condescendingly, he suggested that he was more worthy and chastised PK for deigning to compare his worth to that of his own. PK left feeling dejected and ran into one of the smarter guys living in the city. He explained what happened and the wiseman, Tung-kuo, headed back to HMT's house with PK. The wiseman asked HMT to explain what happened. HMT explained: "I told him that the reason I was more successful than he was was due to the fact that I'm more worthy." 
TK broke it down for both of them. He said that they both were measuring worth through social and political success, though he saw it differently. Rather than being a reflection of their wisdom or virtue, HMT's success and PK's failure were a result of luck. "Whether you have luck or not is not something you can control," he counseled. "You should not be presumptuous because you have more luck and likewise, he shouldn't feel worthless because he has no luck. Both of you are blinded by your ideas of worthiness." Upon hearing this, HMT vowed never to boast again. TK went home and wasn't ashamed of being poor anymore. His tattered clothes felt like designer label furs. His microwavable dinners tasted like the finest gourmet food, and his apartment seemed like a mansion. He no longer saw things in terms of honor and disgrace, recognition and anonymity. He lived the rest of his life quietly and contently.
I THINK MOST OF us struggle with our self-esteem at different points in our lives. Sometimes it's obvious and on the surface, other times it's subtle and buried deep inside our mind. Sometimes our self-doubt rears itself in certain situations like dating or job interviews or meeting stereotypically "successful" people. We psychologically contract in their presence and doubt whether we're worthy enough to sit there comfortably. We present lists of what we've accomplished and try and flatter our way into acceptance.

What this story teaches us is something we already know deep down but too often forget: that our self-worth isn't a byproduct of our success, but of the kind of person that we are, i.e., the virtue that we possess. When we treat others with dignity, care for them, and live responsibly -- when we try to be good people and when we recognize that goodness that we cultivate -- we no longer feel that we have to justify our worth to other people. We know down to our core that we're worthy and have nothing to be afraid of. We can just be there quietly, with humility and integrity.

If you can identify times when you begin to question yourself, take a second a look at how you've calculated your self-worth. How are you evaluating yourself in that situation? By your looks? Your bank account? Your success in dating or in building a family? Your job? Your intelligence? Your ethnicity? Your confidence? Your social skills? Take a lesson from the Taoist and ask yourself if you're a fundamentally good person. Be fair, but be honest. Do you care for others? Are you honest with them? Do you treat them fairly? Do you listen to your conscience? If yes, fuse that understanding with your self-esteem and never question it so long as you live honorably. If not . . . get to work!

Friday, November 5, 2010

I'll have the breast reduction

Get it?

Dear Edahn,
I have a problem that all men and some women may not view as a problem. For whatever reason, I have been blessed with very big breasts since I was a very small pre-teen. However, on the downside, these breasts are very heavy and have always hurt my back. Now they are also starting to hurt my front, meaning my ribcage is very sore from wearing under-wire for so many years. I have been approved by my insurance to get a breast reduction from one of the top surgeons in my city, but I am feeling so many emotions when it comes to actually doing it. First off, I have always been known as someone with "big boobs," so a piece of my identity will be reduced along with them. Second, I am afraid of the pain of having such a big surgery, as I have never had surgery before and the recovery time is at least a few months. Lastly, and in a way, the biggest issue for me, is I am concerned about the scarring on a place of my body that I want to look beautiful. The plus sides are that I will feel much better in my body and clothes will fit better, despite what people may think (it's very hard to find clothing for big breasts). Even with the downsides of this procedure, I have never heard of anyone being unhappy with their results-- actually quite the contrary. Anyone who's had it has told me "it's the best thing I have ever done." Despite this evidence, I am still really freaked out about it. What do you think?
Busty and Bummed

LET'S TRY AND SIMPLIFY this dilemma. The pain isn't going to kill you, so let's put that aside. It's uncomfortable, but not permanent or unbearable and you'll be under general anesthesia. The fact that a piece of a your identity is going to be removed might seem weird, but you're a tough girl. You're more than just a girl with big boobs, and really, our identities are always changing anyway. As we change our jobs or friendships or habits or locations, our identity changes too. It happens naturally and it's not something you need to be afraid of.

That leaves the scarring issue. Any surgeon will tell you that it's impossible to know exactly what type of scars you'll show because everyone's body reacts differently. Your doctor should, however, be able to tell you what type of incision he'll need to make. The choices are either: a) incision around the areola for big breasts, b) (a) with a vertical incision from the bottom of the areola and down for bigger breasts (lollipop), or c) (b) with an addition horizontal incision on the bottom (anchor) for the biggest breasts. More incisions mean more scarring. Even though it'll be hard to predict what the scars will look like, what you should do if you haven't already is do a google-image search for breast reduction scars. Bear in mind that most of the pictures you see will be from plastic surgeons displaying their best work. Lastly, you should read some testimonials. I asked my cousin, a plastic surgeon, about breast reduction surgeries. He said that even though there's scarring, the women are the happiest of all his patients.

In the end, it sounds like there are drawbacks to both getting the surgery and not getting the surgery. It doesn't sound like there's a solution that will make you 100% satisfied and comfortable. Either way, you're going to have to weather through some discomfort. I guess the question is which discomfort is worse? The aesthetic drawbacks or the constant back and rib pain?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Lazy no-good Buddhists

Another post submitted via the Facebook page, which you should add/fan/love, because it's wonderful:

How do Buddhists come to terms with all the suffering in the world, instead of trying to change it? I realize that changing the world seems far-fetched and hopeless, but I think this is just laziness. People are always fundamentally changing the world in ways that benefit them at the expense of everyone suffering (and add to the suffering in the process). There's a lot of very preventable things going on that could be effectively fought. It seems like Buddhists understand this to some extent, and I can't help but think that they're shirking their responsibility to society by trying to accept it on a personal level rather than trying to fight oppression. (Forgive me if I've vastly misunderstood the level of community involvement of Buddhists, but I just don't see much evidence of it)

THERE'S TENSION BETWEEN TRYING to alleviate suffering and accepting it. The chief purpose of Buddhist/spiritual/mystical practice is to better your life and reduce--if not extinguish--misery, suffering, confusion, and uneasiness. But the method for doing that is by not trying to extinguish it, by giving up the desire to get someone else. That happens through practice and attention or sometimes by natural or induced exhaustion (yoga is a type of induced exhaustion). We call them methods (in Sanskrit, yānas) but really they're anti-methods. As long as you think you're going to use it to get somewhere else, you're going to be frustrated. But as you start to realize that all the methods are trying to get you to stop wanting to get somewhere else, you start to loosen up. You're at rest. It might not be perfect and you might still be confused or uncomfortable, but you're still and at peace with things.

So, is that it? Are you ready to slip into a blissful coma now? Au revoir, cruel world? Not so much. When you have peace in your heart your main goal becomes to share it with others and help them find it to. It doesn't necessarily make sense intellectually, but it makes sense intuitively. You just know that this is the right thing to do and that cultivating and sharing this feeling of beauty and harmony is your one true path. In fact, you could say its everyone's true path. I say that with confidence.

How exactly you share and cultivate that beauty in your own life and in the lives of others is a personal decision. It has to do with your personality, your talents, your circumstances, your background, and your opportunities. Each person will have a different style and path. Some people will feel called to help their countries and their people (see the Dalai Lama, Seung Sahn, Thich Nhat Hanh). Others are called to teach others how to practice (see Barnes and Noble's Eastern Philosophy aisle). Some just live quietly at peace in virtual solitude*. And then some just blend into society, try and help others, and maybe start awesome blogs. Ha! Spreading harmony takes careful effort and the right pace, otherwise you risk jeopardizing your own peace and the peace of others.

* I don't mean playing WoW on their computer in their parents' basement, but you never know.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Buddhist Paradox?

Burning questions ab
out *buddhism*- yea how about u read up on science and evolution and realize that everything else is a crock of shit. Grasping onto any *cult* * religion* or any other organized chaos- sign of a lost soul. Not that there is a soul.

LOL, HOW QUICKLY WE forget the second rule of Fight Club Buddhism! The cause of all misery is grasping. Religion is included in that. Do you know the story of Buddha's enlightenment?

The year is 500 BCish. Siddartha Gautama is a prince who has all the sex and food and pleasantries a guy could ask for. He lives a pretty sheltered childhood, but occasionally ventures outward. On one of his trips, he sees a sick person, followed by a dying person, and an aging person, and he starts thinking about misery, happiness, and meaning, in much the same way we do. At 29, he leaves the palace and begins sampling all the spiritual traditions India has to offer. He spends 6 years meditating, doing yoga at the gym, denying himself pleasure, and has some mystical experiences but it's not enough. Anything he gets is fleeting and not the answer. He becomes tired of all the trying and just sits in front of a tree, not trying to get enlightenment or answer any question. He just sits. His mind slowly becomes more and more concentrated and he begins to wake up (hence the title "Buddha," the awakened one). He then understands that all his trying to find a solution, his grasping onto a religion, was a cause of his suffering, and indeed, that grasping in general is the source of misery. After some hesitation, he determined to teach other people what he's learned.

Those who practice learning
Gain something day by day.
Those who practice the Way,
Lose something day by day.
They lose and even lose losing,
Until they arrive at non-doing,
The non-doing in which
Nothing is left undone.
~Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

What you've said is absolutely right. Grasping onto a religion to shelter you from life isn't the answer, it's the source of the problem. Buddha described his religion -- which is really more of a school of psychotherapy than a religion -- as a raft. The purpose of a raft isn't to build a house on it, but to use it to travel somewhere, then dispose of it. He discouraged people from becoming attached to (dependent upon) religion. In that sense, Buddhism is unique. The point isn't to be Buddhist; it's to find happiness by relinquishing your need for it.