Buddhist Thought

impermanence

Impermanence

Winter always makes me miss New England. Today I went Christmas shopping with my partner – it was above 70 degrees and I wore a sleeveless shirt and sandals. There are palm trees in the parking lots. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to it, even though I’ve spent more than a decade living in the South. I sat in the car for a bit as I waited for her to come out of Target, and as both our iPhone batteries had died, I was left with my thoughts (a rarity). She had mentioned earlier that when she was waiting for me at a different store she closed her eyes and listened/timed the shutting of car doors in the parking lot, so I decided to do the same. If you’re curious, based on our ‘sound’ findings, Marshalls was busier than Target with an average ratio of 10:32 seconds between doors shutting.

Meanwhile as I said, I was left with my thoughts and so I have been considering these spiritual seizures of mine (see previous post) and most importantly, how I can develop goals.  Every choice we make involves some kind of purpose, so in order to climb out of this hole I need to know the purpose which will lead to the significance of the next path I choose to take. I apologize if I’m being a bit more reflective than usual – I get this way a few times per year. I do have a musical post to construct at some point in the next day or so…

I found myself considering the fleeting momentary nature of existence and of my experiences while sitting in the car.  For the past year and a half, so much of my existence has been sitting in front of words. I’m either reading or writing them – all the time. I’m sitting in front of this metal/plastic contraption (Vicki II, my MacBook), straining my eyes. It seems that even when I’m sitting still, in front of my computer, or in front of a book, I’m in a hurry.  Each moment disappears as quickly as it arrived – even as I type this. When I look back on this, what will have mattered? I have goals in mind and with each passing day, I’m getting closer to each one. That’s what keeps me on this path. So consider,  which of our actions are worth cultivating?

I suppose I’m getting into the concept of impermanence here – of course the realization of impermanence is the very reason why Siddhartha left his palace to seek enlightenment.  There is a sense of urgency in knowing that all things pass – not just people or sentient beings but experiences and objects, too. I’ve been fearful, since I was very young (7 or so), of being left with remorse over not “spending my time wisely” – which is one reason I take on too much. I know so many people, and you probably do as well, who simply live out their lives without an ounce of conscious thought, living and acting out habits/patterns and not considering the impermanence of life. My mother for instance, has spent her entire life acting out this scenario: waking up, making coffee, showering, drinking coffee while watching the news, leaving for work, spending 9 hours at her desk selling kitchens, going home, eating dinner which almost always includes meat/potato/vegetable, drinking several beers while watching tv, falling asleep – repeat. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think to myself, “I will never let that be me.”  There is simply too much to do on this planet.  Cultivation then, is a matter of personal integrity.

My goal this week is to deprive myself of reading anything at all for a day. This feels more radical than it probably is, but I’m curious about what my head will lean towards doing once I put away my books, my iPhone, and my computer. It’ll probably be later in the week, as I am still receiving student emails regarding grades… but soon. Just as an experiment.

Time to wrap gifts…

Next post hint: Lyric Analysis of Chinese Oppression. 

emergence

Sanskrit blogging on the rise

For the past several years I’ve kept a copy of Julie Cameron’s The Artist’s Way close to my nightstand.  I’ve read it through several times, yet most often I pick it up and review a few passages when I’m feeling the need to reroute myself. I bring it up today not only because my dog decided this morning that it was a good binding  to chew on, but because one particular paragraph fits today’s existence:

We learn what we want and ultimately become willing to make the changes needed to get it. But not without a kriya, a Sanskrit word meaning a spiritual emergency or surrender. (I always think of kriyas as spiritual seizures. Perhaps they should be spelled crias because the are the cries of the soul as it is wrung through changes). (Ch. 5)

I would like to modify this definition/understanding a bit, because throughout the past twenty years I’ve picked up some sanskrit through buddhist teachings. Kriya is typically linked with a branch of yoga – it is analogous to achieving a specific [physical/spiritual] result through the cyclical completion of asanas (yoga postures).  I would link the concept of kriya with spiritual emergence rather than spiritual emergency.  Slight difference, same etymology – and I’m only modifying it because today we tend to think of the words “emergence,” and “emergency” differently.  Kriya then, involves the emergence of coiled energies (kundalini – a serpent coiled at the base of our spine) to unblock the spiritual and physical self.

There is a point to all of this. The past four months (the fall semester) have been difficult, and today I came to the realization that my body, my identity, my spiritual self – are all enduring these spiritual seizures. To paraphrase another concept from Julie Cameron, I need to intervene by performing some sort of spiritual chiropractic method. My work suffered horribly this semester because I stepped over the threshold of do-ability and feasibility, allowing myself to take on far more than I could handle. Last year went so well that, as I have done my entire life, I thought to myself, “I should step it up.” Well, now that I’ve potentially screwed myself out of a plethora of opportunities as a result of an almost-arrogant confidence in my ability to multitask, I need to breathe and consider how to carefully take my next steps.

In order to ensure the quality of my work continues to develop, I need to spend the next two weeks (winter break) re-identifying the self that I lost in the process of seizing – but for the first few days I need to allow myself to stop seizing by simply resting.  I have to develop boundaries to arrive at some semblance of clarity before this next semester begins, as it consists solely of thesis writing (and thus I need a great deal of self-discipline).  On a pragmatic level, this means re-aligning my personal relationships, fostering integrity, and wiping the foggy mirror clear of the blur I’ve allowed to settle in place of my kundalini energy.

That’s all for now…

The Eightfold Path of Academia

     Yesterday I was thrown into a conversation about my heritage. It’s an interesting conversation, because I spend so much time in classes (both my own and those I assist) discussing the identity of others, and yet I have barely thought about my own or how I identify. I don’t identify with any specific heritage – perhaps because I grew up “a mutt” notwithstanding the strong links to various cultures. I grew up in a town with a large Buddhist community – one of the largest (probably the largest per capita) in the nation. Consequently, I was exposed to the teachings from an early age despite half my family calling the local practitioners “freaky” – they assumed that these people were leftovers from the 70’s age of cults and communal living. There were certainly leftover hippies. People always fear what they don’t understand.

One of my favorite hometown experiences happened when I was very young, though I don’t remember my age. It must have been past the age of ten because I was already performing in the local community band. After a Sunday evening concert one summer, I was sitting on the common eating an ice cream cone, and I met my first Buddhist nun. She had finished a walking meditation and was walking around the center of town softening clay beads in her hand to make a mala. I don’t remember the details of the conversation, but I know that’s what cemented my relationship to the dharma.  I walked away with the mala she had created and kept it until Hurricane Katrina destroyed it in 2005 (ironically, after I returned to New Orleans I found it in the mud where it had settled inside a singing bowl as the water levels dropped).

My relationship with Buddhism has always been love-hate. The teachings are there, but I haven’t always followed them, even when they bubble up from the subconscious to play the angel on my shoulder. I’ve had wavering months of devout practice, and months lost in the land of capitalist-driven hedonism where my inner child considered the world to be its sandbox. All I can do is smile because of course the entire premise behind Buddhist teachings is an espousal of ‘the Middle Way”, commonly known as moderation. I’m a horrible example of this. Now, in the land of academics, the corners of my mouth turn into a smile once more because once again the teachings, this moderation, should be paramount to my existence… and once again it’s not. An example? I work exceedingly hard 6 days a week to the point where I feel like I’ll collapse and on the 7th day, I’ll sleep late and do nothing but watch ridiculous TV and play with my dogs. Wouldn’t my life be better served if for those 6 days, I practiced moderation, so that by the 7th, I won’t feel the need to laze around? Sure it would. Knowing and doing are two different things. If my life becomes an example for anything, it’s that.

The noble 8-fold path should be recodified for academics, and applied to our interactions with research, colleagues, and students: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.  I think I’ll post the list on my office wall. Meanwhile… identity – I’m still working on that.

 

 

Dear New Orleans, Meet Tibet.

“Without depending on tradition, we cannot do anything. So until we become enlightened, we cannot reject faith that depends on tradition. In order to communicate, it is always necessary to deal with…tradition. But if we rely on it with rigid attachment, then through our clinging we are trapped by tradition”. – Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

Until we are master musicians: masters of our own instrument(s), a particular style or era, a musical culture – we have no skill – we cannot do anything. Until we become musical masters, we can’t reject tradition – and we can’t branch away from it. It’s our starting point. We’re musical seeds, watered by tradition, sprouting, growing – shined down upon by the musicians we revere until we reach our potential. And yet (as in New Orleans), “if we rely it with rigid attachment, then through our clinging we are trapped by our tradition”.

That’s the distinction between those who thrive and stay, and those who thrive and climb out.

Tibetan Buddhism has a patent structure from beginning to end. They have a map – they don’t get lost. Musically, so many young musicians are lost. It’s why I believe so strongly in Irvin Mayfields’ current undertaking – his road to Carnegie Hall tour. Although as with every Mayfield project this one has an array of agendas, one involves creating a patent structure from beginning to end. It involves a flow chart of how young musicians can perform their way out of the tradition while still revering it: a step by step guide from point A of picking up that horn for the first time to stepping on stage at Carnegie. The idea, of course, isn’t that every young musician can follow the path. The idea is to show them that aforementioned distinction: simply that they have the choice, and the power to make it happen.