Category Archives: buddhism
No matter how introverted I say I am I still need to connect with people. But that connection hasn’t always been easy for me to make. And, recently, I have been wondering why it is so hard.
Not that I don’t have friends. I have actually been blessed with many wonderful close friends. They are truly amazing, so I guess I must be doing something right. But, well, I just moved to a new city and now I am faced with the prospect of having to build a social life from scratch.
Moving can be exciting. You get a fresh start, on everything, even who you are, or, at least, how you present yourself to others. This time, I told myself, I am going to be more outgoing. I’ll try to talk to people I wouldn’t normally talk to. I’ll have more confidence, be less guarded, and be a better listener. You know, “be myself” but better. 😛
Contemplating my struggle with friendships and relationships makes me think of my daughter, whose friendship mojo is strong. In the six weeks since we have moved here she has made several really good friends, had 3 sleepovers, and almost daily invitations for playdates/hang outs. Her social calender is so full it needs 13 months.
Not that I want that. I couldn’t handle that. But I would like to make at least a few meaningful connections. And it would be nice if it didn’t seem so hard.
I recognize that a big part of my problem is my impatience. I haven’t yet figured out how to enjoy the slow and somewhat obscure process of vetting, I mean, making friends. In the past I relied on intuitive (snap) judgements regarding compatibility. But, the new me, in my new city of Brotherly Love, is trying out new things and new people. I am meditating on remaining open, and curious. And that helps, a little bit. But sometimes it doesn’t.
Of course, sometimes I have to think “Maybe it is just me.” Maybe everyone else I know easily makes full and satisfying friendships. Maybe they often get that experience of being “known” and accepted. Maybe once an outsider, always an outsider. (and maybe feeling negative about the process isn’t really helping:P)
I don’t know. I really don’t. All I can do is just keep showing up and putting myself out there. Or maybe I should give up looking for a specific outcome but somehow not give up on the process. But, I should probably not crawl back into my shell. Unless maybe it is my shell that somehow, paradoxically draws other interesting shell dwellers to it.
Many years ago I worked as a copyeditor for a psychology journal, an enterprise that was fascinating and tedious in direct proportion to the number of tables in each article.
I was struck by an article about cortisol levels in people who had undergone various kinds of severe stress or trauma. The people in the study had permanently elevated cortisol levels; whatever stressor had lead to the release of the cortisol hormone had occurred so much or so severely that it effectively stuck the body in the on position. In plainer English, the adrenaline rush of the fight-or-flight response we all have when faced by a crisis had become permanent condition for these people.
This article depressed me profoundly, because not only did I see myself in those people, but I saw the possibility that I would Never Feel Better. My Stress Hormone Release Valve (note: not scientific terminology) had broken and would now stay broken, maybe forever.
Not too long after that I took up the practice of meditation. Honestly, I was kind of desperate to feel better: anti-depressants weren’t common then, and talk therapy—the kind where you review all your grievances against your parents and the bullies in school and whoever else might have wronged you—had gotten stale and repetitive for me. (Nothing against therapy; I’ve had great therapists since then.) I would have tried anything, and while I was trying the stress-relieving qualities of a loaf of banana chocolate-chip bread at the bakery I saw a sign for a meditation class.
Truly it changed and saved my life, and now we are learning why. Scientists have begun studying the effects of meditation on Tibetan lamas and casual practitioners, and they are finding that meditation can change the way the brain works—including long-term cortisol levels!—for the better. We’re also learning that brains are more plastic than we think and that cognitive decline can be slowed or possibly (in some cases) even reversed.
Some people call this “Mind Hacking,” a term that reflects a kind of cheeky optimism about the possibility of reprogramming our thinking—and maybe even the physical processes underneath it—by hacking into our brains like a programmer rewriting less-than-functional software.
Meditation is one example of a powerful mind hack, but I like to think of a mind hack as anything that reframes my thinking in a way that breaks some previously written loop and starts me in a new direction. A great metaphor, analogy, or question can be a deceptively effective mind hack. Sometimes it’s just the right advice, permission, or idea at the right time.
I think all three of us are fans of a good mind hack, and between us we should have at least one to share each Monday, like AM’s post this Monday about letting go of “the idea that They need you and that the world won’t be right” if you take time off from your responsibilities and schedules.
So true, which is why I am writing this piece about mind hacks on Tuesday, when I wanted to have it done on Monday. 😉
Play along with us and share any good mind hacks you know, too. We’d love to feature your idea, book suggestion, inspirational quotation, or any other trick to keep our minds agile, positive, and healthy.
So, there is more that I want to say about Unconditional Love, not that I am an expert, far from it.
First of all, I am not even sure what it means to love unconditionally. How does it work, in a practical sense? What does a relationship of unconditional love look like? Is unconditional love detached? Dispassionate? Would you ever want to love your spouse or lover “unconditionally”? Should you give unconditional love to your abuser?
I don’t know if I will ever find satisfactory answers to those questions. I just keep living and trying to love people the best I can. Sometimes I do a pretty poor job, especially when it comes to loving myself unconditionally. It is a good trick to try to imagine that you are your own good friend. How would you treat yourself? How would you talk to yourself? How would you change the way you support and care for yourself? Could you possibly smile with happiness at seeing your good friend when you see your own reflection in the mirror?
Sometimes I wonder if anyone is able to love themselves so unconditionally. Then I wonder if maybe lots of people do and it is just me that doesn’t get it. Maybe the phrase Unconditional Love is too lofty. Maybe I could start to do it, with baby steps, if I just said I am loving myself where I am at.
Some people call it unconditional love, others describe it as loving people where they are at. It seems hard, almost impossible, but once you commit to doing it your relationship becomes much easier.
When you require other people to change into someone that would make the same decisions and choices that you would make, or at least ones that you would understand, you are often going to find yourself in conflicts.
Misunderstandings are inevitable. We have not yet invented a translator that allows us to speak with perfect understanding to one another. We can’t really say we understand the needs, fears, and desires that motivate our own behaviors, much less those of others. The beautiful reality is that humans are complex creatures. But unconditional love is simple.
Unconditional love is wanting others to be happy. Even if you don’t understand them. Even if you disagree with them. Even if you dislike them. And, most importantly, even if they dislike you.
One way to start practicing unconditional love is by doing a daily Metta Meditation. You can find various versions online by searching “Metta Meditation.” One example is “May I live in safety. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.”
You always start by focusing your love towards yourself, chanting this three times. Then say the Metta three times focusing on someone you love. Then for someone you are neutral towards. Fourth, towards someone you have difficultly with, or someone hostile towards you. Fifth, wish for happiness, health, ease, and safety for the entire world. Lastly, come back to yourself and chant three more times.
Sometimes the hardest one can be feeling loving-kindess towards a person that is hostile towards you. But it can also feel the best, especially when your heart releases the resentment and pain you have been holding onto.
There is much more to the Metta Meditation than I am relating here. And there is much more I would like to say about unconditional love. But doing the Metta Meditation is an easy way to start practicing loving-kindness every day. I think, over time, you start to see the wisdom in loving humanity because they are complex rather than in spite of it.
Links – The Practice of Metta Meditation
Part the First – Wherein our heroine is reminded not to ascribe the worst possible interpretation to the scenario.
We had been traveling for fifteen hours, from South Bend to Chicago to Frankfurt, and only had one more leg of our journey to go — Frankfurt to Venice — when we were confronted with the ugly illuminated fact that our flight to Venice was cancelled.
I immediately went into “It will be okay gang! Mom will figure things out” mode and marched us over to the Lufthansa customer service counter. The line for “economy class” (yep, that is about how classy I am) was already filling out with other people I recognized from our transatlantic flight, so we hurried over to queue up.
There were four customer service representatives in European styled uniforms of navy with orange accents, including scarves. One was for the “elite” travelers who paid to have a shorter line. Two others were working S-L-O-W-L-Y trying to find alternate flights to Venice, and the fourth was reading a magazine.
What? No way! As the line stood still I stared at the fourth customer service person, willing her to look up and nod a weary traveler to her counter and help. But no, when she did look up it was only to stare out languidly into the distance, smile flirtatiously at a well dressed German baggage handler (yes, in Europe even the baggage handlers are stylish), and sigh in boredom before looking back at her magazine.
I could feel my face getting red. How could she do that? How could she just ignore us? What the heck?? Europe sucks! I was shooting daggers at this lazy no good Lufthansa lady when I realized. . . she wasn’t working for Lufthansa. That’s right. She was at the same counter, but the sign above her station was for some other airline. And apparently they had not cancelled any flights that morning.
Suddenly my temperature went down. My shoulders relaxed. The extra stress I was causing myself, above and beyond having our flight cancelled, was released and, though I felt a little foolish, I mainly felt grateful to have learned a lesson. Don’t jump to conclusions, especially not the worst possible ones. For the rest of my trip, I noticed when people around me made judgements based on what they thought was going on and how upset they let themselves get. I also reflected on the times when I could have interpreted things to be annoying or unfair, but when instead I recognized that I don’t always have all the answers or knowledge necessary to make that judgement, so I let it go.
Stress can be literally toxic to your health. Bad things happen. Flights get cancelled. Waiters ignore you. People cut you off on the street. But we don’t have to make things worse on ourselves by imagining we know the reasons why. Or, if we are going to imagine, why not imagine a good reason, give people the benefit of the doubt? It feels good to say No Thank You to more stress in your life.
Life is tragic. Or, as the Buddhists would say, life is suffering. It seems like everyone I know has experienced tragedy, like job loss, divorce, death of a parent, sibling or even child, abuse, estrangement, mental illness, cancer, or other health crisis. Life is tragic. And you only make things worse by fighting ultimate truth.
When I was young I didn’t know that. I thought life was supposed to be pretty good all the time and I got hurt and frustrated or depressed when it wasn’t. I carried on. I worried and fretted and complained. And I fought many losing battles.
There was a time when I also thought it was my responsibility to make everything work out for the best. I spent a lot of time and effort trying to make things “right.” I thought I had more control over life than I actually had.
I was like a person in a rowboat frantically rowing to get to a “good place” where I could finally be happy and relax. I rowed against strong currents, through shark infested waters, hit icebergs, and was beached on inhospitable islands. I’ve been lucky that even though there were some questionable moments, my boat never sank. Nowadays I tend to put down my oars and raise my sail more often and just see where the winds are going to take me. I know there will be danger and fear and loss and that, eventually, my journey will end.
Realizing that suffering comes into everyone’s life and that we all face the same tragic end has helped me become more compassionate towards myself and others. I endeavor to fret less and to put that energy into something more positive or, at least, more useful. And when tragedy does strike, I don’t ask “Why me?” I don’t take it personally. I take some comfort in being part of the human condition we call life. At least that is what I try to do.
How do you handle tragedy? How has that changed as you have matured?