I guess we know the answer to that koan afer all.
I’ve noticed that, on my computer, a particular letter seems to not show up when I use it. It’s not a common letter so it should not really be missed that much. However, this letter is used more here than it would be in many cases because of the particular brand of Buddhism I blog about. I’m hoping that it’s just me experiencing this but I have to know, is it happening to you too? Can you see the final letter of the alphabet when I use it on this blog? If I write the word “Zen” do you see the first letter of that word or do you just see “en”? Please let me know if it is happening to you. If enough people can’t see the letter, I’ll have to find a different font to use for the blog.
the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPS OVER THE LAZY DOG.
The other day I was searching through some digital archives looking for a document. It turns out the document I needed wasn’t in the archive but I found some things there that shocked me. I came across some before/after photos that demonstrated how much weight I had lost and how I looked after dropping 60 pounds. I couldn’t help but look down and realize that I look far too much like the “before” pictures than I would like. I also realized when I looked down at the scale I saw a lot of old numbers staring back up at me. Sure, in my “after” photos I was 270 pounds but I looked downright skinny compared to where I started at 330. I remember thinking at the time how I would never be over 300 pounds again. I had done it. I had won! The problem is, if that is winning, I was once again in a position of losing and failing. Needless to say, getting trapped in that kind of thinking is a recipe for disaster (and don’t get me started on recipes).
It’s difficult to stay motivated when you feel like you have failed. Especially when you have a brain that transforms the thought, “I have failed” into “I’m a failure”. That’s what happens to me when depression tries to get the upper hand on my life. I’m sure it manifests itself differently in others but we all suffer in our own way right? I may have allowed those feelings to get the best of me for a few hours and probably made some poor choices in response to them, but, because I’m aware of how my thoughts and responses work, I was able to stop before things spiraled out of control. Disaster avoided so it was time to move on right? No. It was not time to move on. Moving on would be the biggest mistake I could make.
I think it is part of the human condition that we try to avoid lingering on unpleasant thoughts. Call it pain avoidance or whatever other label you want but it is what it is. It makes sense that we should want to avoid painful or troubling thoughts. After all, who wants to intentionally inflict suffering on themselves, especially mental suffering? We believe we are in control of our minds and that we are in charge of them. Maybe we can’t do much about external factors that make us suffer but at least we have this spot in our heads where we have a say. “This is my space. Keep out.” It becomes our mantra against negative thoughts, feelings and emotions. We strive to tend the garden of our mind and pounce on weeds of negativity and suffering and stamp them out before they take root. We try to meditate on and radiate good thoughts and emotions and feelings in order to overcome suffering and to alleviate the suffering of others. We call it metta or mindfulness or whatever-touchy-feely-positive-thing-you-want meditation and focus on good things. In my case, that is pounds lost and a lifestyle that is healthy and free from the pain of obesity. While it’s nice to focus on and think about those things, there is a time and a place for it and it’s not all the time and everywhere.
When we have an experience, we judge it to be good, bad or neutral. We tend to focus on the good, avoid the bad and endure the neutral. We cultivate good and attempt to maximize it. In the end, that leads to more suffering instead of less. In my case, I felt like a failure and I needed to face that feeling. I had to let the feeling of failure do what it had to do and it was time to learn from it. If I tried to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, I would be fighting a losing battle against my mind. I’d sweep things under the rug but the negative thoughts would still be there waiting for another day to surface. When we have negative emotions, it is not our job to negate them with positive ones. We cannot cultivate a life free of suffering by wielding positivity like a sword that cuts down negative thoughts.
So, I sat with feelings of failure. I meditated while my mind tossed and turned and railed against my body. I saw the negative feelings rise and I attended them with loving kindness. My mind is wounded. Feelings of failure are how this wound shows itself. When the negative feelings arose, I didn’t just sit and let them be there, I was mindful of them. In the end, I chose to recognize the feelings of failure and to “give them the floor” to have their say. I won’t go into the specifics but I got a lot of insight into my own feelings of failure and the reasons for them. By confronting and accepting those feelings when they arose I was able to learn more about myself. I gave them the room they needed to have their say and I listened objectively with an open heart. Once they had their say, I was able to examine my situation in a better light. I could face my perceived failure and deal with it without wallowing in it. I didn’t suffer by grasping at positive thoughts while wishing the negative ones would go away. I was realistic about things. I was open to both the good and the bad.
After I listened to and learned from my feelings, I was able to focus on the reality of my situation. Being realistic means embracing both the positive and the negative and that is what I did. The fact is that today, right now, the numbers I see on the scale are smaller than the ones from last week and the week before. Sure, I look like I’m closer to the “before” than the “after” but I’m moving in the right direction again. This is not failure, it is success. I went through a lot of pain and hardship to lose that weight the first time and those lessons have not been forgotten. I am applying them again, this time as experience. I’m not having to write the rules as I go. Once again, clothes are starting to get loose and I’m having to grab things from the back of the closet. Not from the very back where my “skinny” clothes are, but the transitional clothing. I haven’t had to wear it for quite some time but it is fitting me once more. I’ve lost 17+ pounds again and it is visible when I look at myself in the mirror. It’s hard to keep a mental picture of what I looked like at 330 so it’s a good thing that I still have those “before” pictures to act as a gauge that I can measure my progress against. Instead of seeing things from the perspective of weighing 270, I need to look at them from 330. Where I find myself today becomes framed by the perspective I chose and the fact is, I’m not at 270 any more so I can’t own that perspective. I must earn it again and, once I do, only use it to look forward at the 260s, 250s, 240s, etc. Looking backwards is not what those perspectives are for: if I do that, they become fun-house mirrors and distort reality beyond recognition.
And so, by embracing the negative feelings and emotions I was able to work through them and find myself, once again, in a place of positivity. Real, authentic positivity and not forced or coerced feelings with a veneer of the positive. I allowed feelings to do what they will and to rise and fall of their own accord. That is what it means to really meditate and to observe ones mind. Detachment is not denial, nor is it nihilism. Detachment is a state of objectivity that allows one to look at the positive and negative for what they truly are and to see them as equals. Do I have regrets at regaining weight? Sure. Who wouldn’t? Do I have despair over it? No. Not anymore.
No real commentary to go along with this, just contemplate it for a few minutes.
In case you can’t read it, here are the ingredients
Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrp, water, natural and artificial flavor, salt, caramel color.
And the nutrition information
24 grams of sugar
0 grams of fat
It’s not often that I have a visceral reaction to a game. I’m a gamer and I play a lot of games (it’s not a topic I touch on frequently here). This small “game” will take about three minutes for you to complete. That’s it. You should go play it. It’s easy and quite powerful. I don’t think I’ve ever been practically moved to tears by a “game” and all I’ve got to say in response is, “holy shit!” After you’ve played it, pop back over here and post your thoughts in the comments.
A man came to the Zen center and the abbot greeted him saying, “How can I help you?”
The man replied, “I’d like to talk about Zen.”
“I’m sorry,” said the abbot, “you’ve come to the wrong place. We don’t do that here.”
Last week I was in a candy store. A really big candy store at the beach. Every type of candy you can imagine plus some that you haven’t. They had about 20 different types of fudge that they make in their shop. Free samples! So many flavors of jelly beans and a wall of nostalgic candies. It was a candy lover’s dream come true. This was not a good place for me to find myself but, due to matters beyond my control, there I was.
I walked out of the store 15 minutes later with nothing purchased or consumed other than an extremely small sample piece of fudge. It was a small miracle to say the least.
Last night I had a craving. A serious, powerful and overwhelming craving. I wanted a Big Mac. I wanted one so badly I could taste it. My brain was screaming at me for one. I’d just spent 45 minutes mowing the lawn and burned over 600 calories so I could justify one burger from McDonald’s. Instead, I ate carrots. Another small miracle.
However, when you look at the bigger picture, you see that these weren’t miracles. The miraculous is something that happens without explanation or reason. I know exactly what happened when I was facing temptation. I was able to avoid the candy and the burger is because I had a friend who was there to listen to me (as I whined via text message that I wanted a Big Mac) or by being there to physically hit me in the head if I were to purchase anything at the candy store. I didn’t have to rely on my strength alone to resist temptation because I have a friend who wants the best for me.
Later, I found out that this friend of mine has made positive choices on their own because they committed to help me make good choices. This person isn’t trying to lose 100 pounds like I am but has had a lot of success recently in losing weight and wants the same for me. The fact that we are working together means we are both making decisions that have a positive impact on both our lives.
If you are trying to do something, it helps if you have someone to work with. In this case, I want to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle. I have been successful in the past because of friends who are pulling for me and I am succeeding again because I have others who are helping me along the path.
Working with others is so important that being a part of the community, or Sangha, is a critical component of a Buddhist practice. In Buddhism, there is something called The Three Jewels. They are, The Buddha, The Dharma and The Sangha and it is no surprise why they go together. The first is fairly obvious if you think about it: after all, it’s called Buddhism for a reason. The second is also pretty easy to understand; if you’re going to follow someone’s teachings, you follow their lessons (in this case, Dharma). The third is the one that is often hardest to understand. Without a group to share a practice, to encourage and walk with, the practice can wane. The same is true with weight loss.
Do you have someone to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle? Do you have someone to exercise with? If you are trying to achieve a goal, do you have a confidant and someone to help you on the way? If you want your path to be as easy as possible, it helps to have friends.