Archives for posts with tag: buddhism

One of my old students just called me for advice. He wanted to know if I was a religious person or if I was, “Some kind of athiest.”

Different students know different things about me. Some students know I’m gay, some students know I’m married, some students know I’m into health and wellness, and some students know I’m Buddhist. All of my students know me as someone who’s radically honest, sarcastic, and eccentric. I regularly say off-the-wall things to my students in off-the-wall ways. I can bring any kid, no matter how rigid, into the learning experience by joking with them and making them have fun with the day’s lesson through unconventional and hilariously bizarre game-play.

But for some reason my totally blind students are often astonished when they find out that I’m religious. I guess most of them automatically associate religion with a certain kind of speech pattern. (Judgmental? Stiff?)

I explained to the student that I’m extremely religious, but also an athiest. He couldn’t reconcile the two.

I told him about non-theism. I don’t believe in a higher power, but I also don’t disbelieve in a higher power. I’m a Soto-Zen Buddhist. I believe that everything is connected to everything else. I believe in applying your awareness. And I believe in not accepting, not rejecting, and not ignoring things as they arise. I don’t know or care how a higher power fits into that. I’m content with not knowing. And if for some reason my lack of belief results in a punishment after I die, then, as is the Soto-Zen custom, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

He got it. What I found interesting was that my totally blind student sees me as a whimsical, adaptable weirdo, but my fully sighted colleagues and classmates find me to be overly formal and standoffish.

Sighted people get the idea pretty quickly that I’m extremely religious. I shave my head, I’ve worn all black for years, I often wear a samui (a traditional jacket that acts as something like a more socially acceptable robe,) and unless someone needs me to be funny and outgoing for some reason, (like an unenthusiastic student,) I’m usually a quiet, observant person. Even my body language is pretty Zen. My movements are intentionally respectful. My body, voice, appearance, and interactions are all measured to be supportive and non-threatening to people.

This is why I’m concerned that the more outwardly religious I become, the more people are going to walk all over me, or worse, be uncomfortable around me. I’m already a little different. Several people who I could imagine myself befriending avoid me, and my understanding is that it’s because my behavior makes them start to reflect on theirs, and they’d rather avoid me than to reflect in that way. Basically, my influence makes them squirm.

I wonder if people’s discomfort is based in the same confusion as my student’s cognitive dissonance? They don’t understand my religion, it’s obvious that I’m religious, and so rather than asking, they avoid me. The problem is compounded by not fitting neatly into the stereotypical Buddhist box from television and movies. I don’t wear an orange robe, I’m getting my master’s degree, I’m a teacher, I have a laptop, and, if required, I’m joking and playful.

My student probably isn’t alone in his confusion, and it could be representitive of something deeper for many others. My student can’t see me, so he can’t use my visual presence to form a mental checklist of uncertainties about my identity and how to interact with it. My identity has to come to him, and it has to unfold based around the interactions we’re having before those uncertainties can come into existence. It’s a much more organic, less fearful dynamic that I have with my totally blind student than I have with many of my sighted classmates/colleagues.

I think it might be because blind people get to know me based around conversations, and sighted people don’t need to get to know me because they have vision.

I’ll continue to reflect on this. One thing I’m going to do is to start wearing different clothing when I’m not at temple. That way I’m at least not in all black every day. I’m also going to make more of a point to let sighted people know that I’m a real human being, too, and not just made of my outward appearance. I’ll ask them how their weekend was or make it a point to interact on a more friendly (less formal) level. Normally I wait to speak until people address me directly. Maybe making sighted people more comfortable will be as simple as treating them like my blind students– telling them good morning, asking how they are, and creating a dynamic around speech and action, not just appearance, body language, and perceived formality.

I’m aware this must be obvious to most people. I’m socially awkward. But I’m learning. And that’s okay.

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Giving my identity over to Buddhism is frightening to me. I can’t necessarily put my finger on why. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to advocate for my students anymore. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to make people laugh. I’m afraid that I won’t have friends. I’ve been afraid of these things for years. Only now, the potential reality is much closer than before.

Yesterday I wrote in a mixture of anger and confusion about my sister-in-law being ungrateful and irritating. But the Buddhist part of me recognizes that she has her reasons. I don’t make excuses for her behavior, but, if I’m being honest, it feels wrong to outright condemn her for it.

Soto-Zen teaches us to be aware of our passion, aggression, and ignorance, and to apply our awareness to all forms of interactions with others.

I’m known for being funny. I’ve strongly considered becoming a comedian. I’m extremely comfortable when I’m making people laugh. But if I apply my awareness, I start wondering about why I want to make people laugh at all. Is it because I want them to see me as clever and likable? Is it because I think I know what they should be thinking about better than they do? If so, isn’t that ego?

I’m also known in some circles for being polite, direct, and observant. But because I’m polite and observant, which might come across as weak, some people think of me as a pushover. I have a professor who regularly reminds me that I’m wrong, she’s right, and that’s just the way it is. I want to lash out at her and show her my cutting brilliance. But that’s ego, too.

I suppose that when I get down to it, my fear is that applying my awareness and giving up my identity will make people see me as stupid, weak, and boring, and take advantage of me the way my professor does.

I’m afraid that by being quiet, people will walk all over me.

Or that there won’t be a me for them to walk all over.

I’ve talked before about gentle firmness. The idea that you can be quiet, polite, and watchful, but when push comes to shove, you’re a boulder in the stream.

I wonder what that looks like on a daily basis? In a conference room, I get it. But what does that look like when my sister-in-law’s being rude and part of me still wants to vent? (Or slap her for it?)

So many questions…

And about friendlessness; people don’t want to spend their time with someone who’s boring. People really don’t want to spend their time with someone who’s calmness and honesty make them put down their defenses and start to self-reflect. It makes them feel guilty and confused. They want to drink, eat, and gossip.

How can I be part of American culture without pretending to be something I’m not? How can I keep my twentysomething friends without pretending to be something I’m not?

So many questions…

Happy merry joyus belated Kwanzanikuhmiss!

I’m not even Christian, and I still vote for sticking with Merry Christmas. Dirty heathens trying to mess up my simplicity.

Kidding, kidding… sort of…

I’ve been sick for almost a week now. We went to Granny’s place on Saturday for the in-laws’ Christmas party. It was, you know, one of those days. I got to spend 5 hours in a car with my favorite cousin-in-law for a 2 hour drive because she took a wrong turn and we ended up near Canada before anyone noticed. It was easily one of my all-time favorite road trips. Good people, great laughs, and zero sense of urgency.

But, because the universe needs balance, I also had the honor of seeing the sister-in-law who hates me, and seems to take some miserable pleasure in reminding me of that whenever she can.

Bare with me for a second as this train goes dangerously off track.

What the heck is with my in-laws not appreciating a single thing Granny gets for them as Christmas gifts? First of all, you know why she buys you socks, pajamas, thermal underwear, blankets, mittens, etcetera? Because she loves you and she cares whether or not you’re cold in the winter. Dude! She loves you! You’re in your twenties and you’re lucky enough to still have a Granny, much less a Granny who bakes apple pies, sends you hand-written birthday cards, and calls just to ask how you are. That’s awesome in and of itself!

Okay, she didn’t get you that Nikki Manage CD you put on your Christmas list. Who cares? She loves you enough to buy you adult-sized footy-pajamas with a butt flap, and you’re getting bent out of shape because the butt flap wasn’t hiding the life’s work of a two-bit alcoholic who fancies herself an artist? There are worse things!

Listening to the spoiled brat that is the make-believe 22 year old tell her Granny, “Oh, thanks, Granny. Apparently you’re too old to read now?” made me allllmmmmooooosssssttttt regret that vow not to kill.

And she’s not alone. Other than kids under ten, I honestly can’t think of anyone who didn’t complain about what Granny bought them.

Again, you have a granny who cares enough about you to buy you adult-sized footy-pajamas with a freaking butt flap — A FREAKING BUT FLAP– and you’re going to slather a nasty smile on your face and tell her thanks while directly implying that she’s old, broken, stupid, and uncaring?

Girl, I will drown you.

Note 1: People didn’t even complain in whispers and sympathetic glances. One male cousin even said, “Oh. It’s cute how you think I’m going to wear this. Thank God you included the receipt.” Because his new shirt was blue instead of grey. Who does that?!? And he’s straight!

Note 2: I don’t give a flying fig if I misspelled Nikki Manage’s name. She’s not worth the Google search.

One of Granny’s Christmas gifts to us was several pounds of homemade, handmade candy. One of my mother’s gifts to us was several pounds of vegetarian tamales. So what did we do when we got back home? Lived on nothing but tamales and candy for a week.

And man, could I feel it.

Looking back, it seems kind of strange that it didn’t occur to us, “Oh, we’re not feeling so hot, maybe we should go buy some real food. You know, like vegetables? Or that our not feeling so well could be in any way connected to our diet.

We ate. And ate. And ate. And it was glorious.

We’d decided that Christmas was going to be our final hurah. We ate chips, cookies, cakes, doughnuts, and hot chocolate like we haven’t in years.

An hour later we fell asleep sitting up.

On a whim, I checked my fasting blood sugar this morning for the first time since June. 281.

Yikes.

Remember how in June we found out that I was no longer diabetic? Then I stopped watching what I ate as much and started focusing on my anxiety issues? What was the worst that could happen? I mean, it’s not like I was diabetic anymore, and I was being relatively healthy without really caring about the particulars.

Surprise!

I have to give us a little credit, here. We didn’t even say anything when the numbers came across the talking glucose monitor. We just started throwing away anything in our house that didn’t strictly fit into the diabetic diet from a year ago. 281 is bad. 490 was worse. We have no interest in slipping back into old habits.

I’m going to eat like a kid and move like a kid, right? Well, kids with no ground rules might pig out on sweets during the holidays. But now that we’re past the holidays, I can be past that behavior.

Part of me is glad. Being diabetic was the one time I’ve ever really eaten how I should. It was easy– we just didn’t have that stuff in the house. I felt great. So I’ll just go back to it and we’ll see what happens. The identity of “diabetic” gives me a structure to work in. It lets me explain my socially awkward behavior in a way which doesn’t have social consequences. No, I can’t share your birthday cake. No, I can’t have bread, tortillas, or rice with every meal, or eat carb-loaded protein bars for breakfast. I’m diabetic.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Next to blindness, diabetes is the best thing that ever happened to me. Welcome back, old friend. 🙂

(But seriously, what’s up with ungrateful twentysomethings these days? Jesus.)

I hate beginning these things. I imagine blank white boxes full of the space where I’m supposed to start and end a series of thoughts, but how can I possibly start at the beginning if my thoughts are nothing more than never-ending paragraphs?

The joke’s on you, cultural norms: I’m starting in the middle!

I’m skipping over a bunch of not so happy stuff that went down over the weekend. Everything’s fine, there’s no lasting damage, but let’s just say thank god I’m careful about logging communication between myself and group members on school projects. I get an A in the class, They, well, don’t.

Moving on!

I’ve wanted a different body for as long as I can remember. I was fit as a little kid, I got straight up obese when I was 9 years old, I started losing weight as a teenager, and I’ve stayed between 149 and 135 pounds since I was 15. And before you read those numbers and get all weird about how low they seem, A) Dude, it’s my blog! And B, I’m short. Like, reeeeaaaalllllyyyyy short.

I’ve hovered at the low end of overweight and the tippytoe top of a healthy weight range since I was 15. My all-time low was 134.2 with a goal weight of 130, but then I got busy with something else, I ballooned back up to 147ish, and I felt I had to go back to hiding my gut with baggy sweatshirts and winter coats. I’m sure some of you can relate. (Fatties.)

Yesterday I was trying to meditate on my relationship to my physical body. I have a lot of questions about this whole mind-body complex.

Is making a point to eat and move a certain way attachment to a certain kind of body? Why am I so interested in being “healthy” provided my current weight doesn’t increase my risk factors for problems later on? I’m already diabetic from my childhood obesity; does it count as attachment to keep that in check? Why am I interested in not being sick, anyway? Isn’t sickness an invaluable opportunity for exploration? Some monks believe that regular exercise is just an excuse for overeating. How do I feel about that? Do I believe their beliefs? Do I believe mine? I’m scared that I’ll get sick if I don’t eat enough. How do I experiment with that safely?

Beyond that, I’ve also been applying my awareness to what kind of body I’m looking for. I’ve never really had a goal besides being less fat and having more energy.

Do I feel comfortable in my body as it is? I don’t. Is that because I don’t have energy to function? Is it because I’m depressed? Is it because I’m hairy? Is it because my clothes are too tight? Is it because I feel less capable than I predict I should feel? Am I missing out on some kind of life experience because I have too much body fat? Do I just dislike feeling unnecessarily low-energy given my less than nutritious diet? Do I even know that my diet is what makes me low-energy, or could it be more than that? How would my life be different if I had a body in which I were more comfortable?

I started to contemplate the body of a healthy, active boy. I’ve always found a healthy kid’s body to be one of the most artistically beautiful and mechanically perfect things on the planet. It’s this completely natural, innocent expression of being alive, yet it’s full of vitality and power. Kids’ bodies are bilt to learn, explore, grow, and do. Kids’ bodies slow down when they don’t use them, but they don’t have to use them very much at all to speed up again. It’s beautiful!

That’s what I want. I want a body that does what I want, when I want; a body that learns with me and can change when I need it to change; and a body that is low-maintenance, entirely natural, and perfectly average.

I don’t want to be ripped. I don’t want to be fat. I don’t want to be skinny. I want to be thin, firm, and flexible. I want to have energy to climb a tree or go on a long walk with my students. What would change if I had my perfect body? Not a whole heck of a lot, but enough to make it important to me. I’d have energy to be a kid again. And as a teacher, that’s a big deal.

That’s…. that’s it.

The other questions still apply. But now I know what I want, and that’s a great next step.

To me, part of having a natural body is not overeating, and to eat things that make me feel good even when what I want is something that will make me feel bad. (ESPECIALLY when what I want is something that will make me feel bad.)

I don’t want to exercise a lot. There it is. I want to go on about an hour long walk every day and maybe work my way up to doing some light yoga or bodyweight exercises. I don’t want the special clothes. I don’t want a personal trainer, I don’t want to obsess over what I’m eating and how I need to change and how I’m not good enough. I don’t want this to be so complicated. And I don’t want to be my own home improvement project.

I’m not obese. I’m not even technically overweight anymore. (Within a few pounds, but not technically overweight.) I have time to start adding these things as I want to, and to find my way back to a natural, kid-friendly body.

I’m fine. I’ll get there when I get there. I know what I want and how to make it happen. The equation isn’t going to up and change if I get sidetracked for a few weeks. Now I just have to make one tiny change here and there to make it happen, and before I know it, it’ll be done.

Maybe wanting a natural, kid-friendly body is attachment. But aren’t I also attached to over-eating and undermoving? Aren’t I attached to not knowing what to do, and aren’t I attached to trying to figure it out?

I bet that letting my cravings pass without acting on them, choosing simple food over complicated food, not over-eating, and not under-moving are much less attached than what I’ve been doing for the past several years. I just need to eat how kids eat, and move how kids move. Maybe it really is that straightforward.

Neat!

This morning we deleted the text messaging functionality from our cell phones. He’s deleting his Facebook page on December 1st. We’re getting a landline telephone in April and we’re swapping our smart phones for strictly “in case of emergency” dinosaur phones in July.

The illusion of life isn’t life. No more unnecessary screens for us. No more encouraging people to believe their beliefs just because they believe them. If people have something to say, they can call. If it’s not important enough for a phone call, it’s not important enough for a text message or Facebook post.

I bet we’re about to lose 90% of our already small “friend” group. But if they don’t care enough to call, then they really weren’t friends in the first place. Which isn’t a complaint. It’s perfectly okay if our friendships have fallen away for some reason. But no more pretending for the sake of not hurting anybody’s feelings. Because we have things to do—like nap!

Yesterday I was toying with an idea which was cemented by this morning’s book-find. I picked up a book called “Letting Go of the Person You Used To Be,” by Lama Surya Das, a Tibetan Buddhist. Although I practice Soto-Zen Buddhism, not Tibetan Buddhism, they’re essentially just different fingers on the same hand. I was intrigued by the title seeming such a serendipitous and necessary fit for my life at the moment. I wasn’t disappointed.

The section I’m on now uses an exercise of imagining for a moment that you give up something that you typically think of as vital to your function in this world. Give up your house, your money, your spouse, your children, your friends, your personality—wait, your what?

Your personality?

This one gave me pause. Imagine for a minute that you did away with your personality. Pretend that you sat down, decided who you were, and then you just tossed it into the trash. How would you survive?

Yesterday I toyed with the idea of giving up swearing. Actually, I toyed with the idea of finding something new to give up each and every month for a year. But starting with swearing seemed like a good choice. After all, if I’m so scared of it happening, I might as well explore that fear a little more. Then “Letting Go of the Person You Used To Be” finalized my decision. As of today, no more swearing.

I imagine a world in which my language is simple, respectful, and mindful. I anticipate enjoying the learning curve of finding humor without using curse-words as my road map. I’m curious to explore this uncharted territory. And rather than being scared of the unknown, I finally feel like I have a plan. Or that I no longer need one.

But I didn’t decide to give something up every month. Instead, I’ve decided to replace an unhealthy habit for a healthier one. Removing swear-words from my repertoire avails me of more brain-space for practicing my braille. Or at least that’s what I’ll tell myself.

One more piece of my old self down the drain. Frightening, but exilerating. I wonder what’s next? Stay tuned!

I have no idea who I am anymore.

I’ve spent 22 years being a know-it-all, arrogant, power-hungry, problem-solving, only-happy-when-I’m-miserable, dark-clothes-and-a-scowl kind of person. Now… now I don’t know what the hell is going on with me.

I’m happy. I’m content. I’m a loving, caring, compassionate, awareness-applying Buddhist. I’m breaking away from dark colors. I’m even starting to smile! But worst of all, I’m losing the urge to swear, make crude jokes, and complain.

I have no idea who I am anymore.

I’m losing every ounce of myself that I ever found comfortable. I don’t gossip, I don’t overeat—And I’ve become the kind of person who not only enjoys exercise, but who feels worse without it.

I’m afraid. Very afraid. The only parts of myself I have left are my swearing and my crude humor, and I… I don’t know who I’d be without them. The people who’ve come into my life in the last two years would never know the difference. But Reven? Diana? My parents? I’m honestly afraid that they wouldn’t even talk to me anymore. I love them all so much, (Well, except my parents,) and I’m petrified to imagine a world without them. If I don’t make fun of Reven for being gay (which he’s not) will he even know how to be in the same room as me? Last weekend I almost broke down in tears because I was watching myself be awful to him and I didn’t know how to stop it. I didn’t know how to not push his buttons just because it was habit. I wanted to hug him, to hold him, to let him be anxious and to make everything all right, and instead I mocked him, made him laugh, and tried to make light of his discomfort.

I have two parts of myself left, and if I’m being honest, I know they’re not long for this world. The old me is dying. And I can’t keep pretending it isn’t.

I’m scared. I’m so indescribably scared. And there’s no one to help me.

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