“Effort had always been my avenue for success. I may not have had the intelligence or the ability of others, but I could usually trump whatever I was lacking with my dogged determination. As I explored effort, I saw that much of my tension came from a need to succeed, and until I addressed that urge, the impulse to improve would be behind all my spiritual labor. As I explored the desire to achieve, the psychological pain of unworthiness that had been driving the effort surfaced. Other questions arose, like “Where is all this effort taking me?” and “How will I know when I get there?” I realized from these questions that I had no idea where my effort was pointing and no blueprint or arrival information. All I had was what other people had told me, and that just led to more confusion and striving. Perhaps the most disturbing understanding that arose through this line of inquiry was that I was on my own, and I now realized I was hopelessly lost.”

Rodney Smith, Stepping out of Self-Deception: the Buddha’s liberating teaching of no self, (Boston & London: Shambala, 2010), p. 67. 

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In which I get trashed

When I first got interested in Buddhism and read Buddha’s recommendation on refraining from intoxicating substances, I didn’t think that would be something I’d be going along with. I was aware that there had been times in my life when I’d used alcohol (and occasionally other substances) self-destructively, but I still enjoyed a drink and the odd smoke too.

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Fear & Terror

“The thought occurred to me: ‘What if — on recognized, designated nights such as the eighth, fourteenth, & fifteenth of the lunar fortnight — I were to stay in the sort of places that are awe-inspiring and make your hair stand on end, such as park-shrines, forest-shrines, & tree-shrines? Perhaps I would get to see that fear & terror.’ So at a later time — on recognized, designated nights such as the eighth, fourteenth, & fifteenth of the lunar fortnight — I stayed in the sort of places that are awe-inspiring and make your hair stand on end, such as park-shrines, forest-shrines, & tree-shrines. And while I was staying there a wild animal would come, or a bird would make a twig fall, or wind would rustle the fallen leaves. The thought would occur to me: ‘Is this that fear & terror coming?’ Then the thought occurred to me: ‘Why do I just keep waiting for fear? What if I were to subdue fear & terror in whatever state they come?’ So when fear & terror came while I was walking back & forth, I would not stand or sit or lie down. I would keep walking back & forth until I had subdued that fear & terror. When fear & terror came while I was standing, I would not walk or sit or lie down. I would keep standing until I had subdued that fear & terror. When fear & terror came while I was sitting, I would not lie down or stand up or walk. I would keep sitting until I had subdued that fear & terror. When fear & terror came while I was lying down, I would not sit up or stand or walk. I would keep lying down until I had subdued that fear & terror.”

From Bhaya-bherava Sutta: Fear & Terror

I seem to have stumbled upon the Sutta of the moment.  This one is apparently directed to monks and contemplatives, but still.

Perspective

Since becoming interested in Buddhism I’ve also become more interested in astronomy and cosmology.  I don’t know if the two things are connected, but since getting interested in Buddhism, my interests do seem to have expanded and that may have something to do with letting go of fixed ideas about my self.

Anyway, sometimes when I want some sense of perspective and a bit of a wake up, I look at these:

The Scale of the Universe

Detailed Panorama of the Milky Way

The scale of our world relative to other objects in the galaxy

What happened when Hubble took a close look at an apparently empty piece of space

 

Anger

Anger is one of my life challenges.  One of the most important realisations that I’ve gained from Buddhism is the awareness that I have a choice with regard to how I act on my feelings of anger and that these feelings do not control me.  This realisation was an enormous relief because I carry a lot of anger and during periods of my life I’ve felt at the mercy of my rage.  I knew that my behaviour was only putting me in danger, as well as making me feel ashamed and even more miserable, not to mention causing pain to my friends and family, but I didn’t know how to stop myself.

I still struggle with anger.  Some mornings I wake up angry and find myself arguing with people in my imagination while taking a shower, or walking to work, which is not a good way to start the day.  I can almost always catch myself before I do anything harmful (either to myself or others) in response to these feelings, but addressing my anger is an ongoing work in progress.

Recently I’ve found a couple of posts from Buddhist blogs helpful.

Petteri Sulonen’s post The Truth of Anger at Come to think of it points out that the injunction of “just let go” of anger isn’t always possible to follow and opens you to the danger of repressing the anger and pretending it’s not there, which may lead it to fester and erupt again.  As someone with a basic underlying anger that tends to attach itself to whatever happens to trigger it, I can recognise this problem.  I really liked his point that anger is kamma maturing and as such is an opportunity to resolve the bad stuff and get over it.

Following on from that I also  liked Jaye Seiho Morris’s post at DigitalZENDO, Before the Anger ,where he quotes a friend who pointed out that anger is often a secondary emotion, something we flip to because it’s easier than feeling other more painful emotions.   My partner and I were talking the other night about how anger makes us feel powerful when we’re actually feeling frightened and vulnerable (we both burst into tears as soon as we admitted this, so it really touched a nerve).   He then goes on to talk about a teaching Pema Chodran gave about the feeling before the anger, the ‘in-between spark’. She suggests that we make the effort to answer the question “What was the feeling, just before the anger?”

The feelings that are, before the anger may offer some valuable openings in how we are connected or in some instances disconnected from ourselves, including some old tapes, that we may not be aware that we’re carrying around in our head.

Since my father’s death almost two weeks ago I’ve been assaulted by feelings of rage and have found this teaching very helpful.   There is always a feeling before the anger and so far I’ve noticed hurt, rejection, envy, failure and fear, all of which seem to have their source in the ‘old tape’ of my insecurity.   This old tape, one I thought I’d all but got rid of, has come back to haunt me now that I’m feeling vulnerable after my father’s death  (aside from my partner he was my main source of practical and emotional support).  My insecurity is old, it dates back to my doing poorly at school and being bullied, resulting in deep feelings of failure and inadequacy.  Recently I’ve been feeling over-sensitive and even a bit paranoid that people are getting at me, ignoring me, rejecting me, using me, looking down on me, seeing me as a failure and so forth.   There’s been a lot of “me, me, me”, and a lot of “should” going on and it all seems to flip into rage because that makes me feel more powerful than the other feelings.   In order to defuse the anger I have to get up close and personal with the feelings of insecurity, which is pretty uncomfortable at times, but I think I may be on the way to resolving something.

Another short and sweet article, Train your mind: Liberate yourself by examining and analyzing

Buddhist Anarchism

Via Jack Daw’s twitter feed, a 1961 essay ‘Buddhist Anarchism’.

No one today can afford to be innocent, or indulge himself in ignorance of the nature of contemporary governments, politics and social orders. The national polities of the modern world maintain their existence by deliberately fostered craving and fear: monstrous protection rackets. The “free world” has become economically dependent on a fantastic system of stimulation of greed which cannot be fulfilled, sexual desire which cannot be satiated and hatred which has no outlet except against oneself, the persons one is supposed to love, or the revolutionary aspirations of pitiful, poverty-stricken marginal societies like Cuba or Vietnam. The conditions of the Cold War have turned all modern societies — Communist included — into vicious distorters of man’s true potential. They create populations of “preta” — hungry ghosts, with giant appetites and throats no bigger than needles. The soil, the forests and all animal life are being consumed by these cancerous collectivities; the air and water of the planet is being fouled by them.

I love the radical and anarchist writings I’ve read from this period – so no-nonsense and to the point.