Don’t Make A Big Deal Out Of It

The Buddha was not the first buddha. The Pali word “buddha” means “awakened.” The term existed before Gautama Siddhartha became the person we know as, “The Buddha” and founder of Buddhism. This happened during a period in history that some anthropologists refer to as the “Axial Age.” This was a turning point in where human beings looked for answers to the big questions in life:

“What does it all mean?”

“Why are we here?”

“What is the purpose of life?”

“Why must we suffer?”

It was at this time that people started looking “within” for answers, as opposed to looking to figures in the sky, or the spirits of their ancestors. It came slowly into general conception during this time that humanity might find solutions within itself.

The Buddha was not the only figure of note during the Axial Age. Other people held up as examples of this trend in humanity include Lao Tzu, Confucious, Plato, and Jesus Christ. There were many people through this period that made the transition to looking within for the solutions to life’s big questions. This was a momentous occurrence in the history of humanity. The again so was the wheel.

I don’t want to make light of the shift represented by the Axial Age. Far from it. I personally regard this as the time when humanity first got the opportunity to actually grow up. That being said, I do think that far to big of a deal has been made out of it. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition it has been said that even to hear of the word enlightenment is as fortuitous an event as if there were “an ageless turtle who lives on the bottom of the sea who comes to the surface once a century, and that upon the sea there is floating a single life preserver, and hearing of enlightenment is as great a stroke of luck as if the turtle surfaced accidentally within the ring of the life preserver.” That’s a lot of luck, right there! This treatment puts way too much pressure on the whole issue, in my humble opinion.

I don’t think that everyone can become a “fully realized enlightened master forever free from suffering” on a weekend retreat. Note that there is a lot going on with that title. What I am suggesting is that the fruits won during the Axial Age, here in the Information Age, are available to everyone. The entrance way to that solution is as easy as realizing that there are solutions to find, and discoveries to be made, by looking within your own process. Over time the number of methodologies for doing this have multiplied. Psychoanalysis, meditation, yoga, philosophy, general semantic, etc. All of these are entry ways that are viable to begin this investigation. Each of them has their own fruits to offer, and they don’t require years of effort.

The great sages of the past were great. I do not mean to denigrate their accomplishments in any way. Rather the opposite. It is my assertion that part of their greatness comes from the accessibility of the methods. The Buddha, for example, did not put forth a teaching that only those who give up everything can benefit from. The teachings and practices are meant to be a gift to the world at large and not the sole purview of a dedicated few. This confusion is exacerbated when we make a big deal out of it. It may be true that not everyone can be a fully realized Buddha. Then again, not everyone gets to be a concert pianist. That does not mean that a person cannot benefit from meditation, nor does it mean that a person cannot enjoy music.

As long as these matters are cast upon pedestals, we will loose the pervasive benefit they could have. That would be a shame.

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The Facebook Toilet Solution

There’s an old Zen proverb, “You should sit in meditation for ten minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

I meditate. Every day. Have done for over 9 years now. I really dig it. Lots of people who know me know that I like meditation. Sometimes I get into conversations with people about meditation. A lot of people seem to be of the opinion that they “should start meditating, but…” That “but” has a variety of follow-ups, but the majority of them are about not having enough time. I call bollocks. This is the one excuse I am no longer willing to accept. Most people seem to think that for meditation to count, you need to spend at least an hour with your legs twisted up on the cushion every day. That’s just not so. Meditation, once you learn how to do it, can be done at a moment’s notice, and even a few moments will make a tremendous difference.

Usually, I tell people who say they don’t have the time to meditate that just ten minutes a day will make a world of difference. Often they follow that up by asking where to get that ten minutes a day.

Here’s an idea: Let’s be honest about something here. There is a (much) better than average chance that you take your smartphone with you when you go to the toilet. There is also a very good chance that, while doing your “business” you spend ten minutes checking Facebook on said phone. (If it’s not Facebook then it’s Twitter, or email, or Google Plus, or Candy Crush, etc.) I would wager that you do this at least twice a day. So, my suggestion for finding the ten minutes a day to meditate is this – Instead of sitting on the toilet checking Facebook for 10 minutes, twice a day, just check Facebook for 5 minutes, twice a day. Presto! You have your ten minutes to meditate. Though I strongly suggest you not meditate on the toilet as that would be very bad for your hips.

The other thing to consider is that, much like exercise, the time you spend meditating will very likely actually give you more time during the day. With a regular meditation practice, you will have better focus, more equanimity, less stress. You will go through your day lighter, and you will make decisions faster. If you are a procrastinator (like me), you will find that you procrastinate less. I am not saying these changes will be huge, or miraculous, but they will be cumulative. Here and there you will pick up extra time, and you’ll get your ten minutes back. You can put those ten minutes a day back into your Facebook time on the toilet, or you might consider meditating for twenty minutes a day. Who knows where that could lead.

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Manic-Depression for Fun & Profit

Manic-Depression

Manic-depression runs in my family. For some of my relatives it has been a crippling condition. For some it has been lethal. For myself, it has been a long standing condition that colors my reality-tunnel in a number of ways. Thus far I have not had to medicate to manage the condition. I have nothing but good opinions about using meds to deal with clinical depression in all it’s forms. The careful use of prescribed pharmaceuticals have been a great relief for several of my family member, as well as several of my friends. I have simply fallen on the portion of the spectrum where the use of medication is not indicated. So far. Depression can be a progressive disease, and I often take stock of my fluctuating moods to see if I might need that help.

That is not to say that I do not self-medicate to a degree. I do. Mostly that self-medication comes in the form of daily meditation, and frequent journaling. Some may not think of these activities as self-medicating, but I do, and having these tools has helped me a great deal.

This post isn’t about medication though. It’s about a shift in how I operate within a context that contains manic-depression. I have come to see that I have been on a particular cycle that is less than fruitful. One of the less-than-skilled ways in which I operate during the manic cycles it to spend money. Often a bit more than I actually have. That leaves me with the depressive cycle for earning money. Not such a good combination.

So, I am building the habit of reversing this trend. I now focus on doing work that pays when in a manic phase, so that I can enjoy the afforded comforts during my depressive phases.

This all seems like a complete no-brainer, but then again most good epiphanies do in hindsight.

I would not have been able to see this pattern were it not for journaling and daily meditation. I guess they worked! 😉

Photo Credit: Rick Stegeman