Saturday, July 28, 2012

Affection Produces Perseverence

Gilgamesh and Enkidu fighting the monster Humbaba as told in the Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 1300-1000 BC).
My new job at Schnucks has taught me a lot about myself. In the middle of a slow day at the deli, when I am just about to go crazy as a result of boredom, I remember why I am working the job in the first place; I am working because of Toni. And this observation creates perseverance.

Perseverance to see to it that our goal is met.

I have always dreamed of moving out since I was about 16. Once I turned 18, I sort of put it into the back of my mind, focusing on paying for car insurance and my video game/musical equipment splurges.

I firmly believe in openly showing subtle affection to the one you love. Touch lets another person know of your presence, and creates a warm feeling inside the mind. A gentle brush of the hand; the soft balm of smooth skin.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Practical Zen Through an Analogy

I have been reading Christmas Humphrey's book Zen Buddhism (© 1968). Apart from his amusing name, he does something that not many commentators are able to do: show how Zen is practical and beneficial to the practitioner.

When comparing Zen to a swimmer who enters the sea, he writes:

First, there is the self and the sea. They are distinct, and though I approach the sea I am of the land and air and move quite freely. Then I enter the water, and immediately the way gets harder. It is more and more difficult to walk; I am pushing a vast and shapeless burden of water in front of me. I am of the land and yet of the sea, and whereas the one no longer helps me the other has not yet fully received me. And so I struggle, buffeted with the waves, pushed here and there, yet still unable to use the seas in which I long to submerge myself. I know the worst of both worlds and the use of neither. Then suddenly I swim, and the sea becomes my carrier; it is the world about me and my friend. There is no effort, no more tension between two differing conditions, no more fear. I am one with the sea and yet still the self that walked on the firm sea-shore (86).
This is an extremely useful analogy of Zen. The Zen practitioner is able to accept themselves in their current situations. When the swimmer was on the sea-shore, which is metaphor for the self, he is a separate object from the sea. But when he tries to mix the two, when he tries to walk into the sea, he discovers the conflict: he must fully accept the situation, and let it take hold of him. So, he lets the sea take him, unencumbered by the transition from land to water. Even though the swimmer was accustomed to the shore, he allowed himself to place his fears and and efforts behind him in order to go with the flow, if I may use such a phrase. The shore and the sea can represent any single transition in our daily lives - transitions that may cause fear, suffering, other inner turmoils. The situation will not change. We can only control how we experience them.

I am learning that circumstances are guaranteed. There will be beneficial ones and there will be detrimental ones; amiable ones, and tragic ones. This is certain.  Why not embrace life's circumstances instead of finding reasons to deplore them? All so easily said, but almost impossible to do. I am still progressing.
The Zen way of doing things is to do them. Just like that (87). 




Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Life Without God - An Update

It has been about a year-and-a-half since I have openly admitted my disbelief. My life has expanded in many ways that I did not think possible when I maintained my Christian faith. In a sense, life has become free. There is no metaphorical "big brother" looking over my shoulder, watching my every move - waiting for me to "fail" as a human being. There is no more guilt, no more sorrow about my own actions. I am free to make ethical decisions based on my own understanding of the world and the way it works. Nothing could be more delivering.


In the midst of this reflection of my transition away from religion, one of Jean-Paul Satre's metaphors permeates my thinking:
If we consider a manufactured object, such as a book or a paper knife, we note that this object was produced by a craftsman who drew his inspiration from a concept: he referred both to the concept of what a paper knife is, and to a known production technique that is a part of the concept and is, by and large, a formula. The paper knife is thus both an object produced in a certain way and one that... serves a definite purpose. We cannot suppose that a man would produce a paper knife without knowing what purpose it would serve. Let us say... that the essence of the paper knife - that is, the sum of formulae and properties that enable it to be produced and defined - precedes its existence (Existentialism is a Humanism 21, emphasis mine).
This is the way, apparently, that God works (if he exists). An omnipotent, omniscient God knows the outcome, knows the destiny of each human being. Sartre believes that this view of life is parasitic because it makes us complacent to our current status. In this paradigm, there are no goals - just indifference and complete reliance on the "Holy Parent."

Sartre has convinced me and has allowed me to observe my own complacency within my life. I needed personal goals. Now, after I left Greenville College, and religion as a whole, my journey remains my own. I am not produced in order to function in a certain way; I exist to continuously allay my identity with my own standards and dreams.

It is the ultimate freedom. I am still feeling the liberating aftereffects. 



Monday, July 16, 2012

Happiness as a Way of Perceiving

I have had conflicts in my life lately. I must say, as much as I wish it were false, my disposition is based hugely on my perception of a certain situation. We, as rational thinking beings, are free to perceive circumstances as we see necessary. Many people today are enslaved into thinking that circumstances themselves cause internal turmoil and are the sole instigators of many sorts of negative feelings. For example, person A definitively causes the despair and depression in person B. This way of perceiving the environment, while easy to accredit blame apart from oneself, is extremely detrimental. It places pressure on other individuals to act in a way that pleases ourselves. We cannot allow another person such an influential position.

I think it is necessary to reflect on one of the virtues of Zen. According to the Zen master, everyone has the ability to sit idly by and let the world pass by uninhibited by our own feelings about it. There is great wisdom in this admonition. Our subjective minds, our own personal conscientious attitude, is the sole attitude that we control. We must learn to practice perceiving within the scope of happiness.  Counting on someone else to act in a certain manner will undoubtedly end in disappointment. We should not allow ourselves to succumb to slavery of the attitudes and behaviors of others. 

This is the most difficult thing to avoid.