Category Archives: Healing Heart – Humbling Mind

Working with your own past, psyche, emotions, reactions, perspective… sharing ideas and experiences in growing as a human thinking/loving/being

The Sunny Side of the Five Precepts

Leave it to me to be presumptuous enough to amend principles of a millenniums-old faith.

But that’s how I roll.

I always think it better to phrase things in the positive rather than the negative, if possible. It’s proven scientifically, as well as by common sense, that the brain understands things phrased positively much better than something negative. Compare: We deny the negation of the prohibition of the refusal to stop avoiding tantrums. Am I for tantrums or against them? Am I for good behavior or against it? And if you think I’m exaggerating, you obviously don’t read much news of higher court decisions or legislation. It sounds just like that.

Whereas if I am all for the promotion of the development of the increase in establishing protections of human rights, you know exactly my opinion, no matter how many positive things I string together.

Watch parents and kids at the park. A kid’s on the monkey bars, struggling. If the parent yells, “Don’t fall!” the kid has to understand falling, then abstractly negate it. Often, they fall. If the parent yells, “Hang on!” the kid knows instantly exactly what’s being directed, and often is able to hang on.

Humans do things. We don’t not do things.

The way to quit a bad habit is not to obsess over not doing it. You replace it with a better habit, and focus on that.

Water only the seeds you want to grow, and the rest dies naturally.

That’s a Buddhist principle, by the way.

So really, my audacity in changing the Five Precepts is merely my applying Buddhist thought to Buddhist thought, and see where it takes me. Buddhism encourages experimentation, after all.

Here are the Five Precepts as written in Jack Kornfield’s A Path With Heart:

  1. I undertake to refrain from killing and harming living beings.
  2. I undertake to refrain from stealing and taking that which is not mine.
  3. I undertake to refrain from causing harm through sexual misconduct.
  4. I undertake to refrain from false speech, harmful speech, gossip, and slander.
  5. I undertake to refrain from the misuse of intoxicants or substances such as alcohol or drugs that cause carelessness or loss of awareness.

I agree wholeheartedly with all of those. But I think if we phrase them positively, then read and meditate on them regularly, all the negative stuff will be contained therein, but we won’t have to have it in our faces all the time. I know very well that I should not stab my dog with a butcher knife, and I don’t need to bring that truth to mind constantly. If I focus instead on nurturing and nourishing my dog, the avoidance of butcher knives will naturally occur.

Here is my working list of Sunny Side Precepts:

  1. Cherish all life.
  2. Love shares joyfully.
  3. Cultivate healthy intimacy.
  4. Cultivate silence; if necessary, speak truth.
  5. Cultivate clear awareness.

The same alterations might appropriately be made to the ten commandments.

Further Realizations

My Mom helped me with an analogy last night when we were talking about my deep urge to find a spiritual path. When I talked about what Jack Kornfield said about needing to “take the one seat” and dig one’s well deeply, as opposed to flitting around sampling nectar from every source but never making any real progress, she said that a river has many tributaries.

I could tell from the moment she said it that this analogy would make for some delicious brain food.

In some truly insightful ways, a spiritual path is like a river; flowing to the Oneness of the Sea; following the terrain by taking the lowest position; feeding, washing, healing and inspiring beings along the way; becoming deeper, wider and calmer as it moves along; finally to lose and find itself completely in the Ocean of the All as One.

And is any river fed by only one source? Does any river purposely dam up the inflow from any particular spring, creek or brook? Does it refuse to accept rain that has blown in from a certain area, or reject melted snow for its chill?

I can see how Kornfield’s recommendation to follow one path deeply rather than many paths shallowly is another way of saying to be a river, to have a course and a way rather than to simply spread oneself thin until one is just a scattered collection of puddles that evaporate quickly in the midday sun.

But each of us must travel our own path, and so to give it a label is deceptively simplistic. “I am a Christian.” “I am a Buddhist.” Does that really mean anything at all, other than what the listener assumes it implies based on their own personal understanding?

In the book A Chosen Faith by John A. Buehrens and Forrest Church, D. H. Lawrence is quoted on the subject of religion: “A person has no religion who has not slowly and painfully gathered one together, adding to it, shaping it; and one’s religion is never complete and final, it seems, but must always be undergoing modification.” This resonates with me deeply, having begun my gathering in earnest at age 13 and never having settled or called my basket full. I bristle at the idea of being choked into unconsciousness by a label, church or path that does not allow for my full participation with eyes and heart open.

The authors then summarize Lawrence’s opinion as it relates to traditional concepts of religion vs. this more fluid approach: “For him, religion has little to do with a body of beliefs or practices; it represents a gradual process of awakening to the depth and possibilities of life itself.” And indeed this is also my view; religion has to move with the terrain also, has to respond with compassion, be informed by humility, and participate in harmony. Anything that attempts to be a rock in the way of the flow will be worn down, turned to sand, and washed out to Oneness with everything else.

I am water.

And yet I desperately crave fellowship, guidance and validation (or thoughtful challenge). I see others who take on labels finding such things. But what does a person have to give up to belong?

Have to Choose

I found a wonderful book called A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield, a psychotherapist who trained as a Buddhist monk.

I just finished chapter 3 which deals with the importance of going far along one path rather than simply dabbling. His analogy: “It is as if we were to dig many shallow wells instead of one deep one.”

He is very careful not to judge any path as better than any other; “…it is crucial to understand that there are many ways up the mountain — that there is never just one true way.”

His criteria for choosing seems to be contained in this sentence: “We need to choose a way of practice that is deep and ancient and connected with our hearts, and then make a commitment to follow it as long as it takes to transform ourselves.”

I completely resonate with his advice and his approach to spiritual growth, but I always end up in the same place – what to choose? According to his suggestion one’s discipline needs to be “ancient,” which precludes making something up. Unless what was made up was composed of ancient elements.

But none of the established spiritual paths sings to me. I do not feel called, drawn, welcomed, inspired, beckoned, or otherwise pulled or pushed, either by an outer or an inner force, in any particular direction far enough to call it my path.

I can recognize that in my life, I’ve dug many, many shallow wells. None has struck any more water than can allow a brief taste of sweetness. I want to dig a deep well, beyond roots and rocks to the fiery core.

Bowing as Greeting

In his book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about cultivating the wholesome seeds within us, and not watering the unwholesome seeds. Within this discussion, he talks about the custom of bowing to someone and what it signifies.

The seed of Buddhahood, the capacity to wake up and understand things as they are, is also present in each of us. When we join our palms and bow to another person, we acknowledge the seed of Buddhahood in him or her. When we bow to a child this way, we help him or her grow up beautifully and with self-confidence.

Where I come from (West Coast), you’re lucky if you can get someone to even say hello to you. Where I live now (The South), I feel much more comfortable and safe in this culture of greeting people, looking them in the eye, calling them “Ma’am” and “Sir.”

But how different would it be to bow?

I always saw bowing as extremely submissive. But then, I always thought saying “Ma’am” and “Sir” was butt-kissing as well, until I began to live it. It’s respect, pure and simple. It’s either mutual, in which case no one is lower than the other, or it’s one-sided, in which case, the person saying “Ma’am” has the high ground, because they’ve done what they’re supposed to do.

So if I were to bow to someone as a show of respect, an acknowledgement of the seed of Buddhahood within them, it wouldn’t be that I was saying the person is better than me, but simply that they are capable of great wisdom and awareness.

I realize that someone bowing would be seen as somewhat of a weirdo, but it’s still a fun thought experiment, an interesting “what if?”


Blind to Blessings

Some days I can so clearly remember being little, being at my Grandma’s house, the sound of the piano in the rumpus room, the rhythm of her low-heeled pumps walking across the kitchen floor, the feel of the cool green leather recliner I liked to sit in.

A feeling of dark anger wells up in me, that I had no idea how precious it was. That I was a spoiled brat wondering what toy she would buy me later, how soon we would leave for the movies, if she’d remembered to buy my favorite ice cream for dessert later.

And now I am painfully aware of how good my kids have it. Shelves full of books, rooms full of every kind of toy, the Netflix queue full of instantly available commercial-free entertainment. Not to mention video games, neighborhood friends, a field across the street and blackberry-filled woods next door, art supplies and a whole desk in the living room dedicated to creative pursuits. And two parents who engage, converse, interact, explain, listen, cook and clean, hug and kiss.

Etc. Etc.

And a dark anger wells up in me to think of how much they whine and complain and wish and pine and argue.

I try desperately not to hate. But I hate the fact that humans are so blind to blessings. And now, when my eyes are finally opened to how wonderful my life is, it is all tarnished, continually, day after day, despite all my best efforts, by the attitude of the young family members who WILL NOT STOP begging and bitching.

All I can think is that surely I ruined it for my Grandma. I know how hard she tried to make my time at her house a living paradise. And I know damn well how much I begged and bitched.

And the wheel turns.

Choosing Love

When I was little I thought the opposite of love was hate.

When I got older I realized that the opposite of love is fear.

Now I think that there is no opposite to love. Life is unending struggle, and we can choose to love anyway.

Love as a way to embrace life.

“This isn’t how I go!”

Have you seen the movie Big Fish?  Brilliant flick.  A must-see, if ever there was one.

Anywho, inspired by this movie, I love the idea of “knowing” when you are going to die, although I DO NOT actually want to KNOW that information.

Allow me to elaborate.

I am one of those people who is mindful of the impending event of death to an excruciating degree.  Whenever I hear that wise advice, “Don’t forget, we are all mortal, enjoy every day as if it were your last… blah blah blah” I think to myself, “Welcome to my life.”

So on the positive side, death is not going to catch me without having appreciated every second of every day.

On the negative side, I think there is a damn good reason that most people live blissfully unappreciative lives, and that is because it makes you INSANE to think about death all the time.

Let’s put it this way: the joy I felt surrounding the birth of each of my children was painfully tempered by the realization that…

I was going to be afraid every day not only of my own death but of my children’s death, and…

In giving them birth I was simultaneously giving them their eventual death, as well as all the suffering they might experience in between those two events.

So I was able to appreciate the father character in Big Fish, after he’d seen his own death in the witch’s eye, as he went through his adventures, starting to feel afraid and then remembering, “Wait!  This isn’t how I go!”

I have thusly decided that I “know” I am going to die in my sleep when I’m 88.  (Anyone who’s suffered through enough of my blog knows that I am partial to the number 8.)

Now, whether this is what really happens or not, who cares.  The point is, I won’t face every single day-to-day perilous situation, like, say, driving down the road in the car, with so much fear.  I can look the oncoming semis confidently in the headlights and say to myself, “Don’t panic!  This isn’t how I go!”  I am absolutely exhausted of being afraid all the time.

(There’s no chance that I will actually put myself in a dangerous situation with a false sense of immortality… you can’t erase 41 years of paranoia THAT easily.)

But if I could only convince myself to play along, to believe against all reason that everything is okay… I might at least add a couple of years on to my life with lower stress levels.  It’s worth a shot, anyway.

How to Live on a Day Like This

Today is one of those days where I want to run away, hide, scream, cry, give up.

But I’m tired of feeling overwhelmed. I want to do it differently. Like 880 freeway differently. Like why did I get this tattoo if I was just going to be beaten down by every tiny dilemma that comes my way. Even if there are fourteen of them and they are all coming at me at once.

I  sit with the feelings, keep my eyes and heart open to love and meaning.

It’s really freakin’ hard.


Crisis Management

I’ve begun to implement a technique to monitor my level of crisis. In other words, I often (many times a day) get to the point of feeling completely overwhelmed by all the things I’m juggling, by the challenges I encounter, by the people in my life who are emoting, whining, begging, or otherwise creating an atmosphere of desperate urgency.

I truly believe that paying attention, as the Buddha suggests, is the first step toward healing and strengthening. So I am trying to ask myself, when I’m on the verge of panic, How bad is this situation I find myself in? On a scale of 1 to 10. One being a situation in which one might enjoy total relaxation of body, mind and spirit, ten being some sort of life-or-death catastrophe inducing full-blown fight-or-flight stress.

I think it helps when I remember to do it. I think I get down in the trenches and forget to come up for a panoramic view of the situation, to reassess. I get too close to a small little piece of my life, and then when I don’t think it’s going exactly right, it looks like the whole world is falling apart. Because if that one little thing is your whole world, then it really is all falling apart.

If I pull back and try to judge based on everything as far as I can see, chances are there will be enough things that are calm, secure, at peace, that I can put my tiny crisis into perspective and not freak out about it.

Or, if the sky really is falling, I can problem solve for that instead. Either way, I’m looking to cultivate an appropriate response to my situation rather than an overblown conniption fit.

Do you have a way to keep from being overwhelmed by your day-to-day challenges?

New Tattoo

Here’s the tattoo I got last night (on my forearm, in case you can’t tell which hunk of flesh that is in the close up):

It’s never going to be in anyone’s top 100 favorite tattoos, but it specifically is not for anyone else, so that’s fine with me. The sun is more in the “folk art” style than I’d imagined, but since this is fresh, maybe it will fade and blend to be more like a sunset glow.

I like having the road coming off from the side rather than straight ahead as I’d sketched it, because now I feel like I have a choice to get on the freeway or not. It feels more like an onramp I can take rather than just being constantly on the road. She had some nice curvy ones sketched up but it’s supposed to be a freeway so I had to keep it straight.

I really wanted the sunset because it reminds me of the trip in which I realized how sharply my enthusiastic response to freeway driving contrasts with my pathetic panic in regards to every other challenge I encounter in life. It reminds me of when Gwen and I were flying home and after we took off, I could see the sun setting over the Pacific, and I could see “my homeland,” so to speak, fading in the distance. I was saying goodbye yet again to my Grandma and my past.

In addition to a reminder of real things, I feel like it also has a lot of symbolism. All roads lead off into the sunset of death. The trip will be beautiful, but it’s all gonna end.

But the whole journey of life can have the stamp of the Nimitz Freeway/Interstate 880 on it and the fearless enthusiasm it inspires in me, if I can just change my attitude and perception.